UK Amphibious Capabilities – Today and Tomorrow

UK maintains a broad array of amphibious combat capabilities; Royal Navy, Royal Fleet Auxiliary, the British Army and a number of civilian providers.

The UK maintains a fairly broad array of amphibious combat capabilities with contributions from the Royal Navy, Royal Fleet Auxiliary, the British Army and a number of civilian providers.

In many ways, the future looks bright; improvements to naval gunfire, new support helicopters and attack helicopters on the horizon, and of course, the carriers and F-35B capability, joined by development in unmanned systems, all point to a strong future.

But with the impending ‘out of service’ date of HMS Ocean, block out of service of the amphibious shipping in the medium term, a changing threat and political landscape, and the constant pressure on budget, there are many difficult issues that remain to be resolved.

This a look at existing and planned capabilities, with a few thoughts on the challenges and handful of suggestions.



Table of Contents



Getting Ashore

The Amphibious Force


Issues and Plans

Thoughts on the Future


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 06/04/2017 initial issue
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April 15, 2017 9:33 pm

Great piece TD!

I share the following obervations;

1) We are trying to fit a quart into a financial pint pot and no matter how hard we try it won’t fit. So, I am going to assume with my answers that at some point, whether it be a politician who a) actually gets it b) is bullied into it by Trump, or c) scared into it by Putin et al that more funds will be found. If not, we’re all just fantasing about retaining a full spectrum capable military.

2) Adequate funding should not mean we don’t ask hard questions or be prepared to slay sacred cows because I believe the dynamics of the world have changed and so should our forces.

3) In a hostile situation I do not believe carriers should do anything other than their intended purpose as a maxed out fixed wing and battle group command hub. I am 100% opposed to adapting PoW as amphib.

4) As the tip of the spear, I believe there is a whole over the horizon airlift capability required which does not currenty exist. This needs to be created for an over the beach landing but also works if the beach can be used initially. To sustain any campaign ‘a’ beachead will clearly need to ‘be freed’.

5) Nothing we have currently works for this; not ships, helis, armoured vehicles, logistics or formations. It is going to require a whole new set of thinking, equipment and integration.

6) That needs to start with the Carriers which we should equip with Osprey v-22 for three purposes a) EAW & Battlespace Management b) AAR for all frames but especialy F-35 and Heli fleet c) SF ingress / egress / S&R. I understand recon drones are being discussed so will leave those for this thread.

7) It feels like we need four significant new ships similar (but not the same) as the WASP class which would replace the two Albions and three Bays. I would mirror the US idea of having airlift only vessels as well as amphibious (I would go two of each – starting with the airlift only as we have the Albions and Bays with amphib capability today). I would also go 4 RASS, not three. Any battle group would therefore include a Tide class and a RASS to provide extra lift flexibility.

8) Aside from the aforementioned Osprey’s we’re going to need a whole new marinised equipment fleet. Airframes would include the new Apaches and King Stallions. (Hopefully) in line with the army plans, there will be airlift capably (by King Stallion) a complete variant set of MIVs (with amphibious capability). I don’t know first hand but I read that trying to use current Apache and Chinook in ongoing maritime environment has caused much sea damage. I have no issue with current non marinised Apaches and Chinooks onboarding the Amphib vessels for use once landing is secure but I don’t believe they should ever be considered for ongoing maritime operations which such a force would require. Besides which, we really need more rotary platforms as we’re so damn thin and I think at a minimum should look like this; 3 squadrons of King Stallions, 2 Squdrons of Osprey 22, 2 squadrons of Apaches. All of which of course can also be used in non marine environments and continue to sustain the main forces.

9) F-35s clear the air corridor under command of Osprey EAW / battle group management; Stallions lift the men, MIVs and logistics with Apache as ground fire support with other Osprey AAR & S&R (or casevac) and the group then work back to secure the beachhead.

10) Current force configs don’t support this approach. I think SF should stay as is. However, a new tip of the spear force combining RMCs, Paras with King Stallion airlift capable (MIV) mobile armour / artillary / recon I feel is really worth thinking about.

All of the above should be available in time to train and support a fully deployed carrier battle group by 2023.

Finally, there are two things which I need to get off my chest and are just nuts;

A) No AD missile capability on the carriers (all US carriers have)
B) No dedicated hospital ship on secondment and paid for by DFID

April 16, 2017 2:09 am

Ian – even if we had the money, your in cloud cuckoo land with that shopping list ! :-)

How about, if we could find the dosh for the V22 as a AEWC and AAR tanker for the carriers, then perhaps some more new Merlin’s for CHF, and Merlins plus Chinooks with AAR probes ???Not quite as expensive as introducing the King Stallion, which will never, ever happen.

April 16, 2017 7:48 am

Hi Jedpc,

I kindly refer you to the first point in my post 😊 But remain optimistic that the politics willl change.

QnLiz commander is desperate to get Ospreys as force multiplyer and engineers seems to be very concerned sea damage to non marinised Airframes which would really damage already limited helo for business as usual.

If we don’t get significant new kit & money we won’t be able to play in that field which is a perfectly justifiable political choice – we just should not kid ourselves we can.

In which case we should say to the world we’re staying good at what we do and no more i.e. we’ll do the Special Forces and but then wait to be part of the follow on beach force but America does the over the horizon bit.

April 16, 2017 10:36 am

BTW, in the Sunday Times this morning the Govt is floating a new 3% security budget and abolishing DFID for the next election. I think they should do it now, but that’s by the by. I reckon it would equate to a .5%GDP increase in defence from today as Aid wouldn’t be abolished all together. If I’m correct that would be only c£5b pa additional funding (not £8b as Govt is saying Defence will be greater than £2% by 2020. Anyway, one year of that would acquire all the Airframes I mention. MIVs already in budget. Replacements for Albions and Bays should also be. Purchases over five years means £1b pa, c50% cost of acquistion for annual cost of running, training, pilots etc leaves £3.5b pa for rest of military. Could be done, just choices, plenty to spend it on but at least the discussion now is happening.

April 16, 2017 5:40 pm

Firstly, Welcome back TD … you have been sorely missed.

@Ian, we do not need nor can afford WASP class vessels, for me we should retire the whole current RFA fleet and replace with 9 new FFT and 9 Aegir based Joint Support Ships(think Karen Doorman). This will give us both the capability required plus a robust day to day solid store capability.

Assuming we go with the KArel Doorman, which can have 6 Merlins or 2 chinooks as standard and have great stores and fuel holding capacity, can we not then have 4 ship to shore hovercraft embarked (instead of traditional landing craft) and run them off the back via a steel beach, add in some SeaRam on rolling air frames and it seems to me you have a fleet that is capable of doing a lot if needed.

V22 for me is a must and the UK should find a way of purchasing 16 of these for Carrier use ASAP. I do not see the need for Sea Stallion as the Merlin is good enough for my liking.

As for POW being amphib ready, I think this is sensible given we are unlikely to put a full load of 50-72 aircraft on the QE class. but clearly they need more defensive capability and SEA RAM would again be my preferred platform.

– I think the UK public are being misled and programmed to accept cuts and less of our military, and think Ian and others are right to push for better value from what is the 5th biggest defence budget. The UK does not get the required value from many of its suppliers and this needs to be addressed, if that means purchasing assets abroad so bet it.

We can and should spend £10bn a year on equipment (not equipment, support and/or facilities, but actual kit) and fro me the defence budget should be fixed at 3% of GDP (on a wider note I would like to see other depts budgets linked to GDP as well).

The MOD needs to move to a single force structure similar to that of the USMC or IDF in my opinion, not least to save money on commands and move to a more integrated service that has a greater emphasis on Cyber and ISTAR.

I would like to see a 5 brigade RM division of 16,100 combat personnel, as part of a 4 combat division Army supported by a single combat support group of a further 5 Divisions (16.1k each) that support the new integrated combat force – again this is unlikely to happen but needs to.

There is no reason why older vehicles (such as land rovers) cannot be provided as part of the foreign aid (instead of new Land cruisers) and the Govt should consider its stance on tax relief on charities providing money or services outside of the UK as part of this budget. Likewise rations should be used up either by our troops or distributed to those in need near expiry dates, this is common sense and better use of our assets for the benefit of all.

Lastly, there is nothing to say that the new helicopters, ships and personnel a 3% budget would allow for cannot be used (as they are today) for humanitarian purposes, in fact I would welcome it personally.

April 16, 2017 9:28 pm

Hi Pacman,
I really like the idea of a KD class Fleet as both Amphib & RSSS.
The hovers are interesting. I think we should have some but they just can’t be use in anything other than the gentlest seas.
I’m happy to be put right but Chinooks suffer at sea which is why USMC don’t use them so need new lift and it should be heavy.
Likewise I struggle with idea of retaining RFA and would disband. What might be worth exploring is a different flag for humanitarian missions like we do with Blue Helmets for peace keeping.
Without dedicated maritime heavy airlift, attack and large helo platform IMHO we should just not pretend we do anything other than SF & beach. I think we should though for many reasons inc defence of the realm so I’ll stick with 2 x ‘WASP’ dedicated airlift, Stallions & Apaches 😊

April 16, 2017 10:50 pm

I’ve not read any of the comments yet but I’m willing to bet all will say,

“Spend more, more, more, more…” coupled to a fantasy wish list of “Well if we have 17 x A, 345 x B, 1 x C, 32 x D….that’s got it all sorted.”

The fact remains, that when push comes to shove, as poll after poll shows, the Great British Electorate want cash spent on Healthcare and Education and the Emergency Services….with a bit thrown at roads and such like…

…not a surprise really given healthcare, education, the ‘999’ services and stuff like roads are services and items that people use every day. Even if the Int. Aid budget is chopped (I have my doubts) there is no way, HM Forces are going to get all (or even that much of) it when the NHS & Social care is taking a pounding.

April 17, 2017 5:54 am

Agreeing with the fact that the UK cannot afford to operate both world class amphibious (over the beach) assault and (maritime) aviation assault capabilities, then it has to be aviation assault given the broader defence synergies with other defence capabilities. This should be coupled of course with ship to shore sustainment, via secured ports or landing places.

As such, the MoD (and RN) should be doing everything to keep hold of HMS Ocean, and ultimately replacing her. Having both CVFs will be great, but to ensure availability a third platform is required. Also, having a third platform would allow the UK to operate a “aviation assault” brigade – able to be deployed via land or sea.

Throwing it out there, but what about the following as a “short term” strategy:
– Scrap both Albion LPDs and keep HMS Ocean
– Replace the 2 cranes on each of the 3 Bays to be capable of lifting 60 tonnes and buy a batch of LCM craft (say 3-4 on each ship – including 1-2 in the well dock, and 2 on the flight/cargo deck).

With each Bay able to carry 700 troops in overload and Ocean 800 troops, then it would be a total max force of @3,000 troops – which would be a decent force for anything the UK will wish to do in the near future.

April 17, 2017 1:03 pm

@Allan & @TD

I dont think people are jumping to spending more money per se (although money clearly needs to be spent) I think people are trying to constructively put forward some options and add assets to clarify their approach.

Personally I have budgeted everything I propose within the £40bn p.a. (2020) projected defence budget and for me we need to standardise our platforms and systems and be ruthless in doing so, whilst being pragmatic that we need flexible assets that have compromises involved (Joint Support ships / Solid stores and replacing all Minehunters with Frigates with Compact Captas 4 and Atlas Arcims).

I for one am trying to put forward proposals that shape the force structure to a more flexible yet distributed model, as we cannot keep Trying to match the US and the commando force was initially a distributed force by design. It is clear to me that we have the carriers and need more escorts (which we are about to order btw – same as SSS) so the question is; can we get more value out of this inventory refresh by purchasing absolons or karel doormans, or something else that can be very flexible.

So for me I will keep the fleet the same size it is today – but totally change it to a escort heavy fleet supported by cheaper RFA assets to provide MHVC and amphib capability, as such I think it right to inform you all how I intend to do so, based upon my assumption that the UK cannot afford dedicated LPD’s and LPH’s when we have put all our eggs into the carriers.

Hope this clarifies my position

April 17, 2017 8:40 pm

The UK Gov spends over £700bn a year. Things can be afforded, if the will is there. The EU says it wants a £50bn divorce fee. Any UK Gov wanting to be re-elected could not agree to that, but with a bit of horse trading, mutual face saving might be possible. For example, the UK Gov could buy bits that we need from the EU. One part of that, could be a pair of Juan Carlos/Canberra class assault carriers. Like Australia, we could let Spain build the bare hull, then transfer to a UK yard for fitting out.

April 18, 2017 9:42 am

The Govt does indeed spend £700bn p.a. But its tax revenues are closer to £500bn pa,hence the deficit. Part of the way the Govt closes this gap is by utilising the crown estate to generate circa £100bn+ pa, but as you can see unless the British public start paying for the services they want it is very difficult for any government to make ends meet and we are running out of things to sell.

I have no real problem with the defence budget and its proposed increase (but would obviously like more) – I take the view that there is a lot of waste and we need to get tougher on how we spend and the accountability of senior leadership. I would look to the military chiefs to agree a single force structure and a whole host of consolidations before providing a massive uptick in budget, as we cannot continue with a WW2 command structure.

I also dont believe we need a mistral or Juan Carlos type asset when we can have a Karel Doorman solid support ships configured to provide a similar platform but be used in a day to day role. Our carriers will likely act alongside and as I have described in another post, I think we should distribute our forces instead of having huge vessels that have no way of defending themselves (ie: CVF’s). This is a similar approach to the Voyager being kitted out for VIP’s but able to go back to refuelling if needed.

As unpopular as it is on this forum the USMC have an audited set of accounts and a larger force and will purchase 3x the volume of F35’s than the UK (and have other great assets from rifles to the. V22), all on 50% of the UK defence budget.

This clearly gives us a cost model to follow and leaves plenty of budget for the other things not covered in their budget (such as the navy). We need to be rigorous and ruthless in how we spend this money and get innovative, after all the commando’s were formed to be small and cause maximum damage to a foe who at the time was superior to us, we now need to look at our past to forge our future and move away from bigger, bigger, bigger to what we need to do a job best.

Given we are an island and are moving away from bases on mainland Europe, perhaps our whole force should be expeditionary in nature with the RM and Paras moved into SFG and the remainder forming the amphibious assault group (as per Ian’s suggestion). It is certainly worth considering in my view.

April 18, 2017 1:46 pm

Pacman. Well the snap general election will put everything on hold. Will it add delay to signing for T26? Or will it be rushed through to put Scottish voters in a better mood?
Sure the whole of the public sector needs to get more bang per buck. Committees often make decisions which meet their narrow brief, yet make no allowance for the bigger picture & thus end up a disaster for the wider national (or even local) interest.
I agree, that trying to get the most out of each Pound, is the way to go. That’s why I say, if we have to pay something to Europe, then at least get something back for it.

April 19, 2017 4:23 pm

” The EU says it wants a £50bn divorce fee.”

Necessary Evil
Necessary Evil
May 3, 2017 12:34 pm

My solution would be to wait until the economy picks up again (assuming it does): at that point Osprey (of which we would only need enough for AAR, CSAR and Special Forces insertion/extraction missions, which would use the same variant with possibly two sets of crews, AAR and CSAR/Special Forces insertion/extraction) should be a bit cheaper, as should a PADSCAT-type landing craft. I think any talk of replacing existing platforms with others is not realistic: how often have we replaced a platform before it´s OSD? I´m not sure when the OSD is for the LCU Mk.10 is, but replacing that before its OSD would be hard enough to justify, never mind replacing the LPDs! And as far as the Gov is concerned, the LPH already has a replacement, POW. The same goes for Merlin: replacement is not an option, especially since they have only recently been upgraded. The Osprey isn´t needed in numbers anyway, since any landing force will have to get within Merlin/Chinook range anyway. That does not mean that we would have to send POW with them, after all, we didn´t in the Falklands. Yes, we had fewer helicopters then, but then we had fewer ships with large flight decks on them. The POW should be able to fly off the first airlift (when it is essential to have all available helicopters taking off within a short time), and then retire to a safer distance. The flight decks of the landing force would be fairly cramped, but then the slow down in sortie rates would be compensated by the fact that they would only be a few tens of miles from the beachhead, allowing operational tempo to be maintained. And why would we buy the King Stallion when we have perfectly good Chinooks that would otherwise have to be left at home?

May 7, 2017 1:28 pm

Invest in ‘Expeditionary Transfer Dock’ type vessels and as much mexiflote we can lay our hands on and will fit on the decks including spud leg systems. Concentrate on using the transfer dock as a connector for STUFT that will allow us and our allies to deploy and sustain decent mechanised forces either through a port of various sizes or over the beach.

The vessels could also double up as RFA Argus and Diligence replacements using modular units (plenty of civilian offshore experience to steal from) when not required for the occasional large amphibious outing.

Possibly look into expeditionary wave attenuation if funds allow.

Look at the RM to concentrate on the skills that set them apart such as fleet protection, raids etc, put an emphasis on becoming a riverine force and reduce the brigade accordingly.

May 11, 2017 6:40 am

Well, after last nights Tory funding proposal there is no room for a genuine marine over the horizon capability. A plague on all their houses!

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