The basic point of amphibious operations is to come ashore where the enemy is not. This could be to establish a follow on force, secure a lodgement before obtaining access to a port or conduct some other operation such as raiding or evacuating non-combatants.
Modern ATGW’s, anti-ship missiles, artillery and other weapons make a true opposed landing against conventional forces, untenable, at least for UK forces, unless those forces have been extensively degraded by air and naval gunfire.
Even then, the risk of a single ATGW destroying a landing craft or MANPAD’s destroying a fully laden helicopter, remains high.
Mines also remain an extremely serious threat to landing forces; survey and MCM capabilities will be detailed in a separate document, but it is assumed that the mine threat is either non-existent, or has been addressed.
The sequence of coming ashore and with what is subject to variation, an air only operations will not require landing craft for example, but making very some broad generalisation on sequencing allows some segmentation for descriptive purposes; helicopter launched forces come ashore first (possibly preceded by Special Forces) to establish a perimeter, then the initial elements by landing craft, then follow on forces, usually with vehicles, and finally, logistics sustainment.
With the doctrinal issues in mind, and accepting the large generalisations above, what follows is a general description of the equipment available for the joint force commander.
Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH)
The Royal Navy has a single LPH in service, HMS Ocean, described by the Royal Navy as;
HMS Ocean was brought into service in 1988 for the modest sum of £154 million although there was a great deal of controversy at the time, mainly regarding competition and build standards. That said, she has given excellent service although sub optimal component selection caused a number of issues that have been addressed during recent refits.
At over 21,000 tonnes she is a large vessel that can carry an embarked military force of approximately 500 personnel, or more in overload conditions. In addition to the embarked military force she has a small vehicle deck, four LCVP Mk5 landing craft and a helicopter hangar with enough room for 12-18 aircraft depending on type and size. HMS Ocean has embarked Chinook, Lynx, Apache, Merlin and even US Blackhawk’s during a number of operational deployments.
Although there is no well dock, a small Stern Ramp and Stern Ramp Support Pontoon are fitted to allow vehicle and personnel access to landing craft or Mexeflote’s. The three pontoon sections are stored on deck and lifted onto the water’s surface using a deck crane.
Vehicle capacity depends on the type of vehicle, obviously, but 20-30 light vehicles and trailers seems to be the norm, Pinzgauer and Land Rover for example. In addition to driving onto the Stern Ramp Support Pontoon they can also access the flight deck via a ramp.
Although aviation focussed, the landing craft, vehicle deck and access ramp, even though small, makes HMS Ocean very flexible.
On current plans, HMS Ocean is due out of service in 2018.
Landing Platform Dock (LPD)
From the Royal Navy website;
Four davits carry the LCVP Mk5 landing craft and they are also equipped with a side loading ramp.
The most important feature of this class of vessel is the very large floodable well dock with enough room for four of the large LCU Mk 10’s in two rows or combinations of smaller craft. The central barrier can also be removed.
Above the well dock is a mobile gantry crane from Houlder and SCX Special Projects that can lift 4.5 tonnes, mainly used for stores pallets for example. The JSP 467 compliant installation used surplus equipment from HMS Ark Royal.
Personnel accommodation depends on overload conditions but normally it is a couple of RM Company plus supporting personnel, about 300 or so, although the exact nature of the embarked force will vary considerably depending on needs and can be increased to around 700 in overload conditions.
Vehicles carried can include everything from Land Rovers to Challenger 2 Main Battle Tanks and everything in between at a capacity of approximately 500 lane metres.
Although they have a large Chinook capable flight deck there are no hangar facilities, although the last refit did improve aviation facilities including the ability to operate two Chinook’s simultaneously.
If HMS Ocean has a higher number of personnel but very little in terms of vehicles and stores, the LPD’s reverse that relationship and also include significant command and control facilities as well.
With excellent command and medical facilities, they are without a doubt, powerful and effective vessels.
Unfortunately, SDSR 2010 mandated that one of the pair would be held at extended readiness, rotating in and out of service with the other for refits such that one was always available for tasking and training.
On current plans, HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion are due out of service in 2034 and 2033 respectively.
The UK uses two principle landing craft designs, the LCU Mk10 and LCVP Mk5.
Aboard the LPD and LPH are small detachments of Royal Marines that operate the landing craft, aboard HMS Bulwark for example is 6 Assault Squadron RM.
Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel (LCVP) Mk5
These smaller craft are generally used for personnel only, although they can carry small vehicles and light stores up to a weight of 6 tonnes. With a top speed of 24 knots the LCPV Mk5 is carried on davits on both types of assault ships.
They have also been deployed from other vessels as deck cargo and deployed using cranes. The moveable and removable deck shelter provides essential protection against the elements for personnel aboard, a lesson learned from extensive operations in cold weather.
The UK has 12 LCVP Mk5’s, obtained in two batches and purchased at a cost of £750k each. They are 15.7m long, 4.3m wide and have a range of excess of 200 nautical miles.
Landing Craft Utility (LCU) Mk10
Part of the programme for the Albion and Bulwark LPD’s were the new Landing Craft Utility, Mk 10, replacing the Mk9’s carried aboard HMS Fearless and Intrepid. The LCU Mk10’s are large craft, designed for transporting personnel, stores, armoured vehicles and engineering plant.
Their roll on roll off design (stern and a bow ramps) is designed for ease of loading and unloading in the well dock of the assault ships. Up to 120 troops (100 in normal operating conditions), a Challenger main battle tank or other heavy or logistics vehicles can be carried.
The LCU Mk10 can be used for general movement of equipment and operate independently for up to a couple of weeks with its 9 man crew out to a range of 600 nautical miles. Interestingly, the bow ramp can be used to lift an inflatable raiding craft out of the water when operating as a mother ship for raiding parties and such like.
The LCU Mk10 is just under 30m long, with a beam of 7m, a draught of 1.7m when disembarking and a top speed of 9 knots. Click here for details of the engine and propulsion. A total of 8 LCU Mk10’s were brought into service in the £35million programme, all delivered between December 2001 and February 2003, with a pair of prototypes in addition to the eight production models.
The RORO capability is especially useful but as the wheelhouse impinges onto the load area at the stern it is not wide enough to accommodate a TES Challenger 2 vehicle and derivatives. Although not normally armed they have been seen recently with a range of automatic weapons on manually aimed mounts, mostly from ISTEC
Inflatable and Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIB)
Also now manufactured by BAE, the VT Halmatic Arctic and Pacific Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats are used by the Royal Navy for general transport tasks and boarding operations, in service since 2004. Powered by a Yanmar marine diesel engine and Hamilton HJ 241 waterjet they have a top speed of approximately 30 knots. Each has a length of 7.8m, beam of 2.57m, draft of 0.5m and a hoist weight of 2.5 tonnes. The slightly smaller Pacific 22 Mk II is also in service.
The small Zodiac FC470 Inflatable Raiding Craft Mk III’s are commonly used where their low weight, shallow draft and ease of deployment are important.
Offshore Raiding Craft
Designed and built by Holyhead Marine, the Offshore Raiding Craft is in service with the Royal Marines, used in insertion, patrol and security operations. The 9m craft are heavily armed and able to travel at speeds up to 40 knots, available in three versions (mid, rear and front console), they are able to carry up to 8 personnel in addition to the 2 crew. Beam and draught are 2.9m and 0.6m respectively. The ORC trailer is supplied by Tex Engineering and with the ORC, weighs 5.4 tonnes. They are powered by a 250hp Steyr Marine M256 engine driving Rolls Royce FF270 waterjets.
39 are in service.
Feedback from operations in Iraq showed that whilst the in service Griffon 2000TD was able to withstand greater small arms damage than imagined, the crew were exposed, its replacement would need improvements in this area.
The £1 million Griffon Hoverwork 2400 TD LCAC(L)(R) project is a direct replacement for the 4 existing LCAC’s, featuring armoured panels at key locations and bulletproof glass, in addition to greater performance and equipment fit.
The primary role of the LCAC (L) (R) is as an air-portable, fully amphibious craft capable of the high speed movement of 16 fully equipped troops and crew of 2 over water, ice, mud, marshland and beach. Able to maintain a speed of 45 knots whilst fully laden, the replacement is much faster than the older version. In addition to be being able to be deployed from the RN/RFA assault craft, they are air portable by C-130, A400M and C-17.
Their side panels can be retracted to reduce the width to enable air portability.
Four lifting points are fitted that allows it to be crane launched from the deck of shipping. Automatic weapons can also be fitted and it has a range of day/night navigation systems.
In support of amphibious operation could be aircraft potentially from all three services; the Royal Navy (including the Commando Helicopter Force), British Army and Royal Air Force.
Wildcat and Merlin are optimised for the maritime environment and through a series of modifications and patient workup and cooperation by all three services, Apache and Chinook are increasingly part of the ‘carrier enabled power projection’ mix.
Merlin HM2 helicopters have been used to support amphibious operation training and exercises, although it is sub optimal and rather a wasteful use of such a specialist aircraft.
As the Sea King ‘jungly’ fleet was withdrawn, the Command Helicopter Force received the RAF Merlin HC.3/3a fleet. Under a £330 million Merlin Life Sustainment Programme contract, they are being converted for maritime use.
Phase 1 saw the delivery of 7 aircraft with interim marinisation features including a powered folding rotor head and tie down points that enabled the CHF to bridge the gap between the Sea King HC4’s that went out of service in 2016 and the full Merlin HC4/4a package achieving Full Operating Capability in 2020.
Phase 2 will modify the balance of the HC3/3a aircraft and the interim aircraft so that a final identical configuration will enter service as HC4/4a
This final HC4/4a configuration will have the same cockpit as the Merlin HM2, a folding tail, powered folding rotor head, DASS and range of other improvements and modifications.
The image below shows the first of the HC4’s.
The image shows the folding tail and new paint scheme, it would also seem to indicate the Selex Titan EO turret has been removed although it is assumed this is a temporary measure.
Although the Merlin is relatively fast and has a good range with a voluminous cabin able to accommodate in excess of 20 personnel or 16 stretchers, their lift capacity is not brilliant at about 4.5 tonnes (although an improvement on the Sea King).
25 Merlin HC.4/4a is a big improvement over the Sea Kings though, and the commonality advantages are self-explanatory.
The RAF Chinook fleet is also going through a sustainment programme designed to deliver much needed commonality across the fleet. 36 are in squadron service including a couple in the Falkland Islands, and 24 in the sustainment fleet, which also includes those undergoing conversion and upgrades.
The Chinook helicopter is fast, has a large internal/sling load capacity and is well protected, but it is not optimised for maritime operations. It would however, add greatly to the offload rate for an amphibious operation and so it is unlikely it would not be considered for deployment if capacity requirements warranted it.