Just An Ocean Away: Refits for Britain’s LPH
April 16/17: The UK and Brazilian governments are in talks over the potential sale of the Royal Navy helicopter carrier, HMS Ocean , for the reported price of $100 million. Designed to support amphibious landing operations, the vessel was commissioned in 1998 but had been designated in 2015 for decommissioning in 2018 with no plans for a like-for-like replacement. Brazil’s interest in the vessel comes as their Navy decided to abandon the refit of the aircraft carrier Sao Paulo and decommission the vessel after a series of technical issues and accidents.
The 22,500t HMS Ocean is similar to some of the smaller LHD designs like the 21,300t French Mistral Class. Built to commercial standards, LPH01/ L12 carries a crew of 255, an aircrew of 206, and 480 Royal Marine Commandos; an additional 320 marines can be accommodated in a short-term emergency. The ship has capacity for 40 vehicles, but its 4 Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel (LCVP) Mk 5s aren’t designed to handle heavy vehicles like tanks. Its main assets are up to 18 helicopters: usually 12 transport (EH101 Merlins or H-3 Sea Kings), and 6 smaller maritime/ scout/ attack helicopters (multi-role Lynx variants, and/or WAH-64D Apache attack helicopters). H-47 Chinooks can be refueled and serviced on deck.
HMS Ocean’s primary role is as an amphibious support vessel. Secondary ship roles include training, a limited anti-submarine warfare role, humanitarian assistance, and acting as a base for anti-terrorist operations. The 2011 campaign over Libya added a strike carrier role of sorts, using the WAH-64D. Those kinds of events have forced the ship to remain at sea near more distant shores, and on longer voyages, than originally anticipated. Hence the priority on crew-related modifications. Not to mention some of the other changes being made under recent refits.
Contracts and Key Events
HMS Ocean [L12] was built on the Clyde by Kvaerner Govan, launched in October 1995, named by Her Majesty the Queen on Feb 20/98, and commissioned in September 1998 in her homeport of Devonport.
April 16/17: The UK and Brazilian governments are in talks over the potential sale of the Royal Navy helicopter carrier, HMS Ocean, for the reported price of $100 million. Designed to support amphibious landing operations, the vessel was commissioned in 1998 but had been designated in 2015 for decommissioning in 2018 with no plans for a like-for-like replacement. Brazil’s interest in the vessel comes as their Navy decided to abandon the refit of the aircraft carrier Sao Paulo and decommission the vessel after a series of technical issues and accidents.
Dec 12/12: Refit. The UK MoD announces another refit for HMS Ocean. Her 15-month, GBP 65 million (about $105 million) upgrade will be carried out in the newly developed 10 Dock facility at Babcock’s Devonport Royal Dockyard in Plymouth. The work will secure about 300 jobs in Devonport, plus another 300 or so jobs with over 70 contractors who are set to be involved in the project.
Defensive upgrades include the new Type 997 “Artisan” Medium Range Radar system; 4 automated 30mm cannons and 20 km of accompanying power and control cabling to replace existing 20mm manned guns, and complement the ship’s 3 MK15 Phalanx advanced 20mm close-in weapon systems; a new fire detection system; the new multi-service Defence Information Infrastructure (Future) (DII(F)) communications system; and the DNA(2) Command System.
Mechanical and crew improvements include a first-of-class ballast water treatment system, and a first-of-class Membrane Bio-Reactor (MBR) system to treat waste water and sewage. They’ll ensure compatibility with environmental legislation and permit discharge at sea. Represervation work on the ship, and numerous improvements to crew quarters and facilities, round out major requirements. In all, about 1.2 km of new pipework will be installed; over 100 pumps, motors and valves will be overhauled in Babcock’s main factory, and around 100,000 litres of paint will be applied; and major structural modifications will be made to the interior of the ship.
Babcock has also introduced a number of improvements and new processes of its own to optimise delivery of this upkeep, including a new organisation structure in the form of zone management to further improve the planning and execution. Royal Navy | Babcock International.
Sept 21/12: The Royal Navy recounts HMS Ocean’s central role during the 2012 Olympic Games in London. The ship steamed up the Thames and moored in the middle of the river, becoming a visible attraction of her own. She embarked 450 soldiers from a mixture of Army units for venue security at Greenwich Park, whilst simultaneously supporting Fleet Air Arm (FAA) and Army Air Corps (AAC) helicopters – with Royal Marine and RAF Regiment snipers in the back – in order to assist the Metropolitan Police. Royal Navy.
Feb 18/09: Fleet return. HMS Ocean deploys as part of TAURUS 09, steaming in the Royal Navy’s Amphibious Task Group through the Mediterranean, the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Far East. Royal Navy.
Oct 13/08: Trials done. HMS Ocean has successfully conducted 2 weeks of sea trials. HMS Ocean will return to sea again to resume her program of sea trials, before embarking on operational sea training in November 2008. UK MoD | Just Plymouth.
Aug 22/07: Refit. The UK MoD announces HMS Ocean’s GBP 30 million (about $59.5 million) refit, and provides details. The work is part of the developing Surface Ship Support Alliance, a new contracting approach that was a pre-requisite to approval of the Royal Navy’s new 65,000t CVF Queen Elizabeth Class carriers.
The year-long refit of HMS Ocean will involve the fitting of new main propulsion shaft sections, extensive improvements in accommodation (including mess-deck dining areas in troop accommodation areas, storage for troop equipment, improvements to the galley and accompanying food storage areas), and an upgrade to the ship’s aviation support facilities to improve support to the Army’s WAH-64D Apache attack helicopters. Work is expected to start in September 2007 and, the ship is expected to return to service in September 2008 after a set of sea trials.
HMS Ocean participated Iraqi operations near Al-Faw in 2003, and her most recent assignment involved deployment to the Caribbean to counter drug smuggling (see video – at GBP 29 million, the value of seized drugs was about equal to the present refit costs), work with US Marine Corps’ HMM-774 “Wild Geese”s and their CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters in a joint training deployment, and offer humanitarian assistance to hurricane victims. In her absence, Britain’s 20,000t escort carrier and fleet flagship HMS Ark Royal will take on HMS Ocean’s role, embarking the helicopters and Royal Marines and serving as a less-optimized backup.