Constructed between 1993 and 1998, HMS Ocean has served as the Royal Navy’s primary amphibious assault ship since commissioning. She displaces 21,000 tons, makes 18 knots, and can carry up to 18 helicopters. She also has facilities for carrying and deploying boats, marines, and ground vehicles. In short, HMS Ocean is a fairly standard big, flat-decked amphibious warship, with a decent amount of wear and tear but also with some years left in her service window. The Royal Navy expects to need her less in anticipation of the completion of its two new large carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.
The asking price for HMS Oceanappears quite low; reportedly around $75 million, payable in installments. Of course, costs associated with maintenance and the acquisition of helicopters would be more significant, but should be manageable for any navy that already has some experience with maritime helicopters.
Rumor now has it that Brazil is the most likely buyer. Earlier this year, Brazil finally gave up on the NAe Sao Paulo, an older aircraft carrier purchased in 2000 from France. This leaves Brazil without a (semi) operational carrier for the first time since 1960. But deals can fall apart and re-materialize quickly; recall that no one expected Egypt to acquire the two ex-French, almost-Russian Mistral-class amphibs until it suddenly did. If Brazil doesn’t buy, a few nations in the Asia-Pacific might be interested.
The Royal Malaysian Navy has undertaken significant modernization efforts over the past decade, including the acquisition of modern submarines, frigates, and patrol aircraft. The leap to a 21,000 ton helicopter carrier would be quite a jump, but Malaysia’s strategic situation encourages such thinking; a wide maritime space, with many islands and extremely busy shipping routes is an ideal environment for a mid-range amphibious warship.
The Indonesian Navy faces strategic and operational problems similar to those of Malaysia, only more so; it needs to patrol a huge maritime space while also maintaining HA/DR capabilities. A big amphib is perfect for these kinds of responsibilities, and HMS Ocean could help Indonesia develop the expertise necessary to operating a next generation warship.
Chile operates a small but modern fleet, and historically has displayed periodic interest in large ships. Given long-term tensions between Chile and Argentina, London might find the idea of transferring the carrier to Santiago particularly appealing.
Mexico represents a conundrum for naval analysts; a large, wealthy country with a substantial coastline, and very real maritime monitoring issues, but with virtually no high-end navy to speak of. Although Mexico is not as dependent on maritime trade as many other countries (given the amount of exports that passes by truck or rail to the United States), shipping still accounts for a significant percentage of Mexican exports. And Mexico is certainly wealthy enough to experiment with a “starter” carrier such as HMS Ocean. However, even if Mexico acquired Ocean, it is likely that the navy would use the ship in the Caribbean, rather than the Pacific.
Other potential targets include Pakistan and Taiwan, although sale to either would generate significant political problems with India and China, respectively. Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, South Korea, and Japan already have ships in the same general class as Ocean, so likely are not plausible landing spots. In any case, the transfer of HMS Ocean to a new navy would represent the continuation of a trend that has been developing since the 1990s: the spread of amphibious warships around the world’s fleets.