South East Asia’s New Obsession With Docking Ships

In the world of naval warfare, amongst with the theories of naval aviation (aircraft carriers), amphibious operations is the next big explosion of interest of the top brass since World War II. The successful campaigns by the United States in Africa, Pacific and most famously Normandy proved that amphibious assault is a feasible and effective way to stage an invasion in a foreign soil, or to retake one.

The Landing Ship, Tank (LST) created during the 1940s was the standard amphibious vessels for most countries. Shallow draught and equipped with bow doors, they can be docked near the shores to off-load tanks, trucks etc. However, before doing so the beachhead has to be secured by launching an assault party, in this case, troops would have to climb over the ships into landing crafts, and supplies lowered into cranes, all exposed to the elements. This is a slow and dangerous operation to undertake, sometimes soldier fall off the 3 floor high ship into the waters below.

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The US Navy (USN) since had moved away from the bow door designed ship, and the last of the the LST commissioned was the Newport Class LST, which saw the beginning of amphibious vessels with sterns doors.

Major powers soon developed Land Platform Docks (LPD) and  Landing Ship, Dock (LSD). These ships are similar in design, and all features the well dock at the stern of the ship, allowing landing crafts, amphibious tanks to be offloaded quickly from the ship. Most also have vehicular decks, so vehicles like trucks can be rolled on to LCUs without being hinged over the sides of the ships. Assaults can be launched quickly and in masses, and with huge helicopter decks, jointly with helicopter support.

Most South East Asia(SEA) countries received a surplus of ex-US LSTs, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines, while most of these LSTs have reached obsoletely, SEA countries began looking further.

Singapore was the first country to adopt the well dock concept in their Endurance Class LST. Under-classified as LST, it is more of a mini LPD with bow doors capability, for Row on Row Off operations (RO/RO) thus reducing the need to re-maneuver the vehicles on board the ship. Launched in 1998, the vessel and hold four landing crafts, 18 tanks/vehicles, and a heli-deck big enough to land a CH-47 Chinook. The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) currently operates fours of such ships. The effectiveness of the ‘LPD’ was clearly seen in 2004 in SAF’s biggest operation. After the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004, RSN deployed 3 Endurance LST to Banda Aceh. Her wells dock allow quick loading and unloading supplies from the landing crafts, and about 20 times faster before the arrival of the ships. Excavators and trucks was easily rolled onto the ship and rolled off, the Endurance’s interior ramps also means more vehicles can be parked on the helicopter decks. Super Puma helicopters also conducted airlifts from these vessels.

Credits: Reaching Out, Operation Flying Eagle

Credits: Reaching Out, Operation Flying Eagle

Following Singapore, Indonesia (TNI-AL) was the second country in SEA to be equipped with LPDs. Launched in 2006, the Makassar Class LPD was built by Korean Daesun Shipbuilding, and Indonesia’s PT PAL. Four ships were commissioned, with another being built. At 8400 tonnes, it is about 20% bigger than the Endurance Class. These ships have since been actively participating in Indonesia’s Marine Corp exercises.

Thailand bought a single Endurance Class from Singapore Technologies Marine in 2008, named HTMS Anthong , the ship was commissioned in April 2012.

Malaysia lost her amphibious ship, RMN Sri Inderapura (ex-Newport class),  in 2009 to a fire and has begun search for newer/ bigger ships. Talks for South Korea with Dokdo Class and France’s Mistral Class (all Landing Platform Helicopter, LPH) has taken place but there has since been no news on acquisition. In 2013, Malaysia announced their intention to establish a Marine Corp, primary to defend her interest in South China Sea. Setting up a Marine Corp will probably set the stage for the introduction of a new amphibious ship.

Philippines has again re injected energy and funding into her ailing military under the new leadership of Benigno Acquino. The modernisation of the navy saw the need for a new ‘Strategic Sealift Vessel’ (SSV), the bid info can be seen here : SSV Requirements. It seems that it will be based on the TNI-AL’s Makassar-Class LPD, also with well dock capability.

Besides the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004, LPDs have seen action in other parts of SEA. Recently in Philippines, USN’s LSDs USS Ashland , USS Germantown and LPD USS Denver, and Japan’s LSD Osumi was in the heat of action delivering supplies to the victims of Typhoon Haiyan.  These missions were also conducted in conjunction with helicopter carriers and various supply ships.

While being an excellent platform for humanitarian mission, LPDs primary purpose is of course to stage amphibious assaults to take/retake territories. Chinese presence in South China Sea has again raised concern on SEA countries ability to stake claim and carry out ‘show of presence(SOP)’ in these disputed islands; Spratly Islands (China, Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam) and Paracel Island (China, Vietnam).

LPDs vast size not only allow prolonged SOP missions, but also the capability to launch a landing party via by sea or air into these islands. The lack of large capital/command ships in SEA (compared to US and China’s carriers and command ships ), LPD can be converted as flagships with their armada of various naval vessels.

Mentioned above, Malaysia and Philippines future LPDs will be a game changer in South China Sea (SCS) disputes, and probably looking at bigger and longer exercises, including beach assaults with the Marines in the islands of SCS, a thing that the Chinese have been doing lately.

All in all, 5 of the 9 SEA navies owns or have expressed interest for LPD type ships. Eyes will be on Vietnam, another key stake holder in SCS, on their naval plans.  New Kilo submarines and Gepard frigates have been delivered from Russia, but there hasn’t been any plans to rejuvenate their three Polnochny Class LSTs.

One step further, and seems to be the global trend now, is the development of LPHs (Landing Platform Helicopters). Helicopter carriers, but with the ability to house landing crafts and command an amphibious assault. Nearest to SEA to commission such ship would be Australia’s Canberra Class, which is nearing service next year or so. Singapore’s ST Marine has been displaying a model of the Endurance 160, LPH class for the past few defense exhibitions, and we hope to see something materialise from that. Talks on LPH in SEA will be discussed in later posts.

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2 thoughts on “South East Asia’s New Obsession With Docking Ships

  1. Pingback: SAF 2030 and Other Announcements | Coffee and Bullets

  2. Pingback: LVTs in South East Asia | Coffee and Bullets

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