The largest ship ever built for the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) has taken to sea as it begins its final contractor trials. The 27,800 tonne (30,600 ton) Nuship Canberra is the first of two Land Helicopter Dock (LHD) ships under construction for the Australian Defence Force and is billed by the RAN as “one of the most capable and sophisticated air–land-sea amphibious deployment systems in the world.”

Canberra left Williamstown shipyard in Victoria earlier this month for Port Phillip Bay before moving on to the southern coast of New South Wales, where prime contractor BAE Systems will carry out tests of the ship, including the combat and communication systems, before returning to Williamstown around the end of the month. Aboard the craft are personnel from BAE Systems; subcontractors Navantia, Saab, L3 and Teekay; and the Defence Materiel Organisation, as well as RAN officers and sailors.

The latter are using the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the ship after undergoing a first-time simulator training at the BAE Systems facility at Mascot, NSW, which is designed to make instruction more efficient and cost effective. When the trials are complete, Canberra will be handed over to the the RAN for commissioning as HMAS Canberra (LHD02).

The keel for Canberra was laid down on September 23, 2009 and launched on February 17, 2011. The hull was built by Navantia in Ferrol, Spain using a modular system that allowed the hull to be constructed as 105 discrete modules, which were then assembled before being sent by barge to the BAE Systems shipyard in Williamstown for installation of the additional seven modules making up the superstructure along with the combat and communications systems that include air and surface radar, and advanced communications and surveillance systems.

With a length of 230 m (754 ft) and 32 m (104 ft) abeam, Canberra is no skylark. It’s designed for defense and to provide large-scale humanitarian assistance, which is reflected by her shallow draught of 7 m (22 ft) to allow her to operate inshore and in secondary ports. When underway, she can cruise at 15 knots (17 mph, 28 km/h) and does over 20 knots (23 mph, 37 km/h) at flank speed. Cruising range is 9,000 nautical miles (10,350 mi, 16,600 km)

Canberra has an onboard hospital, a galley capable of preparing 5,000 meals a day, four main decks for heavy vehicles, accommodations for the crew and troops, helicopter hangar and light vehicles, and the helicopter flight deck. The latter boasts a ski jump that will allow Canberra to launch Harriers or F-35B Lightning IIs, though she isn't designed to handle fixed-wing aircraft as part of her regular complement. Below, the hull opens to receive four specially built landing craft.

Nuship Canberra is expected to be delivered to the RAN later this year. Meanwhile, the lessons learned in building Canberra will be applied to speed up construction of her sister ship Adelaide.

"This is the last major element of a very complex and comprehensive test program to prove the capabilities of the ship and its systems prior to delivery to our customer," says Director of BAE Systems Maritime, Bill Saltzer. "Getting this ship to this stage has been a collaborative effort between BAE Systems and the Defence Materiel Organisation. Our two project teams have worked closely throughout the project and now we are in the home stretch for the Canberra."

The RAN video below gives a tour of Nuship Canberra.

Sources: BAE Systems, RAN

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