The Royal Australian Navy has officially commissioned the HMAS Choules Landing Ship Dock (LSD), which was originally commissioned into service with the Royal Navy in 2006 as the RFA Largs Bay.
The Commander of the Australian Fleet, Rear Admiral Stephen Gilmore AM, CSC, officially commissioned the vessel at a ceremony conducted at the Fremantle Passenger Terminal yesterday.
Minister for Defence Stephen Smith, Minister for Defence Materiel Jason Clare and Parliamentary Secretary for Defence David Feeney joined the Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Ray Griggs AM CSC at the commissioning.
“The acquisition of this ship will help ensure that the Royal Australian Navy has the amphibious capability it needs for operations and humanitarian support in our region in the period leading up to the arrival of the Royal Australian Navy’s Landing Helicopter Dock Ships in 2014 and 2015,” the Australian ministry of defence said.
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. 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. 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. During normal conditions, a Bay class ship can carry 356 soldiers. No helicopters are carried onboard, but the twin-spot flight deck is capable of handling helicopters up to the size of Chinooks. 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.
The Royal Australian Navy now has the following amphibious capability if required to provide humanitarian and disaster relief during the current cyclone season:
•Windermere – leased from P&O until 31 January 2012, with the option to extend to the end of February 2012;
•HMNZS Canterbury – under Australia’s agreement with New Zealand it would be made available as part of the joint Pacific-focused Ready Response Force, subject to any operational requirements in New Zealand; and,
•A number of Landing Craft, Heavy.
In April this year the Australian government announced it had successfully purchased the RFA Largs Bay in April this year for £65 million (approximately AU$100 million).
The ship weighs 16,000 tonnes. It is 176 metres long and 26 metres wide. 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 Manoora, Kanimbla and Tobruk vessels combined.
The ship has been fittingly named after the former Chief Petty Officer Claude Choules, who passed away in May this year at the age of 110. Claude Choules saw service in World War One and World War Two, as a member of both the Royal Navy and later the Royal Australian Navy.
He was Australia’s last living link to those who served in World War One. “It is therefore fitting that this ship bears the name Choules to represent the vessel’s links to both Navies,” the Australian ministry of defence said.
“In the centenary year of Navy, it honours all of those men and women who, like Claude Choules, delivered quietly and with great dedication, loyal service to the Royal Australian Navy.”
Yesterday the Australian department of defence announced that the Royal Australian Navy is purchasing an additional humanitarian and disaster relief ship. The purchase of a third ship, in addition to the HMAS Choules and HMAS Tobruk, will ensure that Australia has the humanitarian and disaster relief capability required between now and the arrival of the Landing Helicopter Dock Ships in the middle of the decade.
The third ship will primarily be used to transport troops and supplies in support of humanitarian and disaster relief operations domestically and in the region.
A commercial off-the-shelf vessel will be sought so that minimal modifications will be needed allowing the ship to enter into service in the course of 2012.
The vessel will be manned under a civilian crewing arrangement.
When Cyclone Yasi hit North Queensland in February this year, the Australian MoD did not have any amphibious ships available to assist. At that time Smith and Clare made no secret of their disappointment with the state of the Royal Australian Navy’s amphibious ships.
Since that time the government has taken a number steps to rectify the problem with the Navy’s amphibious fleet, including purchasing the RFA Largs Bay, conducting work on HMAS Tobruk to return it to sea, and leasing extra vessels.