In the mid-2000s, the Australian government selected a Spanish-based Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) ship design over a competing French one. The Spanish offering was the same as used in their Juan Carlos I LHD, commissioned in 2010 under pennant number L61 while the French submission followed the form and function of their Mistral-class amphibious assault ships. In either case, the Australians sought a ship that could effectively and efficiently support any planned amphibious assault initiatives - this meant delivering men, machine, and supplies to the beaches. The move to strengthen the Australian Navy's offshore capabilities also coincided with the rising prominence of China in the Pacific.
The Juan Carlos I design was adopted as the Canberra-class for the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and key changes included a reworking of the island superstructure and other components to better suit Australian Navy requirements. The hull was constructed by Navantia of Spain with Tenix Defence handling the Australian side of the contract. The keel was laid down on September 23rd, 2009 and then transferred to Australia in 2012 to have the project completed locally. The final phase of construction was handled by BAe Systems Australi, BAe since having absorbed Tenix in 2008.
As the lead ship of the Canberra-class, the vessel was given the name of HMAS Canberra and carried pennant number L02. The subsequent ship - named HMAS Adelaide - was/is scheduled to follow in 2016 with pennant number L01 though, despite the number order, HMAS Canberra is the lead ship of the class. Both were originally known as LHD02 (Adelaide)and LHD01 (Canberra) respectively during construction.
Canberra varies considerably from the flat deck aircraft carriers deployed by the United States and shares qualities more akin to those helicopter carriers/amphibious assault ships originating from Europe, Japan, and those currently in service with the United States Marine Corps (USMC). The role of LHDs is a multi-purpose one as far as naval surface fighting warships go - carrying a fleet of aircraft (in this case helicopters) while equipped with full-service hangars, a large hold for military vehicles, hundreds of troops, and landing craft - the latter needed to bring the land components to shore. Additionally, onboard facilities (medical, dental, recovery) allow LHDs to serve in the humanitarian role when needed.
HMAS Canberra is equipped to handle up to eighteen mission-ready helicopters in its hangar space though a typical fielding will be about eight rotary-wing aircraft. The hold will have the capability to house up to 110 armored vehicles of both light- and heavy-weight classes as well as up to 1,046 combat-ready troops. Four large mechanized landing craft (designated as LLCs) will be carried to help wade the elements from ship to shore. A typical operating staff for Canberra is 358 persons made up of 293 Royal Australian Navy (RAN) personnel, 62 Army personnel, and three Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) personnel in a typical staffing arrangement.
Canberra was designed from the outset as a conventionally-powered vessel meaning a traditional turbine configuration (as opposed to a nuclear reactor) was selected to drive the craft. The propulsion machinery includes a General Electric LM2500 series gas turbine coupled to 2 x MAN 16V32/40 series diesel generators in a COmbined Diesel And Gas (CODAG) arrangement. CODAG allows the operating crew to use diesel power for cruising and rely on the gas turbine for short-term, high speed dashing - a more economical measure than traditional reliance on one sole power source over the other. HMS Canberra is also equipped with 2 x Siemens azimuth thrusters for fine-tune maneuvering. The propulsion system gives Canberra a maximum speed of over 20 knots in ideal conditions and her range is listed as 10,000 miles when making headway at 15 knots.
Structurally, HMS Canberra follows the same deck arrangement as the Spanish Navy's Juan Carlos I with a "ski jump" set at the bow, launch facilities located at the stern, a landing/take-off deck area set to portside and the island superstructure set to starboard. The ski jump assists in getting aircraft airborne to offset the shorter runway area. Since the vessel is intended to operate alongside a contingent of support ships, it is modestly armed in a self-defense way through 4 x 25mm Rafael Typhoon Remote Weapon Systems (RWSs) and 6 x 12.7mm Heavy Machine Guns (HMGs). The Typhoon is an Israeli development first debuting in 1997. The vessel also carries a full suite of sensors and processing systems for increased battlefield situational awareness and survivability including "Giraffe" AMB radar, a Saab 9LV combat system, AN/SLQ-25 "Nixie" towed torpedo decoy, and "Nulka" missile decoy. Bridge controls and flight operations feature all-modern equipment including streamlined color-coded read outs and flat panel displays.
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