Marines: The Mexican Helicopter Carriers

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August 13, 2006: The United States is giving Mexico two recently decommissioned amphibious ships. The two (formerly USS Ogden and USS Cleveland) are Austin class LPDs that entered service in the 1960s. These are large ships, 570 feet long and displacing 17,000 tons. The flight deck can hold half a dozen large helicopters, and support simultaneous landings and takeoffs. The well deck can hold up to 24 landing craft (like AAVs), or four lighter type boats, for transferring cargo and personnel. These ships require a crew of 420, and can carry up to 800 combat troops.
What would Mexico do with these two ships? Mexico has a very long coastline, which is not well-endowed with ports or even good sheltered harbors. A couple of Austins would be very useful in the event operations have to occur in such areas. In a word, disaster relief and coastal patrol. These LPDs are basically floating patrol boat and helicopter bases. The troops berthing spaces could be used for storing relief supplies, in addition to the space already available for some 2,000 tons of supplies and equipment. There are also seven cranes on board (one 30-ton and six 4-ton cranes). The elevator from the flight deck to the hanger deck can carry eight tons. There are tanks for 224,500 gallons of aviation fuel and 119,000 gallons of vehicle fuel.
To build new, the Austin class ships would cost about a billion dollars each. They cost the U.S. Navy about two million dollars a month to operate, but the Mexican navy, with a lower operating tempo and lower labor costs, could probably operate them for about half a million dollars a month each. The Mexican Navy is probably the most professional of their services, and is highly regarded by American officers and sailors who have worked with them. This probably played a part in the decision to hand over these two large ships.
The only weapons carried were four automatic cannon for stopping anti-ship missiles or small boats. These have already been removed. Mexico would probably mount a few heavy machine-guns.

 


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