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Send an amphib, the future cry.

In the 19th Century, whenever there was a crisis in some remote part of the world the response was to send a gunboat. And now, in the 21st Century, the popular response is to send an amphibious baffle group.


While aircraft carriers are the platform with which to project air power from littoral waters, navies of all sorts are seeking multi-role vessels with an amphibious capability, or at least the ability to carry a body of troops. At the top end of the range are the major navies' mini-carriers with hundreds of troops, but even smaller navies are seeking a proportionate capability, as evidenced by the requirement for Malta's new Offshore Patrol Vessel to carry five Land Rover-size vehicles or 30 troops on a helicopter flight deck.

The Europeans are adopting a twin track approach with carrier-like ships capable of operating medium-weight helicopters, attack helicopters and/or Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (stovl) aircraft but also of carrying a substantial infantry force. Often these ships ferry landing craft to augment the helicopters and they are characterised by easy access and considerable storage space for troops, vehicles and supplies.

Italy's recently launched Cavour is a typical example, and this 26,660-tonne ship can carry eight stovl aircraft, twelve medium-lift helicopters and up to 450 troops with 100 soft skinned vehicles which can enter or leave the hull through two roll-on, roll-off (ro-ro) ramps. The ship, which is being built by Fincantieri, will be commissioned in 2007.

The Royal Navy operates the smaller, 21,758-tonne, HMS Ocean, which can take twelve medium-lift helicopters, up to six attack helicopters and 830 troops. The helicopters are augmented by four general-purpose landing craft on davits with the garage accessed from a ramp at the stern.

More common is the assault ship which has a helicopter deck and a 'wet dock' at the stern but whose access is similar to those of the carrier-like ships. BAE Systems have recently completed the second of the Albion class assault ships, the garage of which can accommodate six main battle tanks and 700 troops, a multi-service command staff and eight landing craft as well as three medium helicopters.

These vessels are closer to the old landing ship, dock (LSD) but are infinitely more sophisticated especially in terms of command and control and its medical facilities. DCN is currently producing two Mistral class Batiment de Projection et de Commandment (BPC) while Izar is building its Buque de Proyeccion Estrategica-BPE (Strategic Projection Ship). Both companies are competing for the Australian Navy's JP (Joint Project) 2048 helicopter landing ship (LHA) requirement, which calls for a vessel in the 20,000-tonne class and which is to join the Royal Australian Navy in 2010.

Both have flight decks extending along their hulls; the BPC being slightly smaller at 21,500 tonnes but capable of carrying 16 helicopters, 450 troops and four landing craft. The BPE will have a displacement of 27,100 tonnes but will carry 22 helicopters, 900 troops and four larger landing craft. She is due to be delivered to the Spanish Navy in 2008, three years after the first Mistral joins the French fleet.

The modern equivalent of the LSD, the Landing Platform Dock (LPD) still remains popular with one of the most successful designs coming from Royal Schelde with its Rotterdam class. These 12,750 to 16,680-tonne ships have been acquired by the Netherlands and can accommodate up to four medium-weight helicopters, four landing craft and some 600 troops. Derivatives have been produced in Spain (Galicia class) and the United Kingdom (Bay class).

The backbone of the US Navy's amphibious forces are the Wasp (LHD 1) and Tarawa class amphibious assault ships which are similar to the European BPC/BPE ships but twice the size. The Wasp class was completed by Northrop Grumman Ship Systems and the vessels have grown from 40,650 tonnes to 41,772 tonnes. They can carry 42 medium helicopters or six vstol aircraft and 30 helicopters, as well as 2000 troops, they also have a wet dock and three monorail trains to carry supplies.

A replacement, the LHX, is under consideration but is unlikely to appear before the end of this decade. The assault ships are being complemented by the San Antonio (LPD 17) class LPDM, although this class has been much troubled in its development. These are 23,500-tonne ships, which can carry 720 troops, four heavy helicopters and two air cushion vehicles, are designed to replace a wide range of amphibious warfare ships. The programmes have perhaps been too ambitious with growing expenditures putting their future under threat.


There is growing interest in LPDs in East Asia. Japan has already produced the 8900-tonne Oosumi class with its flight deck stretching almost the whole length of the hull. Korea has ordered the LPX, a 19,000-tonne ship resembling Spain's BPE, which is slated to join the fleet in 2007--an order for a second ship is anticipated. Surprisingly, there is no corresponding interest in western Asia, not even in India where the priority is for a full carrier.

Even smaller navies are seeking some form of force projection capability, Malaysia and Canada for example both have requirements for multirole support ships, and they may be influenced by the ways New Zealand and Denmark have met their requirements. New Zealand has ordered two Multi-Role Vessels (MRV) from Tennix Defence to meet its Project Protector requirement. These 8729-tonne ships are based upon a ro-ro ferry design from Merwede Shipyard in the Netherlands who will build them.

The MRV will provide a limited tactical sealift capacity for disaster relief, humanitarian relief operations, peace support operations, military support activities and development assistance support. In the military sealift role it will be able to carry up to 250 troops and it is due for delivery in December 2006.


Denmark's equivalent is the 6200-tonne Flexible Support Ship (FSS), or 'Fleksibelt Stotteskib', although the term combat support ship is increasingly used. The first is the HDMS Absalon, which was received by the Danish Navy in October with anticipated roles very similar to the New Zealand MRVs.

Built by the Odense Steel Shipyard the FSS will carry up to two medium-sized helicopters, and they are unique in having a wide 900 sq/metres general-purpose deck which can accommodate containerised headquarters or hospitals, vehicles or even 300 mines brought aboard via a ro-ro ramp at the stern.

Extra flexibility is provided by five wells for Stanflex weapons modules, which can include Boeing Harpoon Block II surface-to-surface missiles. The MRV and the FSS are attracting considerable attention and Ireland is reportedly interested in a similar concept. The FSS programme has a requirement for a New Patrol Ship capable of carrying 200 troops, four landing craft and two helicopters.

The FSS also reflects the growing demand for improved ship-to-shore strike capability. Denmark was the first export customer for the United Defense 62-calibre, 5-inch (127 mm) Mk 45 Mod 4 gun mounting which is designed to take Raytheon's EX-171 Extended Range Guided Munition (Ergm) which is designed to have a range of more than 100 kilometres with a circular error probable (CEP) of less than 20 metres. The same guns are likely to be ordered for the smaller version of the FSS, the frigate-size Patrol Ships, which may also carry the Raytheon Tomahawk land attack missile.

This illustrates the greater contribution which navies are playing to strike targets deeper inland from both surface ships and submarines while the new generation of anti-ship missile provides a limited land-attack capability. The impact upon submarine programmes is especially significant.


The US Navy is currently converting four of its Ohio (SSBN 726) class ballistic missile submarines into multirole vessels for littoral operations. In addition to having greater accommodation and facilities for special operations forces, their ballistic missile cells have been converted to multi-cell launchers for the Tomahawk, of which they can carry 154.

Most of the US Navy's fleet submarine force can launch Tomahawk missiles from their torpedo tubes, which is one of the features of the missile's design, but the Virginia (SSN 774) and most of the Los Angeles (SSN 688) class have also been fitted with a dozen vertical launch cells made specifically for this missile. It is likely that most submarines will also be fitted with systems to launch unmanned aerial vehicles and, later, this might be extended to unmanned air combat vehicles.

Some of the British Swiftsure and Trafalgar class submarines have also been adapted to launch Tomahawk missiles from their torpedo tubes. Adaptations to the bow to provide a similar capability for the successor Astute class have helped to increase the price of these vessels. France's new Barracuda class submarines will have a similar capability in the middle of the next decade using MBDA Scalp Naval missiles.

The Russians also have a land-attack capability that they have exported through the Klub family of missiles and Kilo class submarines to India and China. The former is also introducing the Klubs to its Type 209/1500 (Shishumar class) submarines and will later use BrahMos missiles.

Missile from Deck

All of these missiles can, of course, be fired from surface combatants. The US Navy's Ticonderoga (CG 47) and Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) class ships, with their Lockheed Martin-built Mk 41 launcher systems, can be adapted to launch the Tomahawk missile, and between them have launched hundreds of these missiles both in tests and operations since 1991.

Australia, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain all intend to introduce Tomahawk missiles into their inventories for destroyers or frigates during the next ten years. Germany is also considering providing a land-attack missile capability for its K130 class corvettes, which are to be built by Blohm + Voss, Thyssen Nordseewerke (both soon to be part of the ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems organisation) and Lurssen.

All major warships have medium calibre gun armaments that can be used for naval surface fire support, but there is now emerging a requirement for a ship whose prime role is to support land forces. The leading expression of this requirement is the US Navy's radical DD(X) programme which was intended to consist of 24 hulls but may now be halved as the US Defense Department seems to be favouring the missile defence version or CG(X).

Authoritative details of the DD(X) were revealed at the recent SMi Future Surface Warships conference held in London where it was revealed the ship would have a displacement of 14264 tonnes, a length of 182.9 metres, a beam of 24.1 metres and a draft of 8.4. The ship will be the first electrically propelled warship in the US Navy.

She will have a variety of sensor and weapon systems with the latter based on 80 launch cells distributed along the hull for a variety of missiles including Tomahawk and its possible successors. The gun armament will consist of two 155 mm United Defense Advanced Gun Systems (AGS) with 460 rounds each (of which 160 will be extended range). The CG(X) will be similar but with one AGS and more missile cells.

Fremm and Britain

The Franco-Italian Fremm (Fregate Europeenne Multi-Mission) programme, for which production contracts are anticipated in April, includes versions specifically for striking from the sea (see model in the title picture). France plans nine versions of the 5600-tonne frigate as Action Vers la Terre (AVT) with its DCN Sylver launchers having, among other weapons, the MBDA Scalp Naval land attack missiles. Surprisingly, the main gun armament will be an Oto Melara 76 mm Super Rapid gun, with provision for an Oto Melara 127 mm Lightweight mounting. Italy plans to have six general-purpose versions that will feature the 127 mm gun.

Rome, however, still has to decide whether or not to include a land-attack capability and, if so, whether to select the Tomahawk or the Scalp Naval missile system. In any event the first versions of the Fremm to enter service from 2019 will be anti-submarine variants.

There were plans for later versions of the British Type 45 (Daring class) destroyers to include a larger gun or space for land attack missiles. But until November 2004 these appeared have been scrapped and the emphasis placed upon the Future Surface Combatant (FSC).

This was intended to enter service from the latter part of the next decade and originally envisaged as a class of 18 ships. In 2001 these were to be 9500-tonne ships with a multi-role missile launcher system, which would incorporate land-attack missiles along with a 155 mm gun.

The Royal Navy appeared to be thinking, like the Italians, of a more general-purpose frigate of some 5000 tonnes with a land attack capability. However, in November it was revealed the FSC programme had been abandoned with greater interest in a corvette design. It remains to be seen how the Royal Navy will now address its naval fire support requirement, but it is possible that at a later date the Daring class ships will receive a larger gun.
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Title Annotation:Complete Guide
Author:Hooton, E.R.
Publication:Armada International
Date:Feb 1, 2005
Previous Article:Punch from the air.
Next Article:Punch from the water.

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