A Force to be reckoned with

Published on Ms Natalie Staples (author), ABIS Kayla Hayes (photographer)

Commander Mine Warfare, Clearance Diving, Hydrographic, Meteorological and Patrol Force, Captain Michael Harris at HMAS Coonawarra. (photo: ABIS Kayla Hayes)
Commander Mine Warfare, Clearance Diving, Hydrographic, Meteorological and Patrol Force, Captain Michael Harris at HMAS Coonawarra.

Navy’s Mine Warfare, Clearance Diving, Hydrographic, Meteorological and Patrol Boat Force has had a busy year consolidating key changes while continuing to meet operational requirements.

Over the past 12 months, patrol boats returned to a single crew model and some boats underwent hull remediation, and in parallel mine warfare and hydrographic survey ships reconstituted core competencies.

Captain Michael Harris, Commander of the Force, said it had been a "year of consolidation".

“The entire Force has performed exceptionally well, from headquarters to those on the decks of patrol boats - everyone has done a fantastic job,” Captain Harris said.

Units and personnel were assigned in support of Operations RESOLUTE, FIJI ASSIST, MANITOU and RENDER SAFE in tasks that ranged from explosive ordnance disposal, to disaster relief, border protection and counter-narcotics.

"Our people also took part in international and regional exercises including RIMPAC, KAKADU, SINGAROO, BERSAMA LIMA, CASSOWARY, PARADISE, LUMBAS, the SEA Series - HORIZON and EXPLORER and the Joint Amphibious User Requirement Assessment," Captain Harris said.

An important structural milestone was the implementation of elements of the Mine Clearance Diving 18 program.

The program builds on Chief of Navy's strategic intent in Plan Pelorus and the Fleet Commander's Navy Warfighting Strategy to deliver scalable, flexible and sustainable Mine Clearance Diving elements aligned with the wider Navy and Australian Defence Force. A key outcome is the restructure of  Clearance Diving Teams One and Four and the Australian Mine Warfare Team 16.
“This year we’ve seen the maturing of the Mine Clearance Diving 18 program.  The new Clearance Diving Team and support structure, which was stood up last November, has redesigned the delivery of capability.  It provides us with greater flexibility to generate scalable, flexible and sustainable effects to meet and support Plan Pelorus objectives. This restructure included the establishment of a Captain position at Waterhen, which underpins the importance of the growing capability,” Captain Harris said.

“When FIJI ASSIST occurred, we proved the utility of the change when, at very short notice, we deployed the Underwater Damage Repair Element from Team Four and the Expeditionary Reconnaissance and Clearance Element from Team One."

HMAS Ararat conducts a boarding exercise on Discovery III as part of their Mission Readiness Evaluation, off the coast of Darwin, NT.

HMAS Ararat conducts a boarding exercise on Discovery III as part of their Mission Readiness Evaluation, off the coast of Darwin, NT.


Closely aligned with Mine Clearance Diving 18 is a leadership and cultural change program across the diving community.

For patrol boat crews the return to single crewing has required personnel to adjust routines around the ship’s program as opposed to rostered sea and shore time.

“Patrol Boat crews have been working very hard and experienced a period of significant change. Through this they have continued to do a top job,” Captain Harris said. 

The Navy provides a number of boats at once to Operation RESOLUTE in Australia's northern waters.

"This year we’ve had some challenges achieving a steady schedule due to work being undertaken on the patrol boats to improve their reliability.  As we move into 2017, I expect the schedule to become more stable as we’re more than half way through remediation.  This will give crews a more stable program to plan their life around,” Captain Harris said.

Last year, two Cape Class boats were loaned to the Navy by the Australian Border Force following the loss of HMAS Bundaberg in a fire and to support the intensive program of remediating the Armidale class, one of which was returned to Border Force in early December.

“The four Navy crews that support the ADV Cape Nelson and Cape Byron have done a great job.  We do have some challenges in the New Year, reducing the numbers to one until our first Cape arrives around late April.  We have plans in place to manage this.”

The withdrawal of Mine Hunters and survey crews from RESOLUTE has led to a remediation of skills as crews get back to their core business.

“The Hydrographic Survey crews are back at sea in survey motor boats and have been doing a great job achieving their survey days around Australia and in the Pacific,” Captain Harris said.

Surveys off the Kimberly Coast have flexed the survey motor boat capability and revived Deployed Boat Camp operations. Meteorologists have supported the Fleet’s operations and deployed to Antarctica, and a team of specialist Hydrographers will be surveying at Davis Station over Christmas.  

During FIJI ASSIST on Koro and Taveuni Islands, the Deployable Geospatial Survey Team conducted the first set of operational beach surveys for the Navy’s new landing ship capability, enabling support to be landed by sea to the residents, while the Mobile Meteorological Team provided environmental assessments to ensure safe operations by both boat and helicopter.

“The Mine Hunters have also been focussed on plying their core trade. One of the highlights of this year was having all four Mine Hunters employed on mine warfare tasks at the same time.  Huon and Diamantina deployed on RENDER SAFE eliminating ordnance from the Solomon Islands; Gascoyne supported disposal of ordnance off North Queensland, and Yarra deployed on Exercise BERSAMA LIMA.

“Looking into the New Year I expect we’ll see a stabilisation in the patrol boat crews program and mid-year, we’ll see the new structure of Mine Clearance Diving 18 proved during TALISMAN SABRE,” Captain Harris said.