- Howland, Tony
- Ship design and development
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 2010 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Recently, whilst going through my files in preparation for handing over everything to my successor as the Editor of this eminent magazine, I came across a copy of the attached article, written by me and published in the Journal of the Australian Naval Institute in February, 1980. For many reasons, it was a turbulent time, both for me and my Navy. For the Navy, the replacement of our venerable and only operating fixed wing aircraft carrier, HMAS Melbourne, loomed large at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
At the time, I was a Commander and a member of the Directing Staff of the Naval Staff College at HMAS Penguin. One of my particular tasks there was to collect and present the mountain of data which would enable the students to complete for assessment their major thesis for the six-month course, ‘The Replacement Carrier’. Our first course had completed the exercise, with varying degrees of success. Different views had been expressed as to the quality of the data, and of the reality of the project as an assessment exercise. Fortunately most views were favourable; I felt satisfied that the whole experience had been a valid introduction to senior staff work for these officers.
Thus relieved of the task of making major corrections to ‘The Replacement Carrier’ exercise, I set to thinking. All the assessment papers written by the students that I had read had included the final cost of the project to the Australian people – it was a requirement – the bottom line! Very roughly, according to the figures calculated by the students, (which I had no cause to doubt, having provided the data in the first place), one new aircraft carrier, with all the attendant expenses – shore support, manpower, new aircraft, and so on – would use up between one third and one half of the Navy’s annual budget – for one ship! The rest of the Navy would have to exist on very short rations indeed!
The following article ensued.
THE RAN WITHOUT AN AIRCRAFT CARRIER
‘To decide not to continue with carrier borne naval air power will force the RAN to change its structure and concept of operations and such changes may create a situation whereby the navy can no longer perform the defence tasks that have been entrusted to it by the Nation.’
(Proteus, ‘The Case for Seaborne Air Power’, Pacific Defence Reporter, October, 1979).
Thus spoke ‘Proteus’, a well-known proponent of sea-borne air power in his latest attack on the public and political consciousness. His case was well put in that article, and as he so rightly concludes ‘Surely… the question… needs no further debate.’
Unfortunately for ‘Proteus’, the Navy and indeed the Nation, a strong case may not be enough to carry the day when the political decision is to be made. Anyone who is even remotely aware of the Aircraft Carrier project, and its financial implications, is acutely conscious that the bill may be too high, and the Navy may indeed have to do its job without a carrier.
It is therefore both prudent and timely to begin a public examination of the shape and capabilities of such a Navy. That is the purpose of this article.
The examination will be prudent because there can be no assurance that, even if the economy of Australia proceeds in its present state of moderately good health, the decision to invest $600M to $1000M in an aircraft carrier will be made. In that case, as ‘Proteus’ has said, there will be a requirement for the Royal Australian Navy to change its structure and concept of operations. This article will attempt to demonstrate the enormity of that change.
The examination will also be timely, indeed it is already seriously overdue, simply because of the time and effort required to effect the necessary changes. This is not to suggest that some work is not already being done in this area. I am aware that it is. But, if the Navy is to be seen to be both objective and thorough in offering its case for the aircraft carrier, it must also expose itself to public debate of the alternatives.