British amphibious and sea-lift capability rests in the hands of specialised vessels let’s take a look at those vessels.

The Albion class landing platform docks are HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark.

Their primary function is to embark, transport, deploy and recover troops and their equipment. Each ship can host 305 troops with an overload of a further 405. The class features a vehicle deck capacity of up to six tanks or around 30 armoured all-terrain vehicles.

The Albion’s also feature a floodable well dock, with the capacity to take either four utility landing craft (each capable of carrying a Challenger 2 tank) or shelter a hovercraft landing craft.

Four smaller landing craft are positioned on port and starboard davits, each capable of carrying 35 troops. Each ship features a two-spot 64m flight deck able to take medium support helicopters and stow a third or operate a Chinook. However, the Albion design does not have a hangar.

The Bay class are operated by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and are officially designated as ‘Landing Ship Docks’. Each Bay class vessel is capable of carrying up to 24 Challenger tanks or 150 military trucks in 1,150 linear metres of space. The UK operates three Bay class vessels after selling the fourth to Australia.

Under normal conditions, a Bay class ship can carry 350 soldiers, but this can be doubled to 700 in overload conditions. The flight deck is capable of handling helicopters up to the size of Chinooks, as well as Merlin helicopters however while the class have no hangar, a temporary shelter can be set up to house a single helicopter. The well dock can carry one LCU Mark 10 or two LCVPs, and two Mexeflotes can be suspended from the ship’s flanks.

A Mexeflote from RFA Mounts Bay in the Carribean.

The Point class sealift ships are designed for the strategic transport of military cargo and vehicles. Four ships were built by the German company Flensburger Schiffbau Gesellschaft and two built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast. They replaced the RFA Sea Centurion and Sea Crusader in service.

Picture shows Merchant Vessel Hartland Point carrying military equipment in support of Cougar 12 in the Mediterranean Sea.

The full six-ship service was only to be required for major operations and exercises which prompted the MoD to pursue a contract for their long term service under the Private Finance Initiative.

Point class ship at Mare Harbour in the Falklands.

Under the contract the provider can make ships available for commercial service with other companies at times when they are not needed by MoD, two of the ships however have been let go from this arrangement leaving the MoD with only four should they be required.

The vessels have 2,650 linear metres of space for vehicles which is able to house 130 armoured vehicles and 60 trucks and ammunition or 8,000 tonnes of vehicles.

The Landing Craft

A Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel (LCVP) Landing Craft is pictured arriving at Tregantle Beach in Cornwall.

The primary role of the Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel (LCVP) mentioned above is to transfer personnel, vehicles, and equipment onto the shores from their host vessels.

LCU approaches the dock of amphibious landing ship HMS Bulwark.

The LCU Mk.10 is capable of carrying 120 troops as well as vehicles and equipment. They are capable of operating for up to 14 days with a range of 600 nautical miles.

A Royal Marine LCAC hovercraft during Carlyon Bay Wader Exercise in Cornwall.

The primary role of the LCAC is a fully amphibious craft capable of the high speed movement of 16 fully equipped troops and a crew of 2 over water, ice, mud, marshland and beach.

 

 

42 COMMENTS

  1. Timely article UKDJ and one that I think explains the current situation fully.

    As many of you know I am an advocate for the UK adopting a Karel Doorman style Logistic and Amphibious support ship. Having read the above I am even more convinced of this and provide the main specs of a KD below.

    Main Logistics and Amphib Specs.

    2 Replenishment-At-Sea masts
    8000 m3 of fuel
    1000 m3 of helicopter fuel
    450 m3 of potable water
    400 tonnes of ammunition and other supplies.
    2,000 lane metres
    40 tons Elevator and Crane
    Roll on/roll off facility for vehicles
    Stern steel beach stern construction
    2 LCVP’s landing craft.
    2 Spot Helicopter Deck (2 Chinooks simultaneously)
    Hangar for 6 medium sized helicopters, including NH-90, CH-47F and AH-64D Apache.
    20 Bed Hospital (2 Surgeries)
    Plus Command Rooms
    Configurable space to house additional personnel and equipment through containers etc.

    As can be seen above – if the UK adopted the Karel Doorman with S2S Connectors instead of LCU’s or created a version of this with a well deck then this really would be a major step change in capabilty.

    The UK is currently scoping the SSS for 3 ships and the 5 ships above (plus a replacement for Oceans hull) could give us a class of 9 over time (no rush – but needs planning for the NSS) a fleet of 8 of these ships would give the RN many options not just in its logistics and humanitarian options but also in its sea basing and amphibious capabilities.

    I believe we have a real opportunity to merge some capabilities here into a tide class hull and release funding to other areas whilst ensuring capabilities are strengthened overall in both the logistics and amphibious fleet.

    • I am very much coming round to Pacman’s POV on the KD idea.

      The all round utility and flexibility would mean much better use of the hulls over their lifetime than the current mix.

      9 in class would offer the opportunity to really provide a long term backbone to a NSS.

    • The Karel Doorman is a terrific concept.

      It cost the Dutch €400m.

      So, to be built in the UK you’d probably want to quintuple that.

      • I dont agree with you on this Joe.

        I think the UK pricing we see is for Total through life costs (or at least 10 years of it) and I do think the UK could build a fleet of these at £250-300m each.

        We have the facilities and the workforce now and actually I believe that the Carriers have really set the industry up for the future and the T31’s has got competition going again…
        So to have a contract put forward for 1 Logistic vessel every 18 months (creating a fleet of 9 Tides and 9 UK Amphibious Logistic Vessels – ALV’s) would actually bring the NSS a step closer to being sustainable and of benefit to UK industry and the RN/RFA.

        Notes: a). fleets of 9 allow for 8 in service and 1 in deep maintenance b). the NSS has a 30 year planning horizon allowing for a drumbeat of 1 ship every 18 months over a 30 year period at which point start again and replace.

        • Id love to see it but just dont see the uk having the finances to fund it. I beleive the KD was built in Romania still still came in at €400mm.

    • I do generally believe a miniature flat top is the best replacement for ocean. But the JSS is a brilliant contender to replace Argus. Even three ships would be a major game changer.

    • I’ve been thinking similarly.

      Firstly, I see this as the Solid Stores Ship from MARS whilst also replacing Ocean, Albion Class, and eventually, the Bay Class. As such that’s 9 ships, but the strength of this option is that it can likely be achieved by a 7/8 ship class due to the efficiencies of a single very capable class.

      Secondly, these ships do not have to be an Ocean or Albion Class equivalent, instead of in the past having three very capable amphibious warships and a stores ship in amphibious assault group, we would have 4 quite capable amphibious warships all capable of supplying stores to the fleet. As an example, instead of the 600+ men troops carried in each, the new class need only have space for ~450 troops each.

      Finally, I agree mostly with your list @Pacman 27, but the ship will need to have 3 RAS masts as set by official requirements . And I would prefer that these ships have a well dock, carrying 2 LCUs and mexeflotes each, and then less aviation facilities, hangar space for 3 merlins being ideal. Effectively the BMT Solid Stores Ship design with a well dock and medical facilities.

      • I think we do need the 9 as they will predominantly be supply and support vessels – add in Argus with 1 configured as a hospital ship and that brings up easily a class of 9/10 of these – although I personally would like to see 9 Tides and 9 of these.

        If we had such a class it is conceivable we could have 50% with a well dock and less aviation and 50% with full aviation facilities.

        Of course we could have the best of all worlds if we adopted S2S connectors and ran them off the stern steel beach. I think there are options to be had here that need careful consideration and for me I think CB90s are the way to deliver the RM onto a beach or littoral environment, accepting the probably reality that Tanks will need some form of harbour to be landed. This may be flawed thinking – but actually I think in a serious situation the UK could easily build the required S2S connectors if required and reap the benefits of a single class with loads of flexibility and lane meters.

        • Sorry – the Norwegians have put a hospital facility into their smaller Tide class and I think we should have done the same.

          I guess the main thing here is that these are big vessels and we can and should get a bit more utility out of them.

          Some of these running Atlas Mine Countermeasures or launching a company of RM’s in CB90’s and another company by Helicopter would just be Brilliant.

        • I’m okay with the tide class as they are. It would also be possible to increase their number relatively easily as they were bought commercially.

          As for the multi-purpose ships, I forgot about Argus, so 8 or 9 should do the job. I think there should be areas which can be reconfigured as needed, whether it be for command and control or more hospital facilities or accommodation. I think either the QE class or the Ford class have something similar to this.

          As for the 50/50 between aviation and well dock facilities in the class, I’m not sure if the enhanced aviation is needed. In the current design proposal, they would have 3 merlins each. Now comparing that to Ocean, with its 18 thats awful. But the Ocean was the only amphibious assault ship to carry helicopters, as such the fleet’s helicopter numbers are almost unchanged. Moreover, in all certainty there will be a carrier – or we can just increase the number of multi-purpose ships to increase our air power.

          I like the CB90s, would happily change them out for the MK5 LCVPs but I would still keep the LCUs for vehicles. And the CB90 could also be used as a patrol boat and tug for the mexeflotes.

          With four of these ships in an amphibious assault group, each with 3 merlins, 2 LCU’s and 3/4 CB90s, thats something like four companies by sea and one by air each wave. And we could potentially have two of these assault groups.

  2. Interesting article. The Royal Logistic Corp recently took part in an army only amphibious exercise using powered mexeflote barges to bring troops and vehicles ashore from a point class ship.
    The barges are lowered by crane from the deck.
    A useful added capability, although no substitute for the LPD/LSD’s.

  3. Also how many lcvp’s , lcu’s and lcac’s have we?..
    Anyone got an up to date figure?..
    Without these the ships docks aren’t much use.

    • 10 LCU and 18/19 LCVP in service. There where another 2 LCUs and 4/5 LCVPs but I don’t know if the ones withdrawn from service went in to storage or the bin but if I had to guess I would say the latter.

  4. Careful uk defence journal. If any johnie foreigner reads this they will think this is the sales brochure for 2nd hand , ex Royal Navy vessels, being sold off at rock bottom prices.

  5. Very useful and informative article.

    I’ve often wondered why Calmac’s fleet of ROROs weren’t and aren’t considered potential assets to swell the Point class at need – they’re owned by the Scottish Government and most are seagoing. All it would need is some regular training and exercises, and I daresay an extra few bob for the crew (and Scottish Government, kerching). An auxiliary reserve, and one with a pool of vessels.

  6. No mention of 539 and their heavily armed ORCs?
    These have deployed on an LPD with great success.
    They are kept high and dry in the well deck and when required craned directly into the flooded dock.
    With high speed and on the gunboat variant heavy armament they allow the RM to deploy to shore quickly for raids or to go “up river” for riverine patrols.
    For an idea of what they can do look up the TV documentary involving HMS BULWARK when she deployed on a Taurus deployment as AMPHIP Flagship with HMS OCEAN to the Far east. ( I’m in a few shots but I wont say which ones outside of crossing the line. ) The 539 lot did some interesting work on the rivers in Brunei…and chopped down a lot of trees…

  7. Geoff the US marines use hovercraft extensively to take the landing force up and onto the beach. As do the Russians and Chinese. As hovercraft were a British invention (as were lots of the worlds best developments in the last 100 years) It seems only right and proper that the Royal Marines do have a token hovercraft capability. I do not think hovercraft are as rubbish as you like to make out.
    They are after all virtually immune to mines and highly resistant to small arms fire. Against a contested beach a hovercraft would be a superior landing platform then a traditional bath tub LCU.

    • The S2S connector whilst expensive do not need a well dock and seem to be very capable. They are also more useful in flood and marsh situations and do provide a solution for the UK to develop a KD Style amphibious logistic vessel at a price point similar to, but more expensive than the Tide Class.

      Once again its a compromise – but it means the vessels themselves are more flexible and therefore more useable.

      I dont know whether the following is a good idea or not – but a vessel of the above kind with the ability to launch CB90’s from the side ( a bit like the QE class launch their Atlas’s) port/starboard and a stern ramp for LCU’s would be good – but I admit I am just making shit up now…

      I do believe we need to modernise and multi role the RFA fleet – in order for them to be mother ships for things like the remote Mine Countermeasures systems, thereby releasing hulls to build more escorts and keep the fleet around 75 major vessels, but rebalance it towards an escort and sub fleet with all other vessels multi-role (excluding carriers of course).

    • Anything bigger than a UK LCU wont fit in a UK LPD without removing the center line barrier from the well dock. That is a major dockyard evolution to get done. With the barrier removed it then alters the performance of the well dock through an increases in the wash and swell characteristics experienced in there. Its difficult enough maneuvering an LCU in there as it is. The amount of smashed wooden fendering that used to float around in there, prior to its replacement by plastic fendering,was testament to that fact.
      The hovercraft are quick and somewhat mine resistant but don’t carry light vehicles. They are also not as Bootie or Matelot proof as a nice and simple LCU/LCVP. Landing craft just keep on going no matter what you do to them.

      • Fair comment Gunbusters (as always)

        I must admit I look to these vessels as a bit of a catch all, I just dont think the RN can afford specialist vessels that are hardly used and so my plan is to have a vessel that is constantly in use as its flexible and then add in “enabling items” to bring out the specific requirements.

        I admit this is a compromise – but so is having ships tied up or alongside for long periods at which point the bean counters start querying why we have them.

        Not ideal – but perhaps this necessity will enable us to do something smart and change things a bit…. I hope so.

  8. This article reminds me of a more in depth effort by Think Defence years back.

    As highlighted, Bays carrying 1 LCU or 2 LCVP are no match for LPD’s with 4 of each plus C3 facilities.

  9. Lets just all hope the LPDs survive 2018/2019 (with one in reserve/refit) and then with all three Bays back supporting the RMs we could see in the early 2020s some decent amphibious exercises being undertaken and perhaps some planning for the future with an existing capability and not another “gap”.
    The LCU’s are outdated as are the hovercraft so investment is required along with some thinking on how the RMs are going to function in the next 30 years. For me the means must change but amphibious warfare will always be relevant to an Island such as ours and whilst the RMs will never carry the capability or weight of numbers that the US Marines possess our lighter forces should be more mobile and still be capable of going over a beach.

  10. I think we should target the Marines in their original configuration of behind enemy lines disruptors.

    I dont think we will have a large scale contested beach landing in the future so a force of Marines being delivered by CB90’s, provides an assymetric threat that I dont believe we currently have.

    Add a CB90 (or 2) to our escorts and again we have a new capability for force protection and denial.

    I think the beauty of the RM is that they should work in small groups of 16 or so to cause as much havoc and disruption as possible. They have been over used as an infantry battalion when they should be and are our elite force.

    • I like your ideas but you cannot just write off carrying out a contested landing because you or I don’t think that will happen again. I agree with them not being used just as an infantry battalion but since the formation of the Commandos they have done both pin prick raids and acted as amphibious infantry. That in my opinion and in the recent history of the RMs is still both key capabilities. It is the means that will change. Of course the over use of the RMs in the infantry role in Afghanistan has more to do with the pathetic state of the Army that still seems to fail in employing combat ready personnel.

      • Hi SJB1968

        You are right I shouldn’t discount it – and I dont, but I do think the nature of a landing is different and the UK will not be expected to do a large set-piece D-Day style landing in the future.

        I think the more likely scenario is for a large scale landing of RM’s – perhaps upto Brigade level would be done through a distributed force being delivered by CB90’s, Helicopters and perhaps S2S connectors. I am also a big fan of the Polaris vehicles with a GPMG on top or a mortar in the back – Fast, light and provides some (limited) cover and carries a load of ammo.

        What I was really trying to say (poorly I admit) is that we need to do things differently and in my opinion a wider range of lighter assets that can provide a swarm effect can prove useful in both day to day activities and as a whole if brought together.

        A KD type Aegir with 16 CB90’s that can be lowered from each side (like the Atlas craft on QE class via transom’s I believe) would be amazing – especially if you could swap these out for Atlas Mine Sweepers when required to produce a minesweeper force. A couple of S2S connectors out the stern and we are in business.

        Not cheap to do overall – but you are then looking at real capability of Solid Stores, Amphibious and Helicopter facilities that are just outstanding.

        9 would cost about the same as a carrier and I believe would offer more – like I say no rush we can do 1 every 18 months and kee the drumbeat going.

  11. Surely it must eventually dawn on those contributors to this discussion who advocate replacement for the present amphibious landing ships that it is a non-starter. Present Government policy is to get rid of the warships, then get rid of the crews, as happened for example with the last four Type 22 frigates, HMS Ark Royal,etc etc. When HMS Oceon, Albion and Bulwawk have been sold off, 1000 sailors transferred to other ships and 1000 Royal Marines thrown out of the service it will no longer be possible to fund any sort of replacement ships and provide the crew required.
    I sincerely wish that General Messenger could be appointed as CDS but it cannot happen. He is an honourable man, respected by all and adored by the Royal Marine Corps. He will not stand by and watch whilst what is probably one of the finest trained and equipped special forces in this world is reduced to just another infantry regiment.

  12. Surprised not to see the mexefloate given equal billing alongside the smaller landing craft, and the importance of the RSP configuration when matting with stern ramps. Equally, the Army Work Boat, without which there would be no Mexeflote capability.

  13. The RM has trialed the CB 90. The fact that we still have LCVPs says something…
    The big question being why get the equivalent of a Porsche Cayenne with all the extras when you only really need a Defender 110 to do the job.
    A CB90 cannot carry a vehicle and can only carry 18 people as opposed to a LCVP which can carry vehicles or 36 people.
    As a CB90 does 40 knts the passengers will need to be restrained in specialist seating that looks a lot like mine resistant seating on Army vehicles . That is not required on an LCVP as it will only do 25 ish knts
    I used to thing LCVPs where difficult to maintain until I worked on a CB90. They are hugely complex with wiring looms and equipment up the front end going to the rear where the engines are….the problem with that is this is usually the end getting shot at. On an LCVP everything is for the most part at the rear and better protected.

  14. As I was looking through the comments pacmans caught my eye, so in some ways I will respond to this and throw in some new ideas. I like and understand the concept of the KD very much especially as it is a very flexible platform and can resolve military as well as humanitarian requirements. Possibly they could even be paid for partially out of the International Aid Budget. However, they do no resolve the issues that the UK and the RN have, to dismiss the idea that the UK will not have to land over the beach a major force is a dangerous concept. We still have overseas protectorates, the Falklands especially with the oil and gas reserves could once again become a target. So this ability to land heavy equipment over the beach might be needed. We have other areas that people and it seems government have forgotten, it is only now that even the US is starting to wake up to the problem, trans-Atlantic heavy lift and convoys. So convoy escorts are needed, (bear with me on this one). The other issue is our surface fleet numbers, at the moment we do not have enough and in all likelihood it will not get better, so with two QE carriers needing escorts the fleet will be stretched to the bone. It will not have enough to escort a KD based assault group. So we need to come up with new ideas and think again. At the moment we the UK seem to do some weird things with our limited resources, T45s on humanitarian aid or anti drug patrols. Good for a photo shoot but is that really the role of an AAW destroyer? We also have the situation where the Albion class and the Bays will be coming to the end of there life in the early 2030s that will need replacing as well as designing and building the new Type 31 frigates.
    In many ways because we have as a nation a limited budget we do need to spend a little more on a single vessel to make it truly multi-functional. Yes we need the blue water capability that the QE with the T45. T26 and Astute will give, but these are battle-groups. For the needs of the UK two such battle-groups are enough.
    Now what we need is low to reasonable cost flexible ships to take on all the roles that the battle-group should not be doing. Amphibious assault, including over the beach capability, command and control including that control needed for natural disasters, heavy lift, convoy escort, replenishment.
    So how do I propose to achieve all of that on a budget, well we can go the hole hog a 10-15 year building plan spend 10 billion doing it and have a fleet that can just about do everything. Or we can do it in stages. However, the first thing that we need to do if we go the hole hog is to stop the T31s NOW. The reason you will read in a minute.
    By build the complete program you would with my concept get the following
    3*Canberra type Landing Helicopter Dock
    6* Karel Doorman type vessels
    and
    12* Absalon type vessels
    To build all of these it would cost approx 8.4 billion pounds (using there construction cost) plus an extra billion for alterations to the decks of the LHDs and container variable depth sonar for the Absalons.
    So you might ask what would that give,
    Well with the complete force it would give in the Amphibious assault role
    an air group of
    50 helicopters
    18 F35s
    Assault force (over the beach)
    8,400 men combined British Army Three Armoured Battle-Groups and Royal Marines.
    128 MBTs could be landed
    all supporting vehicles, armoured personnel carriers and artillery
    supply’s for 30 days
    If this Amphibious Assault Fleet is then supported by the Carrier Battle Group the likelihood that the UK will ever have to face a Falkland style conflict again with the nation having that capability would be virtually non-existent.
    The defensive capability of the Assault Fleet would be impressive as well, using just the missile capability of the Absalon the complete fleet would have
    432 Aster or Sea Captor missiles
    96 Harpoon or equivalent
    24 anti submarine tubes
    plus the large-medium and small caliber guns/CIWS
    not forgetting that some of the helicopters could be submarine hunters say 8 out of the 50.
    This would mean that the Amphibious fleet would not need a dedicated support group especially if containerised VDS is installed on the Absalons.
    Yet is that the only reason to have such a fleet, well no the Karel Doormans can act as support and or replenishment vessels, hospital ships and large scale humanitarian aid vessels. They also have the future ability to be ROV mother ships.
    The Absalons can do a similar task but on a smaller scale whilst acting as anti piracy anti drug patrol vessels and as convoy escorts.
    The LHDs can act or support the heavy lift requirements for the Trans-Atlantic routes or as an escort carrier with anti submarine helicopters and F35s.
    And please don’t forget our commitment to Norway, I would not deploy a Carrier Battle Group on its own up there if the worse happened and there was a conflict with Russia.
    You could say it is a pie in the sky concept especially with manning issues and the cost, only to man these ships with a single crew 3500 men and women would be needed.
    Specialised containers could be preposition around the world so that vessels of the group or fleet could re-task.
    If you split the construction down into three groups, one group (consists of a LHD, 2*KD, 4*Ab) to be completed every seven years that is a cost of 3.3 billion in a seven year period a manning requirement of 1200 the selling or transfer of Albion class/bays and the 5 T23 is a manning reduction of 1605. By the time the third group is commissioned the first group is 14 years old.
    Does the UK have the money for it, for the first group yes, there is the 1.25 billion for the type 31 frigates, the Ablions and Bays could be sold for example to the a new International Humanitarian Aid Fleet for say 1 billion that’s now 2.25 billion available, I think over a seven year period a further 1.25 billion could be found. So the first group is not an issue and in fact it would be seven vessels all be it much more capable replacing 10, the concept only works properly with the implementation of the second group. Then after that just a rolling program
    Think also the impact it would have on British shipbuilding, almost 300,000 tons of warship being built over the next 20 years not including the current construction programs. Shipyards would have to expand, people trained, industry expanded. The United States/NATO members as will several other countries will defiantly sit up and notice.
    So tell me what you think

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