Australian amphibian headed for Cape Town


The Royal Australian Navy’s (RAN) future HMAS Choules (L100) is due to call at Cape Town tomorrow. The former British landing ship dock, RFA Largs Bay, is on her way to Australia where she will be commissioned next month. The RAN bought the ship from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary earlier this year for £65 million.

The Australia in August announced the ship would be named for Chief Petty Officer Claude Choules who died in May this year. “He died in Perth at the age of 110. This was a significant moment when the world lost its last living link with those who had served in WW1 [World War One], Chief of the RAN Vice Admiral Ray Griggs said at the time.

To mark the centenary of the RAN – established in 1911 – the pennant number of the future Choules will be L100, “further reinforcing the link to the centenary of the Royal Australian Navy and those who have served in it throughout our history,” Griggs said.

The Choules will repair the RAN’s amphibious capability, effectively lost with the decommissioning of two fault-prone Kanimbla-class landing platforms amphibious earlier this year. The government decided the ex-Newport-class tank landing ships were beyond economic repair. The Landing Ship Heavy HMAS Tobruk remains in commission – but is also in dock to repair defects.

Spanish shipyard Navantia is meanwhile building the RAN two new Canberra-class Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) ships. Construction of the first ship, HMAS Canberra, commenced in late 2008, and the hull was launched earlier this year. Work on the second vessel, HMAS Adelaide, started early last year. The ships are expected to enter service during 2014 and 2015.

The Choules, meanwhile was ordered from shipyard Swan Hunter in December 2000 and her keel was laid down in January 2002. The ship was launched July 18, 2003 and entered service in April 2006, over a year late.

The four-ship class was based on the Royal Schelde shipyard’s Enforcer; a joint project between the Dutch and Spanish navies that resulted respectively in the Rotterdam and Galicia-class amphibious warfare ships. The main difference with the British ships is the lack of a helicopter hangar, the wikipedia entry for the Largs Bay notes. The ships were originally designated “Auxiliary Landing Ship Logistics” or ALSL, but this was changed in 2002 to “Landing Ship Dock (Auxiliary)” or LSD(A), better reflecting their operational role.

The Bay-class ships have a full load displacement of 16,160 tonnes (15,900 long tons). Each is 176.6m long, with a beam of 26.4m, and a draught of 5.8m. Propulsion power is provided by two Wärtsilä 8L26 generators, providing 6,000 horsepower (4.5 MW), and two Wärtsilä 12V26 generators, providing 9,000 horsepower (6.7 MW) used to drive two steerable propulsion pods, with a bow thruster supplementing. Maximum speed is 18 knots (33 km/h), and the Bay-class ships can achieve a range of 8000 nautical miles (15,000km) at 15 knots (28 km/h. For self defence, Largs Bay was fitted with two Alliant Techsystems Mk44 Bushmaster II 30mm chain guns and up to six 7.62mm L7 general purpose machine guns, the British version of the FN MAG58. In addition, she was fitted for but not with a Phalanx CIWS and a 30 mm DS30B cannon. The standard ship’s company consists of 60 officers and sailors.

As a sealift ship, Largs Bay is capable of carrying up to 24 tanks or 150 light trucks in 1150 linear metres of space. The cargo capacity is equivalent of 200 tons of ammunition, or 24 twenty-foot equivalent unit containers. During normal conditions, a Bay class ship can carry 356 soldiers, but this can be almost doubled to 700 in overload conditions. No helicopters are carried onboard, but the twin-spot flight deck is capable of handling helicopters up to the size of Chinooks, as well as Merlin helicopters and Osprey tiltrotor aircraft. The well dock can carry one LCU Mark 10 or two LCVPs, and two Mexeflotes can be suspended from the ship’s flanks. Two 30-ton cranes are fitted between the superstructure and the flight deck.