- Howland, Tony
- Ship design and development
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 2010 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Let me now examine in more depth the roles of the Navy. Currently the assigned roles could be summarised as follows:
- the protection of sea-borne trade;
- sovereignty duties; and
- projection of power, either independently or in participation with allies.
The Protection of Sea-borne Trade
In a recent debate conducted in the pages of the Financial Review on the very subject of Melbourne’s replacement, one correspondent made the following assertion:
‘Australia is not dependent … upon international trade … and … is well placed to survive, intact, without overseas trade‘.
So radical is this statement and so contrary is it to the popular view that it may be dismissed out of hand as untrue. But in fairness to its author he did modify it by noting that ‘…it is economically convenient for Australia to be a trading nation’.
He might also have mentioned that international trade contributed to the national wealth and prosperity and indeed that Australia could not exist in a ‘peaceful’ world without its trade But the Navy must contemplate a situation where that peace is partially or completely removed. The Financial Review correspondent could be right.
Has any study ever been done to determine the survivability of the country without trade? Such a study should form an essential part of the examination for both the carrier and no-carrier Navy, if only because in a threat situation there can be no guarantee that the foreign owned shipping which carries the majority of our trade will continue to sail in our support. If no such guarantee can be given, the requirement for the protection of sea-borne trade will largely cease to exist.
Nevertheless, in the absence of such a study I will continue to assume that the Navy will be required to protect our maritime trade.
For convenience, I will gather under the heading of Sovereignty Duties all those activities concerned both with the surveillance and policing of our off-shore and coastal waters, and the defence in a higher threat situation of a direct sea-borne attack on the mainland.
I feel justified, without further discussion, in saying that the Navy has a significant and valid role to play, in conjunction with land-based air forces in the execution of Sovereignty Duties.
Projection of Power
The phrase ‘projection of power’ is a catch-all, covering as it does everything from showing the flag, through gunboat diplomacy to full scale sea-borne assault on sea or land areas beyond the sea area of Australian sovereignty.
Here too, indisputably the Navy has a role to play. Within the limits of fitted armament, it offers either as a single ship or as a Task Force an essential range of military and political retaliatory options. Nothing except a ship can offer so much for so long with so little outside help.
The assigned roles just discussed can be assumed to remain valid. The next question then must be ‘how do we go about fulfilling our roles without an aircraft carrier‘.
To abbreviate the length of this article and on the grounds that it is intended only to initiate discussion, I will limit any answer to this question to generalizations about a single aspect of maritime warfare.
Amongst the basic premises of the pro-aircraft carrier argument is the Naval Commander’s requirement for air superiority over his force at sea. The means of achieving a degree of such superiority may be land-based air but this of course presupposes that the force remains within range of the airfields.
To venture beyond that range with the current weapon fit of the ships of the RAN reduces the Task Force’s survivability significantly, provided – and note this ‘provided’ well – provided the force proceeds within the range of enemy air forces, be they either land- or sea-based And amongst the sea-based air threats I include ship- air-, and submarine-launched missiles, in the full knowledge of course that the bases are mobile, may be submerged and will probably be able to launch their weapons beyond the range of those of our Task Force.
The problem confronting from the Task Force Commander is well known. He must detect and identify the weapon platform and hope that it is within the range of his weapons. If not, he must wait until weapon launch and then react. Alternatively his first indication of a threat may be a fast closing radar contact. Again he must react, but in this case more quickly. Both the DDGs and the FFGs have weapon systems which, in theory at least offer a reasonable chance of countering a ‘whites-of-the-eyes’ threat. They might survive a low or medium intensity attack, but would almost certainly suffer in a high intensity attack.
The basic point of the foregoing is that in a no-carrier Navy, we must accept the fact that in our attempts to achieve air superiority over the Fleet, we will almost invariably be re-acting rather than acting. Our tactics must become defensive rather than offensive, and given our current weapon-fit, we will probably lose ships. The emphasis then in the no-carrier-Navy must be on survivability. This is a word which encompasses many aspects of weaponry and tactics, and so deserves some further examination.