Shipbuilding

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…