October 15, 2011: Chile is buying the French amphibious ship Foudre, which is being replaced by a more recent design. The 12,000 ton Foudre has been in service for 21 years and could, with some refurbishment, serve another two decades or more. The 168 meter (521 feet) long ship has a crew of 160 and carries up to 70 vehicles. The well deck contains eight landing craft and there is a hangar that carries up to four helicopters. There are accommodations for 450 troops (or double that for short voyages). The Foudre can also be used as a command ship, which spaces for 150 headquarters personnel and their equipment.
Chile will use the Foudre to replace an 8,700 ton, 40 year old, American Newport class LPD. This ship was retired earlier this year, as it was considered too expensive to refurbish it. France has also offered Chile the second ship of the Foudre class, which is scheduled to retire from French service in a few years. The price of the Foudre to Chile has not been revealed. It will be cheap, and will depend on how much refurbishment French firms will undertake. Foudre undertook several long-distance operations during its career.
Chile has a 4,630 kilometer long coastline, but is only 430 kilometers wide. In effect, Chile occupies the southern half of the South American Pacific coast. There is a need to quickly move vehicles and personnel up and down that coast, particularly during disaster relief situations. The Foudre can move at the rate of 900 kilometers a day. Southernmost Chile ends in the Drake Passage at the southern tip of South America, an area with very rough weather. A large LPD has a better chance of operating reliably here, than depending on air freight.