The Canberra class Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) ships will replace the LPAs Manoora and Kanimbla, and the LSH Tobruk. Planning for these new ships began in 2000, based on Australia’s experience with INTERFET in East Timor. In 2004, invitations for tender were sought from a French company offering the Mistral class ships, and the Spanish company Navantia offering what became the Juan Carlos I design. The latter was selected in 2007, with Navantia responsible for building the ships from the keel to the flight deck, after which they will be transported to Australia for fitting of the island superstructure, by BAE Systems Australia.
The roles of these ships will include:
- Embarking, transporting and deploying an embarked force (Army in the case of the ADF, but could also be an Allied army or marines), along with their equipment and aviation units, and
- Carrying out and supporting humanitarian aid missions.
The provision of medical support for the LHD embarked force will be crucial to the latter’s ability to meet its mission. The aim of this article is to describe some of the medical issues.
The LHDs are 230m long, 32m wide, 7.2m draught and displace nearly 30,000 tonnes. Although Navy has bought larger ships (in particular the tankers Westralia and Sirius), these are the largest ships ever built for the RAN.
They have a range of 6,000nm at 20 knots, or 9,000nm at 15 knots without refuelling. The flight deck has six spots for Blackhawk, Seahawk or MRH-90s, or four spots for Chinooks. They have two vehicle decks that can carry up to 110 vehicles depending on their size.
The LHDs also have a well dock that can carry up to four Landing Craft Mechanised, or LCM-1Es. They can be deployed up to Sea State Four, and operate over-the-horizon up to 20 nautical miles from their parent LHD.
The LCM-1E incorporates a stern gate, which allows the loading/unloading of vehicles up to 12 tons from LCM-1E to another. Propulsion is supplied by two diesel engines powering one waterjet each, allowing the LCM-1E to reach 22 knots empty, or 13.5 knots loaded. The maximum range at economical speeds is 190 nautical miles.
A Spanish Navy LCM-1E
The LHDs have bunks for 1403 personnel. Of these, about 240 bunks will be for the ship’s company, plus about 160 more for the LCM-1E and flight deck crews. The remaining 1000 bunks are for the embarked landing force, aviation assets, HQ staff, and health personnel. The finite bunk space means that additional health staff means fewer non-health embarked personnel, and vice versa.
The size of these new ships can be illustrated by comparing them with the LPAs that many ADF health personnel are familiar with.
The silhouette between is a cross section of the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne (II), which decommissioned in 1982. The LHDs are about 50% larger than the old carrier.
Maritime Role 2 Enhanced (MR2E)
The LHD MR2E is located amidships, immediately below the hangar upper vehicle deck and above the lower vehicle / well deck. Patients enter the MR2E via a dedicated lift, either from the hangar or flight decks above, or the vehicle deck below.
From there they move to a triage / resuscitation area, then to one of two operating theatres, which are supported by a sterilisation area between them and two scrub rooms.
After surgery, casualties are moved to the High Dependency Unit (HDU), then to either the Medium Dependency Unit (MDU) or Low Dependency Unit (LDU). The latter uses the adjacent embarked forces cabins once they have moved ashore, on comparable terms as the troop messes aboard the LPAs.
These facilities are supported by x-ray, laboratory, and pharmacy. Primary health care is provided from a patient administration area, outpatient consulting room, medical office, and dental surgery. There are three medical stores, including a medical gas store.
Nevertheless, the introduction of the MR2E capability for the LHDs is clearly an exciting time for both Permanent and Reserve Navy Health personnel, which will stand them, the Navy and the ADF in good stead for the expected 30-year life of these ships.