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Bay Class Large Amphibious Landing Ships
LSD(A) Landing Ships Dock (Auxiliary)
Alternative Landing Ship Logistic [ALSL]

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary's Alternative Landing Ship Logistic project was set up in 1997, to replace RFA SIR GERAINT and RFA SIR PERCIVALE. These ships were initially planned to undergo a Ship Life Extension Programme, but this was abandoned in favor of new-build ships. Four Bay Class Large Amphibious Landing Ships were ordered. RFAs Largs Bay and Lyme Bay were built at Swan Hunter Tyneside. Mounts Bay and Cardigan Bay wwere built at BAE Systems Govan Yard on the Clyde.

The new ships displace 16,100 tonnes and replace RFAs Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram. Compared to their predecessors they carry more than twice as many vehicles and embarked troops. Using their stern dock for landing craft and flight deck for helicopters, they are able to offload in rougher weather twice as quickly. The flight deck can accommodate two Merlin or Chinook helicopters, and a hanger could be fitted in future if required. The ships can carry an Embarked Military Force of 356 troops and large numbers of vehicles, although this can be increased to 500 using undesignated space.

The ships are able to position themselves dynamically using a bow thruster and their steerable azimuth thrusters to discharge equipment without the need to anchor. The existing RFA Landing ships were designed to run up on a beach to discharge their cargo of men and vehicles.

The Bay Class are designed to operate over the horizon using helicopters and landing craft through a floodable stern dock to get men and equipment ashore. The ALSLs are to transport troops, stores, equipment and vehicles world-wide and deploy them into battle. The ships are capable of offloading at sea, 'over the horizon'. They operate with other ships of the amphibious task group, but are manned and operated by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. The ALSLs may operate autonomously as supply ships.

The Alternative Landing Ships Logistic will significantly enhance the UK's amphibious capability, each providing around double the capacity of an LSL. Together with the new Landing Platform Docks, they deliver the modernisation of the UK's amphibious shipping called for in the Strategic Defence Review. The ALSL delivered early and significant improvements to UK Armed Forces' ability to deploy rapidly and effectively world-wide. It is another significant step forward in implementing the Strategic Defence Review.

ALSLs provide the operational capability to underpin amphibious operations by carrying most of the amphibious force and its equipment into the operating area. Although the Landing Platform Dock (Replacement) (LPD(R)) provides the command and control function, it is the ALSLs that embark the largest balance of men, vehicles and stores that will sustain an amphibious assault. In addition to their war-fighting role, the ALSLs will be suited to disaster relief and other humanitarian missions.

These ships are fitted with a military communications suite as well as fitted to receive military weapons. They are built to Class 1 Passenger Ship Certification commercial standards and classed by Lloyd's Register.

The military load has greatly increased, designed to carry an Embarked Military Force of 356 fully equipped troops, although this can be increased to 500 using undesignated space, or to 700 in war "overload" conditions. As well as transporting troops, they can carry about 1200 lane metres of vehicles and carry 12 x 40 TEU or 24 x 24 TEU containers.

The flight deck is large enough to enable operations by the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, Chinook helicopter and the planned FRC. RFA Mounts Bay has the aviation capability to transport and operate two medium (EH101 Merlin size) and Chinook helicopters, having power available for starting and servicing the aircraft, and the ability to re-fuel the aircraft on deck and in-flight, the class will initially have only one fully serviced spot. Sufficient flight deck space exists to simultaneously operate two Merlins RFA Mounts Bay can carry two of the afore mentioned helicopters as deck cargo, however there are no permanent hangar facilities on board, a helicopter shelter could be fitted in future if required.

The design includes a dock able to accommodate a single LCU Mk10. Two LCVP Mk5 and 2 Mexeflote powered rafts can also be carried, and two upper-deck cranes and strong ramps help load and unload these. The existing LSLs were designed to be capable of beaching and landing tanks and vehicles through bow doors directly on to the shore. This capability to beach and off-load direct to land is now rarely employed and so was excluded from the ALSL specification. They operate over the horizon in the initial stages of an operation. They can land troops and equipment using helicopters, their landing craft and Mexeflote powered rafts.

Major LSD(A) improvements over the existing RFA force of LSL's include:

  • more helicopter space and a flight deck big and strong enough to handle Chinook and Merlin helicopters and the US Marine Corps V-22 Ospreythe ability to carry more troops, equipment and stores than the existing ships.
  • wider passage ways to let fully equipped troops to reach embarkation areas quickly.
  • capacity for twice the number of vehicles, the ability to offload them at sea much more quickly using a stern dock for landing craft rather than with only Mexeflote rafts.
  • improved cargo-handling facilities.
  • improved seaworthiness for offloading vehicles in rough seas and stronger ramps.
  • diesel electric propulsion with bow thruster and azimuthing thrusters.
  • dynamic positioning system to be fitted.
  • twin spot flight deck with limited facilities to transport and operate Merlin, Chinook and V22 Osprey.
  • fitted with a floodable dock sized to operate on LCU Mk 10.
  • carry and operate two LCVP Mk 5.
  • wide, uncluttered assault routes to allow fully-kitted troops unhindered passage to points of offload.
  • NBCD citadel
  • two 30 tonne capacity upper-deck cranes for cargo handling and transfer of equipment to alongside landing craft or mexeflotes.
  • equipped with steerable electric-powered propulsors and, as a result, do not have traditional rudders. Both these changes are firsts for major MOD vessels.

The generic Royal Navy Amphibious Task Group (ATG) will include at least one Albion Class Landing Platform Dock (LPD) as the command ship, one Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH - either HMS Ocean or if unavailable an Invincible Class in its secondary LPH role), and normally two Bay Class. The Embarked Military Force (EMF) will usually be major elements of 3 Commando Brigade, Royal Marines, although British Army units may also be embarked to a greater or lesser degree.

In an assault landing operation, the first wave of troops are landed on the beach by landing craft from the LPDs and by a "vertical assault" to establish a beachhead and landing zone. The LSD(A)'s are initially positioned about 20nm offshore and remain over the horizon during the first wave assault, they may use landing craft and helicopters to help offload the second wave and subsequent waves of troops and equipment from themselves. When the beach area and landing zone have been finally confirmed as secure, the LSD(A)s will approach the landing zone and from just 1-2 thousand yards off-shore will deploy Mexeflotes (motorised pontoons) to assist in the quick and efficient offloading of the heavy vehicles and equipment that they carry. Once a harbour has been secured, Point Class "Ro-Ro" Strategic Transports and ships taken up from trade (STUFT) will bring in further reinforcements and re-supply the force.

On 15 December 2010 the Secretary of State for Defence (Dr Liam Fox) stated that: "The White Paper "Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The Strategic Defence Review" (Cm 7948), presented to the House on 19 October 2010, explained the Government's intention to make certain changes to the armed forces in order to deliver the force structure we require for the future and to help address the legacy of unaffordability in the defence budget. I am now able to explain more fully those changes that affect the Royal Navy's surface fleet.... Other changes affect the Navy's amphibious ships. The Bay class amphibious support ship to be decommissioned will be RFA Largs Bay. She will be withdrawn from service in April 2011. One of our two landing platforms dock will in future be placed at extended readiness while the other is held at high readiness for operations. From November 2011 the high readiness ship will be HMS Bulwark, and on current plans this will change to HMS Albion in late 2016 when Bulwark enters a refit period."

On 17 March 2011 Reuters News Agency reported that Australia had purchased RFA Largs Bay from the UK as a replacement for HMAS Tobruk. On 06 April 2011 Minister for Defence Stephen Smith and Minister for Defence Materiel Jason Clare announced that Australia had been successful in its bid to acquire the United Kingdom's Bay Class amphibious ship Largs Bay. The Government had previously announced that it had asked Defence to develop new and comprehensive options to ensure transition to Australia's Canberra Class amphibious Landing Helicopter Dock ships, which become operational from 2014, including the lease or purchase of a Bay Class Ship from the UK Government.

RFA Largs Bay was designated as Landing Ship Dock (Auxiliary) or LSD(A), and is an amphibious support vessel capable of transporting large numbers of troops and equipment. A&P Falmouth carried out an intensive three month refit and upgrade prior to the vessel being handed over to her new owners the Royal Australian Navy. Work included, drydocking, main thruster overhaul, blasting and painting, main engine overhaul, general maintenance work, and provision of complete Mexeflote assembly. A&P Falmouth also had responsibility for training the Australian Navy crew in all aspects of the vessel operation. All was completed on time in order for the vessel to make a firm deadline of reaching Australia in time for her formal commissioning into the Australian Navy on 13th December 2011. Her new name is now HMAS Choules.







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