31 Juli 2015
Australian amphibious warfare potential, before and after the LHD procurement (image : ASPI)
Many people familiar with the ADF will claim that Australia has always had an amphibious warfare capability. While that might be true for hardware, the quality and capacity of the capability was never adequate for the perceived strategic and operational needs. Thankfully, Australia hasn’t had to employ the capability under hostile or opposed conditions since 1945. The ADF has conducted several expeditionary operations involving sea transport and in some cases amphibious sea transport, but those operations involved either a permissive landing site or even the use of an existing port facility. None involved the execution of a ship to objective manoeuvre in which a force had to defeat, deter (through tactical action) or avoid an opposing force and secure a landing site to serve as a sea point of disembarkation until a wharf or harbour facility could be secured through follow-on operations. The Army didn’t see amphibious warfare as a priority and therefore didn’t organise, educate or train its forces for amphibious warfare. To be clear, before the purchase of the LHDs, the ADF had some amphibious capacity, centred on HMAS Choules (LSD), HMAS Tobruk (LSH), and the two LPAs, HMAS Manoora and HMAS Kanimbla. The age of the Tobruk, and many problems with the LPAs, provided part of the justification for the decision to buy the two LHDs.
The LHD procurement, combined with the maintenance of HMAS Choules, has greatly increased the ADF’s amphibious warfare capacity and potential (Figure 4). The tonnage, manpower, lane metres and helicopter landing spots available with the LHDs fundamentally change what the ADF might be able to do. As one person explained in our interviews, ‘if the Australian government just wanted amphibious sea transport capability, then they certainly bought the wrong ships.’ With the procurement of the LHDs, Australia has overcome a capacity challenge in developing amphibious warfare capability for large-scale ship to objective manoeuvre operations. We’ll now have to overcome the challenge of integrating land forces and synchronising all of the other fundamental inputs to capability if we want to achieve the specified and implied tasks of the 2013 DWP. If the 2015 DWP increases those expectations and includes tasks that are higher on the threat and complexity spectrum, the challenge will be even more difficult and costly.
Due to the guidance gap, ADF leaders, especially the service chiefs, have agreed to postpone some key decisions about the sustainment of amphibious warfare capability and take an iterative approach. In the interim, they’ve filled the guidance gap by interpreting the 2013 DWP in such a way as to set the highest feasible threshold (employ an ARG in an amphibious assault) for amphibious warfare capability to be achieved by 2017. The ADF will wait for clearer guidance from the upcoming DWP and Force Structure Review, which the government expects to publish in September 2015. In the meantime, the ADF has wisely planned to take full advantage of lessons learned in the validation process until 2017. However, it’s important to note that many decisions about the sustainment of amphibious warfare capability after 2017 must be made before the end of 2015 if they’re to be effectively
implemented by 2017.
see full article ASPI