Apologies for my absence as of late, I have been busy with coursework among other things. Anyway, rumours are now floating around about a possible sale of HMS Ocean (L12) to Brazil as a possible replacement for their now-demobilising NAe São Paulo (A12). I believe it to be a very bad decision for both the UK and Brazilian governments. Here’s why.
Note: this will assume that Brazil wants Ocean in a strike-carrier role. Also before we get into this, I’ll give a brief overview of the ship. HMS Ocean (pennant L12) is a 21,500-tonne Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH) carrier commissioned back in 1998. The ship is a dedicated helicopter-carrying platform for supporting amphibious assaults and serves as an afloat Royal Marine training and staging base.
Firstly, the impact to the UK. As supporters of the sale quickly point out, we do indeed have two Queen Elizabeth-class supercarriers coming soon, with one (HMS Prince of Wales R09) being ‘enhanced’ with amphibious-supporting capabilities. But that is far from a specialised replacement. Those supercarriers are and will always be fleet carrier-first. LPH-second is not good enough. Especially given the whole purpose Ocean was commissioned was that using a non-LPH ship in the LPH role was problematic. RFA Argus (A135), which now serves as an aviation training and casualty receiving ship, was pressed into the LPH role in the early-90s due to the decommissioning of our dedicated ‘commando carriers’. She proved the unsuitability of ships of a certain type being made to serve as another type. This ‘solution’ to the absence to Ocean from I fleet I feel has the potential to be a repeat of that crucial mistake that led to Ocean being developed in the first place! There is also a question of a two-year gap between the scheduled decommissioning of Ocean in 2018 and the commissioning of Prince of Wales in 2020…
Next, we need to consider the impact of purchase for Brazil itself. Firstly, if Ocean is to serve as a strike carrier now, there would be a pressing need for a very large and very costly conversion to make the ship suitable for operating STOVL jet aircraft. This includes adding a ‘ski-ramp’ to support take-offs given Ocean‘s relatively-small flight deck, re-plating the flight deck with a new material and/or coating to better deflect the immense heat that would it would be subjected too (even modern helicopters such as the MV-22 Osprey put a lot of pressure of a flight deck), and finally a lot of internal reconfiguration would have to be done for supporting large amounts of aircraft munitions, jet fuel and aircraft workshops as opposed to its current internal commitments to training facilities and troop barracks. More things Brazil must consider with Ocean is that it was built to commercial (not military) standards. Which potentially means poor damage resistance, and I know for a fact the carrier is quite slow at 18 knots maximum speed. These characteristics are understandable for a ship that was primarily designed be anchored off some shore, providing helicopter support to Marines (with secondary roles as a limited anti-submarine platform and aforementioned an afloat training and staging base). In conclusion, Ocean as a strike/light carrier would have a small airwing and her speed would effectively ‘handicap’ its own escorting fleet, making long-range travels horribly slow.
That’s my two cents and brief rationale towards this argument. My concluding position that it is not feasible and quite ill-advised that Brazil would even consider Ocean as an alternative to a proper replacement to São Paulo.