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.