ADF capabilities: What the ADF's new amphibious ships are really for

As an island continent permanently situated in a maritime region Australia remains primarily dependent on the sea and our maritime lines of communication and commerce. Our surrounding oceans also comprise a large part of the ten per cent of the Earth's surface that is some form of Australian sovereignty, conservation or international search and rescue responsibility. Prominent critics of the new amphibious ships being procured for the ADF invariably ignore or obfuscate these factors and their implications. Just as they tend to ignore or selectively cite hard-won strategic and operational lessons from recent experiences and longer ago.

 

Letter to The Canberra Times
Tuesday, 19 February 2013
(published Friday, 22 February 2013 

Renewed “debate” about the ADF’s new amphibious ships reinforces the maxim that one of the quickest ways to spot a strategic policy amateur or ideological zealot is by their continentalist or isolationist mindset.

Particularly when they ignore or deny that Australia is organically a maritime power in near and wider maritime regions.

Similarly fraudulent is using “aircraft carrier sized” or “assault ships” when describing the new LHDs, or peddling the myth that they are somehow intended for supposed use in high-end war in the Taiwan Straits, the South China Sea or off North Korea.

In reality, Australia has long needed a better capability for the emergency evacuation of Australians from regional troublespots — with or without the tacit or even unwilling co-operation of the country concerned — and for manouvre, stability support operations, peacekeeping, disaster relief and general support to our diplomacy.

Each successive class of our amphibious transports has necessarily been bigger because of lessons from a wide range of events in our immediate region.

Such as the Bougainville, East Timor and Solomons interventions, Fiji coups, rioting in Tonga and Vanuatu, and tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions generally. Plus all that could go wrong in PNG.

The LHDs are therefore primarily designed for amphibious manouvre in lower-end crises.

They have some limited capability for tactical assault, but one clearly focused in scale, intent and informed foreign perception only on plausible contingencies in our near region.

Moreover, the wider ADF lacks all the supporting capabilities for large-scale amphibious assaults like Normandy and Iwo Jima — and indeed medium-scale ones such as Lae, Inchon and the Falklands — and no-one credible is arguing for them.

Finally, the LHDs will necessarily further advance true “jointery” in our defence force and referring to them only as naval ships again misses the point.

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