Working up HMAS Canberra

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT John Thompson (author), LSIS Helen Frank (photographer)

Location(s): Sydney, New South Wales

Staff on the bridge of HMAS Canberra as the ship enters Townsville Harbour. (photo: LSIS Helen Frank)
Staff on the bridge of HMAS Canberra as the ship enters Townsville Harbour.

The huge task of getting Australia’s biggest warship to being fully operational is well underway with the first of a series of intensive training and assessment periods complete, resulting in HMAS Canberra now being ready to undertake disaster relief and permissive non-combatant evacuation operations.

But there is still much to do.

The man in charge of Navy's training organisation, Commodore Michael Rothwell, says the significance and complexity of the period cannot be understated.

“Not only is Canberra Australia’s biggest warship to enter service, she provides the Australian Defence Force with one of the most capable and sophisticated air-land-sea amphibious deployment systems in the world," he said.

"This is a new capability for us and to optimise the use of this impressive ship requires a significant effort in training our people who bring the ship to life through skilful and professional execution of their tasks."

Canberra has already completed helicopter trials off the New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmanian coasts setting operating limits for the Landing Helicopter Dock’s six spot flight deck.  

In May, Navy's Sea Training Group started the process of working up Canberra across all capabilities.  The first two weeks were spent off the New South Wales coast focusing on core maritime competencies. During that time the new Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, was able to visit the ship to gain a perspective and understanding of the joint capability the ship brings.

The second stage assessment was conducted in and around Queensland and was significantly more complex – for the first time, the ship took on a large number of people and vehicles.  Two-hundred members of Townsville’s 2nd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment, 40 vehicles and two explosive detection dogs embarked.

The Lead Training Officer, Lieutenant Commander Hamish Frazer, said getting the crew used to embarking large numbers of people and vehicles was a key skill for operating a ship of such size. 

“It’s also about simply getting the new personnel used to the ship, knowing their way around, understanding the routines and being able to manage and move their vehicles and equipment around safely and securely,” Lieutenant Commander Frazer said.

But it is the amphibious operations that will represent the most complex aspect requiring concentration, application and patience.

This is all due to be tested during a series of exercises between August and October off the Queensland coast.

“We’re in the first two per cent of the ship’s life cycle – this is a learning experience for Navy, Army and Air Force.  

"It’s all about building expertise and capability and it will take time," Lieutenant Commander Frazer said.

Commodore Rothwell paid tribute to Canberra’s crew. 

“They have done an outstanding job to get to the stage she’s at now.”

Canberra is expected to achieve Unit Readiness across all her capabilities later this year.