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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