Landing Craft Heavy (LCH)

Amphibious Watercraft Replacement is intended to replace the existing ADF landing craft capability inherent in Navy Heavy Landing Craft (LCH) and Army Medium Landing Craft (LCM-8) and Landing Platform Amphibious (LPA) Watercraft, as part of the Amphibious Deployment and Sustainment (ADAS) system.

The White Paper Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century: Force 2030 released on 02 May 2009, stated that the Government had decided to acquire six new heavy landing craft with improved ocean-going capabilities to replace the Navy's ageing Balikpapan class Landing Craft Heavy (LCH) vessels. The new vessels will provide improved ocean-going capabilities, able to transport armoured vehicles, trucks, stores and people in intra-theater lift tasks to augment the larger amphibious vessels.

Phase 3 of Joint Project 2048 aims to replace the entire fleet of ADF landing craft - including the troubled phase 1A 'LCM2000' LPA watercraft to which the DMO finally suspended trials - with new vessels customised to both the ADAS requirement, and the new 'Canberra'-class LHDs. Joint Project JP 2048 Phase 5 Landing Craft Heavy Replacement aims to provide the ADF with the platforms necessary to create an amphibious maneuver capability in support of the ADF's future operating concept "Joint Operations for the 21st Century". The CANBERRA Class Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD), and the remaining phases of the project will combine to provide a multi-dimensional manoeuvre capability through its aviation, landing craft and command and control facilities.

This project arose from recognition of the need for a greater amphibious capability than was provided by the two KANIMBLA Class Landing Platform Amphibious Ships (LPA), the Heavy Landing Ship HMAS Tobruk, the six BALIKPAPAN Class Heavy Landing Craft and associated Army landing craft.

Phase 5 will acquire six new heavy landing craft with improved ocean going capabilities able to transport armoured vehicles, trucks, stores and people. It will provide a capability to conduct independent small scale regional amphibious operations or to support the CANBERRA Class as part of an Amphibious Task Group. Phase 5 is intended to deliver ocean-going landing craft that are capable of independent amphibious operations or support the Amphibious Task Group.

For Phase 5 industry requirements will be guided by the information gained through definition studies. Possible industry opportunities that may relate to these phases include design, design interpretation, ship production, ships propulsion systems, ships electrical and electronic systems, ship environmental systems, and in-service support. The industry requirements will be based around developing and maintaining sufficient capability within Australian industry to undertake as wide a range of through-life maintenance and support activities as practicable for all phases of the project.

The Navy's current fleet of heavy landing craft had been continuously used in these roles since the early 1970s and provided outstanding service, but they are relatively slow and vulnerable to adverse weather. The new class of landing craft will provide intra-theater lift to augment the larger Canberra class Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) and new Strategic Sealift amphibious vessels. The new landing craft will have improved seakeeping characteristics and faster transit speeds than the LCHs that they will be replacing.

Military and humanitarian operations in the region and around the nation require smaller amphibious vessels to move cargo ashore, transport troops along coastal areas, or evacuate civilians. Vessels of this type enable small land forces to use the sea as a manoeuvre space to increase the tempo of operations and outpace an adversary, particularly in difficult terrain where onshore infrastructure is poor or vulnerable to disruption at key points. They will also be capable of contributing to humanitarian and disaster relief operations.

BMT Design & Technology worked closely with sister company, BMT Defence Services Ltd. (U.K.) to provide highly capable options for the RAN's new LCH class. The beaching and at-sea vehicle transfer activity of landing craft represent a unique and harsh environment; consequently, considerable experience is required when selecting a suitable design approach. BMT Defence Services Ltd. provided the necessary experience through an extensive history of Amphibious warfare vessel design for the MoD.

Recent design work by BMT Defence Services Ltd. included the acclaimed Caimen-200 design for a fast Landing Craft Tank (LCT). Typically, amphibious assault craft in the displacement range of Caimen-200 have operating speeds of 8-9 knots, a limit imposed by the design of a hull-form emphasising carrying capacity and ease of off-loading the payload when beached. To achieve the desired logistical throughput, BMT set a design goal of a speed approaching double the present day norm. Through meeting this classic naval design challenge, designers at BMT delivered: an innovative bow ramp design that when deployed actively increases beached stability; excellent sea-keeping characteristics, well in advance of other displacement monohull landing craft; and a hull-form that meets payload requirements yet has the low resistance necessary for economic fuel consumption at its design operating speed.

Caimen-200 is capable of achieving a transit speed of more than 16 knots fully laden with up to three Main Battle Tanks (MBT), this is virtually twice as fast as traditional fully flat bottomed LCT alternatives. The Caimen-200 therefore enables more weight and firepower of amphibious forces to be deployed in a shorter time and thereby greatly reducing the vulnerability to enemy fire. This results in greater overall effectiveness of deployed military resources.

The Caimen-200 employs a unique 'active bow ramp' which utilises electro hydraulic rams to force the ramp into the beach, greatly minimising vessel pitch and roll. As part of the enhanced design activity BMT's naval architects have examined in greater detail the forces experienced by Caimen-200's active bow ramp under various loading conditions and states of tide. This work has included collaborating with main battle tank operators to explore how they employ LCTs and how this may affect the performance of the Caimen-200. Additional loading information has also been used to refine the hydraulic system that powers the active ramp.

The 2012 Defence Capability Plan said Navy will "acquire six new heavy landing craft with improved speed and sea keeping capabilities able to transport armoured vehicles, trucks, stores and personnel and land them over the shore. It will provide a capability to conduct independent small-scale regional amphibious operations or to support the Canberra Class vessels as part of an Amphibious Task Group. This phase is expected to have an extended development schedule owing to the likely design innovation necessary to meet these parameters."

The project was scheduled for approval in 2017–2021, with initial operational capability in 2022–2024. The 2013 Defence White Paper made no mention of this project, and plans may change as the whole scheme of naval shipbuilding projects is updated.

The Landing Craft Heavy fleet was decommissioned from Australian service at a ceremony in Cairns on 19 November 2014. The Philippines Government was also considering whether to purchase the remaining three Landing Craft Heavy. The former HMAS Wewak, Betano and Balikpapan were decommissioned from the Royal Australian Navy in December 2012.

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