LHDs for South Africa?
South of the Sahara desert, there are few successful states in Africa – and even fewer with anything resembling a modern military. Even so, the African Union wants 5 regional rapid deployment forces ready for use in 2010. Whether this can be achieved is questionable; Africa is legendary for its difficulties and fragmentation, and NATO’s recent decision to scale back its own Rapid Reaction Force promises graphically illustrates the need to back up words with budgets, action, and political cohesion. If any success is possible in southern Africa, however, it’s likely that South Africa will be the 6,000-10,000 man force’s anchor state. Whether responding to wars, or to disaster relief scenarios like Mozambique’s floods in 2000, these forces would face two critical challenges. One is interoperable communications. The other is logistics.
Given Africa’s poor infrastructure, seabasing options begin to look very attractive. Which may help to explain the FNS Tonnerre’s recent visit to South Africa – and the South African military’s interest in a “strategic support ship” that can land vehicles and support them with helicopters. In other words, an LHD, with a large helicopter deck, roll-off vehicle decks, accommodations for troops, fresh water production, a built-in hospital, et. al. In Africa, it will also want to have a shallow draught that allows it access to Africa’s “unimproved” harbors.
According to Defense News, South African defense analyst Helmoed-RÃ¶mer Heitman sees 3 major contenders if the project goes forward. The first is France’s DCNS and its 21,300t Mistral Class LHD, which visited South Africa recently and performed vehicle loading and helicopter landing tests with South African equipment, before undertaking a stormy sail around the Cape. The second is Spain’s Navantia, which is building a 27,500t BPE (LHD/CV-E) ship for the Spanish government, and recently beat DCNS after submitting a very similar design for Australia’s 2 Canberra Class LHDs. The third is Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) and its Multi-Role Helicopter Dock Ship; TKMS co-built South Africa’s Meko Class frigates and enjoys good relations with the South African military.