Australia’s Navy: On the move

AUSTRALIA’S Navy is changing shape as the big investments of the previous decade produce new surface ships and aircraft. The Navy is moving from being a surface warfare sea control navy to become a power projection navy. In coming years the Navy will bring into service two Landing Helicopter Dock amphibious ships, three new Air Warfare Destroyers, a fleet of new helicopters, upgraded frigates and potentially some new at-sea supply ships. By the end of this decade the current surface Navy will have been transformed, at least in a new equipment sense.

The Navy has significant concerns with vessel maintenance, the domestic shipbuilding program and difficulties attracting and retaining personnel. Moreover, bases developed for the old sea control Navy may not be the most suitable for the new power projection Navy. There are also emerging concepts of a ‘national fleet’ that suggest Navy shed some secondary tasks and concentrate on its core business: warfighting.

New Tasks, New Seas

The 2013 Defence White Paper assigns the Navy a range of tasks including countering hostile naval fleets, striking at the forward operating bases of any adversary, projecting power by deploying joint task forces in the Indo-Pacific region, and supporting the operations of regional partners. This is an offensive naval strategy that aims to undertake operations against an adversary’s bases and forces as far from Australia as possible. The Navy and the Army are seen as working particularly closely together to secure offshore territories and to deny any adversary easy access to staging bases from which Australia could be threatened. The new White Paper sees an important role for the sustained projection of power by the new joint amphibious task forces.

The White Paper signals a further change in the region, now seen as most important for future Australian Naval operations. The Navy has been on continuous operations in the Gulf region since the early 1990s and has steadily built up a high level of expertise in operating across the Northwest Indian Ocean. The return of the ANZAC frigate HMAS Toowoomba in June this year marked the fifty-fourth rotation of a RAN ship to the Middle East Area of Operations since the commencement of the first Gulf War in 1990 but times are changing.

The future intent is that the focus will shift to the Indo-Pacific, which is not open ocean but rather includes archipelagic waters, innumerable large and small islands, and closed seas dominated by their surrounding lands. The geography of these congested seas has shaped the navies of the regional nations. These local fleets are often murky brown-water littoral navies and shallow green-water coastal defence navies rather than the deep blue-water open ocean navies that Western navies traditionally aspire to be.

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