Monday, May 18, 2009

Influence Squadrons for the Australian Navy

In "Buy Ford not Ferrari" Commander Henry J Hendrix, US Navy (Proceedings of the US Naval Institute April 2009) argues that the US could deploy more smaller naval units, in place of large Carrier Strike Groups (CSG). This may make a good model for the Royal Australian Navy.

In place of a large nuclear powered aircraft carrier, Commander Hendrix's "Influence Squadrons" would be formed around an America class amphibious assault ship (confusingly know by the acronym LHA(R)). Protecting the LHA(R) would be a guided missile destroyer. In support would be a littoral combat ship, Joint High Speed vessel and a high speed vessels like the M80 Stiletto.

What makes this relevant to Australia is that while such a small nation cannot afford the US style CSG, the Influence Squadron is well within its capabilities. Several of the ships proposed have been ordered by the RAN. Other of these ships are Australian designed, some built in Australia and some overseas.

The LHA(R) is similar in concept to the two Canberra class Landing Helicopter Dock ships ordered by Australia. Although the Australian ships are smaller than their US equivalents, they are still capable of operating V/STOL fighter/attack aircraft. The Aegis equipped Spanish Álvaro de Bazán class frigates ordered by Australia will have similar guided missiles to a US destroyer.

The Joint High Speed Vessel mentioned by Commander Hendrix is USS Swift, which was made in Hobart by Incat. New US JSVs will be made to a West Australian design by Austral. One of the two Littoral Combat Ship designs for the US Navy, the USS Independence (LCS-2) is also from Austral.

While Australia has no ships like the M80 Stiletto, such a vessel could be built using the same high speed multihull technology developed by Incat and Austal and others. It is rumoured that the Chinese Type 022 Houbei Class Missile Fast Attack catamaran is based on an Australian multi hull design. The Type 022 does not appear to exploit the stealth characteristics inherent in the multi-hull design, but this could be added in an Australian designed ship.

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