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With the recent news that Brazil has acquired amphibious assault ship HMS Ocean, we take a look at the viability of replacing her.

HMS Ocean is a 22,000 tonne amphibious assault ship, the UK’s helicopter carrier and the fleet flagship of the Royal Navy. She is 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. Currently HMS Ocean, is the flagship of both the Royal Navy and a NATO task force, however, she is planned to be decommissioned this year. The ship cost an estimated £250 million, which is interestingly the target cost for the construction of the new General Purpose Frigates.

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 be 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.

42 COMMENTS

  1. 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.

    • 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 borrowing 488.1 961.8 1449.9
      Original prices
      Average borrowing for each 17.4 22.9 20.7
      year in office – original prices
      Total net borrowing 749.2 1405.4 2154.6
      2014 prices
      Average borrowing for each 26.8 33.5 30.8
      year in office – 2014 prices

      • 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

        • 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 the NHS. But of course its always: “vicious Tory cuts” or “evil Tory bastards”. Labour never take responsibility for trashing the economy, they never take the hard decisions needed to get things back on track and they always scream and wail at the Conservatives when they have the temerity to do the things needed to stop the UK turning in to Venezuela.

          Case in point. In 1997 the entire energy industry knew we needed to start planning for the replacement of our current fleet of Nuclear Power stations. New Labour sold our only domestic nuclear design house and ducked this controversial issue for 13 years! The new Liberal-Conservative coalition came in and made a decision in months – sadly by that time we had so little time left, no domestic designers to come up with solutions and no budget remaining we had to go cap in hand to the Chinese and French with unproven designs and financing based on ridiculous future strike prices. This is how Labour saddle future generations with debt and force crap decision on succeeding government – don’t get me started on PPP.

          Let us remember that when the global economic storm hit, Britain was uniquely unprepared to fight it. After six years of dating Prudence, Gordon (Saviour of the World) Brown dumped her and shacked up with madam Profligacy. Spending soared from 2004 onwards and the state grew massively, so when the economy tanked we not only had massive debts but a massive discrepancy between tax and institutionalised, systemic spend. Growing deficit and debt during the globe’s longest and largest economic expansion ever.

          “According to the IMF, by 2007 the UK had the largest structural deficit of any G7 economy”

          Case in point. At the very peak of global economic expansion which New Labour rode, we only managed to raise childhood poverty levels £1 above the technical threshold. What do you think would happen to childhood poverty if the economy didn’t continue its remarkable trajectory? New Labour grounded its poverty alleviation measures in the most unsustainable economic conditions conceivable: based on the fantasy economics of eternal, undisrupted economic expansion. Of course the wicked, evil Tories get the blame even though it was Labour’s system that failed when the economy turned down.

          You wonder why we are still in this state? It is the toxic combination of a broke country, saddled with an a enormous (though shrinking) deficit (increasing debt) and a rabid left wing press and dutiful readership that scream and wail every time the conservatives propose measures to tackle the structural deficit. The evil, nasty and most despicable Tories, in league with Satan and his demonic hoards themselves, are so hamstrung they have no room to manoeuvre, no room to make the changes needed and so consequently we have an anaemic recovery and little progress.

          FYI, this is our current debt:
          £1,949,554,700,000. It is growing at a rate of £5000/second.
          That is we spend £158bn/year more than we take in tax.

          I will make you a prophecy. The Conservatives will right the ship, eventually. They will configure the economy to eradicate the deficit and pay down the debt. The economy will start to improve, by which time the people will be tired of villainous Tory penny pinching and will have forgotten how Gordon Brown got us in to this mess. As such they will re-elect Labour promising jam today, rather than the Tories’ jam tomorrow. Labour will stick to Tory spending plans for a couple of years then start to spend, spend, spend. They will employ more people by the state. Our structural deficit will increase and the debt will spiral – but it will be ok because they’ll sell it to people like you as “investment”. The global economy will then tank, the rating agencies will re-classify UK gilts as junk and we will no longer be able to pay our debts.
          Then – we will have to sell everything, call it a Fire-sale. I expect at that point we will need a spectacular bailout from the IMF and the EU, but in exchange we have to re-join (if we ever leave) the EU, abandon the pound, adopt the Euro and give up the right to set our own budget for decades. Britain will at that point technically cease to exist and become little more than a province under Brussels’ (read Berlin’s) control. Give it 7 years.

          • 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 expensive PFI debts so he could say that Labour had ‘invested’ to cover up his wasting taxpayer’s money.

            * It was Gordon ‘Scottish’ Brown who conned Lloyds Bank into taking over Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS) ‘on the nod and a wink’ and which then nearly destroyed Lloyds. Like the other Scottish Bank (RBS) that was an utter failure.

            * It was Labour not the Tories that spent the money having to bail out the banks.

            * 18 years later RBS is still an Albatross around the necks of the British taxpayer.

            * The QE used after 2010 has actually shown a profit for the taxpayer

  2. 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.

  3. 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 to Pakistan last year in foreign aid. Yes Pakistan the nuclear armed state with aspirations for its own space industry.
    3% however is where we need to get too. Once we have that then the armed forces will be able to expand by 5000 RN, 3-4000 RAF and 6-7000 army.

    • 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 for national emergencies and set into the NSS schedule a build programme for their replacements (which should always be second hand military – after their mid life maintenance is complete).
      6. Use the money from the transfer of all these assets (sold at market value – not cheaply) to fund new equipment within the Forces.

      Inform the world that we are meeting the 0.7% GDP for foreign aid – whilst benefitting UK industry – it is up to us how we spend it and clearly we are rubbish at deciding that.

      • 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.

        • 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 and manage.

          If it is the case that this doesn’t sit within current aid rules – then we should just stop and do what China does and send hospital ships around.

          I am all for the UK building and providing containers homes as well as fresh water and solar systems to distribute as well. £13bn and growing is a big win/win if British industry produces and our RFA deliver to those who need it.

          No aid to nuclear states or those with a defence GDP budget greater than 2%, as well.

          Everything is open to negotiation – why does our govt not negotiate properly anymore and just accept this crap….

      • 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.

        • 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”

          • “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…

  4. 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.

  5. 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 something to kick off our Shipbuilding Strategy and what better area than to increase our amphibious assault capability. I can see no better area than two more ‘Albion’ type ships but with all the technology created for QE, Automated Weapon Handling and system commonality. And yes with my pet project a ‘Fleet Standard power pack’ of an MT30, Wartsilla diesel and electric drive. A common hull from another design is not practical given the need to flood the stern and disembarking amphibious units but maybe up the size to 25,00 tons or whatever it takes to deploy Challenger II MBTs. And forget exports. They are a nice dream but we cannot forecast or plan for, let alone rely on, such sales. We must look after our own needs and if someone else says ‘Yes Please’ then happy days.

    Albion and Bulwark can be put into long term storage but ready for deployment in a surge situation.

    Maybe 10 years forward we can look to build a couple of ‘Ocean MkII’ ships using a standard hull (Tide class?) but to be really honest we have other more important needs given it is one ship and we have two carriers with one specially modified for amphibious assault air support.

  6. 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 to do the job.

    Anyway just a brief thought.

  7. 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.

  8. 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 towards replacing or doing a decent refit instead of going into some executive,s pocket,the whole system needs to be changed to make it more cost effective but at the same time getting the procurment right

  9. 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!

  10. 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 support ships are the way to go (maybe with a few design tweaks to accommodate more LCU’s) but these things have a deck for 6 Merlins and 6 in the hanger with stowage below and for me that is pretty impressive.

    Ocean has been great – but its time has come – the QEC can take 24 F35b’s and probably 24 36 helicopters at full load (a guess), so I think we are good for coverage here.

    We are about to build a set of Solid Stores and I suggest these need to be a minimum of 4 (not 3) and we should look to them replacing current solid stores and eventually the Bay class.

    I do not think we need a LPH – but we do need the LPD’s.

    • 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.

    • 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?

  11. 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.

  12. 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 ready to accept her skeleton crew in the near future, the crew of HMS Ocean I am afraid are that crew.
    We need to accept that the military is there to be the instrument of government policy. They work within cost and manning constraints (yes the RN are constrained with regard to the number of sailors and marines they are allowed) that have been set by the MoD.
    The MoD budget is set by government and currently stands at 2% GDP.
    I would suggest, that this is currently sufficient and that the MoD have once again been over ambitious with their equipment programmes and have realised that they are short.
    Who gets it in the neck?
    Soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and civil servants who are always offered up as sacrifices to maintain the defence industrial complex that continues to dazzle the seniors who should know better.
    If you want a military force that can generate sufficient kinetic affect so as to deter the enemy you have to get them there. As the RAF found out in the 1930’s, you cannot control land with aircraft, you have to put boots on the ground. The question is are we willing to pay to support the men and materiel that we currently have or are we content to be dazzled by the latest shiny toy that will fix all of our problems?
    We are considered the best trained military force in the world, we have had to improvise, adapt and overcome and we will continue to do so, what ever those in Office decide to throw at us next.

  13. Reading your postings only adds to the hilarity of this. My God, you people are living in a dream world egged on by this nonsense.

  14. 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.

  15. – 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 for them, get them.

    Things can be that easy if people can put aside their self interest.

    No one thinks that a BAE LHD built 20 years from now will make the UK money
    Accept this reality and just purchase the ones that already work

    • 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.

      • 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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 the army strike bridges should provide a follow up force. If the vessels were this size this could actually justify the carriers because at the moment the navy would potentially (when f35 in service), blow lots of stuff up – but to what end if a credible ground force can’t be deployed? Why do the Americans have large carriers and large amphibious ready groups.
    The lsd fleet should go back to 4 at least and investment is need in pascat, cb90, hovercraft. At the moment over the horizon assault seems to have been abandoned. The type 45 is a great aaw vessel but defending hypersonic missiles launched from 20 miles away would surely be an amazing feat

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