Rebuilding the ADF's amphibious manouvre capability

Critics of the poor state of our amphibious fleet need to stop blaming the victim - our Navy.

Thursday, 05 April 2012
Letter to The Canberra Times
(not published)

Your Defence Correspondent, David Ellery, and the Chief of Navy (letters, April 5) appear to be talking at cross purposes.

As Admiral Griggs notes, the purchase of the commercial offshore support ship Skandi Bergen is logical from a whole-of-government perspective.

Built in 2007 it has a 140-tonne crane, an easily accessible 1100 square-metre loading deck, a seven square-metre internal moon pool (for access by divers, etc) and a small helipad (but no hangar).

This provides some additional interim Navy capability for humanitarian operations in the short term. More importantly, as a Customs vessel, over the long run the ship will also fill the significant gap in national patrol capability for the oceans south of Australia.

But why the Navy’s amphibious fleet is so worn out is a classic example of poor decisions by governments long gone creating significant long-term problems. And indeed of short-term corporate memory in political, departmental and community circles causing incorrect conclusions to be drawn and aspersions tossed about carelessly.

If the Keating Government had bought new (and bigger) ships in the first place rather than old American ones built in 1970, and the Howard Government had also replaced HMAS Tobruk (built in 1979-80) after 25 or so years with a bigger vessel as scheduled, our Navy would not be being wrongly blamed for the state of such ships.

Amphibious ships tend to wear out faster than other vessels, not least because they are deployed extensively, rust on both sides of the hull and Ro-Ro versions are constantly grounded deliberately.

Buying new amphibious ships and replacing them around the 25-year mark is what comparable countries do because it is more efficient operationally and much cheaper over the long run.

Having to keep operating amphibs for 32 and 42 years instead is not the Navy’s fault, especially when the responsibility for maintaining them was foolishly taken off the Navy in 2005 supposedly to save money.

Critics of our Navy need to stop blaming the victim.

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