2nd Time Lucky: Chile Buys French Amphibious Ship
When 2010 British budget cuts forced the Royal Navy to sell RFA Largs Bay just a few years into its service life, Chile’s need to deliver disaster relief from the sea made them one of the reported bidders. Largs Bay ended up heading to Australia, but France’s replacement of its Foudre Class LSDs with larger Mistral Class LHD helicopter carriers gave Chile another opportunity. In October 2011, Chile reportedly beat out Brazil and Argentina for the deal, which is said to be worth $80 million.
The 12,000t FS Foudre was commissioned in 1990, so she is many years older than Largs Bay. On the other hand, Chile’s needs a replacement for its 8,687t Valdivia Newport Class LST, which was retired in January after almost 40 years of combined US/Chilean service.
Chile’s 2010 earthquake underlined the importance of being able to deliver aid by sea, and LSD/ LPD/ LHD amphibious ships’ combination of landing craft and helicopters makes them invaluable for that role. Foudre will reportedly be renamed “Sergeant Village” when she joins Chile’s smaller 1,400t ships, LST-92 Rancagua and LST-95 Chacabuco.
Foudre Class LSDs hold about 200 crew and up to 467 troops/passengers, which can grow to 1,400 passengers in a dire emergency. Outside of emergencies, the ship can hold 100 vehicles, or up to 22 of Chile’s new Leopard 2A4 tanks. To deliver them ashore, her 13,000 square meter well deck can hold a tank landing ship (LSM) and 4 medium landing craft (LCM), or remove the LSM and operate a total of 10 LCMs. Up to 11 medium helicopters can be carried between her landing deck and hangar, but in order to take advantage of that, Chile would need to either buy more helicopters, or divert them from other services.
There is some question regarding the ship’s defensive systems, and whether they will be included in the purchase. In French service, Foudre has relied on 3 Breda-Mauser 30mm cannons, 4 12.7mm Browning machine guns, and 2 Sinbad twin-launchers for MBDA’s Mistral short-range air defense missile. Chile is not currently a Mistral operator.
Over the longer term, the 1,400t LST-92 Rancagua and LST-95 Chacabuco will also need to be retired and replaced. One obvious option for Chile will be FS Sirocco, Foudre’s sister ship, which was commissioned in 1998.
Chile’s plan that uses part of the proceeds from copper sales to fund its national defense gives the country some financial flexibility, and has helped that country make a number of improvements and purchases in recent years. Amphibious ships are a politically popular place to spend that money, but the larger ships will require associated outlays for more helicopters, in order to take full advantage of their capabilities.
- Naval Technology – LSD Foudre Class
- Naval Recognition (Oct 12/11) – France sells Foudre LPD to Armada de Chile
- Defensa (Oct 12/11) – Chile firmará este mes en París la compra del TCD L9011 Foudre [in Spanish]
- Terra (Sept 28/11) – Chile Dispone De 4.000 Millones De Dolares Para Comprar Armas [in Spanish]