Australia’s Biggest-Ever Warships Still On Track
By Bradley Perrett Melbourne, Australia
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology
The defense department attributes the program's success to an early focus on risk reduction, leading to solid understanding of exactly what it was buying. Since then, the project leadership has minimized changes to the requirement. “The Mission Platform Specification as approved by the government at second pass [authority to contract] has remained unchanged throughout the construction period,” says the defense department official. The only changes are minor, driven by regulatory requirements and differences between European and Australian standards.
“The wider Australian Defense Force now faces the task of introducing the capabilities these ships represent,” says the official. “Individually, each LHD delivers more amphibious and sea-lift capability than the ADF has previously been equipped to provide.”
When the two ships are in service, the displacement of the navy's amphibious force will have risen 12-fold in two decades, comprising the two new ships and the 16,200-ton HMAS Choules, a six-year-old landing ship acquired from Britain.
The ships will operate from the navy's main base, at Sydney. The hulls are designed to last 40 years, but the project office expects that electrical and electronic systems will be changed several times during the ships' service lives. Upgrades and modifications should be easier than in smaller, tighter ships. “Design margins for space, weight and power have been maximized,” says the defense official. “The size brings inherent flexibility to allow choices to be made between cargo and platform upgrades, with an all-electric ship providing a similar level of flexibility.”
Although the navy refers only obliquely to their main mission, Canberra and Adelaide are designed for wartime landings; peacekeeping is listed as a secondary role. They were ordered by a government that had found the navy ill-equipped for Australia's peacekeeping intervention in East Timor in 1999.
Analyst Andrew Davies greatly doubts that Australia needed to order the two ships. The country is hardly likely to conduct opposed landings without the help of the abundantly equipped U.S. Navy, and for peacekeeping Australia could have bought cheaper roll-on, roll-off ships built to civilian standards. “The only scenario where I can imagine them being needed would be intervention in case of a collapse of Papua New Guinea,” he says.