23 Februari 2012

Helicopter Dock Ships Boost Defence

23 Februari 2012

Canberra class LHD (image : McConrads)

THE arrival in 2014 of the first of two 27,000-tonne Landing Helicopter Dock warships represents the biggest change to Australia's "force projection capability" since the navy's first aircraft carrier was acquired more than 60 years ago, Defence Force chief General David Hurley said yesterday.
Speaking at a key defence conference in Canberra, General Hurley said restructuring of the army's three combat brigades into an amphibious assault force - the most ambitious revamp of Australian Defence Force doctrine in decades - was on track to enable company-size ship-to-shore landings by 2018.

He acknowledged "disappointment at the state of the amphibious fleet" and pledged new maintenance practices that would ensure ships "in the right condition" were available for future missions.

Last year, the Royal Australian Navy was unable to provide support to victims of Cyclone Yasi because none of its amphibious vessels was seaworthy.

The challenges in creating an Amphibious Task Force (ATF) should not be underestimated, he warned.

Much would be learnt from the shared experiences of the US Marine Corps, units of which will soon to be based in Darwin, and its British counterpart, the Royal Marines, General Hurley said.

As reported in The Australian in December, the testbed for the new capability will be the Townsville-based 2nd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment, just returned from Afghanistan.

However, outside Afghanistan, the Australian Defence Force's primary operating environment extends from the eastern approaches of the Indian Ocean to the island states of Polynesia and from the equator to the Southern Ocean.

"This area encompasses 25,000 islands, 85,000km of navigable waterways.

"The ADF must be able to maintain situational awareness across this vast area and must be capable of responding swiftly and decisively to a range of scenarios," General Hurley said.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith told the conference it was likely Canberra would follow Washington's lead and postpone the purchase of 54 of the stealthy F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (JSFs) beyond the 14 the federal government is committed to buy.

"It won't be a priority in my view this year to make judgments about the receipt or the delivery or the arrival of future or additional Joint Strike Fighters," Mr Smith warned.

Experts said that was likely to translate into a decision to upgrade at least six of the new 24 F/A-18F Super Hornet fleet to advanced electronic warfare variants.

The federal government had 12 Super Hornets hard-wired on the assembly line for possible conversion as EA-18G Growlers - a move that would give the air force a formidable new .

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