A busy year for the Fleet

Published on Ms Natalie Staples (author), LSIS Peter Thompson (photographer)

Topic(s): Exercises, Operations, International Fleet Review

Aboard HMAS Sydney, Commander Australian Fleet, Rear Admiral Tim Barrett surveys the fleet of international warships sailing in close formation for a photographic exercise, during their transit to Sydney for the International Fleet Review. (photo: LSIS Peter Thompson)
Aboard HMAS Sydney, Commander Australian Fleet, Rear Admiral Tim Barrett surveys the fleet of international warships sailing in close formation for a photographic exercise, during their transit to Sydney for the International Fleet Review.

2013 was one of the busiest years on recent record for the Royal Australian Navy Fleet. During a period of substantial border protection activity, and against a backdrop of international piracy and narcotics trading interdiction in the Middle East and Indian Ocean, the Navy continued to meet its mission to fight and win in the maritime environment, through the delivery of flexible and resilient capabilities to Government.

Effort was directed to a number of priorities during the year with one of the top requirements the support of Government directed Operations SLIPPER and RESOLUTE.

Commander Australian Fleet, Rear Admiral Tim Barrett says the Navy continued to demonstrate its reputation as a leader in international maritime security affairs, through its ongoing maritime contribution to Operation SLIPPER.

“During 2013, HMA Ships Anzac, Toowoomba, Newcastle and currently Melbourne deployed to the Middle East Area of Operations in support of the Combined Maritime Forces, patrolling over two million square miles from the Red Sea to the Gulf of Oman,” said Rear Admiral Barrett.

“In October, Melbourne successfully interdicted suspected pirates off the coast of Somalia, arresting nine men and later destroying their skiffs and equipment. The deployment is part of the Navy’s 23 year commitment to the MEAO and Melbourne is the 56th individual ship to deploy to that part of the world.”

Twice in 2013 the Royal Australian Navy assumed command of Combined Task Force 150; the Bahrain-based Task Force directing counter-terrorism operations in the Middle East and Northern Indian Ocean region.

“Commodore Charles McHardie led the Task Force until April, directing security operations across some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. In late March, his team delivered a critical outcome, denying terrorists a source of funding through a record seizure of over 500kg of smuggled heroin, with an estimated street value of $100 million AUD,” said Rear Admiral Barrett.

“Commodore Darryl Bates and his 24 member team assumed command in December and will remain on task over the holiday period.”

The commitment to the whole-of-Government effort in border protection was a daily focus for the Navy. The Armidale-class Patrol Boat fleet, Hydrographic Survey Ships, Coastal Mine Hunters, Surface Force frigates and headquarters personnel consistently supported whole-of-Government requirements as part of Operation RESOLUTE.

“North-west shelf patrols and exercises were also conducted to protect Australian infrastructure in the region. Of note, during 2013 the RAN has operated three submarines at sea, a sign of the improvements achieved thus far in the submarine sustainment and support arena,” said the Fleet Commander.

In addition to meeting Government’s requirements for Operations SLIPPER and RESOLUTE, Navy ships continued to be responsive to emerging requirements.

“HMAS Choules provided maritime support to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection operation on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea as part of Operation LANDSCAPE. Following Typhoon Haiyan, HMAS Tobruk was diverted from a South West Pacific deployment to support Operation PHILIPPINES ASSIST to support Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief operations, distributing aid and assisting with clean up tasks,” said Rear Admiral Barrett.

Tobruk also supported important regional engagement and cooperation was conducted during PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP 13, a US-sponsored humanitarian and civic assistance mission.

A number of personnel also deployed on the enduring ADF Operation RENDER SAFE. HMA Ships Labuan, Tarakan, Diamantina and Clearance Divers located and disposed of more than 10,000 explosive items from the Solomon Islands during the three week operation.

Continued advancement of high-end and complex group warfighting was also a priority in 2013.

HMAS Dechaineux deployed to the South China Sea in April to participate in Exercise BERSAMA SHIELD - the longest standing multilateral exercise in South East Asia. Exercise TALISMAN SABRE was held off northern Australia and presented excellent opportunities for the RAN to test and evaluate its evolving joint Task Group doctrine and tactics with Army and Air Force, and combined engagement with the US, with eight ships and an MRH90 helicopter taking part.  Exercise TRITON CENTENARY which bookended the International Fleet Review, was another significant multinational exercise.

A number of smaller, but no less important exercises were also conducted. HMAS Ballarat deployed to Malaysia for bilateral Exercise MASTEX and submarine escape and rescue Exercise BLACK CARILLION was conducted successfully of the East coast for the first time, bringing together HMAS Farncomb, ADV Ocean Shield and the James Fisher Rescue Service LR5 Submersible.

“Guided Missile Frigate HMAS Sydney embedded into the US 7th Fleet George Washington Carrier Strike Group, improving interoperability and benchmarking RAN performance against the USN,” said Rear Admiral Barrett.

A number of capability milestones were also achieved during 2013.

The Royal Australian Navy conducted the world’s first firing of a ‘war shot’ MU90 Lightweight Torpedo from HMAS Stuart. Final Operational Acceptance Trial for the Phased Array Radar and Combat Management System upgrades to the Anzac Class frigate Anti-Ship Missile Defence (ASMD) system were achieved, with a number of Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) firings successfully conducted from HMAS Perth at the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) in Hawaii.

The RAN continued to demonstrate its innovation as a leader in Smart Defence, pairing force structure with force power. The RAN and RNZN pooled collective resources with Australian sailors helping crew HMNZS Endeavour and RNZN providing specialist crew members deploying to the Middle East in Australian Frigates.

Spanish Armada ship ESPS Cantabria completed an outstandingly successful nine month deployment to Australia, providing Australia with underway replenishment capability, enhanced interoperability opportunities between the Armada and the RAN, a chance to undertake an in-depth assessment of the capability offered by a contemporary Combat Logistics Support Ship, and a unique opportunity for RAN personnel to familiarise themselves with some of the systems that will shortly arrive in the new DDGs and amphibious ships. In turn, the Spanish Armada was able to test the extended deployment capability of the platform. “Cantabria’s exemplary performance during her deployment is a clear demonstration of the excellent relationship between the navies of Spain and Australia and has provided both navies with unique opportunities for training and to assess capability”, said Rear Admiral Barrett.

Preparations also continued for the introduction into service of the Adelaide class Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) ships, the Hobart class Air Warfare Destroyers (DDG), and the MRH-90 Maritime Support Helicopter.

The imminent arrival of NUSHIP Canberra, the first of two Adelaide-class LHDs remained a key focus.

Canberra Ship’s Company spent 2013 completing domestic and international training courses, while working to develop amphibious command and operations planning knowledge,” said the Fleet Commander.

In addition to the imminent introduction of the LHD, Navy capabilities have been expanded through the introduction of the MRH90 Maritime Support Helicopters, which achieved Service Release in May. 808 Squadron was recommissioned following the MRH90 helicopter’s certification and acceptance for service by the Navy’s Airworthiness Board and undertook their first operational deployment onboard Tobruk as part of Operation PHILIPPINES ASSIST.

Rear Admiral Barrett said preparations for the new MH-60R (the ‘Romeo’ variant of the Seahawk Combat Helicopter) are also progressing well. The Fleet Air Arm deployed key personnel to the United States for initial MH-60R Trade and Flight training, with the future725 Squadron having spent 2013 operating Australian-owned MH-60R helicopters from US Naval Air Station Jacksonville. The first two of twenty-four Seahawks were delivered to Defence Material Organisation in December.

Air Warfare Destroyer project also made considerable advances in 2013, with the 22m-high AEGIS mast for the first Hobart class Air Warfare Destroyer delivered to the AWD Alliance Facility in Adelaide.

In December, the redevelopment of the Royal Australian Navy Diving School and Submarine and Underwater Medicine Unit was completed, providing purpose built facilities and accommodation for the first time in RAN history.

October 2013 also saw Navy diplomacy take centre stage in Australia with the staging of the International Fleet Review. Rear Admiral Barrett commented the activity advanced the reputation of Australia in the region and across the globe.

“The IFR commemorated the centenary of the Royal Australian Navy’s fleet arrival into Sydney Harbour; 37 warships, 16 tall ships, more than 60 aircraft, 10 military bands and around 8000 sailors took part in the week long celebrations,” he said.

“The support we received from the Australian community during the International Fleet Review was fantastic. It is important to remember though that while a large number of units supported this significant event, a quarter of the fleet remained on operations and exercises across the globe over the period.

“Rear Admiral Barrett summed up the year, “2013 has been a year of substance and success, and 2014 looks to be just as busy for the Fleet as we continue to meet our mission, to provide the right forces at the right time, capable of fighting and winning at sea.”