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.
The UK Ministry of Defence’s concerted effort to reform its defense support operations continues. Overall, “future contracting for availability,” rather than paying for parts and labor hours, remains the overall direction. The Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service, which provided a number of services in and around the Royal Navy’s major ports, was outsourced to Serco in a GBP 1 billion December 2007 contract.
Now, a deal that could last for 30 years is providing provide through-life support for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary of Britain’s oilers, supply ships, and landing ships.
The USA’s University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System conducts research throughout the world’s oceans, and their fleet has shifted to 4 basic research vessel types: Global, Ocean/Intermediate, Regional and Coastal/Local. From 2014 onward, new Ocean Class ships will replace aging Intermediate Class ships in current use, and serve alongside the new SWATH-hulled RV Kilo Moana [T-AGOR 26]. Growing trends towards larger, interdisciplinary science teams, using more sophisticated research equipment, means a need for larger and more sophisticated ships. They new Ocean Class will provide parties of up to 25 scientists with an advanced blue-water platform that can stay at sea for up to 40 days, and cover up to 10,000 nautical miles.
Can they be built affordably? The US Navy is managing the competition, construction, and chartering process, and the 1st build contract was issued in October 2011.
“With the help of a $50 million grant from the state of Louisiana, Northrop Grumman has modernized production at Avondale, and the company is now projecting completion of future amphibious ships at a much faster pace than in the past. Nevertheless, scathing Navy inspector general reviews that detailed shoddy construction and basic workmanship problems at Avondale are cause for legitimate concern in areas that will not be fixed by modernization alone.”
While some teething problems are common for first ships of a new class, The new San Antonio Class stands out for their number and severity. All in a ship whose costs rose from about $700 million when the program was sold, to over $1.7 billion – then stayed at that drastically elevated level through subsequent vessels.
NATO and Pakistan have not found an agreement on reopening transport routes out of Afghanistan. The fact Pakistan tried to increase the price per truck by a factor of 20 might have something to do with it. If allied combat troops are to withdraw by mid-2013 and don’t want to leave most of their equipment behind or ship it back at an outrageous cost, this will need to be resolved.
In his April 6/09 discussion of the FY 2010 budget, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates said that the US military wanted to charter another 2 “JHSV-like” fast catamaran ships from 2009-2011, until the JHSV ships begin arriving. That meant JHSV-winner Austal would find its products competing once more with Incat, which has had 4 of its wave-piercing catamarans chartered by various American services. Their Swift wave-piercing catamaran is currently chartered by the Navy as HSV-2, just as the Austal-built Westpac Express is chartered by US Military Sealift Command for the Marines.
One obvious stopgap option is the Hawaiian Superferry catamarans, a larger pair of Austal-built ships that resemble the Westpac Express. They were even pressed into service when Haiti’s disaster struck, and now the US Navy has bought them outright.
In November 2008, ST Engineering subsidiary Singapore Technologies Marine Ltd (ST Marine), reported that they had “secured a contract in a basket of currencies amounting to about S$200m” (about $135 million) to design and build a 141 meter Landing Platform Dock (LPD) amphibious assault ship, along with ancillary vessels: a pair of 23m Landing Craft Mechanized (LCM) that can transport heavy equipment like tanks from the ship’s well deck to the shore, and a pair of smaller 13m Landing Craft Vehicle and Personnel (LCVP) for people and small wheeled vehicles. That customer turned out to be the Thai Navy, which floated an RFP for an LPD-type ship in April 2008.
Boston Ship Repair, LLC in Boston, MA recently won a $9.2 million firm-fixed-price contract for a 60-day regular overhaul/dry-docking of Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort [T-AH-20] for ship repair and maintenance. Work will include dry-docking and undocking of the ship; tank preservation; freeboard preservation; underwater hull painting; switchboard upgrade, sea valve repair; and pump overhauls. The contract includes options which could raise its value to $11.9 million.
Comfort’s primary mission is to provide emergency, on-site care for deployed U.S. military forces, and the ship is also used extensively for humanitarian engagement missions around the world. Work will be performed in Boston, MA, and is expected to be complete by April 13/12. This contract was competitively procured via a solicitation posted to the Federal Business Opportunities website, with more than 50 companies solicited and 3 offers received. US Navy Military Sealift Fleet Support Command manages the contract (N40442-12-C-5001).