The move would be a massive expansion for the Royal Navy’s beach assault force – making it one of the most powerful in the world.
Under bold plans the Royal Navy will purchase commercial tankers and convert them to carry out Special Forces missions on land – or major assaults by Royal Marine Commandos.
The strike ships – armed with helicopters, drones and fast boats – will loiter off coasts ready to launch troops and war gear on enemy beaches. They will cost millions.
It signals a radical re-think of the way the Royal Navy will attack the land from sea, insiders confirmed.
The ships will not operate alone either. They will form two separate “strike groups” along with escorts vessels, support ships and choppers.
Williamson will announce the plans in a landmark speech today at think tank RUSI, saying: “These globally deployable, multi-role vessels would be able to conduct a wide range of operations, from crisis support to war-fighting.
“One would be based to the East of Suez in the Indo-Pacific, and, one based to the West of Suez in the Mediterranean, Atlantic and Baltic.
“And, if we ever need them to, our two aircraft carriers, our amphibious assault ships Albion and Bulwark, and our Bay Class landing ships – will give us a sovereign, lethal, amphibious force.
“This will be one of the largest and best in the world.
“And, we will support our Future Commando Force.
“Our world-renowned Royal Marines will be forward deployed, at exceptionally high readiness and able to respond at a moment’s notice bringing the fight from sea to land.”
Converting commercial cargo tankers is cheaper than more efficient than designing and building new warships with original designs.
The ships will carry elite commandoes from the Special Boat Service – sister unit to the SAS, insiders said.
Meanwhile the large deck will allow troop carrying choppers and Apache attack helicopters while drones can also be launched on missions.
Fast boats for “special operations” missions could also be launched from the new vessels.
And it will be allow different equipment – including artillery – to be loaded on or off the ship depending on the mission just like cargo.
A Special Forces source, said: “These ships will be Special Forces heavy, allowing the freedom and firepower to strike hard and fast.
SHIP RETIREMENT BID
“They will have everything, choppers, boats, drones, they will be the mothership for naval Special Forces operations.”Insiders insisted it will not mean the early retirement of amphibious assault HMS Albion or HMS Bulwark which currently delivers Royal Marines onshore by sea and air.
The idea of converting commercial tankers has already been used by the US which has launched the USS Lewis B Puller and more secretive Ocean Trader.
It will enable a new type of beach warfare far from the scenes of D Day when troops stormed the coast in small, slow landing crafts which can be easily targeted.
Instead ship-based artillery will be used to pummel beaches, while drones operated from on board will conduct surveillance and surgical strikes.
Then elite Commandoes will storm beaches in choppers for lightening raids or covert missions.
But while the tactics will chance the objective will not – to seize enemy beaches to create an opening for a land invasion.
They could also be used to hit an enemy naval base – including conventional ports – or terror and pirate camps.
While Williamson confirmed the move, there was no decision yet on how much the ships would cost, who would build or modify them, or where they would be based in the UK.
Last summer Williamson was ridiculed for suggesting buying old ferries to perform the task.
But the idea has been refined, sources said, into its present form.
The Defence Secretary also said it was time to shake off experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan and boost the Armed Forces’ “lethality”.
Our nation must be ready to use “hard power” against Russia and China, he states, adding they have “blurred” boundaries between peace and war.
He will confirm aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth’s first operational mission will include the Pacific region, where Beijing has been involved in a dispute over the South China Sea.
His war cry at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence in Whitehall will be seen as another pitch to Chancellor Philip Hammond for cash.
Mr Williamson will say: “We have to be ready to show the high price of aggressive behaviour, to strengthen our resilience. To talk but fail to act risks our nation being seen as little more than a paper tiger.”
In a pitch that will delight Tory Brexiteers, he will add: “Brexit has brought us to a great moment in our history — when we must strengthen our global presence, enhance our lethality and increase our mass.”
But Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith said: “Instead of more sabre-rattling, he should get to grips with the crisis in defence funding.”
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