Australia — A Vision of Navy’s Amphibious Future

As Com­man­der of the Aus­tralian Amphibi­ous Task group, CAPT George McGuire over­sees the way Navy cur­rent­ly oper­ates in an amphibi­ous envi­ron­ment.

He and his team played a crit­i­cal role in the amphibi­ous aspect of the last RIMPAC

Ques­tion: Can you tell us a lit­tle about what your role was on US Bon­homme Richard?

My role for the exer­cise was as the Com­man­der of the Amphibi­ous Task Force. This meant that I was in com­mand of the three Amphibi­ous ships which as well as USS Bon­homme Richard includ­ed HMAS Kan­im­bla and USS Cleve­land. My team on the naval, or blue side as the US call it, was an inte­grat­ed staff with mem­bers from my Aus­tralian Amphibi­ous Task Group and Amer­i­cans from Amphibi­ous Squadron 7. Through­out RIMPAC we con­duct­ed basic workup train­ing through to var­i­ous raids, assaults and non-com­bat­ant evac­u­a­tion oper­a­tions that were inte­grat­ed into the wider RIMPAC sce­nario with cruis­ers, destroy­ers and frigates pro­tect­ing the Amphibi­ous force against attack my ene­my ships, sub­marines and aircraft. 

Ques­tion: You have an exten­sive amphibi­ous back­ground — what are the main lessons we can learn from the USN and oth­er Navies using LHDs?

The main areas that we need to focus on in terms of run­ning the ship itself are how they run a large mul­ti-spot flight deck with a mix­ture of air­craft and how the run a well dock. These are skills that I am sure with the pro­fes­sion­al­ism we already have in the ADF we can pick up pret­ty quick­ly to deliv­er a basic safe oper­a­tional LHD for low­er end amphibi­ous oper­a­tions. What will take us some time is the abil­i­ty to gen­er­ate the tem­po of flight and well dock oper­a­tions that is required to deliv­er com­bat capa­bil­i­ty rapid­ly across the shore. It is this tem­po that will deter­mine how suc­cess­ful­ly the ADF can mount amphibi­ous oper­a­tions at the high­er end of war fight­ing. So we need to learn how they simul­ta­ne­ous­ly oper­ate large num­bers of air­craft and water­craft in an effec­tive, effi­cient and yet safe manner. 

One oth­er less under­stood area that we can learn about is pro­vid­ing full logis­tic sup­port to a land force when they are engaged in com­bat. Mak­ing sure when the force leaves Aus­tralia it has all it needs to con­duct the first peri­od of the oper­a­tion with­out any fur­ther logis­tic resup­ply or access to sup­port­ing infra­struc­ture is essen­tial­ly what makes an amphibi­ous oper­a­tion so unique and so powerful. 

Ques­tion: From a day to day liv­ing per­spec­tive, how does life on board an LHD as large as USS BHR dif­fer from the RANs cur­rent LPA capa­bil­i­ty?

Its first­ly much, much big­ger! The crew alone on Bon­homme Richard is over 1100 per­son­nel and then we embarked over 1500 oth­er per­son­nel to con­duct the exer­cise so just sim­ple things like the cafes and mess­es are larg­er with more peo­ple. The oth­er thing that real­ly struck me was how the ship did real­ly oper­ate around the flight deck. As it runs from stem to stern when fly­ing oper­a­tions a large part of the ship is out of bounds to those not in the deck crews. It was quite a walk to find fresh air and a view of the ocean, although you quick­ly got used to this and once you knew where to go this aspect of life at sea became much easier. 

Ques­tion: The RANs new LHD is being billed as a joint capa­bil­i­ty but we already have army per­son­nel on board our LPAs now. How will that change?

It won’t — we will just have more and we will also have RAAF air traf­fic con­trollers inte­grat­ed into the ships com­pa­ny. But it is not just a joint capa­bil­i­ty because of the crew — it is what it will do and how it will oper­ate that makes it even more joint than the LPAs. It will have much greater capa­bil­i­ties in terms of com­mand and con­trol and may well be the plat­form of choice for the com­man­der of a joint task force. Army will reshape some ele­ments of how they oper­ate to ensure they can con­duct oper­a­tions from the sea. 

Ques­tion: We are due to take pro­ces­sion of our first of two Can­ber­ra Class LHDs in 2014 — are we on track to make that dead­line?

My dis­cus­sions with the project and Joint Amphibi­ous Capa­bil­i­ty Imple­men­ta­tion Team (JACIT) indi­cate this that con­struc­tion is well under­way and the ships will be deliv­ered on time. Of course, the first ship in the class the Span­ish ship Juan Car­los is at sea doing trials. 

Ques­tion: What areas of Navy will change the most when the LHDs come on line?

There are three areas that will see the most sig­nif­i­cant change in terms of oper­at­ing the ship. The first is the re-cre­ation of an avi­a­tion cat­e­go­ry to oper­ate the flight deck, some­thing that was dis­band­ed when the air­craft car­ri­er HMAS Mel­bourne (II) was decom­mis­sioned in 1983. The sec­ond that we will have our sailors oper­at­ing and main­tain­ing the LCM1E land­ing craft that will be oper­at­ed out of a well dock. 

Oper­a­tions from a well dock are far less sea state restrict­ed than the cur­rent stern door mar­riage and cran­ing oper­a­tions required for LCM 8 oper­a­tions from the LPAs and this will direct­ly increase our abil­i­ty to con­duct sea borne amphibi­ous oper­a­tions. The final is that instead of hav­ing engines con­nect­ed to a pro­peller via a shaft through a gear­box we will intro­duce an entire­ly elec­tric propul­sion sys­tem where the elec­tric pods will be out­side the hull and rotate to also per­form the direc­tion­al con­trol of the ship — yes it wont have any rud­ders! Instead the ship will have elec­tric motors in pods that can rotate and so will much the ship much more manoeuvrable. 

I think the oth­er area that the Navy will see changes in is that the LHDs will become the com­mand loca­tion of choice for almost any region­al oper­a­tion. They will have the space and com­mu­ni­ca­tions capa­bil­i­ty to sup­port a much larg­er head­quar­ters staff than we cur­rent­ly can. The real advan­tage is that there will be less of a need to set up head­quar­ters ashore in the ear­ly phas­es of an oper­a­tion that then just absorbs sol­diers in order to pro­tect it. The same should occur with logis­tics and avi­a­tion assets and so this means as an ADF we will be able to reduce the num­ber of peo­ple and there­fore foot­print we have ashore while achiev­ing the same outcome. 

Press release
Min­is­te­r­i­al Sup­port and Pub­lic Affairs,
Depart­ment of Defence,
Can­ber­ra, Australia 

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