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Middle East or undertake ‘flag-showing’ deployments
to Asian ports, the smaller frigates will accompany
them as escorts and as a guarantee of protection
against air, surface (including pirate) and sub-surface
The value of such escorting ships will increase
dramatically when the more modern Hobart class
guided missile destroyers are commissioned from
mid to late this decade.
The need to provide suitable escorts for the new
force of amphibious ships is not being overstated.
The three largest, are for the RAN, the biggest
men-of-war the Navy has commissioned since the
carrier Melbourne in 1955. The two LHDs will each
embark about 1,000 troops, plus their own crews,
over 150 combat vehicles, up to 12 RAN and Army
helicopters, four landing craft and possibly, four
RHIBs, overall an impressive load by any one’s
standards and thus requiring a suitable escort force.
In earlier times, when Melbourne or the fast troop
transport Sydney deployed, both were normally
accompanied by two or three escorts, plus the fleet
oiler to extend their range.
Some media columnists have criticised the
acquisition of two new Canberra class LHDs, seeking
justification for their purchase, the RAN’s capacity to
protect such large ships, their utility value to the
Australian Fleet and also the appropriateness of the
recently outlined Marine Corps style amphibious
capability now being developed between the RAN
and Australian Army.
The 16,190 tonne Choules, although not as large
as the two LHDs, will be the precursor of operating
the pair of 27,500 tonners. Although about half the
size of her larger running mates, Choules will, after
her current repairs, provide an excellent backup force
with her embarked load of 150 vehicles and 356
personnel, a large helicopter deck and landing craft
capabilities. To ensure that crews are available for
these three major fleet units, the RAN may need to
‘lay-up’ two of the Anzac class frigates as has been
done in recent years.
The slightly smaller Choules will also retain access
to the more remote or smaller ports, not accessible to
the two LHDS, or put more simply, the requirement
to use the larger LHDs may not be required. It will
be more cost effective to employ Choules than the
larger ships with their increased capacities.
Navy has already begun programming the
proposed activities for the new LHDs, including
Exercise Talisman Sabre in 2017. Such planning will
also include how best to utilise the LHDs aiding our
regional neighbours and developing the all important
security and stability within the same region. Over
the past decade and a bit, the RAN operated in such
roles at East Timor in 1999 and 2006, as well as in
Aceh after the 2004 tsunami which struck Indonesia.
When operational and under threat from another
naval or air force, LHDs would be ordered to the
region with both naval and aviation cover, the former
as stated before, comprising the new destroyers and
frigates, and the latter, under cover of RAAF F/A-18
Hornets. Without such a defensive cover, the RAN
and the Government would most likely be unwilling
to risk such expensive and highly capable platforms.
After commissioning, trials and work-ups, both LHDs
will soon prove to the nation the versatility of
this Spanish design. Navies from Great Britain,
France, Japan, South Korea and Russia have or are
acquiring such amphibious ships - basically with the
appearance of an aircraft carrier, but modified to
undertake many more roles. Similar, albeit smaller
vessels are also operated by Singapore with the
Endurance class and the Royal New Zealand Navy
with Canterbury, have also introduced amphibious
ships to satisfy their own national needs.
How far the RAAF can provide such cover is the
debatable point. In-flight refuelling by the services
new KC-30A multi-role tanker transports would
provide an extended arc of defence, but with only five
of the modified Airbus A330s on strength, how many
are available at any one time is a major question.
The same reasoning has been used by the Royal
Navy, especially since the withdrawal of the aircraft
carriers Ark Royal and Illustrious, due to the recent
The LHDs will quickly prove crowd favourites with
the Australian public. Size and versatility do matter
and the new Canberra and Adelaide will certainly
have both. Sailing with the LSD Chouleş the RAN
will possess the most effective amphibious capability
in the south-east Asian region. Although transport
aircraft can deliver urgently needed supplies and
support vehicles quickly to a disaster location, it will
be the three amphibious ships shifting the necessary
and greatly larger amounts for a sustained support
mission, just like the carrier Melbourne in the RAN’s
deployment to Darwin after Cyclone Tracy struck on
Christmas Eve 1974.
Size and versatility do matter and the new Canberra and
Adelaide will certainly have both
The need to provide suitable escorts for the new force of
amphibious ships is not being overstated
The arrival of the hull of the Royal Australian
Navy1s Landing Helicopter Dock.
Credit: CoA / Pup Elliott
25/10/12 12:00 PM
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