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The first step in fixing a problem is conceding that there might be a problem you haven’t considered before.

Update on previous story – Australia’s Canberra Class ships aren’t in very good shape

Yesterday I posted a story about the Canberra Class Landing Helicopter Dock Ships and today I have some more news to share with you – and depending on which side of the fence you sit on when it comes to these Spanish Built ships constructed in conjunction with BAE Systems-Maritime and German manufacturer Siemens you will either cringe, laugh or feel bad for the Royal Australian Navy.

Yesterday I reported that the HMAS Canberra and HMAS Adelaide were currently in dry-dock due to issues that were identified with their propulsion system; now today the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) today conceded that the LHD’s may have design flaw with the engine systems.

In the mean time, Engineers are still trying to identify what is causing problems with the “azimuth” propulsion system on board the more than a billion dollar a piece ships which have been found to have metal fragments in the engine lubricant.

RAN has now confirmed HMAS Adelaide will no longer participate in next month’s planned Talisman Sabre exercises with the United States, and says it is too early to say whether HMAS Canberra will also be able to take part however it is speculated that it will not take part in the exercise as well – the exercises would be the time for Australia to show off it more recent improvements in amphibious warfare.

For Navantia, this comes at a really bad time. They are bidding on nine new anti-submarine-submarine frigates that RAN will be ordering and the controversy surrounding the sale of the same ships by Navantia to the Saudi Arabian government which an expert on arms sales for Amnesty International described as potentially illegal.

19 COMMENTS

  1. Blimey, bad news for the Aussies. Expensive tubs too.

    Why have they got ski ramps? They don’t operate harriers and only F35A planned as far as I can see

    • I was thinking the same in regards to the ski ramp. I guess they designed it to be flexible, should a need for operating F35B’s or similar arises.

      • They are based on the Spanish Juan Carlos class (not surprisingly given the Navantia connection). According to Wikipedia the Australians had planned to remove the ski ramp as part of adapting the JC design to their requirements (they decided they didn’t need the ramp) but it turned out to be more expensive to remove it from the design than to leave it in place so they left it in place.

        There has been some discussion of adding F-35B to the mix but the last I read that it was decided not to. I wonder whether it could be done right now anyway because the heat coating might not have been applied and that is quite a big and probably expensive job. Almost certainly doable but I doubt that having the Canberra class host F-35B is simply a case of buying some F-35B, on-ship mods would almost certainly be required.

  2. Regarding the ski ramps, they are a legacy from the ship design upon which the class is based and the RAN discovered that it would cost more for a design without a ski ramp so left it in.

    Metal fragments in the engine lube doesn’t sound too good. It must be worrying and I really hope that it can be sorted.

  3. I am not sure if the Canberras are using the same engine machinery as the Juan Carlos. I have not heard of problems with Juan Carlos so maybe it is using different machinery. Another thing I noticed about the Canberras is that at the moment they lack a last ditch CIWS for taking out anti-ship missiles. I believe Vulcan Phalanx systems are to be fitted but since commissioning they have sailed with only standard 25mm gun mounts, incapable of stopping missiles as far as I am aware.

  4. Just noticed Turkey is currently building a ship based on Juan Carlos, so I would think they are keeping a very close eye on what is going on in Australia. Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, the Turkish Navy is planning to operate F-35Bs from their ship, so it must be getting a full thermal treatment for the deck.

  5. With the skii jump we can put some of the 100 odd F35b’s we are meant to be getting on it. They are made of cardboard, so don’t need any heat resistant material.

  6. Ouch, that sounds extremely serious, time will tell. I am aware why the Canberra’s maintained the ski ramp and that they were built without fixed wing capability envisaged, the cost to modify them was an obvious issue when a relatively recent Australian government driven evaluation rejected the possibility; at least for the time being. That said if the RAN had one ship modified to act as a light carrier, when needed, operating a squadron of F35B’s the capability increase would not be inconsiderable; combined with the second in the LHD role the power projection delivered most nations would envy. In context the Russian navy can not achieve it, the South Koreans plan a similar capability by 2030, the Japanese hope to but are restricted by politics and the Italians aim to achieve a par capability with there new LHD (LHA) in due course. The US rules, the Chinese are looking to give the US something to think about, but that’s a way off, and the Indians plan an impressive Carrier/LHD force. The remaining key players are France and the UK, each have a different approach, the French have a solution in place, the UK has aspirations however realisation is somewhat debatable: if achieved it will be impressive. In short the RAN would become a major power projection player and in these uncertain times something to be encouraged.

    • even if they are refitted the wait for f35b will take a long time for the aircraft themselves,yes when they decommissioned HMAS Melbourne our navy lost a lot of capability

    • I’m not an expert but was eavesdropping recently on discussions on another forum where many of the participants did at least appear to be experts. A widely held opinion there, maybe even the consensus, was that although vessels such as a Canberra Class could in theory embark some F-35B they were too small to really maintain any sort of intensity in terms of sortie rate for much longer than a day or two and that the real difference in strike capability between the QE carriers and this sort of LHD is far more marked than might be thought from basic specifications.

      As I say, I’m not an expert but when one starts considering space for adequate munitions for hundreds of sorties (which shouldn’t just overflow onto vehicle decks and other storage areas but be in specially protected areas with protected access routes to hangar and deck), deck space to shuffle aircraft around while still keeping takeoff and landing areas clear, hangar space for maintenance and sufficient volume for aviation fuel stores, I can see why our carriers should be a really huge step-change above a Canberra or Juan Carlos with a few F-35B embarked (if we ever get enough F-35B to make use of all that capacity). Obviously these ships can all be re-supplied but it the frequency of needing to re-supply is an issue I think.

      • It still seems a bit short sighted of Australia to buy some B’s, especially considering the country is huge and full of improvised landing strip potentials where the B’s could excel.

        The class might be not be ideal for operating as a carrier, but it would give options, even if it was just providing basic air coverage to the landing force / allies.

        • I agree. It would also help the UK since F-35B has higher UK content than the other variants and to have as many allies as possible operating that variant for us to share experience and expertise with can only help our use of the aircraft. I was just wanting to point out that sometimes here in the UK we bemoan the price that we’re paying for our new carriers (particularly the effect they are having on starving other bits of the RN e.g. escort budget) and forget just what a massive step-change in power projection they are going to be vs what we had before we decommissioned our Harrier-based capabilities. That all contingent upon us actually putting more than a single squadron of F-35B onto them.

          • The last part of your statement is ultimately the problem with the carriers. If we had gone down the route of something smaller, there would have been money available for more jets and escorts.

            No question that carriers have the potential to be a great step up in power projection, but so would have been a smaller platform like the old invisible class.

            Only time will tell just how stretched the navy/airforce will forced to be, to make sure they have enough assets to make use of the carriers.

          • Yup. Time will tell. Ultimately I’m not optimistic though. The only real hope I see is getting some money from the aid budget. There was that flurry of rumours a few weeks ago that the Tories were considering merging the two budgets. I do genuinely believe that would have resulted in more going to defence. With so much public concern about the level of the aid budget already can anyone really see a merge as being an excuse to increase it even more? Just maybe there is no smoke without fire and something might still happen regarding merging budgets.

            It’s not only needing money for more jets and escorts of course, even if that could be found we wouldn’t have the personnel to use them right now, apparently there aren’t even the personnel to keep the current escort fleet at the deployment level that equipment readiness should allow, but that’s another issue I suppose.

            Wow, I’m usually a pretty optimistic guy but looking at UK defence often makes it hard to maintain a cheery outlook.

  7. Canberra class its different to BAM Juan Carlos I, The ship is equipped with two SIEMENS azimuth thrusters and two bow thrusters.

  8. AIS tracking shows HMAS Canberra has been back at sea 2 days ago. Informal word is that it may have been leaking seals on the azipod which have now been replaced and this recent sailing has been a test run.

  9. There has been a degree of media hysteria, wild speculation and inaccurate reporting here in Australia on the LHDs. Rumours of ‘oil and propulsion’ problems led the media to simplistically equate the problem with a family car and mischievously implied the Navy had incompetently bungled a routine engine ’oil change’.

    The problems have since been confirmed to be with the azipods and their seals and lubricants and given the azipods are electrically powered there is no mechanical connection to the engines with the probability of an engine problem close to zero.

    The azipods are clearly still functional, as demonstrated by the Canberra currently being back at sea for engineering trials following rectification works. The Navy took sensible precautions to dock the LHDs when the ships sensors warned of the problem while they identified the cause and worked on an engineering fix.

    I understand there is some bad blood between the UK and your Iberian neighbours (something about a rock somewhere) but as much as you like to slag off the Spaniards you should probably be directing any criticism to the Germans. The azipods and manufactured and installed by Siemens and the integration with the rest of the ships systems is by Anglo-American conglomerate BAE Systems. By all accounts the Spanish built parts of the ship are working fine.

    The propulsion systems is virtually identical to the Spanish LHD Juan Carlos, but the Spanish ship has not yet manifested the same problems it seems principally because, despite being commissioned in 2010, it has done less sea time than the newer Canberra or Adelaide. I also suspect the RAN demands more of its ships than the Spanish Armada.

    The use of azipods in a naval application is a novel approach and carries some degree of risk but they do offer a number of advantages for amphibious ships in terms of station keeping and maneuverability in austere ports or Pacific islands lacking port infrastructure.

    Both ships are still in their operational test and evaluation period, and if defects are going to be discovered, this is the time to fix them. Despite being deployed on HADR operations including to Fiji, the ships are yet to reach FOC. Progressive work-ups, including Army aviation assets including Chinooks and Tiger attack helicopters are still ongoing and the downtime will incur some schedule slippage.

    Most recent indications are that the Canberra is likely to be available to participate in Talisman Sabre 2017 in June. The biennial exercise is the largest bilateral training undertaken between Australia and the US involving over 30,000 personnel and was planned as the first major work-up of the ADFs evolving amphibious capacity and a big step to FOC.

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