The Australian Navy's Appleleaf-class underway-replenishment oiler HMAS Westralia , shown here earlier this year, returned from her last overseas deployment in April 2006 and was decommissioned in September, following the early conversion and delivery of her replacement, HMAS Sirius . One of a class of four merchant tankers, the Sirius was formerly named Delos before being purchased by Australia in 2004 from Tsakos Energy Navigation Ltd., of Athens, Greece, for 50 million U.S. dollars. The contract for the design and modifications necessary to convert her to a naval vessel was also issued in 2004. Between July 2004 and August 2006, the Sirius underwent conversion to become a naval auxiliary. In addition, the fifth Armidale-class patrol craft, HMAS Pirie , was commissioned on 29 July 2006, while the 13th and 14th units of the class, to be named the Gleneg and Marysborough respectively, have been ordered and are expected in service by 2009.
On 30 August 2006, the Ashigara , Japan's sixth Aegis-equipped guided-missile destroyer was launched. When she is commissioned in 2008, the Ashigara and older sister the Atago , also under construction, will form the improved Kongo-class destroyers. These ships are an expanded variant of the four-ship Kongo-class guided-missile destroyers now in service, one of which, the Myoko , is shown here. Only minor differences between the two Kongo classes exist, with the most notable being a four-meter lengthening of their hulls and a 500-ton increase in displacement for the improved Kongos. Their similarity in appearance also stems from the fact that both classes are based on the U.S. Navy's Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) -class destroyers. As the missile threat from North Korea and other potentially hostile nations shows no signs of abating in the near future, Japan's Aegis-equipped destroyers will no doubt play an important role in countering this unpredictable threat. In July 2006, plans were announced to upgrade the four Kongo-class destroyers now in service with enhanced ballistic-missile defense capabilities, a capability the improved Kongo-class is expected to provide from the outset.
In July 2006, the British Royal Navy's tank landing ship Sir Galahad , pictured here, was retired from service. Serving since 1987, the Sir Galahad had a full load displacement of more than 8,500-tons and was ordered in 1984 as a replacement for a ship of the same name lost during the 1982 Falklands War. Though retired, the Sir Galahad is expected to continue serving the fleet as a counter-terrorism training hulk, and is soon to be stationed off Portsmouth specifically for that purpose. The Royal Navy also recently announced the planned retirement dates for several other major warships. According to the latest estimates, the 20,000-ton aircraft carriers HMS Illustrious and HMS Ark Royal are both expected to retire by 2013. These warships are to be replaced by the 65,000-ton Queen Elizabeth-class carriers Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales by 2014 and 2017, respectively. The assault helicopter carrier HMS Ocean is expected to remain in service until at least 2018, while the Royal fleet auxiliaries Brambleleaf, Bayleaf, Orangeleaf , and Oakleaf are to retire by 2010.