Long experience shows that Australian warships need to be big enough to meet our real strategic, operational and environmental needs. Not be ships built down to a budget (usually based only in short-term political expediency) and not up to a capability realistically derived from Australia's long-term strategic circumstances. Pursuing a cheaper build option (about 15 per cent of lifecycle costs) also generally means greater overall expenditure due to the higher costs of through-life maintenance and the upgrades eventually needed. Nor should our warships ever again be "fitted-for-but-not-with" the weapons and other equipment required, thus incurring further costs and operational downtime when the ship needs to be fitted with them (often swiftly when a crisis hits). Finally, our warships should also not be kept unrealistically small to satisfy temporary policy fads, such as the odd desire for our warships to appear less "confronting" regionally. The bottom line in all respects is that bigger vessels generally mean greater survivability in combat and, over their several decades-long operational lives, reduced costs, greatly increased operational flexibility and much greater adaptability for modernisation and strategic change.
Letter to The Canberra Times
Thursday, 27 August 2015
B.L. West (letters, August 27) somewhat generously described the Anzac ship project as successful but omitted that flawed strategic policy guidance meant the ADF ended up with under-sized and initially under-gunned frigates with quite limited operational utility.
And, even more importantly, with very limited through-life adaptability due to the inadequate hull size greatly constraining the significant modernisation works needed soon afterwards and subsequently.
The clear lesson with both the FFG and Anzac frigates is that under-sizing limits strategic and operational flexibility over their working lives.
Under-sizing also limits survivability in combat and, due to greater hull stresses in regional sea-states, reduces platform life and increases through-life maintenance costs.
Such small thinking further complicates, and with the FFG prevented, economic and operationally-optimal mid-life upgrades.
Steel is cheap and air is free. Resulting from continuous-build programs or not, Australia is generally best served by big enough warships — commonly known as destroyers — operationally suited for our oceanic, wider environmental and varying tactical conditions.
Not warships primarily specified as needing to appear “non-confrontational”, as various types of navel-gazing landsmen dogmatically demanded in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
Finally, is Admiral West being ironic when noting Hugh White’s contribution to the Anzac ship project?
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