But sometimes, just sometimes, not everything can be done electronically or remotely, and given the navy’s need for redundancy and to keep Bulwark operational even in critical conditions, you can get everywhere, even if it’s via the tiniest crawl space, to effect a fix.
Away from the ship’s operations, there are myriad other rooms and compartments, each as crucial as the other in their way. Chief among them is the Combined Operations Room, which is, in turns, an air traffic control centre for the helicopters and a boat traffic control centre for landing craft (under the charge of the Royal Marines), and it’s from where all of Bulwark’s operational (that is, fighty and stealthy) activities are co-ordinated. When Bulwark is in a task group, the number of staff in the Ops Room swells again, because it can co-ordinate an entire fleet’s, or even an entire task force’s, operations – which is why there are admiral’s and commodore’s cabins and the commodore has a seat on the bridge.
Bulwark is also laced with cabins, quarters, sick bays, galleys, mess halls, even woodwork and metalwork workshops. Between these run vast networks of corridors, with exposed wiring and pipework, and escape and firefighting equipment every few yards, after hard-learned lessons from the 1982 Falklands conflict.
PERFORMANCE - 5 STARS
HMS Bulwark is more long-distance runner than sprinter, despite the fact that its two V16 turbodiesel generators make 8500bhp each and that its four-cylinder generators make 2108bhp apiece. Each electric drive motor produces 4000bhp, and although Bulwark sometimes runs on only one, when everything is operating at full chat, Bulwark has a maximum speed of around 18 knots.
Top speed, though, is not what Bulwark is about. Instead, it’s designed to travel in a straight line, over long distances, without burning much fuel, although these things are relative. It’ll do about six inches to the gallon.
Bulwark’s range, though, is nominally 8000 miles at 15 knots. If it wanted to get somewhere in a hurry, the range drops, but it’s not a coincidence that even at full chat there’d be sufficient diesel (stored in several different tanks, and filtered) to reach the Falkland Islands and do something useful when it arrived. Meanwhile, if it were careful, it could all but reach Australia.
When in a task group, there’s every chance that Bulwark will have a fuel tanker with it, but if not, most of the world’s friendly navies share fuel freely with each other. So whenever they can, Bulwark’s crew refuel, although fuel quality varies. (Japanese fuel is reputedly very good.) In case of a duff batch, fuel pumped aboard is stored in separate tanks, from where it is filtered – perhaps several times – before it reaches the engines. It’s preferable and quicker for refuelling to be done at sea, even though it’s a hairy, lengthy process to sail 100,000 tonnes of warships in close proximity for hours at a time.
RIDE AND HANDLING - 4 STARS
Bulwark isn’t designed to be particularly manoeuvrable, but for a ship of its type, it doesn’t do too badly. The turning circle (although unquoted) is “tight for a vessel of its size and tonnage”, although it takes more than five minutes to perform a 360deg turn. There is a bow thruster to help.
Throttle levers on the bridge respond positively, and the action of the steering wheel (small and not round, but it doesn’t complete a full turn, so that doesn’t matter) is light and smooth, with no self-centring.