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"Viability of LHDs in smaller navies" Topic

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Deadles Inactive Member19 Sep 2017 6:56 p.m. PST

Recently we've seen the proliferation of rather undergunned landing helicopter docks (LHDs).

These are basically helicopter carriers. Most aren't capable of hosting a STOVL fighter ala AV-8B or F-35B.

A lot of these navies don't have a lot of surface escort ships either:

The weapon fit outs on these ships is rather pathetic:

- Canberra class (Australia):
– 4 x 25mm guns
– 3 x ciws
– Available escorts: 11

- Mistral class (France/Egypt)
– 2 x Mistral SAM launchers (short range)
– 2 x 20mm guns
– Available escorts (France): 17 (these also have to protect carrier Charles de' Gaulle).
– Available escorts (Egypt): 15 (though several are thoroughly obsolescent and many are large corvettes_

-San Giorgio class (Algeria/Italy
– 2 x 25mm guns
– 1 x 76mm gun (Algeria only, Italian ones removed)
– 1 x Aster SAM short range (Algeria only)
– Available escorts (Italy): 12 (also have to support carrier groups)

-Dokdo class (South Korea
– 2 x RIM-116 short range SAM
– 2 X Goal Keeper
– Available escorts: 23 (probably sustainable especially with short coast line which frees more units up).

-Chakri Naruebet (Thailand)
– 3 x Mistral short range SAM
– Available esorts: 8

[I]This one's interesting as it is actually a proper aircraft carrier and originally operated ex-Spanish AV-8As. These were retired many years ago without replacement and the ship is now considered by some in Thailand as an oversized royal yacht

So in a real shooting war:
- The LHDs are a large potential target.
- Lack ability to protect themselves against virtually
- Lack offensive capability.
- In most cases would chew up a large percentage of operational surface fleet which then could not be used for other duties.

Seems to me these oversized under gunned ships are basically white elephants for national pride. They have some usefulness in terms of humanitarian ops but then a cheaper ship design could be used for this. You don't need a warship to deliver aid or helicopters and trucks for aid.

LostPict Supporting Member of TMP19 Sep 2017 8:08 p.m. PST

I offer a different perspective. The main battery of any carrier is the embarked air wing. So if you can embark a couple dozen helo gunships, protect the assets, and provide their logistical support you can conduct, you have a formidable mobile battery to conduct prompt and sustained combat operations at sea.

McKinstry Fezian19 Sep 2017 9:38 p.m. PST

With the exception of the Thai ship which really is a vanity project and the Egyptian/ex-Russian which may or may not have a mission the vessels are likely much more practical in a world where major peer/near peer conflict is very unlikely but peacekeeping, insurgency and humanitarian issues arise often.

Lion in the Stars19 Sep 2017 9:58 p.m. PST

Gotta agree with LostPict on this one.

A carrier, even an LHA/LHD, is highly flexible.

Need to do some subhunting? Load up 16 SH60s or equivalent.

Got a problem with pirates? Put a quartet of attack helos on the deck, and back them up with a dozen troop carriers.

Need to medevac people? Troop carriers again, though a full load of SH60s can improvise as medevacs if you have to.

So, honestly, I'd put a quartet of Seacobras, a quartet of SH60s, and fill out the rest of the space with troop carriers. Maybe even trade a couple smaller helos for a big CH53 or -47, for some heavy lifting.

All of a sudden, that's a mix that can provide a heck of a lot of 'showing the flag'.

Oh, and that doesn't even get into the contents of the well deck. Even without a LCU or LCAC, you can use an LHD as a tender for FAC/torpedo boats. Or minesweepers.

Deadles Inactive Member19 Sep 2017 10:57 p.m. PST

Bare in mind some of the countries primary defence concerns are still conventional warfare (South Korea), land based counter insurgency (Algeria, Thailand) or a mixture of both (Egypt and also Turkey whose LHD is F-35B compatible so I didn't include it though the Turks don't really need a light carrier either).

What benefit does Egypt or Algeria gain from an LHD when their main opponents are inland insurgents (and Egypt always has Israel in the back of their mind)

You assume these countries operate a wide variety of helicopters.

Even South Korea, Turkey and Australia have barely enough naval ASW/ASh helos for it's surface escorts, let alone an LHD.

Even the French would struggle given dire availability rates for their helo fleets and low number of NH90s being acquired (34).

A fleet of 16 SH-60s is huge by 2000s standards, let alone 16 functional ones (which implies a fleet of about 30 to maintain training and deep maintenance).

ASW/ASuW helo fleets:

Algeria: 6 x Lynx on order

Australia: planned 24 x MH-60R to replace 16 existing SH-60B (S-70B)

Egypt: 10 x SH-2G, 5 X Sea King Mk 47

France: planned 34 x NH-90

Italy: planned 10 x EH101 Merlin + 46 x NH90 (Eyeties have maintained fleets)

South Korea: 19 x Lynx (all variants)

Thailand: 6 SH-60B (another 6 MH-60 in transport role), 2 x Lynx

It works for Japan which has about 100 ASW/ASuW SH-60 variants for example.

So that leaves transport and attack helos for countries whose usual threats are land based!

And again some of those countries barely count any attack helos in their arsenal (Thailand) or Australia (mere 22 non-operational Tigers) or are too large and won't fit in hangars for maintenance/storage (e.g. Algerian Mi-24 Hinds).

And most aren't navalised (eg anti corrosion treatment or folding components)

Attack helo fleets:

Algeria: 42 x Mi-28 on order to replace similar number of Mi-24s

Australia: 22 x Tiger (to be replaced probably by AH-64E)

Egypt: 40+ AH-64A/D + 46 Ka-52 ordered specifically for Mistrals

France: planned 55 x Tigre

Italy: 60 x A-129 Mangusta

South Korea: 75 x AH-1F/S (some to be replaced by 36 AH-64E)

Thailand: 7 x AH-1F (operational status unclear)


As for CH-53 only non-US countries to operate them are:
Iran (old RH-53D mine sweepers, no LHA/LHD)
Israel (no LHA/LHD)
Germany (no LHA/LHD)

Japan recently retired their MH-53Es.

CH-47Ds are more common though again fleets are often small (e.g. Australia has about 13, Egypt between 15-19). Algerians used Mi-8/-17).

CH-47s are not navalised and take up huge amounts of real estate on an LHD.


I would say LHDs are great provided you:
a. Maintain a large enough helicopter fleet
b. Have sufficient economies of scale for the LHDs to not chew up staff and other resources or require a massive proportion of your service fleet to escort it in a shooting war.
c. Actually have a need to have one (primarily colonial style warfare and humanitarian interventions)

Deadles Inactive Member19 Sep 2017 11:06 p.m. PST

And air wing capacities:

- Canberra class (Australia):
8 (standard)-18 (this goes down to 4 if you start landing CH-47s on it)

- Mistral class (France/Egypt)
16-35 helicopters depending on size (16 is NH90 sized, 35 is SA-342 Gazelle sized).

-San Giorgio class (Algeria/Italy)
3-5 helicopters (it should be noted this is an LPD, not LHD though it does have a full length flight deck)

-Dokdo class (South Korea)
10 (standard) -16 UH-60 sized helos

-Chakri Naruebet (Thailand)
- Up to 24 helicopters

These are not America or Wasp class behemoths which can carry 36+ aircraft in normal operations (including CH-53 heavies and AV-8B/F-35 fighter jets and up to 50 in surge operations.

Of course these ships can also carry anywhere up to reinforced battalion of troops but most of these navies don't really have a need to do that (Egypt, Algeria, South Korea, Thailand).

The French, Italian and Aussie ones are colonial enforcement and humanitarian aid ships.

Again a cheaper civilian standard RORO ship would probably handle the humanitarian aspect a lot better.

Most peace keeping ops don't involve amphibious assaults either and ships are disgorged via normal docks in peaceful conditions and then driven to area requiring peacekeeping.

KniazSuvorov20 Sep 2017 11:04 a.m. PST

For the French, Spanish, South Koreans and Italians, I think the need to keep skilled shipyard workers employed is a large factor. Once a country stops producing carriers, the start-up costs to begin producing them again later would be prohibitive. (Possibly excepting S Korea, who have a massive merchant shipbuilding industry)

Deadles Inactive Member20 Sep 2017 3:54 p.m. PST

NniazSuvorov, agreed on Spain, Italy and France.

But Australia, Egypt, Thailand and Algeria didn't build their ships they brought French, Italian and Spanish ships.

For South Korea the Dokdo's were the first type of ship built.

They had all kinds of delusions of grandeur of a blue water navy which has progressively been scuttled as the Nork nuke and general belligerency issue kept flaring up.

Lion in the Stars20 Sep 2017 4:46 p.m. PST

Yeah, keeping the skilled shipbuilders employed is another important point.

The lack of helos is a matter of buying more of them. If you're not going to field enough helos to put at least 4 on each of your LHD you're doing it wrong.

A lot of nations are being penny-wise and pound-foolish with their military purchasing. You need to buy enough to keep a usable number of units operational.

I can actually see a reason for the Koreans to want LHDs, though: They are highly dependent on foreign trade, and they have a neighbor who does stupid things with submarines. Plus, launching an amphibious invasion to cut supply lines was first demonstrated in Korea.

Deadles Inactive Member20 Sep 2017 11:14 p.m. PST

"The lack of helos is a matter of buying more of them. If you're not going to field enough helos to put at least 4 on each of your LHD you're doing it wrong."

Thus I think the LHD (heli carrier) is in a few instances the a national pride white elephant.

South Korea's blue water navy was more about anything to do with North Korea and included 6 massively powerful destroyers as well (11,000 ton Sejong the Great class with 122 VLS!) and a massive surface fleet with 12 destroyers, 24 frigates and 17 conventional submarines).

I suspect this has something more to do with challenging China and Japan (Dokdo is name of islands claimed by both Japan and South Korea).

Murvihill21 Sep 2017 12:41 p.m. PST

Large flatdeck ships are extremely versatile. And the countries involved may think that it's easier to buy the ships now and the aircraft when they are needed than pay for the whole package up front. The UK appears to agree.

KniazSuvorov21 Sep 2017 3:12 p.m. PST

Having even a single flattop is also useful for 1) maintaining institutional experience in shipboard aircraft operations, and 2) providing token contributions to international coalitions.

Of course these things are monstrously expensive. Why aren't they carrying the largest possible air wing? Because every navy other than the USN actually has a limited budget, that's why. For most navies, it doesn't make sense to buy dozens and dozens of modern aircraft simultaneously. You break the budget one year, and 20 years down the line run into the problem of your entire air wing simultaneously reaching the end of its life span.

Instead, buy a few birds, train as many pilots on them as you can afford, and rotate them through flag-showing cruises and active operations as part of a coalition. That's how small navies do business these days. Most of them probably never anticipate having to fight a full-scale war on their own, hence the need for a "maximised" carrier is pretty low. Even the Chinese PLAN is essentially following this strategy at the moment.

Deadles Inactive Member21 Sep 2017 7:42 p.m. PST

Instead, buy a few birds, train as many pilots on them as you can afford, and rotate them through flag-showing cruises and active operations as part of a coalition. That's how small navies do business these days.

Actually the training has fallen off in most airforces and navies. Recently the French disclosed that flight hours had dropped considerably below NATO standard of 180-200 and that even 120 hours would be an improvement for many pilots. In former Warpac new NATO countries, 50-60 hours is often an achievement with aircraft serviceability often non-existent in countries like Bulgaria or Croatia or Slovakia and especially actual combat capability (plane might be good to take off but not cleared for any operations save routine flying).

Maintenance has fallen off as well even the USMC are down to 27% availability for Hornets and the French and Germans barely have anything functional.

Then there's constant drain on flight and maintenance crews to better paid civilian jobs.

Westerners bag out Russians but many Russian units have more airtime that many NATO ones (though quality of air time is not known).

From what I've read, South Korea and Japan do alright (though Taiwan has been struggling especially with fighter fleets).

The third world tends to buy aircraft but not invest in recurrent maintenance or spares. So serviceability drops off rapidly after a couple of years.

Thailand has been known to do this and also operates huge and disparate aircraft types and often in small numbers which must make logistics and maintenance difficult.

Not sure about countries like Egypt or Algeria not much comes out of those countries.

Pictures seem to indicate Algerian Air Force/Navy is reasonably busy. Hard getting anything out of Egypt though.

Risaldar Singh05 Oct 2017 12:11 p.m. PST

Mistral was used as a floating attack helicopter base off Lybia, as a staging ship for a large heliborne commando raid into Somalia and as a transport for a light armour QRF sent from France to Mali. Medical and command & control facilities found on no RO-RO ferry.

Pretty much a Swiss army knife rather than a white elephant.

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