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Amphibious Forces

In February 2011 Australia learned that it did not have a seaworthy amphibious warfare fleet. The two biggest [and oldest] landing ships, HMAS Manoora and HMAS Kanimbla, were deemed in such poor order that the government said the lives of sailors would be imperilled if the vessels were put to sea. The smaller [and slightly newer] HMAS Tobruk was so beset by problems that it could not be used in the recovery operation after cyclone Yasi devastated north Queensland in February 2011. Australia asked to share use of New Zealand's HMNZS Canterbury to fill the void until 2014, when two landing helicopter docks were due to enter service.

The full concept of amphibious forces encompasses not only the ships and helicopters which provide the lift, but land forces which have been trained and prepared for such operations. An effective amphibious capability is thus dependent upon a very high degree of sustained joint effort in the form of equipment, doctrine and training.

Amphibious Ships are designed to embark land forces and their equipment, and have an inherent, albeit limited, capacity to sustain land operations. These ships typically have a large radius of action, materiel-handling equipment to embark and disembark troops, and some capacity to support other ships, notably surface combatants. They also have considerable capacity to transport stores and equipment to support operations.

The naval elements of Australia's amphibious forces include two amphibious transports (LPA), the Manoora and Kanimbla, a heavy landing ship (LSH), the Tobruk, and six heavy landing craft (LCH). In addition, the utility Sea King helicopters, although not ideal for battlefield operations, provide a very important vertical lift capability for troops and equipment. This force is capable of transporting the equivalent of an Army battalion group, together with its equipment and ready use stocks of fuel, stores and ammunition. Some smaller vessels, such as mechanised landing craft (LCM), are provided by the Army and are trained to operate effectively with the big ships, all of which can carry at least one LCM. Tobruk also carries two of the smaller naval manned landing craft vehicle and personnel (LCVP). Elements of Clearance Diving Teams would normally form part of an amphibious force. The RAN also operates the high speed catamaran Jervis Bay as a fast transport. This vessel normally requires port facilities to load and unload vehicles and personnel and its role is thus for sea lift rather than amphibious operations.

The major Army formation which is equipped and trained for amphibious operations is 3 Brigade at Townsville. Together with a number of other elements, including aviation, medical and special forces, 3 Brigade maintains a high degree of readiness to respond to contingencies. In the event of a requirement for an amphibious operation, a Landing Force based on 3 Brigade elements would be task-organised to meet its specific needs. This could also, if the situation required, comprise elements of those forces designated 'secondary' to the ADF amphibious capability. These elements include 1 Brigade, based in Darwin, medium lift helicopters, ground based air defence assets and logistic support elements. These elements are all maintained at high readiness and trained and equipped for amphibious deployment.

RAAF fixed wing support would also be an essential requirement for most amphibious operations, whether conducted in conjunction with airborne insertions or not. Other forms of support could include reconnaissance, air superiority, surveillance, strike and ground attack.

The ADFs initial concept of operations for redevelopment of a credible amphibious force was first derived from the Defence White Paper in 2000. Subsequent versions of the Defence White Paper resonated the necessity for a principally maritime strategic approach, while further emphasizing the requirement for an amphibious capability. The ADF sought to refine its own strategic objectives and plans for realisation of this capability, through documents such as the Defence Planning Guidance, Australian Military Strategy and Amphibious Concept of Employment.

In the 19 years since this shift in strategic focus has occurred, the ADF has acquired and developed the assets required in order to make this concept a reality. The pursuit of an adaptable force, capable of responding across the full spectrum of amphibious operations was something that had not been grasped by Australia since 1945. Although the RAN had operated numerous amphibious vessels since WW2, it was the ADFs ability to project an adaptable and sizeable sea-lift capability that had not been retained. Consequently, the knowledge, culture and enabling functions to support an amphibious capability were also lost.

Defence has failed to deliver some of the capabilities highlighted in its Defence Capability Plan 20062016. JP 2048 Phase 1a was established for the provisioning of six Amphibious Watercraft Systems in the form of the LCM-2000. However, this project was abandoned due to structural issues with the craft.

JP 2048 Phase 3, Amphibious Watercraft Replacement, was intended to replace the entirety of the ADFs landing craft; however, this project was also cut back and, in the end, only resulted in the development of the LHD Landing Craft. The LCM-1E is a class of amphibious Landing Craft, Mechanized (LCM) manufactured by Navantia who also build the LHD hulls. In Royal Australian Navy service these craft are purpose built for the Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) and are referred to as LHD Landing Craft (LLC).

JP 2048 Phase 5, the project to replace Navys Landing Craft Heavy (LCH) to provide landing craft with enhanced ocean-going capabilities and the capability to transport large armoured vehicles, trucks, personnel and stores for intra-theatre sealift or the conduct of independent small-scale amphibious operations, lost its priority. The decommissioning of the last Balikpapan Class LCH in November 2014 saw the removal of this capability from the ADF.

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Page last modified: 20-09-2021 15:48:01 ZULU