LHD Tonnerre to visit SA

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The French amphibious helicopter dock ship (LHD), FS Tonnerre, will dock in Durban today on the latest leg of its Jeanne d’arc training cruise for 121 soon-to-be-commissioned midshipmen. The Tonnerre will arrive from Mombasa, Kenya and will Wednesday sail to French Indian Ocean possession La Réunion where she will join the guided missile destroyer FS Georges Leygues.

The Georges Leygues is also part of the training cruise that was previously conducted aboard the helicopter cruiser Jeanne d’arc, which is being decommissioned. The LHD previously visited Cape Town on its maiden voyage in June 2007.

The midshipmen includes 88 aspiring officers from the French Naval Academy, now in the 6th semester of their four-year training programme, 11 supply officers-to-be, five maritime affairs and officers and 17 foreign officers from Algeria, Belgium, Cameroon, Canada, Egypt, Gabon, Germany, Madagascar, Morocco, Senegal and Togo. In addition, 10 aspirant officers from the Saint-Cyr army academy was onboard for the first part of the deployment.

LHDs, such as the Tonnerre, are capable of carrying out a wide range of missions including amphibious and air support operations, crisis management, command and control as well as
medical support. The ship was built by DCNS at Brest and St Nazaire. The design has been marketed to South Africa to satisfy a SA Navy requirement for a “strategic support ship” under Project Millennium.
The ship is currently commanded by Captain Philippe Ebanga, who was born in 1966 and raised in the former French territory of Cameroon. He is a 1989 graduate of the French Naval Academy where he received a commission as a Surface Warfare Officer before specialising as a Principal Warfare Officer (PWO). His most recent assignment was Executive Officer of the Tonnerre.

Prior to that, he served in Toulon, France, at the Joint High Readiness Forces Headquarters (2006-2008) in charge of Planning and Policy particularly responsible for the first French command tour of the Maritime Component of the NATO Response Force. In addition, as the Deputy Commander Task Force 150 (TF 150), he led a Maritime Coalition Force in the Indian ocean that earned significant results fighting the war against terrorism and the organised crime in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). His previous command tours include FS Panthère (A749) and FS Commandant Birot (F796) where he deployed in South America and participated, first on scene, in combat operations in Ivory Coast, West Africa.

Tonnerre vital statistics

General characteristics
· Length : 199 m.
· Beam : 32 m.
· Draugth : 6,20 m.
· Displacement : 21 600 tonnes fully loaded
· Speed : 19 knots
· Range : 11000 nautical miles at 15 knots
· Flight deck area : 5 200 m2
· Number of helicopters landing pads : 6
· Propulsion: Electric by means of PODs
· Crew: 180



Deployment capacities (depending on mission type)
· Helicopters : 12 medium helicopters (NH90) or 16 light attack helicopters (Eurocopter Tiger)
· Vehicles : 110 armoured vehicles or a squadron of 13 tanks
· Troops : 450 to 650
· Hospital : 69 beds (expandable to 100), 2 surgery rooms, 1 x-ray room.
· Command post: staff of 200 in 850 m2
· Four Landing Craft Units (LCU), two Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) or two Landing Catamaran (LCAT) can be stationed on the LHD well-deck, which allows to unload all those vehicles in a limited amount of time from sea to land.