In May 2006 it was announced by the Federal Government that the RAN would receive two new Landing Helicopter Dock Ships to replace HMAS KANIMBLA and HMAS MANOORA. These two new ships were considerably bigger than these vessels, displacing nearly 28,000 tons. Able to carry over 1100 troops, all their armoured vehicles as well as operate six large helicopters simultaneously and four landing craft medium from the huge floodable well deck in the stern, these ships are unlike anything that the RAN has ever operated previously. The are nearly 50% larger again than the Carrier, HMAS MELBOURNE.

The ships hulls were to be constructed by NAVANTIA at Ferrol in Spain and transported to BAE Systems Australia’s dockyard at Williamstown in Melbourne. The remainder of the ships superstructure and fitting out would be carried out here with the first ship, HMAS CANBERRA (III) to be commissioned in 2014 with her sister, HMAS ADELAIDE (III) to commission in 2015.

BAE contacted us in 2009 about our company constructing a model of the LHD for display. After discussions it was decided to build two models, one at a scale of 1:100, measuring just under 2.4 metres in length and a second model at a scale of 1:150 with a length of 1.4 metres. The larger model would include a large cut-away section on the port side showing internal arrangements of the hanger, light vehicle deck, heavy vehicle deck below and the large flooding well deck. The model would include MRH-90, TIGER ARH-1 and CH-47D CHINOOK helicopters on the flight deck and in the hanger. M1A1 ABRAMS tanks, ASLAV, M113AS4 APC and four wheel drives in the various vehicle decks and four of the new LCM-E landing craft in the well deck.

The model would also have working lights in the hangar and vehicle decks to allow the internals to be seen through the cut-away section as well as through the open stern ramp, two starboard side ramps and open hanger door to the aft flight deck lift with its folded MRH-90 ready to be taken to the flight deck.

Construction on the hull began in early 2010 when the plans arrived and enlarged to the correct scale. The beautiful one piece fibre-glass hull was constructed by Tim Amos of Southern Cross Models located near Port Macquarie. While Tim constructed the hull for the model we got stuck into the construction of the huge internal module which would be fitted inside the fibre-glass hull.

This one piece “module” included the complete well deck and ramp and heavy vehicle deck including ramps and lifts to the upper decks. On top of this were various offices, accommodation and hospital sections (not shown in great detail). The deck-head of the hospital was the hanger floor which was also finely detailed. Supporting the roof of the well deck and hanger were large trusses. Each of these has numerous holes to lighten the beams and carry electrical wiring cable runs and a large overhead crane. This all had to be included to make the model as realistic as possible.

Once completed the entire module measured nearly 1600mm long with a width of 250mm and stretched over 6 deck levels from water line to the flight deck. It was completely painted, detailed and fitted with working lights and was ready to mount into the hull.

The hull arrived and all the openings along the side for boat spaces, RAS Spaces, vents and ramps were cut and the various modules fitted behind them. All the underwater fittings were made and fitted to the hull including the retractable fin stabilisers, bilge keels, twin bow thrusters and the two large propulsion pods. The LHDs are unusual in that they do not have conventional shafts, screws and rudders, but have two large rotating pods under the stern which have a push/pull three bladed screw on each end. These pods rotate to provide steering including moving sideways into the wharf when berthing with aid of the bow thrusters.

The hull was painted from the waterline down and completed with all her underwater fittings as it was thought that once the internals and flight deck were fitted it would be a hell of a job to turn her over and finish off underneath. She was then fitted to a large board on pedestals to enable her to be moved safely.

The internal module was then fitted in place and we were very pleased as the module fitted perfectly with very little in the way of gaps to be filled around the ramp openings, hull sides and bulkheads. The flight deck was then fitted in sections. Each section fitted in order from the ski-jump back so that it supported the section aft of it. Sections with openings such as the forward lift, ammunition lift and finally the aft lift all had their surrounds and supports already fitted in place and painted.

The island superstructure was now fitted in place. This was all cut on our flat bed laser in pieces and assembled. Bridge and Flyco windows were all cut and glazed with blue plastic mirror. A small cut-away section was also added to the port side of the island to enable crew of the new ships to see where the ships operations, Army and Joint operations room, communications centre and computer rooms were located.

The rest of the details were added to the model including flight deck nets, guard rails, radio aerials, RADAR, Satcom domes and deck hardware. The model of the ship was now completed and fitted, with the aid of a good mate, into a large 2.4 metre long display case which was made by CityWest Plastics in Sydney. The model was then loaded into our van for the trip north to be displayed at the Land Warfare Conference in Brisbane in November 2010 on BAE’s stand.

The model returned with us from the conference so the “Cargo” could be added. This included eight MRH-90, three ARH-1 TIGERs, a CH-47D CHINOOK, six M1A1 ABRAMS MBT and over twenty ASLAV, M113 armoured vehicles and other light vehicles. Vehicles were fitted into the vehicle decks whilst three of the MRH-90s were folded and fitted into the aircraft hanger and aft flight deck lift. The rest of the aircraft were spotted on deck, ready to launch and take troops ashore. All the aircraft and vehicles had to be moulded and finished from scratch as nothing was available in kit forms.

This was one of the biggest jobs we have ever completed and the overall effect of the model is fantastic. Being so large it draws a lot of attention and there is a lot to take in when looking over the model with all the internals, aircraft and vehicles included.

The second model was completed around six months later. She was very similar to her larger sister, however didn’t have the cut-away sections in her hull and island. The air group was similar and once again had to be completely scratch built. This model is on display at BAE Head Office in Melbourne and fits in well with the other 1:150 scale models we constructed for TENIX including HMNZS CANTERBURY, WELLINGTON, 55m Patrol Boats, HMAS SIRIUS and HMAS ANZAC.

We also recently completed a 1:250 scale model of the CANBERRA which was recently placed on display at DMO in Canberra. This model measures just under a metre in length and made her debut at the Land Warfare Conference in Melbourne in October 2013. A second 1:250 scale model has been completed for another client.

In September 2012 the completed hull for CANBERRA arrived at BAE in Williamstown, Melbourne and was then completed at that yard. The ship sailed for contractors sea trials in February 2014 and will be handed over to the RAN for commissioning in late 2014.

A huge 1:72 scale hull is now under construction, measuring just over 3.2 meters in length and 450mm wide, and will be completed by the end of 2016 by Southern Cross Models with the completed model finished in the next year. Keep an eye on the website for details of her construction in the year ahead.