Marines: Arab Made LSTs


July 23, 2021: In West Africa, Nigeria is buying replacements for its two German-built LSTs (Landing Ship, Tank). The new LST is from a shipyard in the UAE (United Arab Emirates). This is not unusual as the UAE, despite its oil wealth, was a very entrepreneurial place for centuries before oil was discovered in the early 20th century. UAE ports had always had some ship repair and construction capability but that has now come to include the construction and maintenance of warships.

Nigeria bought the two German LSTs in 1978 and used them a lot for moving cargo and civilians for decades before the two ships became inoperable a decade ago because of poor maintenance. Even with better maintenance these two ships were past retirement age a decade ago. The first LSTs were developed in the United States at the request of Britain, before the U.S. had entered World War II in 1941. Nearly a thousand of these hundred-meter (300 foot long) ships were built from 1942 to 1945. They could carry as many as 20 tanks and put them right on to a beach. The controlled collision with a beach process was not without its shortcomings. While the ship had a full load displacement of 4,000 tons, it could only be at 2,400 tons when running up on the beach. Even at that, there was usually damage done to the LST. The average landing operation would render ten percent of the LSTs involved unfit for further service. Moreover, the wear and tear on those that survived the run up onto the beach was such that, during the war, only about 85 percent of the LSTs still operational were actually fit enough for another landing. In effect, after about ten landings, an LST was a wreck and no longer useful for anything but moving cargo from one dock to another. This was typical of all ships that ran up on beaches to disgorge their cargo. The LST was basically a modified transport and, as such, was rather slow (14 kilometers an hour normally, with a max speed of 20-22 kilometers an hour). Normally they carried a crew of about 100 and were usually armed with eight 40mm anti-aircraft guns. LSTs were often converted to other uses, especially when they only had a few more beach landings left in their tortured hulls. Some ended up serving as repair ships, PT-boat tenders, floating barracks and supply dumps, casualty evacuation ships, and even improvised aircraft carriers for light reconnaissance planes (eight of which could be operated off a portable airstrip set up on deck). It was often said that "LST" referred to "Large Slow Target" because of their slow speed and weak anti-aircraft armament.

After World War II the LST was still in demand, for civilian jobs as well as military applications. Modern LSTs can handle more beach landings and also have equipment (extendable ramps) that allows them to put vehicles on the beach without literally hitting the beach. These extensions also made it easier to transfer vehicles to a dock, a design that came to be known as RORO (Roll On, Roll Off). Currently most LSTs are used for civilian applications, like emergency relief or delivering cargo to remote locations.

The new Nigerian LST is based on a Dutch design provided by Damen, a Dutch firm that, in 2008, partnered with a UAE investment group to build and manage the UAE shipyard as a joint-venture during the boom in ship traffic in the Persian Gulf because of high global demand for oil.

The Nigerian vessel is a Damen LST 100 design which is similar in size to the German LSTs but a much more efficient ship due to the advances in ship design since the 1970s. It requires a crew of only 18 because of automation and many other innovations. There are berths for an additional 27 personnel and space for 235 troops or twice as many civilians. Max speed for both designs is about the same; 30 kilometers an hour versus 29 for the new ship. LST-100 cruise speed is 27 kilometers an hour and max range is 7,200 kilometers. Max endurance is 15 days. LST 100 can be equipped, at customer request, a variety of defensive (anti-missile, anti-aircraft) systems plus machine-guns to deal with pirates or other threats in small boats. Nigeria is apparently getting an autocannon RWS (Remotely controlled weapons station) and a few machine-guns.

Three Damen yards are now operating in the UAE. The one building the LST 100 dates from 2014. That was a year in which the UAE had already helped establish numerous manufacturing operations in the UAE to produce military vehicles and weapons.

This was noted in early 2015 when the UAE and Saudi Arabia sent troops to Yemen where they saw combat for the first time since 1991. This time around the UAE forces had more modern equipment, some of it made by UAE firms. For example, there were two locally made armored vehicles sent to Yemen; NIMR and Enigma. The UAE military has bought over 1,500 NIMR military trucks. NIMR is produced by a UAE company with an assembly plant in Jordan. It is a hummer-like vehicle designed to cope with the high heat and abundant sand and dust found in the Middle East. The basic 4x4 NIMR weighs 4.4 tons, can carry 1.5 tons (or up to eight people), and is equipped with a remote control 12.7mm machine-gun turret. Top speed is 140 kilometers an hour on roads. This version costs about $82,000 each. There is a larger 6x6 version for carrying cargo. There is also an anti-aircraft version armed with missiles as well as an anti-tank version equipped with four ATGM (anti-tank guided missiles) ready to fire and four more as reloads. All NIMRs are equipped to take a variety of armor kits (providing different degrees of protection against bullets and explosions). NIMR development began in the late 1990s and production began in 2005. NIMR was designed with the help of Russian automotive company GAZ, which also helped set up the manufacturing operation and supplied some of the components. There have been several export customers (all Moslem states) for NIMR.

Another new UAE armored vehicle sent to Yemen, the Enigma 8x8 IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicle), which only entered service in 2014 and was still undergoing field testing. Despite that the 25 available Enigmas were sent off to war, where they have performed well. The Enigma is a 28-ton IFV with a V shaped bottom (for protection against mines and roadside bombs). It uses a Russian turret (the one for the BMP 3) and has a crew of three. Eight troops can be carried in the back. The turret is armed with a 100mm gun that fires laser-guided projectiles or several types of shells. In addition, there is a 30mm automatic cannon and a 7.62mm machine-gun. Enigma was designed to handle other types of turrets including one with a 155mm howitzer or various missile systems. NIMR (the company that created the NIMR truck) has also developed an MRAP vehicle based on the popular South African RG35 design.

UAE troops in Yemen are armed with locally made CAR 816 assault rifles. This is another M-16 clone and has all the latest features and accessories.

Since the 1990s the UAE has invested heavily in defense manufacturers inside the UAE and the Middle East. One of these firms is Adcom Systems United which has been around for over three decades and produces a wide range of military equipment. It does this by licensing a lot of technology and forming partnerships with high-tech firms in the West. Adcom has been working on UAVs since 2003 and has delivered several models for both military, police and commercial use.

The UAE has been encouraging local companies to develop weapons for use by local forces and export markets. So far this has resulted in UAE firms manufacturing military trucks, guided missiles, and small arms. Despite the production of military equipment in the UAE, since 2008 UAE has been one of the largest importers of weapons in the world and the largest in the Middle East. The other two big spenders worldwide are India and China. In the Middle East the UAE imports 50 percent more weapons than Israel.

The UAE is a confederation of small Arab states at the southern end of the Persian Gulf. With a population of only 9.9 million, and large oil and gas deposits, the emirates have a per-capita income of $40,000. The UAE has a lot to defend and an increasingly belligerent neighbor just across the Gulf. The UAE controls the south coast entrance to the Gulf (the Straits of Hormuz). Iran controls the north coast and both nations dispute ownership of some islands in the middle.


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