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European Union Sealift

The European Union study on strategic transport requirements was conducted in the case of a scenario of "separation of the parties by force", for a force of 60 000 troops in a theatre of operations 4 000 km from Brussels. About 160 rotations of ships are needed in order to transport all the equipment. To keep to the period of 60 days, in the knowledge that the first unloading in the zone can only take place one month after the decision has been taken, about 80 ships have to be used, each carrying out two rotations. Here can be seen a difficulty associated with the possibility of chartering in such a short period of time such a large number of RoRo ships. The hypotheses made on the unloading capacities of the ports in the theatre of operations, namely four ships a day, are inadequate. It would be necessary to unload more than 150 ships in a month, that is five to six ships a day, and handle 1 800 containers/day. Port capacities such as this are very rarely found in potential crisis zones.

Only some European countries possess naval vessels suitable for strategic transport; these are largely vessels with amphibious capacities called LPDs (Landing Platform Docks). Europe will have about twenty ships of this type14, of which on average twelve, which could be available in the event of a crisis, have been proposed by the countries in the catalogue of contributions to the Helsinki Headline Goal. The displacement of these ships, ranging from 7 500 to 22 000 tonnes fully loaded, is still very modest compared with the giants of the American fleet which has a large number of 40 000 tonne ships.

Moreover, the navies have cargo supply ships, landing ship logistics (LSLS) or civilian type Roll on/Roll off (RoRo) ships that can be used to transport the logistic of the forward units before calling on ships chartered from civilian companies. The only navy really equipped with ships of this type is the British Royal Navy in the form of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, which currently has three 24 000-tonne RoRo ships. It should also be borne in mind that the Royal Navy has recently commissioned a dedicated helicopter assault ship, HMS Ocean, which can put a Marine Commando ashore without port facilities.

Given the size of the maritime transport capacities necessary for sending a force of 60 000 troops in two months, namely about 80 RoRo type ships simultaneously, the chartering of civilian assets on the international market is indispensable as no European country can provide the assets needed for sending its own contribution to such a force.

RoRos are well suited for this task due to the speed with which they can be loaded/unloaded and the limited amount of lifting gear they need, but they are limited in number and the number of RoRos worldwide is diminishing in favour of container ships. Severe difficulties on the chartering market in the event of a crisis must therefore be expected. As far as the other types of ship are concerned, experience shows that there are no problems.

A market study on the chartering of RoRos carried out in March/April 2001, outside the holiday period, showed that it could be hoped to have about fifty RoRos available, without having studied on a case-by-case basis their real availability. This number is already very much lower than the 84 RoRos required for the EU headline goal. The availability of RoRos on the international market is a limiting factor in the ability of the Europeans to meet the goal of sending forces defined at Helsinki.

Also, the port capacities in the theatre of operations can be a very serious bottleneck. During the Kosovo crisis, the use of the port of Thessaloniki, although very well equipped, but largely used for the normal traffic remaining a priority, caused delays and limited the flow. The studies show the need to handle 5-6 RoRos a day in order to meet the objective of sending EU forces, which is far from being guaranteed if one looks at the existing infrastructures around potential crisis areas.

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Page last modified: 16-10-2013 18:38:55 ZULU