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Time To replace The armidales?
Geoff Slocombe // Victoria
Australians continue to be distressed by large numbers of overseas nationals attempting to enter their country by sea, in boats
organised by people smugglers, rather than through officially sanctioned immigration channels. This distress has been
compounded by the unseaworthiness of many of these boats, with disastrous consequences, including many deaths by drowning.
The RAN sees its future patrol boat deployments in
Foremost, they must work with other fleet units and
agencies to impose sovereignty over Australia’s
EEZ and territorial waters. This can include offshore
asset protection and interception of asylum seeker
They should be sufficiently capable to be sent into
harms way in Australian waters and nearby sea
lines of communication to deal with piracy, or into
the South West Pacific, to help island countries
defend themselves against acts of rebellion, or
attacks on their sovereignty.
They must be efficient in search and rescue
operations, including towing distressed vessels up
to their own weight.
They need to be equipped to counter marine
pollution or any threat to Australia’s biosecurity or
posed by terrorism, or acts of sabotage.
They will be called on to provide support for
humanitarian aid and disaster response either
onshore in Australia or in neighbouring countries.
• As a good neighbour they could also help
neighbouring island countries with combined ISR
and enforcement patrols to protect economic
wealth generators like fisheries and tourism.
They have a valuable role to perform in defence
diplomacy with our near neighbours.
Finally, they could contribute to the Government’s
social and economic priorities by providing
opportunities for training and rewarding careers.
Actions included among these roles can be
embarking, insertion and extraction of troops; medical
evacuation; military hydrography; diving operations
support; mine countermeasures support; collection
of environmental data; and VIP transport.
capaBiliTies reQUired oF
replacemeNT paTrol BoaTs?
Looking at the above list of probable Navy roles, it
can be seen that constabulary action is only part of
the likely deployments. It might not make sense to
replace the Armidales with a patrol boat designed
primarily for constabulary action, like the Cape Class,
rather than to produce a small warship which can
hold its own in dangerous situations.
Does this mean that the widely held assumption
that the Armidales should be replaced by Cape Class
style patrol boats is invalid? Probably, unless the
Government doesn’t want anything more capable, or
will not spend more than these would cost.
What capabilities would be desired in a small
warship for patrol boat duties?
A partial list includes high speed to reach an area
of operations or conduct an intercept; length overall
in the range 60-80 metres to cope with high sea
states; protection against small kinetic weapons,
shock and collisions; self defence weapons and at
least one serious offensive gun; an array of sensors
and communication devices; situational awareness
through unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) launch and
recovery; two RHIBs for boarding parties; minimum
crewing through extensive automation to have two
boarding parties and sufficient crew left to run the
mother vessel; space for comfortable crew quarters
and also secure below decks transit accommodation
for large numbers of people – men, women and
children; medical facilities; operation throughout the
tropics, temperate zones and colder latitudes to fifty
degrees south, requiring efficient high volume air
conditioning; minimum 30 days endurance at patrol
Does any proven patrol boat design currently offer
all of these capabilities? No. Defence will find itself
having to deal with compromises.
It is worth looking at the implications of some of the
suggested capabilities above.
To gain protection against small kinetic projectiles,
like 12.5 mm rounds or similar, either heavy steel plate
(undesirable) or thinner steel or aluminium plate with
added Kevlar curtains would be required. Aluminium
plate would be attractive topsides because of
prospects for better stability, and lighter ship weight,
meaning more economic propulsion.
Shock protection has implications for internal
bracing, number of compartments, and redundancy
in pipe runs, wiring and systems.
Collisions can arise with partially or wholly
submerged shipping containers which have fallen
from large container ships in storms, or steel boats
operated by adversaries. Steel hulls are the best
defence to mitigate collision effects.
UAV capability is of considerable importance. This
can range from small vertical take off and landing
quad helicopter types, as often now seen relaying live
video from major winter sports events, to larger fixed
wing models. Small UAVs can provide situational
awareness by feeding back live video when hovering
overhead a boarding, especially showing what is
happening on the distant side of the target vessel,
The fourteen Armidales are being worked much harder
than originally planned, with consequent aluminium
structural cracking requiring increased heavy maintenance,
which reduces the available afloat fleet and makes them
more vulnerable to further structural damage.
HMAS Albany moves alongside HMAS Armidale
19/09/13 9:56 AM
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