Amphibious Ships

Within the ship are 1,130 linear metres of space which can accommodate 24 main battle tanks, or 150 Jeep-type vehicles with 200 tonnes of supplies or 24 x 24 TEU containers while the ship can carry 356 troops

14th Mar 2011

 Amphibious Ships

 UK to the rescue?

Australia’s amphibious warfare capabilities face a major shortfall with the decision to pay off HMAS Manoora but London may provide a cost-effective gap filler.


The 40-year-old Kanimbla (itself a modified US Navy Newport) class ship was found to have serious corrosion and engine problems which would have cost A$20 million and two years to overcome and she was placed on operational pause by the Seaworthiness Board in September 2010. Her departure left Canberra relying upon her sister ship, HMAS Kanimbla, also on operational pause and unlikely to resume seagoing duties until mid 2012, and the heavy lift ship HMAS Tobruk. The last is scheduled to dock this year to replace worn-out support bearings on a propeller shaft and will, in any case, be paid off at the end of 2012. Tobruk is now also known to have significant problems and was unable to put to sea early in February after a hurried effort to make her seaworthy. All three ships are scheduled to for replacement by two Canberra class amphibious assault ships (LHD) that are scheduled to enter service in 2014 and 2015.
Announcing the decision on HMAS Manoora Defence Minister Stephen Smith and Defence Materiel Minister Jason Clare have asked the Defence Department to present a comprehensive plan for the transition towards the Canberras. One of the options, which is being discussed with London, is the lease or purchase of a Bay Class ship to provide a platform to train and to prepare for the Canberras. If this option is taken up it may be possible to bring forward the paying off of HMAS Kanimbla and/or HMAS Tobruk.

The Bay class, officially auxiliary dock landing ships, are operated by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and are only five years old. One of the four ships is scheduled to be paid off in the near future under last year’s Strategic and Defence Review, which is widely regarded as a Treasury cost-cutting exercise. If Australia does acquire a Bay class ship what will it get for its money?
The design is based upon the Dutch Damen Schelde Enforcer, similar to the Dutch HrMs Rotterdam and Spain’s Galicia class, and the ships are 176.6 metres long with a displacement of 16,160 tons at full load. They are diesel-electric vessels with two Wärtsilä 8L26 and two Wärtsilä 12V26 diesel generators developing 4.5 MW and 6.7 MW respectively powering steerable thrusters and giving a top speed of 18 knots and a range of 10,000 nautical miles (18,500 kilometres) at 10 knots. The Bays have a landing dock capable of operating a utility landing craft and carry two mexeflotes motorised rafts supported by two 30-tonne cranes for craft to load or unload alongside. The ships have side-loading doors so vehicles can drive on or off while there is a helicopter landing platform with two landing spots each of which can operate a Chinook.

Within the ship are 1,130 linear metres of space which can accommodate 24 main battle tanks, or 150 Jeep-type vehicles with 200 tonnes of supplies or 24 x 24 TEU containers while the ship can carry 356 troops, although in overload conditions the ships can carry up to 700. There are wide throughways, referred to as the assault routes, from the troop assembly points to the landing dock and the flight deck, allowing the fully equipped troops to move quickly and efficiently into position for disembarking.
They are designed to troops, vehicles, ammunition and stores in support of amphibious operations but they do not have a beaching capability and replaced the Sir Bedivere class Landing Ships Logistic that were paid off in 2006 when the Bays were commissioned. As part of an amphibious task group they remain over the horizon until the beachhead has been secured then bring in reinforcements to consolidate that beachhead. Their sole sensor is an E/F/I-band navigation radar and the armament, for self-defence in harbour, consists of two 30mm guns and two Mk 44 7.62mm miniguns and six rifle-calibre machineguns.

They are about twice the displacement of the 8,450 ton (full load) Kanimblas and their carrying capacity is nearly five times the space in linear metres. The helicopter capacity is similar, and while the Australian ships have the advantage of a hanger one, can be fitted into the Bays - although this would reduce deck space. They also have the disadvantage of carrying only one utility landing craft, compared to two medium landing craft on the Kanimblas, although the British ships can also carry two infantry landing craft (LCVP) either in the dock or on deck. In terms of theoretical performance the Australian ships are superior with a nominal top speed of 20 knots and a range of 23,500 nautical miles (43,500 kilometres) at 15 knots, although their ability to achieve these figures might be in doubt.

Being relatively new, it is unlikely that a Bay class ship would have anything like the corrosion problems of Kanimbla and Manoora. If commercial terms and conditions can be successfully negotiated this could be a good short-term solution to the problems the RAN presently faces.


APDR at a glance