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Amphibious Ships For Sale, Sold: Australia’s Interim Buys

HMAS Choules Sydney Harbour

HMAS Choules
(click to view full)

April 12/13: HMAS Choules returns. The Australian DoD announces that the ship has returned on schedule, following a successful readiness assessment today.

“The ship will now participate in a number of minor amphibious exercises in North Queensland during May and June 2013 before joining other Navy ships in Exercise Talisman Sabre 13 off the Queensland coast. The Navy’s amphibious force includes Choules, the Landing Ship Heavy HMAS Tobruk, Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield, and three Landing Craft Heavy vessels.”

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RFA Largs Bay(click to view full) The fate of a nearly-new British amphibious support ship, RFA Largs Bay, was all about timing. Britain commissioned 4 of the 176m long, 16,200t Bay Class LSD amphibious ships to renew a very run-down capability. The new “Alternative Landing Ship Logistic” ships were built from the same base Enforcer […]
RFA Largs Bay

RFA Largs Bay
(click to view full)

The fate of a nearly-new British amphibious support ship, RFA Largs Bay, was all about timing.

Britain commissioned 4 of the 176m long, 16,200t Bay Class LSD amphibious ships to renew a very run-down capability. The new “Alternative Landing Ship Logistic” ships were built from the same base Enforcer template that produced the successful Dutch Rotterdam and Johann de Witt, and the Spanish Galicia Class. Britain ordered 4 of these ALSL/LSD-A ships into its Royal Fleet Auxiliary, and active use began with RFA Largs Bay’s commissioning in 2006. The ships’ combination of large internal spaces, a well deck for fast ship-to-shore offloading, and onboard helicopters make them potent assets in military and civil situations. By 2011, however, Britain’s fiscal situation was so dire that a strategic review marked RFA Largs Bay for decommissioning. The ship had sailed for just a fraction of its 30+ year service life, which was bad timing for Britain.

Others saw the situation as excellent timing. Especially Australia. They won the tender, and then went on to add a combination of leased, bought, and borrowed vessels to fill in for the RAN’s suddenly-unserviceable amphibious fleet. That hasty collection will have to do, until their new Canberra Class LHDs arrive in mid-decade.

Australia’s Awkward Amphibious Alternatives

LPA HMAS Manoora

HMAS Manoora
(click to view full)

Australia was always the most public contender for RFA Largs Bay’s services. By early March 2011, Australia’s opposition was openly calling for the Chief of Navy’s resignation, after Cyclone Yasi hit and the ADF had no amphibious ships available for disaster relief. HMAS Manoora had been decommissioned early due to significant wear and tear, HMAS Kanimbla was undergoing 18 months of repairs, and HMAS Tobruk’s corrosion was so serious that parts of the hull were only 2mm thick.

With its fleet aging, full repair times unpredictable, and no relief until its Canberra Class LHDs enter service around 2014-2015, the lease or purchase of a 16,000t Bay Class LSD offers an attractive way out in a region whose geography is defined by oceans, and where cyclones are frequent occurrences. Public reports surfaced almost immediately after the SDSR, an inspection team was in Britain before the end of January 2011, and by mid-March, the Australian government confirmed its decision.

RFA Largs Bay was bought for around A$ 100 million, a significant discount from its new-build price less than a decade ago. She was eventually renamed HMAS Choules. Chief Petty Officer Claude Choules served in the British Royal Navy in World War 1, and then with the independent Royal Australian Navy in World War 2. He died in May 2011, at the age of 110, and his legacy was deemed to be the most fitting way to honor Largs Bay’s own history. She was commissioned in Australia in December 2011.

Britain wasn’t the only vendor to benefit from Australia’s needs. HMAS Choules, whose cargo capacity exceeds HMAS Tobruk, Manoora, and Kanimbla combined, was the largest piece of the puzzle – but not the only one. With Manoora and Kanimbla retired, HMAS Tobruk tied up in drydock until May 2012, and Tobruk’s subsequent availability considered chancy at best, Australia realized that even with HMAS Choules down under, they still needed a back-up plan.

HMNZS Canterbury

HMNZS Canterbury
(click to view full)

That Plan B had 3 stages.

In the 1st stage, an arrangement with New Zealand made the 9,000t multi-role ship HMNZS Canterbury available in emergencies, assuming that New Zealand isn’t also in need of help. The 2 countries cooperate closely on defense matters and regional concerns, so this was the best immediate insurance, but Canterbury is New Zealand’s only amphibious vessel. She would be needed locally for any disaster that also affected New Zealand, and would already be sent to any other situation that was a major commitment of her own government. She also isn’t qualified yet to fly helicopters from her decks while at sea, and may not be fully qualified before 2015. That makes this option a slender reed for Australia, taken by itself.

Stage 2 added temporary charters from P&O Maritime, supplementing the RAN’s existing ships and the promise of HMNZS Canterbury’s assistance. RSV Aurora Australis was chartered for use during the Antarctic winter, and SOV Windermere for the 2011/12 typhoon season. These supply ships offered cargo carriage and helicopter capabilities, and Aurora Australis added full icebreaking capabilities. They would function as backups to Australia’s existing ships, either working with them to give the force extra cargo, supply shuttle, and helicopter capabilities, or carrying on as best they could in their place.

ACV Ocean Protector

ACV Ocean Protector
(click to view full)

Stage 3 was a longer-term buy, with the same goals as the charters but a time frame that stretches until at least 2016. This step was announced in December 2011, and in March 2012, Australia bought the commercial supply & support vessel MSV Skandi Bergen from Norway’s DOF Subsea Group for “under [A$] 130 million.” She was re-named ADV(Australian Defence Vessel) Ocean Shield, and introduced in June 2012.

The 6,500 tonne, 105m Ocean Shield has cargo space on deck and a helipad, but will need a port to offload anything too heavy for helicopters. The to-be-renamed ship’s main role will be disaster relief and humanitarian assistance, but her DNV classification of ICE-1B (able to move through new year ice flows up to 0.6m thick) with DEICE (measures to prevent ladders, decks and emergency doors and hatches from icing up) will also allow her to be used for patrols and missions in southern waters toward Antarctica.

Australia plans to base the ship in Sydney, at Garden Island. She will be operated by a management company under a future service contract, and that firm will recruit a crew of Australian civilian mariners. Australia’s Customs and Border Patrol, who already operate her sister ship ACV Ocean Protector, will be secondary users, and will assume full ownership once both Canberra Class LHDs have entered the RAN fleet.

Contracts & Key Events


HMAS Choules returns to the fleet.

HMAS Choules Sydney Harbour

HMAS Choules
(click to view full)

April 12/13: HMAS Choules returns. The Australian DoD announces that the ship has returned on schedule, following a successful readiness assessment today.

“The ship will now participate in a number of minor amphibious exercises in North Queensland during May and June 2013 before joining other Navy ships in Exercise Talisman Sabre 13 off the Queensland coast. The Navy’s amphibious force includes Choules, the Landing Ship Heavy HMAS Tobruk, Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield, and three Landing Craft Heavy vessels.”


MSV Skandi Bergen bought, becomes “ADV Ocean Shield”; ADV Ocean Shield delivered; HMAS Choules sidelines by transformer problems.

HMAS Tobruk, 2006 Exercise

HMAS Tobruk
(click for alternate view)

Nov 23/12: LSD. Australian Defence Magazine reports that HMAS Choules’ “premature aging” problem extends to all of its transformers, and although the varying levels are “within operational limitations,” an $A 10 million repair is about to sideline the ship until April 2013:

“Following consultation with the transformer manufacturer, the Defence Materiel Organisation, the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, Lloyds Classification Society and the UK Ministry of Defence, the Chief of Navy has made the decision to replace the remaining four transformers on the Choules before the ship returns to sea.”

This means that Australia will be limited to HMAS Tobruk and ADV Ocean Shield during the 2012 typhoon season.

Sept 21/12: LSD drops. After HMAS Choules blew an electrical transformer and had to leave Exercise Hamel, Siemens checked the others and said they were “within specifications.” A deeper inspection became possible once the 2 starboard (right-side) propulsion transformers were removed has found more wear than they were supposed to have, and the “premature aging” problem is replicated across all remaining transformers to varying degrees.

Siemens is now working with DSTO and on-site support, and the UK Ministry of Defence has also been contacted. Premature aging isn’t fatal, but it does mean revised dates for maintenance and replacement after the analysis is done. If the analysis can understand why it’s happening, it might even be preventable, so long as no basic ship design issues are in the way. AAP, via Australian Defence Magazine.

July 2/12: Ocean Shield arrives. The latest MSV Skandi Bergen arrives in Australia, and is re-named Australian Defence Vessel (ADV) Ocean Shield.

She will serve alongside her customs sister ship, ACV Ocean Protector, until her own transfer to customs once HMAS Canberra is commissioned.Australian DoD.

ADV Ocean Shield

June 14/12: Lights out for Choules. HMAS Choules is steaming north from Sydney to Exercise Hamel off Shoalwater Bay in Queensland, when a transformer failure cuts 50% of her electrical power. The ship has to limp home. The RAN is working to diagnose the source of the problem, which Britain’s RFA has reportedly characterized as very unusual. Adelaide Now | The Australian | Daily Telegraph.

Choules limps home

April 18/12: Ocean Protector. Australia’s DoD responds to DID’s enquiries regarding the identity of the purchased ‘Skandi Bergen,” and clears up the confusion. A November 2010 publication had said that Australia already owned the Skandi Bergen, and that she is MSV Ocean Protector. The DoD response explains:

“The Ocean Protector was known as the Skandi Bergen prior to the ship being leased by the Australian Government at which time it was re-named. Ocean Protector’s unique IMO number is 9374260.

The Australian Government is purchasing a new offshore support vessel from the same company (DOF Subsea Group) [and this vessel] is also called the Skandi Bergen. This new vessel will also be re-named. Its unique IMO number is 9628374.”

March 31 – April 3/12: Bergen brouhaha. The Canberra Times publishes a stinging article, accusing the DoD of buying a ship with “no amphibious capability whatsoever” that is “useless” to the Navy, and circumventing the military to do it. Australia’s DoD, which has a history of engaging directly with public criticism, did just that, defending its choice.

They’re on reasonably firm ground. Cyclone Yassi did reveal key weaknesses. HMAS Tobruk isn’t expected out of her A$ 20.6 million drydocking refit until May 2012, and even then, availability isn’t guaranteed given her age. That puts a lot of onus on HMAS Choules, and no ship is available 100% of the time. The RAN has been chartering similar support vessels since May 2011, and announced its intent to buy a ship like that in December 2011. Unlike Australia’s recent F/A-18F Super Hornet acquisition, this was not a surprise buy; Defence minister Stephen Smith followed up with an explicit statement that “The purchase of Skandi Bergen was effected on the advice of Defence, Navy and the Defence Materiel Organisation.”

The question of amphibious capability is greyer. The article sets the bar at roll-on, roll-off (RO-RO) capability, which is actually lower than most usages that require the ability to unload at austere or damaged ports. Unlike available high-speed catamarans from Australian shipbuilders Austal and Incat, Skandi Bergen can’t do that herself. On the other hand, her combination of flexible space for cargo or humans, helipad, and robust seakeeping ability that includes some ice-in situations, makes her far from useless. The RAN essentially traded speed, ro-ro capability, and austere port capability, for the ability to cope with more difficult weather conditions and a wider range of non-wheeled cargo options. Chief of Navy, R.J. Grriggs, adds that while CBP’s needs did not drive the need to buy a 3rd vessel, once that decision was made, then the project “was subsequently, and very sensibly, expanded to capitalise on the broader Whole of Government need over the longer term.” Canberra Times | Australia’s DoD responds.

March 19/12: Buying Skandi Bergen. The Australian government has agreed to purchase the Offshore Support Vessel MSV Skandi Bergen, describes by the DoD as a 6,500 tonne sister ship to Customs and Border Patrol’s ACV Ocean Protector, for “less than [A$] 130 million.”

MSV Skandi Bergen is 105m long and 21m wide, with accommodation for up to 100 people, more than 1000 square meters of deck area for supplies or people, and a helipad. She will enter into service in the middle of 2012, under a civilian crewing arrangement and a contracted management company. Once in service, the renamed ship’s primary mission is to transport troops and supplies in support of humanitarian and disaster relief operations domestically and in the region, with a secondary Customs and Border Protection role patrolling the southern waters toward Antarctica.

That price certainly highlights the A$ 100 million bargain Australia got with RFA Largs Bay, which is more than twice as large, and has highly specialized military capabilities. Even so, the A$ 130 million purchase cost is more than the A$ 100 million or so that the government would pay for twice-yearly charters through 2016, based on experience to date. The key justification is that it gives Australia a long-term asset that can serve for decades. It will be turned over to Customs and Border Protection once both LHDs have arrived, which is expected to happen around 2016. Australia DoD.

ACV Ocean Shield bought

Jan 30/12: Support competition. UK-based A&P Group and Thales Australia have signed an partnership agreement focused on through-life support services to HMAS Choules.

A&P Group supported all 4 Bay Class ships through a 2008 British integrated Cluster Contract, and currently has an interim support contract with Australia’s DMO for HMAS Choules. The team will compete for a long-term support arrangement in Australia, and Thales Garden Island facility in Sydney, New South Wales will be their key Australian location. Thales Group.

2010 – 2011

HMAS Manoora and HMAS Kanimbla both decommissioned; Australia bids on RFA LArgs Bay and wins, renames it Choules; Aurora Australis and OSV Windermere chartered as stopgaps; HMNZS Canterbury will assist if possible; RAN will buy 1 more supplementary ship.

RSV Aurora Australis, 2006

PRSV Aurora Australis
(click to view full)

Dec 13/11: 1 more ship. The Australian government announces that it intends to buy 1 more “humanitarian and disaster relief ship”, as a further stopgap, until the huge Canberra Class LHDs begin showing up.

They’re looking for a commercial off-the-shelf vessel that requires minimal modifications in order to transport troops and supplies. They hope to bring it into service in 2012, and intend to man it with a civilian crew, something that US Military Sealift Command already does with its supply ships.

Dec 13/11: LSD commissioned. HMAS Choules is commissioned in Fremantle, Australia. “Its cargo capacity is the equivalent of the Manoora, Kanimbla and Tobruk combined.” On the other hand, it can only be in 1 place at 1 time. Australian DoD.

HMAS Choules

Nov 25/11: Kanimbla’s end. HMAS Kanimbla is formally decommissioned. Operationally, it changes nothing. With typhoon season beginning, however, the ceremony underscores the fact that until Choules arrives, the RAN is left with HMAS Tobruk, the chartered Windermere (vid. Oct 18/11 entry), some landing craft, and an agreement that New Zealand’s HMNZS Canterbury would arrive if available. See: Australian DoD | Speech by RADM Steve Gilmore.

Kanimbla retired

Oct 19/11: LSD. ADF Ship Choules is formally handed to the Australian Defence Force at Falmouth Dockyard in the United Kingdom. She will set sail for Australia in November, arriving in Western Australia in mid-December to be officially commissioned as HMAS Choules. Australian DoD | Herald Sun.

Oct 18/11: Windermere charter. The Aurora Australis charter has expired, but the Antarctic winter season is followed by typhoon season. Australia has followed up with a 2nd charter of another vessel, the Offshore Support Vessel Windermere. P&O Martitime leased Hallin’s flagship, which will serve Australia under an A$ 9.4 million charter from October 2011 until January 2012, with the option to extend until February 2012.

The 80m Windermere is capable of supporting 100 passengers and 20 crew members, carries up to 1,000t of cargo, and sports a 700 m2 deck, and has an elevated helipad at the bow that can support helicopters up to NH90/ Super Puma weight. Australia DoD | P&O Maritime [PDF] | Hallin | The Australian.

OSV Windermere charter

Aug 18/11: HMAS Kanimbla to retire. The Australian government decides to decommission HMAS Kanimbla. This is several years ahead of the planned 2014 date, but the RAN estimates that it will take A$ 35 million to fix the ship, which would only make it available from the end of repairs in mid-2012 to its planned decommissioning in 2014. With the Largs Bay purchase complete, that didn’t strike them as a good use of funds.

The decision follows a September 2010 “operational pause” for Kanimbla, imposed by the Chief of Navy after seaworthiness concerns were raised. It also follows the February 2011 decision to decommission her sister ship, HMAS Manoora. RAN.

Aug 13/11: LSD renamed. RFA Largs Bay is formally renamed Choules, after a Chief Petty Officer WWI veteran who died earlier this year at the age of 110. RAN.

July 27/11: Largs Bay inspections. While the May 11/11 announcements cited inspections that had found “no major defects,” reports circulate that the minor defects in Chief Engineer Officer Captain DA Wardell’s report included failure of the main engine room shut-down vents; fragility of the chilled water plants; suspect cargo lift systems; fragility of the vacuum toilet system; steering pump fragility; and lack of chemical treatment in the chilled and boiler water systems. Larger-scale risks included overheating of the propulsion motors and transformers if run at full speed in warm seas, and faulty HVAC systems that “could cause respiratory problems among passengers and crew – in particular legionnaires disease” [legionella pneumonia]. Some of these issues are design issues, rather than mechanical issues. In response, the minister says that:

“That report… [we] had access to. There are also other reports and trials and tests that were done. And the very strong advice I have is that this is a good ship… which compares very favourably with the ships that it is intended to replace… We’ve got a complete documentary record of this ship [unlike previous purchases]… Any ship that’s been used will have maintenance or repair issues but we’re very confident about this ship and to suggest that it won’t do the job, in my view, is completely erroneous.”

See: Minister’s Sky News interview | Melbourne Herald-Sun.

July 18/11: Reform. Labor Party defense minister Stephen Smith, Jason Clare the Minister for Defence Materiel, and Paul Rizzo release their requested report: “Plan to Reform Support Ship Repair and Management Practices.” It follows serious failures in the legacy amphibious ship fleet, and acknowledgement of widespread issues in the Royal Australian Navy with engineering and ship maintenance generally.

All 24 of Mr. Rizzo’s recommendations are accepted, and he himself will be in charge of chairing the implementation committee he recommended. Two-star Commodore Michael Uzzell is also promoted to a new position: RAN Head of Engineering. Report page with Full Report [PDF format] | Australian DoD release and transcript | Sky News interview.

May 27/11: Manoora decommissioned. The Australian Navy formally decommissions HMAS Manoora. Source.

Manoora retired

May 11/11: Trifecta. Australia’s Navy announces that the government has signed a Letter of Intent with the UK Government, made the first 2 of 3 agreed-upon GBP 22 million payments, and successfully conducted sea trials and private inspections. International shipping firm Teekay Shipping Australia found no major defects.

The next step is to consider what modifications are necessary for Australian use, to be followed by government approval of any plan. They still expect Largs Bay to arrive down under in late 2011, and be ready for use in 2012. Even so, Australia still faces key gaps ahead without an amphibious ship. HMAS Tobruk has entered a 2-month maintenance period, and will also face 6 weeks of dockside preparations for cyclone season in September and October 2011.

The government has an agreement with New Zealand for joint use of the multi-role HMNZS Canterbury during Tobruk’s maintenance periods, but New Zealand will always have priority use. The government responded with an A$ 3.38 million charter of the 94m long range icebreaker and support ship Aurora Australis, from P&O Maritime Services. She can carry 700 metric tonnes of cargo, transport 116 passengers, embark watercraft, support helicopter operations, and support bases in the Antarctic with limited or no port facilities. This ship is chartered from May 8/11 to June 30/11, with options that could extend it to the end of July.

LSD bought, HMNZS Canterbury MoU, PRSV Aurora Australis charter

LSD Largs Bay

RFA Largs Bay
and cruise ship
(click to view full)

April 6/11: Australia wins Largs Bay. Australian Minister for Defence Stephen Smith announces that Australia’s bid for HMS Largs Bay was successful. Speaking of the future HMAS Largs Bay (or whatever Australia decides to rename it), he says that:

“Its flight deck has room for two large helicopters and can also carry around 150 light trucks and 350 troops. Its cargo capacity is the equivalent of the Royal Australian Navy’s entire amphibious fleet… The ship has been acquired for £65 million (approximately [A$] 100 million). Teekay Shipping Australia has thoroughly inspected the ship and found that: “The ship presents very well, and from a technical point of view, there are no major defects.” “

The Royal Australian Navy will still conduct sea trials once Largs Bay arrives, expected to happen before the end of 2011. The ship is expected to be operational in early 2012. Australian DoD.

Winning LSD bid

March 16/11: LSD. Australian Minister for Defence Stephen Smith confirms that the government is bidding on RFA Largs Bay:

“Firstly, today, London time, we will formally enter a bid for the purchase of a large, heavy amphibious lift vessel, a Bay Class from the United Kingdom. I’ve spoken about this publicly before. But we’ll put our formal bid in today to purchase the vessel… So we’re – we are very keen to pick up the Bay Class to cover that amphibious lift capability, and the C-17s have been a very useful asset for us, and getting another one will really help us in terms of our flexibility. So, very pleased with both of those initiatives occurring this week in terms of acquisitions.”

A subsequent Canberra Times report quotes the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, who estimates a price in the low $100 million region, for an almost-new ship that cost 2-3 times that much to build. Britain’s decision is expected in April 2011. Canberra Times | Sky News interview transcript | ABC 24 interview transcript.

March 8/11: LSD. Reports surface that Australian defence minister Stephen Smith will use his official visit to Europe for a NATO/ISAF meeting of defense ministers, in order to pursue the lease of RFA Largs Bay to the Royal Australian Navy.

Australia is said to be in competition with Brazil, Chile and India. Defence Management | Newcastle, UK’s Evening Chronicle.

Feb 15/11: We need a plan. Australia’s government appoints an independent team of experts “to develop a plan to address problems in the repair and management of the amphibious and support ship fleet.” Australia’s DoD outlines the team and its mandate.

Feb 1/11: HMAS Manoora to retire. The Government announces that HMAS Manoora will be decommissioned, on the advice of the Chief of Navy. The 40 year old Manoora was placed on “operational pause” by a Seaworthiness Board in September 2010, after an examination revealed significant hull corrosion and the replacement of both gear boxes,which would cost over A$ 20 million and take until April 2012. Since Manoora was scheduled to be decommissioned at the end of 2012, the RAN opts to retire her. Australian DoD.

Jan 21/11: LSD. Newcastle, UK’s Evening Chronicle reports that an Australian DoD delegation has traveled to the UK to inspect RFA Largs Bay.

November 2010: STX Canada/US Marine’s Horizons magazine [PDF] includes a feature about the ACV Ocean Protector – which it says is the former Skandi Bergen:

“STX Marine has supported SEAFORCE and their ship manager Teekay Shipping (Australia) in the conversion of DOF’s offshore ROV vessel “Skandi Bergen” to her new role as a Customs and Border Protection Service patrol vessel for Australian waters… The modified vessel has been named “ACV Ocean Protector”, and entered operational service in the last month.”

That certainly makes the March 2012 purchase somewhat confusing, but the 2 Skandi Bergens are different vessels. The firm also adds background to the modifications involved, which will disappoint James Bond, but seem reasonable for her new mission:

“STXM was in a unique position to provide support for this project, having participated in the initial design, with sister firm STX Norway Offshore Design (then Aker Yards Projects). The project involved designing a new deckhouse module, fitted on the aft deck, to house accommodation for additional persons, potential illegal immigrants, and illegal fishermen detained during the course of CBP’s duties. The deckhouse also provides a Medical Centre and changing facilities for the CBP personnel prior to boarding two of the newly fitted Customs Rescue Tenders (CRTs). In addition to the deckhouse and CRT davits, STXM detailed modifications to allow the installation of a net winch (including a new transom door), a towing bracket, and facilities for securing containers to the deck. Raised walkways were also designed to provide access to the new CRTs and the existing rescue boat. Internally, the ship was modified to provide gym facilities for the CBP crew, and the recreation facilities were expanded. The heli reception and wheelhouse were reconfigured to suit CBP requirements. The modification was carried out by Forgacs Engineering dockyard in Newcastle, Australia. DOF removed the ship’s ROV(Remotely-Operated underwater Vehicle) equipment prior to the vessel leaving for Australia. The vessel’s moonpools were sealed shut at this time.”

Oct 18/10: RFA Largs Bay chopped. Britain’s new government releases its 2010 Strategic Defense and Strategy Review [PDF], which plans to remove RFA Largs Bay from the fleet.

Additional Readings

* Royal Australian Navy – HMAS Choules

* UK National Audit Office (Nov 30/07) – Volume III: The Landing Ship Dock (Auxiliary) Project [PDF]. Bottom line? “Costs increased by 80 per cent but analysis shows the LSD (A)s have been delivered at a cost comparable to similar ships.”

* Australian Strategic Policy Institute (Feb 16/11) – Back to the future: Australia’s interim sealift and amphibious capability

* Australian Minister for Defence Material (Feb 16/11) – Address to the Australian Defence Magazine Conference. Discusses their amphibious forces transition plan.

Appendix A: Largs Bay – Other Potential Customers

LPD-14 USS Trenton Docked

LPD 14 Trenton,
now INS Jalashwa
(click to view full)

The potential availability of RFA Largs Bay for lease or purchase was an opportunity for several nations who have close ties to Britain, and a strong military need.

Canada’s 2006 “Joint Support Ship” program was a proper mess by 2011, after failing to deliver amphibious support capabilities at an affordable cost. On the other hand, the Canadian DND was generally seen as far too hidebound, and its government as too paralyzed by the need for economic handouts in its military projects, to consider a Bay class bargain. They had also been burned before by used British ships, in the Oberon Class submarine deal.

Whatever the reason, the opportunity produced no apparent movement in Canada.

India has been beefing up its own amphibious support capabilities with the induction of INS Jalashwa, formerly USS Trenton [LPD 14], in 2007. The Jalashwa has proved its usefulness since, and was used in the 2011 evacuation of Indian civilians from Libya. The Indian government has even expressed a strong interest in adding more amphibious support/ assault ships to its fleet.

India was reportedly a bidder for the ship’s services, but their extremely slow pace of decision making is a significant handicap. They did not win.

If negotiations with Australia had faltered, RFA Largs Bay’s new home might have been in Latin America.

Brazil has very extensive coastal responsibilities, a sizable Marine Corps, and a Navy whose frigates are either British designs, or former British ships. Its only 2 full-size LSD amphibious ships are former American Thomaston Class vessels, and the newest was built in 1956. It does employ 2 former British LSTs, however: Falklands War veterans Sir Bedivere (NDCC Almirante Saboia) and Sir Galahad (NDCC Garcia D’Avila) were added in 2008-2009.

Chile has a long coastline, and a major earthquake in February 2010 sharpened local appreciation of the kind of aid an amphibious ship can bring. Half of its frigates, including the country’s flagship, are former British Type 22/23 ships, and naval relations with Britain are very good. Its government has shown that it can move quickly, and the decommissioning of LST 93 Valdivia (ex-USS San Bernardino) leaves a hole in its capabilities. The bad news is that the earthquake has left the country with a large reconstruction bill, but any interest from that quarter must be regarded as serious and competitive. That interest continued, and eventually led to a second-hand purchase of the French LSD FS Foudre.

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