The amphibious capabilities we need in our near region

Critics of the new amphibious ships the ADF is getting either do not understand, or wilfully misrepresent, the amphibious manouvre capabilities Australia needs in our near region.


Sunday, 27 May 2012
Letter to The Canberra Times
(not published)

Nic Stuart (Opinion, May 26) cites the example of the 1987 coup in Fiji to discuss the defence capabilities Australia needs in our near region but then oddly draws the opposite conclusions to what this and other examples have really proved. 

Australia’s big strategic problem in 1987 was not somehow overthrowing the new Fijian military regime or restoring order by force — as some in the Hawke cabinet wanted at first until military professional advice counselled otherwise. 

Our immediate strategic and operational problem was instead evacuating several thousand Australian, New Zealand  and other foreign tourists if the coup led to prolonged instability and violence. 

Especially if civil aircraft could not be used or the use of RAAF aircraft and RAN ships was opposed by factions of the Fijian military or civilian rioters. 

The new amphibious ships (LHDs) that the ADF is finally getting are expressly designed to provide the amphibious manouvre  capability in regional contingencies that Australia so lacked in 1987. And in several other evacuation, stability operation or disaster relief contingencies since then in Fiji (again), Vanuatu, Bougainville, East Timor, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Aceh and Nias. 

Indeed their size and overall capacity — which is often misrepresented or just not understood by certain armchair critics — is driven by, among other relevant things, the tactical need to launch, receive and refuel six helicopters simultaneously and then a second wave of six. 

This is a direct lesson from what we could not do with HMAS Tobruk in 1987, or indeed with Tobruk, Kanimbla and Manoora together subsequently. 

The LHDs are not “assault ships”. Nor intended for war with China as biased criticism dishonestly claims. 

Nor are they for “storming the beaches” as Nic mistakenly suggests, not least because manouvre and support are very different to “assault”.

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