Italy's new LHD (photo : Mike Colombaro)
The Italian navy has received the go-ahead to procure two 20,000-ton amphibious assault ships (LHDs), with the possibility of a third ship, configured with extensive aviation facilities (LHA).
The preliminary LHD project is funded and will take 12 months for completion. It will be followed by a project definition phase requiring eight months and leading to a contract. Delivery of the first ship comes within 30 months after that. If everything goes to plan, the first LHD arrives in late 2014.
LHDs will replace two 8,000-ton San Giorgio-class LPDs, commissioned in 1987 and 1988. The LHA will eventually replace the carrier Garibaldi, which is being dedicated to amphibious and helicopter roles now that the Cavour carrier is in service.
The new LHDs will be 190 meters (623 ft.) long, feature a well dock that holds four LCACs (landing craft air cushions), and have a hangar with dedicated maintenance area where six medium-heavy helicopters can be recovered. The flight deck will provide six landing spots and be served by two elevators, one at the stern, the other forward of the island. It will thus be possible to launch air-assault operations, lifting a reinforced rifle company with each wave and rapidly moving personnel and equipment to the deck. Helicopter capacity will be 12-15, depending on mix.
Capabilities also include four smaller LCVP (landing craft, vehicle, personnel) vessels and two motorboats, all in dedicated spaces with cranes under the port flight deck.
The LHD can accommodate 760 troops, including an aviation detachment and staff personnel, in addition to a ship’s crew of only 200, a result of shipboard automation. The vessel will normally carry a reinforced marine battalion and aviation personnel, and be able to add an amphibious task force and landing force command, which will rely on extensive C4I spaces and systems. The basic space earmarked for the command staff is 500 sq. meters (5,380 sq. ft.).
The ship has a large garage deck with a capacity of 360 tons. The vehicles reach the garage from the well dock or through a large starboard door. The garage floor and ramps can support a 60-ton tank. The roll-on/roll-off concept permits rapid loading and unloading of cargo and vehicles, which can also be parked on the flight deck.
The navy has not yet selected a propulsion system. The general specification calls for a top speed of 20 kt. and range of 7,000 nm. at 16 kt., which translates to 45 days’ endurance. Basic proposals are built around a combined diesel and diesel scheme, with four diesels, each 6,000 kw., driving a shaft and variable-pitch propeller. Engine power will be 20-24 megawatts. There will also be powerful bow thrusters. A diesel-electric or pod configuration is being considered. The pod is popular, but would limit the size of the well deck.
The LHDs will have a large electricity generating capability, with four diesel generators in the 2.5-megawatt class.
A peculiarity of the design is that the ships, at least the first, will have civil protection as the primary operational role. The requirement is taken seriously and dictates many capabilities—for instance, large electricity generation and water purification capacity, including deployment of flexible hoses for ship-to-dock or ship-to-ship water transfer.
The LHD will have a hospital that treats 54, with 1,000 sq. meters of dedicated space. The hospital can expand by using space dedicated to the marines’ mess and loading medical containers in part of the hangar. The C4 spaces can be used as a command center for civil protection authorities.
The navy has not entered into discussions about the sensor suite and combat system. The LHD will have an extensive combat management and command system, multirole search and navigation radar, and electronic warfare protection system including decoy launchers.
The ship will have several 25-mm. gun mounts and machine guns, and possibly one or more Oto Melara 76/62-mm. SR guns in the Strales configuration for missile defense.
To minimize costs, the LHDs will be built to commercial standards, modified somewhat to improve survivability, but without full military specifications. Tradeoffs between cost and survivability are being assessed. According to one estimate, the ship can be built for €300 million ($369 million), excluding combat systems.