With Brazil has acquiring amphibious assault ship HMS Ocean, I take a look at the viability of replacing her.

HMS Ocean is a 22,000 tonne amphibious assault ship, formerly the UK’s helicopter carrier and was the fleet flagship of the Royal Navy. She was designed to support amphibious landing operations and to support the staff of Commander UK Amphibious Force and Commander UK Landing Force.

The aforementioned news seems to have stimulated considerable debate over the future of Royal Navy amphibious assault warfare ships, and the wider issue of changing capabilities and resources.

How should the UK go about procuring and prioritising certain naval assets to achieve its security objectives? With a resurgent Russia, trouble in the Middle East, threat of nuclear confrontation in the Asia-Pacific, and the ability to patrol Britain’s strategic interests in the Baltic, Mediterranean, Caribbean and the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the possibility of projecting power in the Pacific – it is necessary to have an amphibious assault vessel. While the last article detailed the merits of HMS Ocean I shall not repeat them here.

Therefore, this brings me to the debate at hand, as to whether the UK’s new shipbuilding strategy should also look at procuring the next amphibious assault vessel.

There are two considerations to be taken into account with HMS Ocean. Firstly it was built to ‘commercial specifications’ which arguably means lifespan is coming to an end, and it’s only practical and logical to decommission it. On the other side of the debate there are those who believe that money should have been spent on refitting the HMS Ocean, to increase its lifespan, and ocean-going capacity, no pun intended.

However, there may indeed be a third option – which is to create procurement of a commercially viable and budget amphibious vessel using modular ship building techniques, with a price tag a fraction that of the Queen Elizabeth class. That way, the UK could do what the French have done with the Mistral class and sell these new ships to other nations who do not have the shipbuilding capacity to build them at home.

While the UK has based its strategic thinking on the power projection abilities of HMS Queen Elizabeth, that may not really be tactically sound. As a very informative article points out ‘Your CVF should not moonlight as your LPH‘. Plus, the added bonus is that for a fraction of the cost of the Queen Elizabeth class, this would guarantee that the Royal Navy has flat-top capability with the ability to land and deploy the Royal Marines in number if either of the new carriers is out of use for whatever reason.

Lastly, it may actually help British shipbuilding and create market demand for a new ‘budget’ class amphibious assault carrier to rival the French Mistral class. It is both strategically viable, and economically sensible for UK defence planners and industry experts to propose this new possibility to the politicians.

The only problem? The cost in gold and people makes all this very unlikely.

I am currently a part time student at the University of East Anglia studying for a PhD in International Security. The title of my thesis is: Obama’s Wars’: The Changing Nature of Obama’s Grand Strategy during the First and Second Administration in relation to the Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. I teach International Organisations: Conflict and Development at an MA level as well as Global Politics at the UEA. I graduated with an MA in International Relations (UEA), and also a BA (Hons) in Politics (UEA). My interests include strategy, grand strategy in the Middle East and the Asia Pacific, international relations and politics, maritime strategy, counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency warfare, and maritime policy.

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David Steeper
Guest

it would be wonderful if we could but there are two small problems. we don’t have the cash to build her or the trained sailors to crew her. The only way we could do both is if there were a change to the funding formula between the 3 services in favour of the Navy. But I think it’s fair to say the Army and RAF would be somewhat resistant ! And as big a Navy nut as I am I’d have sympathy for them.

Slaine
Guest
Slaine

As a nation we re-liquified the financial sector to the tune of about £400bn. A proportion of that was supplied almost overnight. We could do something similar, if on a much smaller scale, to re-invigorate the British shipbuilding industry. What we lack is the will and the desire. Admittedly if investments of this sort were to be known there would be a long queue of worthy sectors with their hands out. Before we descend into talk of disastrous borrowing and overspending have a look at this table. Labour Conservative Total Years in office 28 42 70 (since 1946) Total net… Read more »

Slaine
Guest
Slaine

That table didn’t fair well in formatting

Years in office (since 1946) Labour 28 Conservative 42 total 70
Total net borrowing Original prices Lab 488.1 Con 961.8 tot 1449.9
Average borrowing for each year in office – original prices
Lab 17.4 Con 22.9 tot 20.7
Total net borrowing 2014 prices Lab 749.2 Con 1405.4 Tot 2154.6
Average borrowing for each year in office 2014 prices
Lab 26.8 Con 33.5 Tot 30.8

Nathan
Guest
Nathan

I’m sorry Slaine but this is superficial Labour propaganda. If government A causes a financial collapse government B will have to borrow to support the services that would otherwise go pop. The question then is, would you rather government B simply cut those services or borrow to support them until growth and the economy is fixed? The reason Labour have only been in for half the time of the conservatives is because is takes them that long to re-build trust with the public after previously trashing the economy – and for the conservatives to right the economy without selling off… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli
Guest
Daniele Mandelli

Good post Nathan.

Chris
Guest
Chris

Nathan – A brilliantly constructed argument that totally nails the truth which totally demolished the rather pointless post by ‘Slaine’. I will only add a few other items: * All that £400 Bn (or whatever) used to bail out the banks was jut added to our National Debt. A bit like Corbyn would do Nationalising the world. * Tony ‘teflon’ Bliar sold off half our Gold stocks for little more than the cost of the Foreign Office coffee budget. * Gordon ‘I saved the world’ Brown lumbered schools, NHS Trusts, the Tube and anyone else he could con with hugely… Read more »

Chris
Guest
Chris

Great post Nathan…

Ian
Guest
Ian

I think The Mighty O is one of the best value vessels in the navy.

To think the carriers are a replacement to me is folly. They perform completely different if complimentary roles. Replacements for O should absolutely be in the NSS which was a hollow plan by a Govt unprepared to invest further in defence.

Sadly I don’t see a change from either party on the horizon

Ships, I see No Ships has an entirely different meaning to the political class of today.

Mr Bell
Guest
Mr Bell

Defence budget needs to go upto 3% gdp yo defence expenditure. Then the budget needs to be enshrined in law (like the overseas aid budget) then we can afford a decently sized, equipped armed forces. RN needs 26 escorts frigate and destroyers. A new lphd is certainly high on anyone’s wish list, not least for disaster relief and amphibious assault capability. Perhaps overseas aid budget could fund a replacement for Ocean. Set the budget for replacement at £500 million and see what competitive shipbuilders come back with. £500 million for reference is only slightly more than the £465 million given… Read more »

Pacman27
Guest
Pacman27

Mr Bell – The foreign aid budget will not be reduced – but that doesn’t mean the UK can’t be smarter in how it spends that money. 1. Transfer the bays and Argus immediately to a new DFID funded humanitarian force 2. Transfer the Puma force as well. 3. Sell DFID all surplus army equipment that is suitable for humanitarian purposes, such as land rovers, diggers, HGV’s etc. 4. Ensure the Foreign aid budget is spent only on humanitarian aid and only British manufactured (or surplus) goods can be provided. 5. Keep the Helicopter and naval force as back up… Read more »

Ian
Guest
Ian

Hi Pacman,

I am all for this type of realignment of resources. However to facilitate it would mean leaving the accepted global current Aid rules – which I totally think we should.

Pacman27
Guest
Pacman27

HI Ian, I dont think you are right, when I looked this up a couple of weeks ago there are some types of aid that can be included, but I do not believe it to be prescriptive on how you spend the money and it does not state equipment must be new. I think we could turn the ships and helicopters under the command of the UN or even have the Red Cross or MSF direct operations (with our guys doing the risk assessments etc). So essentially we would let these organisations do what they want – but buy, fund… Read more »

Chris
Guest
Chris

Totally agree, some great suggestions.

Geoffrey Roach
Guest
Geoffrey Roach

In technical terms Pacman…”bloody good idea”. I’ve long thought that there must surely be some useful time left in ex services material and this fits the bill a treat.

Nathan
Guest
Nathan

Brilliant. That’s a good approach and a fairer realisation of spending than we have presently.

Chris
Guest
Chris

there is a guide to how to do Foreign Aid and the Yanks did it with Marshall Aid post WWII. Loans were given to buy US manufactured equipment. Basically funds from the US Government was recycled through Foriegn Aid to subsidise US manufacturing.

Utterly brilliant (for the USA).

“Yes Mr African Dictator you can have a nice new port / road / airport and here is a list of UK manufacturers from which to choose.”
“I want cash”
“F**k off then”

Chris
Guest
Chris

“Yes Mr African Dictator you can have a nice new port / road / airport and here is a list of UK manufacturers from which to choose.”
“I want cash”
“F**k off then”

Ha ha, spot on. Sadly we have a government that has a backbone made of jelly, and the opposition is totally spineless…

Paul
Guest
Paul

Given that HMS Ocean was built to commercial standards, is there not merit on ordering an additional, but modified FSS ship. Commonality of lower deck layout and machinery would be worth some savings surely. If it was last one to be built then all the machinery etc would be tested on the earlier ships.

Chris
Guest
Chris

In general terms yes I agree its a worthwhile objective. But, and there is always a ‘but’, we are where we are and cannot sort of skip off to another situation. We have two massive carriers coming into service. Whatever ‘Ocean’ is doing can be more than done by a QE. Especially the ‘Command and Control’ element of being a flagship. So as I have said elsewhere here I am OK with ‘Ocean’ being sold off to Brazil. Maybe we can sell them some new Merlins to go with it. However, and there should always be a ‘however’, we need… Read more »

Luke
Guest
Luke

I open by saying I have no naval experience at all but couldnt they modify the ship to fly standard drones and use it to patrol the Atlantic and North Sea for locating Russian submarines. From what I can see its ideally suited to carry a dozen and act as a command structure for all other submarine hunting patrols for NATO, seems especially useful considering the lack of Nimrod replacements and lack of submarines? Could even free up a destroyer or frigate patrol? Just keep the amphibious bits in case ever needed and streamline the crew to the lowest manpower… Read more »

julian
Guest
julian

We need to replace Ocean with a new one for same cost. Keep Albion and Bulwark. Build a modified Bay as Hospital ship and use with both bay for aid relief Billing aid budget for these 3 ship so as to be available to RN in crises.

andy
Guest
andy

the problem i think we have is to many idiots in suits and dresses have aloud BAE to rule the roost,and always get the contracts which they charge way to much for and don,t even stick to the contract price,even if they then palm it off to another ship builder,industry in this country has been killed off over the years and therefor no real cost competition,the government pay BAE millions just to retain skilled jobs which has not really worked as jobs were cut building the euro fighter,the same is happening at the shipyards..to me these millions could be spent… Read more »

David
Guest
David

Pipe dream – never going to happen. By the looks of things, we’re not even going to keep what we have never mind any replacements.

Sad, sad state of affairs. Theresa May and HMG should be ashamed of themselves!

Paul.P
Guest
Paul.P

Buy a Mistral from the French?

Pacman27
Guest
Pacman27

This may be contentious – but I think the right decision has been made with Ocean. I think the RN has many more higher priority requirements and in reality a CBG with a Carrier an Albion and a Bay is a pretty potent thing and we can have 2 of these groups. I personally think we need more escorts and for those escorts to be able to field at least 1 CB90 which can get 20+ marines on to a beach or upriver quickly and as safe as these things can be. I also think the Karel Doorman class of… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli
Guest
Daniele Mandelli

Exactly.

QEC cannot carry heavy stores vehicles engineer kit like Hippo BARV’s and the essential landing craft.

The Bay’s cannot carry 4 LCU and 4 LCVP.

Therefore LPD’s non negotiable in my view.

Colin
Guest
Colin

PAUL .P We had the chance to buy two Mistral that where looking for new home

https://www.ft.com/content/1cace11e-3c37-11e5-bbd1-b37bc06f590c

Egypt sold Mistral warships to Russia for €1 outrages France

Paul.P
Guest
Paul.P

Sell Ocean, Albion and Bulwark to Brazil for £80m + + and buy a Mistral from France for 1 euro. Why not? We retain LPH and LPD capability and could find manpower for 1 ship?

David Stephen
Guest
David Stephen

We should accept the fact that we don’t have the crew to sail another flat top and are unlikely to need the heavy vehicle lift capacity of all 4 Point class at once so convert 2 of them to LPH(A)s. Extend the superstructure under the bridge all the way aft to create hanger space for 3-6 Merlin. The forward section of open deck could be set up for 2 Merlin spots and fill the interior with modular berthing for 500-600 troops.

Paul.P
Guest
Paul.P

Just to clarify, your proposal would also retain Albion and Bulwark?

David Stephen
Guest
David Stephen

Yes

Harold
Guest
Harold
Lee H
Guest
Lee H

Evening all We do not have the manpower to be able to man both a CTG and ATG. Before we even speculate about build costs, moving platforms around to different budget areas and even using French amphibious lift etc. We have to be realistic and understand that unless the RN undergoes a large increase in manning all of those things are just concepts and pipe dreams. HMS Ocean is not being decommissioned because of her age she is being decommissioned to release a crew that are used to operating a flat deck. PoW is rapidly being built and will be… Read more »

Geoffrey Roach
Guest
Geoffrey Roach

Hello TH. You’ve woken up again, you bad boy!

Daniele Mandelli
Guest
Daniele Mandelli

LOL

Rob
Guest
Rob

Hate to say it but I agree with TH – this is dream world stuff. We are facing more cuts so any talk of buying new ships not already announced is a waste of time, simply not going to happen.

joe
Guest
joe

– Take £2bn of this mythical “£178 billion” the Tories say they will spend…. – Go to DCNS and say, “Good day, build 3 x Mistral LHDs please” – Job done….. you have your replacements for Ocean, Albion and Bulwark. Each requiring a crew of just 160 to man! No 5 years waiting for a requirements document from the millions of idle civil servants. No further years waiting for an RFI from the 1 company who will be picked to build them. No waiting for BAE to hold feeble minded DoD staff and politicians over a barrel. Order them, pay… Read more »

Rob
Guest
Rob

Agree with the concept of buying what works etc and that we need them.

Your point does somewhat fall down with your first sentence though. The £178bn is mythical and there isn’t £2bn spare to build 3 new LHDs, let alone man them.

Daniele Mandelli
Guest
Daniele Mandelli

Yes but I read that comment as hypothetical Rob.

MoD could order some equipment off the shelf rather than faff about, like the FRES for example that reportedly had MoD spend 1 Billion pounds to get zilch after endless proposals, studies, fantasies and concept studies.

Darren
Guest
Darren

The ship cost an estimated £250 million? In today’s (2016) money (from 154 million pounds in 1993) she is 288 million pounds to build.

Simon
Guest
Simon

I think the Royal Navy should be bold surely some of the lessons learnt and resources from the carrier programme could be dedicated to building 2 large LHD circa 40000 tonnes to replace Albion and bulwark( in an ideal world supplement) . If the same principles of the carriers build big, lean manned innovative etc. are applied If we can design carriers 3 times the size but with the same manning requirements why can’t we design 2 LHDs with the same manning requirements as the Albion class?The Royal Marines should invested in as kick down the door troops and then… Read more »

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