Australia’s Canberra Class LHDs
Nov 28/14: LHD01 commissioned + deck handling. As (re)scheduled, HMAS Canberra is formally commissioned in Sydney by the Royal Australian Navy, as the largest ship in its history. The certification process begins with deck handling trials, using an MRH-90 from 808 Squadron and an S-70B-2 Seahawk from 816 Squadron.
Nov 17/14: F-35Bs? The Australian Strategic Policy Institute issues a paper that looks at the viability of F-35Bs on Australia’s 2 Canberra Class LHDs, which are based on a Spanish design that expected to carry the fighters at some point. Australia is looking at this possibility, as part of its 2015 White Paper.
“Overall, this report concludes that the benefits would be marginal at best, wouldn’t be commensurate with the costs and other consequences for the ADF, and would potentially divert funding and attention from more valuable force structure enhancements.”
Their rationale is that operating the Canberra Class in escort carrier mode would be vast overkill for most missions, which are better served by the planned combination of EC665 Tiger ARH and NH90 helicopters. On the flip side, “…if the adversary were such as to merit strike operations against targets distant from Australia using the STOVL option, it would be quite capable of posing significant risk to the maritime strike force being used to project power in this way.” Removing much of the ship’s amphibious capability in exchange for 10-14 F-35Bs isn’t seen as enough airpower to both protect the ship, and offer useful offensive help.
Their estimated cost to try begins with about A$ 500 million in ship modifications to add deck coatings, beefed-up air traffic control, requisite weapon storage & maintenance facilities, etc. Helicopters would have to be added to the MH-60R anti-submarine force, alongside new airborne early warning helicopters for the LHD. Only then could one reasonably pay about A$ 5 billion to buy 2 squadrons of more expensive F-35B fighters, which have shorter range and more limited weapon carriage than F-35As. Finally, the semi-permanent nature of the modifications would force Australia to either depend on just 2 amphibious ships (uncoverted Canberra Class + HMAS Choules), or buy a 3rd ship. RAN non-availability during disaster season has been a recent sore point, which is why they bought Choules from Britain in the first place.
The best use we can envision for the F-35Bs would be as long-duration, no-refueling protection for the RAAF’s on-station KC-30B aerial refueling aircraft during long-range strikes. That probably isn’t enough of a draw, unless Australia also forsees hostile air bases being built on South Pacific island chains of interest within its sphere. If Australia wants to supplement helicopters on its LHDs, marinized MALE UAVs like the MQ-9 Reaper may offer a more useful set of capabilities, providing a new dimension of both general surveillance and support ashore. Sources: ASPI, “Jump jets for the ADF?” (incl. PDF link) | ASPI’s The Strategist blog, “‘Jump jets’ for Australia?”
In May of 2006 the Royal Australian Navy announced its decision to expand its naval expeditionary capabilities. HMAS Manoora and Kanimbla would be replaced with substantially larger and more capable modern designs, featuring strong air support. Navantia and Tenix offered a 27,000t Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) design that resembled the Strategic Projection Ship (Buque de Proyeccion Estrategica) under construction for the Spanish Navy. The DCNS-Thales Australia team, meanwhile, proposed a variation of the 21,300t Mistral Class that is serving successfully with the French Navy.
Navantia’s larger design eventually won, giving the Spanish firm an A$ 11 billion clean sweep of Australia’s “Air Warfare Destroyer” and LHD programs. These 5 ships will be the core of Australia’s future surface navy. The future HMAS Canberra and HMAS Adelaide will be able to serve as amphibious landing ships, helicopter carriers, floating HQs and medical facilities for humanitarian assistance, and launching pads for UAVs or even short/vertical takeoff fighters.
Winner: The Navantia-Tenix LHD
Program & Construction Plans
Project 2048: Management
A Surprise Companion
Contracts and Key Events
2011 – 2013
2009 – 2010
Background: The Canberra Class
Background: Key Onboard Systems & Aircraft
Background: Companion Ships
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