Navy and Army have come together over the last three weeks for the amphibious exercises known as “SQUADEX” and “SEA LION.” Exercise SQUADEX provided practice for drivers of Army Landing Craft Medium (LCM8) and Navy Landing Craft Heavy (LCH), along with a variety of vehicle types as they drive on and off HMAS Choules.
HMAS Choules is significantly larger than the amphibious ships she replaced and she gives the ADF new capabilities such as a floating dock.
The internal docking facility or “well dock” can be flooded to a depth of up to three metres so landing craft and the ship’s own landing barges called Mexeflotes actually drive inside the hull whilst the ship is at sea, taking on their cargo of vehicles and people in safe and controlled conditions.
“It’s reasonably daunting first time,” said Private Jarrod Gafa from 35 Water Transport.
“The ship is very stable and the entry into the well dock is wide enough, but sea swell and the current can make it a challenge to execute an accurate approach and enter the ship at the correct angle with just enough power to deploy the LCM8.”
Army Blackhawk helicopter pilots from 5 Aviation Regiment, based in Townsville, have also put the ship to the test, flying constant sorties to confirm their deck landing qualifications, as well as practice cargo and personnel transfers.
For exercise SEA LION, HMAS Choules was joined by the New Zealand amphibious ship HMNZS Canterbury, with her 122 crew, Australian Army personnel from Townsville’s 3rd Brigade and planning staff from all three services around Australia. This exercise was focused on confirming the ADF is prepared to meet a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief incident within our region.
According to HMAS Choules’ Commanding Officer, Commander John Cowan, these types of activities will soon become the norm for the Royal Australian Navy’s newest ship.
“We have the capacity to conduct simultaneous landing craft and helicopter operations, day and night, in support of operations focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR). Using Choules’ well dock to move personnel and equipment ashore allows a significant increase in the speed of transfer compared with the Navy’s previous Landing Platform Amphibious ships,” CMDR Cowan said.
At 176 metres long, Choules has a crew of 158 officers and sailors, including a permanently embarked Ships Army Department of 22. The ship can accommodate two large helicopters, 150 light trucks and 350 troops.
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