smh, New warships: What is required
Military planners are examining the purchase of at least one massive amphibious warship and supply vessel as part of a defence shake-up that fits the Government's new strategic doctrine based around expeditionary troop deployments.
With enough deck space to support at least six helicopters and room below to transport up to a battalion of troops and their equipment, the ship would likely be 200 metres or more in length and weigh around 25,000 tonnes. A ship this size has not been in commission since the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne was taken out of service in 1982. The new generation of vessels of this sort can be multipurpose: along with accommodating helicopters and troops, there is an on-board hospital and a command-and-control capability – effectively an operational headquarters at sea. And they can be used for the more straightforward task of replenishing fuel, food and ammunition.
From a strategic point of view, the acquisition of such a vessel dovetails with the push by the Defence Minister, Robert Hill, for the Defence Force to be more flexible and have the capacity to deploy quickly and en masse in the region or further afield.
Senator Hill outlined the new doctrine before the Iraq War, although the need for expeditionary capability extends to the neighbourhood and the defence of the Australian mainland.
“The old adage that steel is cheap and air is free is certainly doing the rounds,” said one defence source. “It makes sense to go for something larger. It's a simple fact that the larger it is, the more you can do with it.”
A senior-ranked naval officer said one model being considered had a “well deck”, or ramp, at the stern of the vessel which could be used to deploy tanks and landing craft. The US already operates its WASP class of helicopter carrier but new designs resemble commercial transport vessels.
Australia is facing a looming ship-building crunch by the end of the decade – along with building three air warfare destroyers, it is planned to replace three amphibious ships and two supply vessels.
Sources say the Government wants to rationalise decision-making on the three amphibious ships, HMAS Tobruk, HMAS Manoora and HMAS Kanimbla, and the two supply vessels, HMAS Westralia and HMAS Success.
It is understood Senator Hill has favourably examined options for these five ships to be replaced with fewer vessels – either four or three – that are larger in size. For a cash-strapped ADF, the appeal of saving up to $2 billion with such a strategy has obvious appeal.
Replacing each of the five vessels would cost $4 billion.
The Government is expected to express a preference for the new ships to be built in Australia.
It is also understood that the new Defence Capability Plan, to go before Cabinet this week, recommends that the decision to replace the fuel tanker HMAS Westralia and supply ship HMAS Success be taken earlier, and jointly, next financial year.
A spokeswoman for Senator Hill declined to comment beyond saying the Government had no plans for an aircraft carrier for fixed-wing planes.