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Support from the Sea: Replenishment, sea-lift, amphibious or logistic support ship – why it really matters to Army - Part 2

Support from the Sea: Replenishment, sea-lift, amphibious or logistic support ship – why it really matters to Army - Part 3

Part 1 in this series looked at the benefits provided by a third replenishment ship, and identified significant advantages to achieving the objectives stated in the 2016 Defence White Paper. The option for this ship to be “an additional logistic support ship similar to HMAS Choules in the late 2020s” in addition to replacing Choules on first review would appear an unlikely option.

Important questions should be answered about how Army will be transported and supported for the increased regional engagement Government requires of the ADF. Additionally, force projection of the heavier Land 400 and Land 121 equipped army requires careful consideration. While airlift offers significant advantages in responsiveness, and provides an essential element of the ADF’s logistics supply chain, movement by sea is the only practical means to transport the volume of equipment required to deploy and support a land force independent of another nation. The robust joint force demanded by the White Paper will only be realised if there is a shared view in Defence on how joint land combat is executed across the spectrum of conflict and also how a joint land force is supported from the sea.

Sea lift is delivered primarily by HMAS Choules (LSD) and from 2030, her replacement, which presumably will be a ship with similar capabilities. Choules can deliver about 1200 lane meters of vehicles an equipment and an additional twelve 40’ TEU containers. She is able to embark a landing craft in her well-dock to transport stores and equipment across a beach.  The discharge rate can be enhanced, sea state permitting, by the slower yet higher capacity Mexeflotes. The flight deck allows for operation of up to CH47 sized aircraft.

The IIP and the 2016 Defence White Paper identify the Canberra Class Amphibious Ships as having a secondary sea-lift role. Each Canberra Class Amphibious Ship would therefore contribute just under 1000 lane meters.

In summary, the ADF can currently transport in excess of 3,200 lane meters of equipment in a single lift. Is this too little, too much, or just right to support the joint land force?

This is a difficult question. One of Army’s differentiators is its flexibility. Army can modify the force package to meet the mission, the threat, or the available supporting assets (such as sea lift). Projects such as Land 121, Land 400, Land 17, and Land 907, not only modernise Army, but will dramatically change our shape and form. While each project will deliver a different outcome, there is an undeniable theme - Army is getting more heavily protected. As each project is delivered, it appears inconceivable that a Combat Team, Battle Group or Brigade will be smaller, lighter or less protected than today. The consequence is that logistic support requirements of the future force will only increase.

Further, while all 1200 lane metres of Choules can accommodate heavy vehicles, only the 350 lane metre heavy vehicle deck of the LHD can embark heavy-weight vehicles. This may have been adequate when the relatively light weight M113ASLAV, Mack, Unimog and Land Rover vehicles were the mainstay of Army. However, the evolving force, of CRV, Land 400-3 IFV and Rheinmetall-Mann trucks, which are essential to meet Government’s demands on Army, are likely to quickly bulk out the LHD heavy vehicle deck and a single LSD is an unassured capability. The total capacity for ADF sea lift for heavy vehicles is 1700 lane meters, perhaps now insufficient for deploying follow on forces or sustaining the deployed combat brigade.

The adequacy of the current sea-lift capability also needs to be tested against the strategic need for concurrent sea-lift and amphibious operations.  If it is determined that the need exists then the ADF force structure of two Canberra Class Amphibious Assault Ships and a LSD is unlikely to meet the need to deploy and sustain a land force ashore, except if that force is unprotected.

Options to resolve this tension are included in Part 3 of the series – next week!

The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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