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by firebombing raids starting on March 8.
Nevertheless, Australian forces landed at Tarakan
on May 1, 1945; Labuan and Brunei on June 10
and – the biggest of them all – Balikpapan on July
1. Following an intensive naval bombardment more
than 30,000 troops were landed, including the full
7th Australian Division of 21,000 men. This was
the last major engagement of Australian troops
in World War 2, though the atomic bombings of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still to come, as well
as the devastating Soviet conquest of Manchuria
that started between those two events.
If we look at the Canberra Class LHDs, it would
seem that they have a purpose something less than
a major amphibious assault. The ships themselves
lack any meaningful form of self-defence and even
though by virtue of their 27,000 tonne displacement
could absorb a bit of punishment, no defence
planner in their right mind would deliberately place
them in a high threat environment.
However, the ships are exceptional well suited
to the types of contingencies that are most likely in
Australia’s near and medium term strategic interests.
One of their principle features is the ability to
simultaneous fly off 6 helicopters – in our case
the Army’s MRHs possibly supported by Tigers
meaning that a full infantry company can be
deployed in a single wave. Because the LHDs
can carry additional helicopters below decks, an
identical second wave could be quickly deployed.
They will also have 4 landing craft able to deploy
vehicles – of which more than 100 can be carried.
The decision to purchase these two large ships had
much more to do with the Timorese independence
in 1999, the Fiji coup of the year 2000 – and
subsequent military unrest – than it did with Gallipoli
or Balikpapan. It is much more likely that Australian
forces will be used to evacuate our citizens from
areas involving relatively low-level conflicts than
participate in the high intensity invasion of another
Another event that had an impact on planners was
the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004, when it became
very apparent that a large, capable amphibious
support ship could play a vital role in humanitarian
and disaster relief (HADR) operations. The ships
would not only be able to supply electricity and
drinking water to large numbers of people but would
also be able to provide medical assistance and
due to the embarked helicopters ferry supplies and
equipment to remote and isolated communities.
But with the delivery of this capability to the RAN
comes the end of the ship construction phase and
with it a further reduction in the capacity of the
Australian maritime industry. It would seem that
Defence Minister Kevin Andrews has now given
up any efforts to save the sector from further job
losses, conceding that the “Valley of Death” can no
longer be avoided. In doing so he correctly blames
the previous Government for six years of inactivity –
though in the past 18 months with the exception of
the intention to replace the Pacific Patrol Boats not
a lot has happened either.
The big loser is LHD prime contractor BAE
Systems. Asked about the consequences of work
coming to an end, progress on the final ship and
the future of the LHD training centre in Sydney, a
company spokesperson said:
“With regard to Nuship Adelaide, work is
progressing well on the second ship with delivery
later this year. At this stage, the next major milestone
is sea trials that are scheduled for June/July when
the ship will head to Sydney.
“Given there are no projects to follow on from the
LHD, as the project nears completion we will be
rolling off staff including subcontractors and trades
associated with this project.
“As you know the RFT for Pacific Patrol Boats was
released recently, however the publicised timeline
for awarding this (first quarter 2017) does not align
with the timing of the ship building gap which we are
“We will continue to recommend to Government
that it accelerate the award of this project as it is
the only naval shipbuilding project currently being
tendered to companies in Australia.
“The LHD Training facility was purpose built for
the LHD. We have and are continuing to train both
Army and Navy crew at Mascot and when Nuship
Adelaide is commissioned 4500 will have been
trained at the facility. At this stage we have not been
contracted for training on other Navy platforms.”
So while the ADF will continue to build on its
rich history of amphibious operations, the same
will not be the case for Australian industry. Once
again, skills will be lost until such time as they are
needed again and then the painful, expensive and
risky process of rehiring and retraining will start from
scratch – as it always does.
2/04/2015 3:19 pm
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