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L14 Albion LPD(R)

The Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson MP announced at the Conservative Party Conference 30 September 2018 that the government will save HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion. "I'm happy to confirm that I will be protecting the vital landing platforms HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark. We need them". This ended months of speculation that they could be retired early to save money. He told attendees that the two Plymouth-based amphibious assault ships deliver the "punch of the Royal Marines". He acknowledge the ships' roles including putting troops from sea to land quickly and delivering aid. HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion were said to be under threat as the government looked at how military forces deal with current threats against this country, but they have been saved.

UK Maritime Power doctrine states the role of Bulwark and Albion: "The Royal Navys specialist amphibious shipping can tactically offload, sustain and recover the landing force without recourse to harbours or airfields, in hostile, or potentially hostile environments. They provide the launch platforms for assaults and raids by landing craft and helicopters. The amphibious shipping[7] has the necessary command and control facilities for up to a brigade size operation, and are capable of landing a company group surface assault, heavy equipment (such as armour) and landing force vehicles and equipment."

The Defence Procurement Agency Replacement Landing Platform Dock (LPD(R)) project replaced the Royal Navy's assault ships HMS Fearless and HMS Intrepid with HM Ships Albion and Bulwark in 2003. Albion's primary function is to embark, transport, and deploy and recover (by air and sea) troops and their equipment, vehicles and miscellaneous cargo, forming part of an Amphibious Assault Force. The ship is also to act as the afloat command platform for the Commander Amphibious Task Force (CATF), which includes operational command of both the naval task group and the land forces while embarked. Major improvements over the existing ships include much more extensive command, control and communications equipment and higher off-load speed due to improved troop handling arrangements.

Albion is a Landing Platform Dock (LPD) - an assault ship with her own flooded docking area in the stern to allow landing craft to be loaded quickly and safely with the large number of troops and vehicles carried aboard. She also has a large helicopter flight deck, allowing troops to be landed ashore by sea and air simultaneously, and will be fitted with a state of the art Combined Operations command centre.

Each 50% larger than Fearless, Albion and Bulwark are the latest component in a major upgrade of the Royal Navy's amphibious capability. HMS Ocean, a helicopter carrier, joined the Fleet in 1998, and four Bay Class auxiliary landing ships replace the Sir Bedivere class of Landing Ships Logistic, operated by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.

HMS Albion and her sister HMS Bulwark are pivotal elements of the UK's powerful amphibious capability and introduce a huge range of improvements over the ships they replace, the elderly HMS Fearless and HMS Intrepid. HMS Ocean was the United Kingdom's first purpose built Landing Platform, Helicopter, designed to take Royal Marines and Army units anywhere in the world and land them by large helicopters and by landing craft. A very versatile ship, she cannot however land heavy tanks and for that role the Royal Navy looked to acquire replacements for Fearless and Intrepid (which are some thirty years old) in the shape of the two new Landing Platform Dock ships.

On 07 March 2011 the Royal Navy amphibious landing ship HMS Bulwark returned to the Royal Navy's operational fleet and is ready for any tasking worldwide. The ship has emerged on time and budget from an 11-month upgrade and maintenance period by Babcock in its base port of HM Naval Base Devonport, Plymouth. The project team successfully met significant challenges, including severe adverse weather conditions, to keep the programme on schedule. This was the ship's first docking period since being formally commissioned into the Royal Navy in April 2005. Having successfully completed three weeks of sea trials the ship has passed the formal fleet date inspection by the team judging her readiness and effectiveness to join the operational fleet. The 30m refit, under an alliance between the MOD, Babcock and BAE Systems, has benefited from the application of Babcock's knowledge and experience gained on sister vessel HMS Albion, resulting in initiatives and improvements being introduced. Closer working methods have enabled efficiency and cost-effectiveness to be maximised throughout the docking period, to deliver optimum value for money. The 450,000-man-hour refit involved the overhaul of 1,625 items of equipment, the manufacture of 1,557 items, and the shipping of 398 tonnes of equipment on and off the ship.

Albion LPD(R) Program

A Design and Build Prime Contract for the ship-build was awarded to Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Limited (VSEL) (now BAE SYSTEMS) in July 1996, following No Acceptable Price No Contract (NAPNOC) negotiations. As a risk reduction measure a separate contract for the design and production of the Integrated Communications System (ICS) had been placed with Redifon MEL in 1994.

Both Albion and Bulwark were constructed as a series of large block modules in the BAE Systems Devonshire Dock Hall (DDH) in Barrow. The LPD(R)s are the first large surface ships for the Royal Navy to be built at Barrow since the completion of HMS Invincible in 1978, and the first warships to be dynamically launched from the berths since HMS Talent in 1988 (RFA Wave Knight was launched in September).

The size of the ship-lift and the bridge over the dock system made it impossible to build the LPD(R)s in the Devonshire Dock Hall (DDH). Therefore once the design was completed using the CAD package, the build started with construction of units within the existing steel fabrication shop (NAS), the transportation of these units to the DDH where they were combined into large blocks and outfitted to a high state of completion before transportation back to the berths where the blocks were combined before launch. Modular build enables hull sections to be fabricated using advanced outfitting whereby as much of the painting, outfit and systems pre-testing as possible is carried out with unobstructed access before compartments in the ship are closed up. Units are inverted as necessary to minimise awkward overhead welding and facilitate painting.

As each hull block was completed it was moved by linked multi-wheeled transporters to the 270 x 100m superberth. Each block delivered to the superberth was aligned and butt-welded to form the completed hull. The blocks, although relatively light in weight (2,400-2,800 tonnes) compared to the transport weight of the major blocks of a Trident submarine, represent the bulkiest loads ever moved on the public highway in the UK. After completion of the hull build, work would continue installing equipment, fixtures and fittings, welding or fastening pipe joints, installing cabling and pre-testing systems where practicable. Final outfitting took place afloat within the Bucchleugh Dock.

HMS Albion was launched at Barrow-in-Furness on 09 March 2001 by HRH The Princess Royal. For the launch, 680 tonnes of drag chains were used to arrest the ship after her estimated 15 mph journey down the launchway into Walney Channel. An extremely capable amphibious assault ship, she entered service with the Royal Navy in 2003 once fitting-out is complete. HMS Bulwark, the second of a new class of assault ships for the Royal Navy, was launched at the BAE Systems shipyard at Barrow-in-Furness on 15 November 2001. The ship will be named by Lady Walker, the wife of General Sir Michael Walker, Chief of the General Staff. Following launch, Bulwark was fitting out until commencing contractor's sea trials in February 2003. The ship was programmed for acceptance by the Ministry of Defence at the end of March 2003.

Industrial loading difficulties at the VSEL Barrow shipyard caused delays to the Program Acceptance Dates for both ships. As of March 2000 the reported in-service date of March 2003 included 12 months delay to HMS Albion. HMS Bulwark was delayed by 9 months to December 2003.

In May 1998, a further Prime Contract was let to BAe SEMA (now BAE SYSTEMS) for the production of 6 specialised Landing Craft Utility. A competitive contract for the procurement of 4 Landing Craft Vehicle and Personnel (LCVP) was planned. Both types of landing craft were required for HMS Albion's trials which were due to begin in February 2002.

Ten Landing Craft Utility (LCU) Mk10 landing craft of a 35 million contract are being procured for the new assault ships HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark. The first two craft came back from extensive trials with the Royal Marines that led to recommended changes in ballast tanks that would improve beach landing capabilities. Those two craft were put through Govan shipyard for changes to be made and the yard started construction of the remaining eight vessels that are required to operate from the floodable docks on Albion and Bulwark.

Just before the 2017 summer recess the Government launched a review of national security capabilities, led by the National Security Advisor. The review is understood to include the defence capabilities of the armed forces. It is unclear when the review will be published or in what format. In October 2017 various media began to report rumours the Ministry of Defence is considering reducing the armed forces amphibious capability. Lord West, former First Sea Lord, has warned that if rumours are true to cut 1,000 marines and sell Bulwark and Albion this would mean the end of a UK amphibious capability and effectively end the Royal Marines.

In Oral evidence given before the Commons Defence Committee on the National Security Capability Review, HC 556, 14 November 2017 General Sir Richard Barrons KCB CBE (Rtd), Former Commander, Joint Forces Command, posed the question " Are we really saying that we do not want the capability to put a force ashore over a beachthat we want to confine ourselves to ports? Are we really saying that we never want to be able to take British people out of a trouble spot except through a port? Are we really saying that we want to remove that capacity for humanitarian assistance? If we are saying that, we are ignoring how the world really operates. The second line of madness is the idea that if the Navy needs to adjust manpower and find more sailors, the obvious thing to do is to cull some of the finest infantry in the world the Royal Marines. If the Navy needs more manpower, surely in defence there is a better way of finding it than culling your elite infantry, which in any case supplies people to our outstanding special forces. It is just folly."

UK defense secretary Gavin Williamson on 30 September 2018 ended speculation about the future of amphibious assault ships HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion being withdrawn from service early. To deliver what seems impossible, the Royal Marines need to be able to bring the fight from the sea to the land. As such, I am happy to announce today that I am protecting their vital landing platforms HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark, Williamson said.






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