The Lowy report, released on 31 January 2008, is not exactly news, as the use of a wave-piercing catamaran hull design for "boat 2208", was reported in the DefenceTalk.com blog in 2004. and the Proceedings of the U.S. Naval Institute, July 2005 ("Combat Fleets", by Eric Wertheim). At the time I noted the similar appearance to Australian high-speed catamarans. The wikipedia describes them as the "Houbei class missile boat" and that entry was updated with mention of AMD in April 2007:
The ships are produced by Chinese company, GUMECO, which has built an AMD designed ferry
The Houbei class missile boat is the newest class of missile boat in the People's Liberation Army Navy that first appeared in April 2004. The boats incorporate obvious stealthy features and were first built by the Qiuxin Shipbuilding Factory at Shanghai. These wave-piercing catamaran boats numbered from 2208 through 2211 and more are planned and built.
The design of the Houbei class was reportedly developed with AMD Marine Consulting, a leading Australian company on catamaran designs for fast ferries.
From: Houbei class missile boat, Wikipedia, 00:19, 23 December 2007.
- Displacement: 220 ton
- Length: 43 m
- Beam: 12 m
- Draft: 1.5 m
- Speed: 36 kt
- Propulsion: 2 diesel engines @ 6,865 hp with 4 waterjet propulsors by MARI
- Surface search radar: 1 Type 362
- Navigational radar: 1
- Electro-optics: HEOS 300
(YS438,170-seat aluminum catamaran passenger vessel).
The USAV Spearhead (TSV-1X): High Speed US Army Transport Ship was built by the Incat, in Tasmania and is a modified high speed ferry. The HSV-2 Swift is a similar ship from Incat, used by the US Navy, modified with a helicopter flight deck and armament. The Western Australian company Austal. is building a Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) trimaran for the US Navy in conjunction with General Dynamics.
Apart from their high speed, the Australian designed passenger ferries have a low draft and large deck area. The low draft allows them to unload cargo and vehicles rapidly in unimproved ports or to landing craft. The large deck area provided potential for use with helicopters.
What might be worrying to military analysis is that the same Chinese company converted the former Soviet aircraft carrier Minski into a tourist attraction. The company would therefore have details of what is needed to build an aircraft carrier. China could combine this with the Australian technology to produce amphibious assault ships.
The Australian Defence Force has chosen a conventional mono-hull design for its HMAS Canberra and HMAS Adelaide, the first of which is due in 2010. These are "Landing Helicopter Dock" (LHD) ships, looking like small aircraft carriers. The have a dock in the stern which can be flooded to accept landing craft, as well as a flat deck for helicopters.
Other nations have used a lower cost design for their support ships, using a modified car ferry. This includes the New Zeland HMNZS Canterbury. This does not have a dock, but ramps and cranes can be used to transfer vehicles and cargo in calm water. The multi hull designs of the Australian car ferries can be used similarly, but with the advantage of much higher speed, lower draft and larger deck area. Such a ship may be completely unarmed and look far less threatening that a missile equipped patrol boat, but be far more effective for projecting military power at long distances.