One of the key debates will be the future replacement for HMS Ocean as well as the future direction for the UK's amphibious task force.
At present the UK amphibious task force is suppose to consist of the following vessels
1* LPH - HMS Ocean or Ark Royal if Ocean is in refit
1* LPD - HMS Bulwark or HMS Albion
2* LSD - Bay Class
In addition the task force has various escorts, logistics ship's and even RoRo's of the point class depending on the task required. However these four vessels form the core.
The likley outcome of the SDSR will be that Ocean will be scrapped. Either payed off early and sold or simply not replaced after 2018 when she is scheduled to reach the end of her life.
In addition to HMS Ocean the 2 LPD's of the Albion Class will need replacing around the 2020's. At present the thinking seems to be a like for like replacement for the Albion's with Ocean probably not being replaced and Prince of Wales will be slotted in as the world's largest helicopter carrier.
We can be reasonably sure that come what may of the SDSR the best we can hope for is 2 ships to replace the current 3.
If done properly this may not be a bad thing. While the Ocean Class and the Albion Class are excellent vessels they are not without their weaknesses.
While HMS Ocean has been at the fore front of every operation in the past 10 years she is not an ideal amphibious platform. Ocean is actually an Invincible Class optimised to operate helicopters. She has four LCP's to embark personnel however she does not have a well deck. She can take vehicles on her lower deck however to disembark these vehicles she needs a port so they can drive of a ramp.
She can embark Chinook's however she is unable to bring them into her hanger deck to protect them or carry out maintenance.
The Albion Class are specialised Amphibious platforms. They have a well deck at the rear and are able to disembark vehicles through landing craft. They have an aft helicopter platform that can accommodate up to 2 Chinooks. However they do not have a hangar. Any helicopters rely on Ocean to store and maintain them.
|Over Crowding is a common issue on LPD's flight deck|
A Better Otion
If we are only going to have two vessels then we cannot afford for these vessels to be so specialised. A Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) can perform the role of both and LPD and LPH. In many ways in can perform the role better than the specialised vessels. An LHD is essentially a small aircraft carrier that also has a well deck in the rear of the vessel that can take both landing craft, mexi floats or hover craft. Typically and LHD will be bigger than either and LPH or LPD. Normally weighing in at 25-40,000 tonnes. They can carry anything up to 30 helicopters and 1800 soldiers.
The US Navy has the largest of these vessels with their Wasp Class LHD. With a displacement of 40,000 tonnes they can embark up to 42 sea knight helicopters. They also have the ability to take 3 LCAC's. In helicopters and personnel they can take double the capacity of Ocean and Albion combined. While the WASP class is far to abitious for the Royal Navy we can look to the continent at some excellent examples.
|Mistral with LCAC|
|Juan Carlos on the right|
Royal Navy Choice
It may be possible for the Navy in the future to gain the budget to replace 2 of it's three vessels. While something on the scale of the USS Wasp is out of the question and the Mistral is probably too small the Juan Carlos is just right.
It would allow us to enhance our current amphibious capability. If we selected to build this vessel in time to replace Ocean we can probably look at a cost of £350 million. To put it into context that is just 1/3rd of the cost of Astute 7, Less than half the cost of an extra T45. It's probably just slightly more than the cost of a C2 frigate. In other words the Navy can find the money if it really wants to. If the vessel enters service in 2018 then we could replace HMS Ocean and HMS Albion. These vessels won't be too old and lots of third world Navy's are looking for Amphibious so we could probably get a decent price for them. We could build a second for 2022 and when it comes in to service we could pay of Bulwark.