The Royal Navy will at some point in the next decade need to consider replacing the amphibious assault ships which are due go out of service in the early 2030s.

A report by the Defence Committee has argued that a landing helicopter dock (LHD) design, combining the ability to operate landing craft and aircraft, should be considered.

The report states:

“We have recently reported on the continuing relevance and requirement for amphibious capability, concluding that the disposal of amphibious assault ships—reportedly being considered under the NSCR—was “militarily illiterate”.

Written evidence to this inquiry has largely supported these conclusions. The Royal Navy will at some point in the next decade need to consider replacing the amphibious assault ships which are due go out of service in the early 2030s.

A landing helicopter dock (LHD) design, combining the ability to operate landing craft and aircraft, should be considered.”

The Ministry of Defence’s Modernising Defence Programme (MDP) must address the challenges presented by the resurgence of state-based threats and be supported by a fully-funded and sustainable financial settlement, says a report published by the Defence Committee. The report, entitled Beyond 2 per cent, has been produced ahead of the anticipated release of ‘high-level findings’ by the MDP, towards the end of June. It examines how the process has proceeded and highlights areas, including capability, commercial practices, recruitment and international partnerships, which the Committee expects the review to consider.

Dr Julian Lewis, Defence Committee chairman, said:

“We hope that our report will assist in sparking debate and focusing minds on priorities that should be considered by the Modernising Defence Programme. The Secretary of State was right to remove Defence from the National Security Capability Review which would otherwise have resulted in further disastrous cuts to the Armed Forces, and we endorse his efforts to obtain a better settlement for Defence.

The Government now needs to look beyond the two per cent minimum on Defence spending, and begin moving towards a figure of three per cent, to place our defence policy on a sustainable basis to meet new threats and fill existing financial ‘black holes’. Defence is constantly described as the first duty of government. The MDP is the government’s opportunity to show that it means what it says.”

We have previously argued that for the United Kingdom to carry on its status as a ‘Global Power’ and retain its ability to project power across the globe with a blue water navy it must have the assets to project its capabilities. This includes the capability of projecting air, sea, and land forces. Recently HMS Ocean was the flagship for a NATO exercise, and was deemed as being an essential asset.

The role of the Royal Navy is multifaceted, and for it to be seen as a credible force, it must match is credibility with the raw capabilities that it possesses. To put it simply, it must demonstrate a ‘conventional deterrence’ against potential adversaries. Therefore, it is my argument that the Royal Navy must retain helicopter functions and an amphibious capability – all of which can be served with a new class of ‘budget’ helicopter carriers with amphibious landing capabilities.

As part of our strategic national interest it is also important not to overburden those capabilities which we have such as our prized possessions the Queen Elizabeth class carriers which will have an operational lifespan for 50 years. This class of ship will be different.

Thus, a new ‘budget’ helicopter carrier would complement existing and new capabilities, by providing a logistical platform to deploy both Royal Marines and attack helicopters along with landing craft, and larger aircraft for carrying troops and supplies. This new class of Helicopter carrier, with either have Apache aircraft which are currently operated by the Army Air Corps, as well as other helicopters of the Royal Air Force, such as the larger twin rotor Chinooks.

This new budget carrier, will be a platform for multi-branch operations and indeed act as a command centre. Thus, the Royal Air force working together with the Royal Navy, and also the British Army Air Corps and the Royal Marines.

64 COMMENTS

  1. It seems incomprehensible that they would consider having such a vessel without giving it the capability to carry F35bs.

    • Problem with giving it the ability to operate F35 is you invite the treasury to scrap the QE class at the next budget cutting opportunity.

      LHD’s are great for Helicopters but little use for fixed wings. Keep the two seperate.

      i just hope they call them

      Pegasus class LHD comprised of HMS Pegasus and HMS Perseus

      • why not consider the removal of a bay class superstructure then fit a full length deck? its been done before to turn earl merchant ships to the early aircraft carriers. another benefit is that the ship itself is already built.

      • The Treasury must not be part of the MoD decision making process. It has the money but is not the paymaster general. Treasury must never dictate.

  2. I think this calls for a Mistral/Juan Carlos type vessel. Maybe wack a ski jump on the end to have the capability to use F35s (if need be) but should not routinely carry them.

  3. Give it F35 capability and you begin to start adding zeros to the price. It takes a lot of additional equipment and cost to keep fast jets servicable ,bombed up and capable of flying from a platform.
    KIS…Keep It Simple…Helo capable, LCU/VP/ LCAT/ Hovercraft capable with lots of bunks for Royal and lots of space for Royals light and heavier toys.

    • Agreed Gunbuster, something like Ocean on steroids. A ship that combines the amphibious capability of the Albion class with the aviation capability to carry and support 25 helos, room for 850 RM’s and robust Command and Control capabilities.

      I would envision a class of three ships (two available at all times), built to Naval standards with a 30 service life and displacing around 35,000 tons.

      The moment you start adding F35 capability the price will start running out of control.

      • 3 ships of 35K!
        Where are they going to berth?
        There is no space in Pompie with the QE class.
        Getting Bulwark or Ocean in and out of Western Mill jetty at Devonport was “emotional” to say the least and they where far smaller than 35K.
        We would need a major Dockyard/Port rebuild for 3 x 35k tonners.
        Warships in Harbour safety cases are another issue. If vessels are carrying ammo there are restrictions on where they can berth in case their is an incident and it goes BANG! Consider this, at one point, between them Bulwark and Ocean where carrying approx 1/3 of the UKs stock of Infantry ammo onboard. That would make a very big mess of the Dockyard and the housing overlooking Western Mill if it went up

        Heck we would need to reopen Portland for three ships that size.

        • Oh, let a man dream Gunbuster!

          It just seems to me that if you are going to combine the Albion class capability with Oceans aviation capability, you are looking at double deck hangers with a substantial dock bay, storage, C&C and compliment ( both RN and RM).
          Anything smaller than 30,000 tons will be compromised, you simply won’t squeeze in the required assets and capability.

          • I would love some combined LPH/LPD vessels but the practicalities of where to put them would need to be considered.
            South Yard in Devonport is no longer a viable option as they have sold off lots of the former site for housing and use by small businesses . Western Mill could not take all 3 together as I dont think the jetty is long enough or deep enough for a 35K vessel.
            Once the Subs leave for the North there might be an option on those berths but then having a big ship full of Bang next to a Nuclear Refit Complex is not going to get past the Safety Regulators.

        • Correct me if im wrong but wasn’t the old Ark and Eagle over 35k
          Admittedly they weren’t berthed around Western Mill jetty but they where both berthed a little way down from there so that should not be a big problem
          They just spent 100m to get the carriers a birth in Portsmouth so surly something could be sorted out by the so called experts

          • Different times when Safety and Risk where not even part of the military agenda.
            The safety and risk to the Nuclear Refit Complex is now a factor that needs to be considered. The Sub Refit docks had to be reinforced to withstand an earthquake that happened every 10000 years…so sticking a bombed up vessel close to it every few weeks is not going to happen

        • portland should never have been closed, weymouth, down the road was a great run ashore, many a good night in the black dog pub.

          • Oh yes…I lived there for over 15 years! 200m from the beach you could walk from my house in your shorts, have a swim and be back home 5 mins later.
            The Black dog is still going by the way…

        • Another possibility would be to relocate ALL Frigates to Devonport freeing up space for any future LHD’s in Portsmouth.

          • Well that’s a daft idea when the RM landing craft are in Weston mill , most RM units are moving to GUZ , and you want to put their ships 200 miles away!!???

    • Also the politicians will just see four flat tops with ski jumps and axe a carrier at the earliest opportunity.

  4. LHDs are the obvious choice, something similar to the French Mistral class (albeit with taller hangars for UK helicopters). They satisfy the requirement of Amphibious Helicopter Carriers, Docks and Primary Casualty Receiving Ship all in one. These would need to either carry in one or two ships the UK’s 12 Commando Merlin HC4 allocated to High Readiness Amphibious Warfare plus 6 Commando Wildcat AH1, 2 Chinook CH47 and circa 4 Apache AH64. The Commando Merlins fold down to the footprint of 1/3 of a Chinook with the same over water troop capacity but Chinooks are needed for the very heavy lift requirement hence Defence’s choice of balance.

  5. Sounds like a good idea to me, Would be even better if they branded them as a hospital ship/LHD instead then hopefully they could get the Dfid to pay for them and the RN or RFA to run them.
    Maybe even chuck in a few ‘air ambulance’ chinook/merlins and other ‘disaster relief’ heavy equipment too.

    • It would be difficult to brand them as hospital ships if they were also combat vessels. HMS Argus had that problem.

  6. HMS Intrpid refueled a few SHAR in ’82.

    F35B capability should be a “bolt on” if needed.

    However, this “budget” helo carrier should inlude decent taps this time 🙂

    • The entire deck needs a VERY expensive thermal coating to operate F35s or the thrust will melt the deck. I can’t see that happening.

  7. I think this gives UK based organisations like BMTdsl time to put together some credible concepts. Replacing Albion and Bulwark with two LHD is a far better use of scarce resources than pursuing a direct replacement for Ocean.

    I think there is an argument to bring the retirement of Albion and Bulwark slightly forward so we can sell them onto foreign nations as long as a two class LHD is brought forward.

  8. If you want it F35 capable you may as well build two more QEs and save a load of money and time and design work. If not then use the Tide class hull and give it a flat top and kit it out inside like Ocean was.

    • I think it can be made capable of operating F35s in some form without a major issue. They don’t need to be able to sustain F35 operations but it would be handy to be able to operate a couple for various reasons when required. I agree that it should fundamentally be a helicopter carrier though and only have basic F35 operational capability.

      • Wouldn’t operating “a couple” be horrifically expensive and disruptive in terms of personnel allocation? Presumably you’d need to embark all the required F-35B ground (ship-based) expertise and equipment to maintain these quite complex beasts which if only a couple of planes are embarked seems a small capability to tie up what presumably are scarce specialised personnel & equipment.

        The cheapest solution to give a “you just never know” option would presumably be either to paint a single spot with heat resistant coating or even to ensure that one of the helo spots had appropriate tie-down points for the special heat-matting used on temporary land-based sites which could be embarked if required. Both options would limit the F-35Bs to VTOL-only operations which would have impact on range and payload, a significant impact I think but not sure how much, but maybe as a very last ditch provision it might make sense. The last option in particular (tie down matting) might well be negligible cost assuming the design could accommodate it.

        • That is sort of what I am saying. Routinely operating F35s from these makes not sense. However there are likely to be times when having a strike aircraft alongside could be very advantageous. I would not go for a VTOL only operation though. I would make the deck capable of supporting F35s so that they could use a ski jump.

          • He means VTOL landing rather than the SRVL of the QE class. Of course a ramp makes sense, even if it totally lacks the ability to operate F35’s it would make it much easier to refit the support kit down the line, or indeed to launch any future drones that may come into service.

        • the m.o.d won’t finance the running of two albion class, 3 bay class and a hlp for what THEY WOULD SEE AS THE SAME JOB.

  9. The ability for an F35 to land and be fueled and take off in exigent circumstances should be considered.

    • The problem is that the jet down wash from a F35 will cause major damage to a non QE class deck that does not have the special coatings and strengthening applied to it.
      Is it really worth coating a deck for a just in case scenario?

      If we go down that route should we include all large landing decks including those on RFA units that could take a F35 just in case?

      • The ability to lillipad the F35 would help to keep the QE well off-shore and keep the F35 nearer the action at crucial times.

  10. there is a political battle to win here, and adding f35 support just muddies the water and pushes us closer to the original idea of ditching the Albions and just relying on the carriers.

    Any such vessels needs to be kept as different as possible from the carriers to avoid this fate. Focus should be on assault role with helicopter carrier integral into the assault role.

  11. Although I agree totally in having a new lphd I do not think this type of vessel can replace the Albion class. Lphds lack the ability to deliver heavy armour in force onto an opposed beach.
    The most an lphd can carry is usually 2 landing craft utilities Vs 4 for an Albion class.
    I would like to see an enlarged Albion or bay class hull with better flight facilities and an enlarged flight deck for 4-6 Chinook class helicopters.

    • A vessel that has room for 4-6 Chinook sized landing spots is going to look very much like an LHD anyway. It would need to be even larger for 4 landing craft. The displacement of a vessel that could meet both criteria would be too great for any current available moorings I believe.

  12. Should have bought those 2 Mistrals from the French that were banned for sale to the Russians and ended up in Egypt.

    • Should have yes but it would be near political suicide to buy a warship from a foreign country as opposed to building it in this country given the current views of certain parties (cough cough The SNP cough). Sorry about that. Had something stuck in my throat.

      • The Mistral were built to different standards for the Russian, they would have required significant money spent to fit them into the Royal Navy.

        Getting them would have been a waste of scarce budget when we had at the time an LPH, two LPD and three LSL.

        • Considering that Ocean was built to commerical standards, that argument seems a bit specious. I understand the politics though.

  13. I’m just happy if we keep our existing LPD for now, never mind the fantasies at what may eventually replace them.

    • Agreed re keeping the LPDs but, with so many complaints here about how late the UK has been leaving it to settle on definitive plans for replacing various aging assets (T26 being a good example) I think we should applaud the Defence Committee for starting the conversation now rather than 10 years before the Albions are due to go out of service. In the past we have easily lost 10 years just kicking different ideas around and chopping and changing. At least starting the discussion now and making recommendations gets the ball rolling towards getting something well considered and appropriate built to replace the LPDs when they go out of service (assuming that’s at the end of their workable life and not earlier due to cuts in some future SDSR).

  14. In the times we live in, I think this is an inevitability. Following in the doctrine utilised by the French, Spanish and Australians to combine LPDs and LPHs into fewer LHDs.

  15. (Chris H) so we build 2 (or 3) FSS ships @ 30,000 Tons (here in the UK) and while that is under way modify the stern area design to allow a vehicle deck for heavy equipment (a BMT design is already in place) or if necessary part submersible (as in Albion and Bay Class). Its then not too big a leap in design to remove superstructure for a helicopter flight deck and use the previously designed vehicle deck as a hangar. Rear Well Deck access can be retained (as per earlier USN Wasp Class ships)

    HMS Ocean is some 21,000 Tons displacement, Bay Class are some 16,000 Tons and Albions are 20,000 Tons so to give a substantial uplift in capability a 30,000 Ton hull design is what will be required and we have that with FSS

    It seems to me if we start designing a complete new hull for each specific ship we just add unnecessary design delays, then build delays and of course ‘first in class’ failures = costs. We evidently have a need for possibly three new Classes (in sequence): 3 x FSS, 2 x LPD and 1 x LHD. So 6 new build and replacement hulls. All are, or will need to be, circa 30,000 tons so in answer to Gunbusters excellent points about docking and safety some investment will also be needed in shore facilities and even location. But economies of scale and build provided by using one basic hull / ship design assembled in one location from modules supplied from elsewhere would give overall savings to allow shore investment.

    Sadly of course this will need some joined up thinking and long term planning from a Department of State totally incapable of these key requirements. So FSS will be built in Korea, there will be no LHD and Albions will soldier on (excuse the pun) until retirement when the MoD will create yet another capability gap this time potentially fatal for the RMs. They will yet again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory ….

    • Joined up thinking and the MOD rarely go together unfortunately Chris!

      I like your thinking though, certainly an idea well worth considering

  16. As long as the MoD refuses to seriously work on the RN manning crisis I simply can’t put a lot of credence in plans to add even more large vessels (even in the future – which isn’t that far away in this case) when you have continuing issues such as this:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5850349/The-6-billion-Royal-Navy-fleet-hardly-went-sea.html

    Yes it’s the ever sensational and error riddled Mail. However, look at the number of days spent in port for some ofthe worlds finest (and most expensive ) warships. If accurate, HOW is the RN supposed to continue its “buildup”? “Robbing Peter to pay Paul” – like any ponzi scheme – collapses in the end…

    Cheers.

    • If there is a defence budget increase, the very first thing that the extra money should go to should be salaries and financial incentives for experienced personnel. Otherwise, as you said, no fantasy fleet will ever become a reality.

  17. The Italians are about to build a new assault carrier “Trieste”, 32000 tons, stern dock. A UK licence built version, would be my choice for a HMS Ocean replacement.
    The NHS needed more money, but the government has perhaps been too generous & given it all the spare cash they have for the next decade. A little of that should have gone to social care, roads & defence.

    • Hi john, the NHS settlement was not in any way generous, it’s just the minimal amount needed for the system to not completely collapse.

      Still does not detract from the needs of defence and social care et al. Although the NHS budget has been propping up social care for years, it’s called the better care fund, where by we have % of a local areas NHS budget top sliced and given to adult social care. The government will probably up this amount and divert money into social care without being seen to cave in and give money to local authorities.

      There are some things you just have to find the money for, things that stop people dieing in their tens thousands next winter are on the top of the list, even if as Cameroon put it the credit card “is maxed” out.

      • I agree the NHS needed a major cash boost. I agree it needed the Lion’s share of any spare cash.
        I do not think it wise to give all the spare cash for the next decade to the NHS, when past history shows that the extra cash John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown & Cameron threw at it, disappeared with very little improvement to show for it.
        A little bit should have gone to social care, roads, defence & Border Force.

        • Hi john, one of the problems we have seen with historic “extra” funding is that it tended to be tighed in with either:

          1)political vanity projects ( single patient record, 12 billion passed to tec giants for fuck all, no one asked us what we needed)
          2)reacting to media hype about a specific (generally none) problem ( leading to over investment in wiz bang secondary care interventions, when we needed lots of GPs and district nurses)
          3)spent on political dogma driven changes that the NHS never wanted( the creation of stupid sudo markets, and the most incompetent madness of them all the langsly reforms which ripped apart PCTs costing billions and setting the senior leadership of the health system back years)

          What the NHS had always asked for is a simple long term budget related to getting paid for the activity it undertakes ( actually being paid for what we produce would be a nice start, instead of getting a fantasy amount based on how much the government thinks it can screw us and letting use sing for the rest). If the NHS was a private company it would would have taken the government to the cleaners for not paying its health bill years ago ( we are probaly in a deficit of a couple of hundred billion pounds)

          But yes other areas do need better funding especially social care, which is really part of the NHS anyway.

  18. I dont agree with this tbh.

    8 improved Karel Doorman style Joint Logistics and amphibious support ship is the way to go for me.

    They have 6 Merlin landing spots (2 chinook) and hanger facilities for all. They dont currently have a dock, but I suspect we could design that into our version of it based upon an Aegir hullform.

    Alternatively we could go as is and run S2S connectors from the steel beach.

    We have the carriers and their is no need to have anything else for F35’s.

    I understand this is not to everyone’s liking and accept that, but these vessels offer so much more than the dedicated platforms and we can afford them, as day to day they would be solid support ships and when we really need them for amphibious on a large scale we have them.

    We can also replace on a 1-2-1 basis, with our 5 current amphibs being replaced, Argos and the Forts/Waves. It would be a massive increase in capability.

    Lastly it releases money for us to spend on more T31’s as these should come in at around the same price as the Tides +50% maybe – or circa £200-250m each, but only if we order in volume.

    It’s what we need, as well as what we can afford.

  19. LPDs all the way they do a different job to LHD and are better for the heavy stuff. Have a decent flight deck with a couple of spots for heavy rotor for sure. But the only thing I would have over the albions is a hanger for a Merlin and some drones. The drones will be intrinsic to any future high intensity ops and the ability to maintain a Merlin will aid flexibility for deployments during peace time.

  20. I have said this for many years. At one point I would have preferred this type of vessel over a straight carrier such as the QE. In principle the vessel that could do this would be an off the shelf design based on HMAS Canberra with heat protection to the flight deck for the F35B. With three such vessels we could land three reinforced armoured battlegroups with its own air cover, or if need be use them for humanitarian aid and convoy escort carriers if need be.

  21. Hence why 8 Karel Doorman style Solid Support ships are far better, buy some S2S connectors and we have he capabilities of a Mistral but can use them far more.

    Even 4 Flo/FLo’s would be worth having – they would probably even pay for themselves within 10
    years

  22. A Izumo class helo carrier with F35 optional as reported by Japanese press would be a good addition to supplement the bay class ships and give us fast helicopter lift alongside apache helicopters.

    http://www.janes.com/article/79695/japan-s-mod-releases-study-looking-at-f-35b-for-carrier-ops

    Tokyo is also weighing whether to deploy the F-35Bs aboard Izumo-class Maritime Self-Defence Force’s “destroyers” which carry helicopters and are built as de facto aircraft carriers.

    Draft: 7.5 m (24.6 ft)
    Propulsion: • COGAG, two shafts[1]
    • 4 × GE/IHI LM2500IEC gas turbine

    Speed: more than 30 knots (35 mph; 56 km/h)

    Complement: 970 including crew and troops[1]

    Sensors and
    processing systems: • OYQ-12 combat direction system
    • FCS-3 fire control system
    • OPS-50 AESA radar
    • OPS-28 surface-search radar
    • OQQ-23 bow sonar
    Electronic warfare
    & decoys: • NOLQ-3D-1 EW suite
    • Mark 36 SRBOC
    • Anti-torpedo mobile decoy (MOD)
    • Floating acoustic jammer (FAJ)
    Armament: • 3 × Phalanx CIWS
    • 2 × SeaRAM CIWS

    Aircraft carried: • 7 ASW helicopters and 2 SAR helicopters[1]
    • 28 aircraft maximum[2]

    http://www.atimes.com/article/japan-may-buy-40-vertical-takeoff-f-35b-fighters/

    The flight deck of JDS Izumo has 5 helicopter landing spots enabling simultaneous landings or take-offs. On deployments JS Izumo will carry a typical complement of 14 helicopters, seven ASW helicopters and two SAR helicopters. In addition, the ship will be able to transport 400 marines, 50 trucks and supplies.

    http://cimsec.org/japans-izumo-class-helicopter-destroyer-aircraft-carrier-disguise/24130

    The Japanese navy also operates two 20,000 ton Hyūga-class helicopter destroyers – Hyūga and Ise, commissioned in 2009 and 2011. Each is configured to carry up to 18 helicopters. These vessels typically operate three SH-60K and one MCH-101 mine sweeping helicopters. Hyūga class carriers are also equipped with Mk 41 VLS common launcher, armed with ESSM anti-air and ASROC anti-submarine weapons. Izumo class has more sensors and electronic warfare assets, designed for anti-submarine warfare and border-area surveillance missions, its self-defense capabilities are limited to close-in weapon systems (CIWS) such as the PHALANX and SEARAM.

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