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LPD - Big Honking Ship (BHS)

In late 2005 the Canadian Navy was drafting plans to acquire a pair of large amphibious assault ships capable of transporting thousands of troops and dozens of tanks and trucks across the seas. The idea, which merited a passing reference in the spring 2005 defence policy statement, was expected to go for consideration before the federal Treasury Board in 2006. The acquisition of the ships, that can resemble small aircraft carriers, are in addition to the navy's $2.1-billion project to build three regular supply ships. The federal Conservatives supported the concept of the landing ships in the last election. But Liberal Party Prime Minister Paul Martin dismissed the idea during the televised debate, saying Canadians had a choice between a party that supported health care and one that wanted to buy aircraft carriers.

In early 2005 General Rick Hillier, Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), filled in some details of his plans for the navy with the announcement that the military would be acquiring an amphibious transport ship. He said he wanted a "big honking ship" that can carry four to six heavy-lift helicopters and a light task force of approximately 800-900 soldiers. Hillier said the amphibious ship would complement the three Joint Support Ships. In regards to its acquisition, he said "we're going to have to take an appetite suppressant. Everybody says, okay, so you want the San Antonio-class ship. That's a pretty expensive ship to go get. We believethere are others around, designs around, that would easily meet our requirements that are less expensive. ... I really would like tosee the first exercising and validation of it in 2006, withthe initial operational capability to immediately followthat. Clearly we're not going to be able and obtain a bighonking ship, an amphibious ship, to do that in the shortterm, but we can cobble together the necessary pieces todo the joint evaluation of the concept... The troops need it. They need it now, not 15 years from now, not 10 years from now, not even five years from now. They need it assoon as possible..."

The word "honking" is Canadian slang, used to emphasis largeness, eg, "big honking" or "huge honking". Snow geese are known for their white plumage, but many of them are actually darker, grey-brown birds known as blue geese. These birds were once though to be two separate species, but they have recently been found to be merely two different colour morphs of the same bird. A single gene controls the colour difference. Snow geese are harbingers of the changing seasons. They fly south for the winter in huge, honking flocks (as high as 7,500 ft.) that may appear as a "U" formation or simply as a large "snowstorm" of white birds.

A group of retired army, navy, and air force officers, called Project Seahorse, raised the vision that General Hillier outlined for a standing contingency task force of a battalion of soldiers in an amphibious ship, supported by embarked aircraft, while waiting off a theatre until the final government decision to go in was announced.

The Canadian Amphibious Assault Ship Project is a project designed to give Canada a sealift, mobile command and control platform, amphibious assault capability. The program as envisioned would be a $1,000,000,000 program to purchase an amphibious assault ship that could deploy 1,000 troops. The envisaged ship is projected to be able to provide a helicopter platform. The force, which will include 800 soldiers, sailors and air force personnel, will be mainly focused on maritime operations, but will also focus on areas such as counter-terrorism.

The Joint Support Ship (JSS) concept reflected the combination of a fleet tanker and an amphibious transport ship with all the advantages of each combined into one ship. The ship can refuel a task group or provide escorts with necessary spare parts, logistic supplies and fresh water. In addition, the ship was to have the ability to support land operations by transporting troops, supplies of goods and rolling material. But the Canadian Forces needed something larger than a Joint Support Ships if they were to effectively operate in areas like littoral failed and failing states. It would be capable of supporting forces ashore in littoral areas, and by owning it, rather than renting it, the Government could avoid situations like that which occurred with the GTS KATIE.

On 12 February 2004, Canada and eight other nations signed an agreement with the NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency (NAMSA) to provide NATO with strategic sealift capability for rapidly deployable forces. In the Multinational Implementation Arrangement on Strategic Sealift Commitments (MIASSC) agreement, the nations agreed to use a combination of fulltime charter and multinational assured access contracts. The nine nations agreed to acquire a multinational capability package consisting of three rollon/ roll-off (Ro/Ro) ships on assured access, 1-2 Danish Ro/Ro ships on fulltime charter, residual capacity of four United Kingdom Ro/Ro ships and a Norwegian Ro/Ro ship on an ad hoc basis.

Implicit in past government's 2005 vision for a Standing Contingency task Force (SCTF), also known as a Standing Contingency Force (SCF) or as Integrated Rapid Response (IRR), was the requirement to acquire one or more amphibious assault ships specifically designed for the embarkation and transportation of a militarily credible battle group comprised of 700-800 troops, their vehicles, weaponry other paraphernalia, and the enabling sea and air connectors. But by March 2007, faced with mounting pressures from the Afghanistan mission as well as its upcoming role in providing security for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, the Canadian military scaled back some of its ambitious equipment and expansion plans.

The Standing Contingency Task Force (SCTF), a high readiness force made up of designated land, air, maritime and special operations forces, would be based on a strategic sealift capability, centered on what Chief of Defence Staff General Rick Hillier called a "big honking ship" (BHS). Little detail has been given on the BHS, though it will likely be an amphibious assault vessel similar to the 25,000-tonnes San Antonio-class LPD (Landing Platform Dock) used by the US Marine Corp. Such a vessel would be equipped with a flight deck for helicopters, as well as a well deck for a landing craft. The BHS would be combined with the strategic lift capability of the three proposed Joint Support Ships (JSS).

The Landing Platform Dock (LPD) primary function is to embark, transport, and deploy and recover (by air and sea) troops and their equipment, vehicles and miscellaneous cargo. They vary in size and specifications from country to country. In June 2006 the Interim Report by the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence recommended that: "24. The Canadian Forces should acquire sufficient Landing Platform Dock vessels or their equivalent, each capable of carrying an Army battle group and its equipment at a time. 25. The Government should provide the Department with whatever resources it requires to acquire four Landing Platform Dock-like ships as quickly as possible."

In a speech delivered at the April 29, 2008 Navy Summit, Honourary Navy Captain, Conservative Senator Hugh D. Segal, boldly advocated the addition of an entirely new and global maritime capability in the form of amphibious ships and said "we need to be able to have it in more than one theatre at a time." Later, the military historian Dr. Jack Granatstein expanded upon Senator Segal's suggestion. "Our sailors must be able to transport and support Canadian troops operating overseas, sometimes perhaps on a hostile shore. The presently planned three Joint Support Ships can't do this; four might be able to manage, but six would be better, along with what General Rick Hillier called "a big honking ship" that could transport four to six helicopters and a battalion-sized expeditionary force. Such ships can also do humanitarian work -in tsunami-hit Indonesia, for example- that we can scarcely tackle today."

The Chief of the Maritime Staff, Vice-Admiral Drew Robertson, sketched one possible scenario in an interview. "Over the next 20 to 25 years," the CMS "would like to see maritime forces evolving toward a mix of two littoral manoeuvre ships" (presumably latter-day variations on the "big honking ship" theme, but perhaps with radical concepts or designs), three joint support ships, four to six submarines, four task group command/force air defence destroyers, 12 to 14 future frigates..."

With the retirement of General Hillier, the 'Big Honking Ships' lost their main advocate. But by 2010 the JSS was more of an AOR than a replenishment/sealift hybrid - a sensible move, given the compromises inherent in a hybrid design. But this scaled back JSS would require some sort of supplement. That might not be the notional 'big honking ship,' But there would seem to be a requirement for something along the lines of the Dutch Rotterdam-class (a classic LPD), or the much larger, through-deck French and Spanish LHDs currently competing for a two-ship Australian order, or some other option.

Various ship types could provide the necessary lift through adaptation of the JSS design. This could require incorporating a dock into at least one of the designs. These modified JSS ships would not be able to conduct naval resupply once the amphibious portion of their design was enlarged, just as the post-2010 JSS could not support power projection operations. This option would provide Canadian jobs at the offsetting cost of time. Having a common JSS baseline design might afford maitenance savings during the in-service life of the ships.




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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 15:32:50 ZULU