The European Union will soon have the world’s second-biggest amphibious warfare fleet. As well as the Royal Navy’s two LPDs (Landing Platform Dock – what the RN used to call an “assault ship”, basically a ship with a large dock in the stern, a shitload of radio gear, a heli deck, and space for several hundred soldiers and a gaggle of landing craft) Albion and Bulwark and one LHA (a helicopter carrier) Ocean, France has one LHA, and is building two more of the Mistral class, Spain has two LPDs and is building a large LHA, Portugal is building one LPD, Italy is building three LPDs, and Holland has a big (18,000 ton) LPD. That adds up to a fleet of 14 amphibious warfare ships of various kinds, not counting the UK’s four auxiliary dock transports that are a-building. By comparison, the biggest fleet is the US Navy’s, which has 10 LHAs and 12 LPDs organised in several amphibious warfare groups, usually of one LHA and two LPDs and a regiment of Marines.

Rob “Lawyers, Guns and Money” was discussing this in terms of the pre-1914 battleship race and the curious way countries with no need of battleships, indeed who could not maintain a meaningful fleet, were desperate to have just one ship. I replied that you had to look at the whole, and that he was right to think it might be about taking part in multinational operations. Just not necessarily the same ones…

In essence, these ships are the fruit of the late-90s efforts to lessen EU dependence on US assets in defence, and specifically the Nice Treaty’s goal of a EU Rapid Reaction Force similar to the NATO Allied Rapid Reaction Corps but without the Americans. One might think nothing had come of this except for a new HQ in the Brussels ‘burbs, what with the change of emphasis from the 60,000 man EURRF to small scale battle groups (essentially a way of fulfilling the letter of the plan without more money). But the ships are a-building…

17 thoughts on “Shipbuilding

  1. It will be very interesting to see how far European countries are willing to assume responsibilities for their defense down the road.

    Until today, NATO has provided them a security blanket that has allowed governments to spend more on their social welfare systems. Will they forsake sweeter benefits (retirement, health, unemployment, etc.) for new national defense stances that are more independent? I doubt it, but it won’t stop them from building a few more ships here and there.

  2. The EU spends more on defense than the World ex USA. The security blanket NATO provide is peace with the only real military treat the EU has. So no need for more money or more responsibility

  3. Out of curiosity, does the EU military function as a single entity? I mean, do they have unified command exercises, co-ordinate purchasing, etc.? Or is each country’s military completely seperate?

  4. What else would we build but assault ships? There’s no navy the EU would fight over control of the high seas. Interventions into third world countries is the most likely naval mission.

    I would think the analogy misleading. Batttleships were intended to fight battleships. These ships are intended for warfare against land targets.

  5. I mean, do they have unified command exercises, co-ordinate purchasing, etc.?

    Sort of in between. We partially coordinate hardware purchasing, eg. in aircraft and most missiles. On the other hand, almost any major country makes its own main battle tank.

  6. There is, outside the pacific and Antarctica, no need for navy to navy warfighting as you can blow up any ship from landbased aircrafts.

  7. It seems to me that one of the most likely military challeges the EU may face is the evacuation of EU citizens from a country elsewhere in the world that is in a state of collapse. Are the ship types in question well-suited to that sort of mission?

  8. @Peter: yes, ideally suited. The design of the French PA-75 class aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle was influenced by the need to carry out such tasks – she has extra accommodation and medical facilities with a view to receiving refugees. Similarly, as these ships are designed to deliver troops over the beach with command and control, medical, and logistic support remaining aboard for the time being, doing the opposite manoeuvre would be well suited.

    @Charley: Which is why the Argentine air force won the Falklands War, right?

  9. Nonsense. Even by the time of the Atlantic Conveyor strike, the RN had discovered that Exocet could be “seduced” by electronic countermeasures. And there weren’t that many Etendards to carry them in either – it was only a matter of time before a strike package got nailed.

  10. Seduction always seems to work better on the export model of weapons :-)

    So if they had more planes (you don’t need the most expensive jets for this) and exocets than they would have won? You can buy a lot for the cost of one warship

  11. I agree with Oliver that the comparaison with the pre-WWI battleship arm race competely misses the point (btw, speaking of dreadnoughts,
    Robert Massie’s book on that race is excellent) and that western countries need such brown-water ships, not blue-water ones like subs or ASW or anti-surface ships. Not even carriers are as necessary if you got VTOL aircrafts (with the caveat that you can field only a very limited number with LDPs, but it’s sufficient for anything save full-scale inter-state war).

    That lawyers, guns and money post reflects a typical American view (doctrine) of excessive (overwhelming )firepower, that anything but at least twelve giant nuclear carrier groups is pointless. Walnuts and sledgehammers…

    And, taken together, the European amphibious fleet is substantial, with:

    o one British Ocean-class Landing Platform Helicopter, two Albion-class Landing Platform Dock, four Bay-class LPD (to replace the Round Table-class LSL), and six Point-class (semi-military) ro-ro ships

    o one French Jeanne D’Arc-class helicopter carrier, two Foudre-class and two Mistral-class LPD,

    o three Italian San-Giorgio-class LPD

    o two Spanish Enforcer-class LPD and two Newport-class LST

    o two Dutch Enforcer-class LPD

    o one Portugese Enforcer-class LPD

    for a total of 22 amphibious ships plus the six British ro-ro’s.

    The US navy has more than 40 amphibious ships of all kinds, so that there is fair probability that there is one or two at sea not too far from any eventual hotspot. Obviously, a navy with just one or couple of ships is quite meaningless, as it can be at only one place at a time, but that’s the whole purpose of coordinating the Europeans navies so they can achieve an operational capability together. Calling that an arm race is just silly.

  12. Heh. I love being called a typical American.

    To clarify, my argument had nothing to do with traditional arms race dynamics (we must have an LPD to defend against the Spanish one), but took rather a more constructivist turn (we ought to have an LPD because so many countries of our size have one). This is where I suggest that there might be some similarity with the pre-1914 experience (which is best captured, incidentally, not by the UK-German dreadnought race but by the Brazil-Argentina-Chile competition).

    But yes, I agree that the vessels now being purchased by European and extra-European countries are genuinely more useful than the dreadnoughts purchased by Chile and Argentina. I’m not convinced, though, that the motivations for building these ships are better explained by realist or constructivist principles.

  13. Sorry, couldn’t resist pandering to jingoistic stereotypes…

    Indeed comparing to the the South American way is not the lest as silly as as the WWI race; should had read your most more thoroughly (btw very interesting and informative about boats, and also your blog in general)

    But I still think there’s a crucial difference between the S. American battleship buil-up and the European LDP one, namely that the former was competetive and the latter cooperative.
    Another is that the first was totally devoid of military purpose, while the only realistic major mission that Europeans navies could be called upon is projecting expeditionary forces.
    You correctly state both those facts.

    While I could accept the prestige argument “but they got one, I want mine too” would be valid within, say, some navy circles of the more atavistic kind, I doubt most policy-makers would see prestige in ships designated by acronyms, not to speak of the general public.

    As for constructivism and realism, I suppose you could argue for both (humanitarian and peacekeeping ideals resp. the preserving Europe as a major military power in the world).
    I don’t why, but all those theories remind me of the story about the blind scientists and the elephant.

    No direspect, but I’m not much into ismism. I would much admire a country that had as the theoretical basis for its international relations, that Old West motto, “to ride, shoot straight, and speak the truth”.

    (no, I don’t mean Bush doctrine; the Texas saying for that would be “all hat and no cattle”)

  14. To obvious. You also need to stock a aircraft carrier with planes and a nuclear submarine needs nukes which are an official no-no for the states that don’t have nuclear submarines already