Indulge yourself with a fascinating read of Admiral Sir Reginal Henderson's 1911 recommendation for the protection of Australia's coast. This report he wrote after a personal nationwide tour that he and a close team completed in 18 months covering every State and Territory.
For the protection of Australia at the time of 4.5 million people, he recommended a fleet of 52 vessels including 9 submarines, 14 cruisers, 12 torpedo boat destroyers and 3 depot ships. All for the princely sum of $46.5m! He also recommended the fleet be increase proportionally with the increase in population.
110 years later, with a population of 25 million, Australia now has a naval fleet of only 49 vessels, albeit expanding,70% of which are quite small and many are non-combatant. Their choice of submarine designs are diesel electric that would use up most of their endurance just transiting to and from their operating areas and too slow to be effective when they get there.
Defence, and Navy in particular during times of peace, is generally the first casualty in budget cuts. Alas there are enemies looming on the horizon.
Sensible Governments have their Defence fleet capability significantly enhanced by "dormant charters" of commercial vessels. The Falklands War was a classic case where ships taken up from trade (STUFT) totalled 45 vessels.
The main transport task of materials and equipment was carried out by liners, roll-on-roll-ff (Roro) ferries, container ships and freighters, totalling 21 vessels, and interestingly enough, all of which were fitted with helipads prior to departure to the war zone.
Facing budget challenges after decades of bickering leadership and spiralling debt, any nation should focus on financially effective dormant chartering of newer coastal vessels capable of "multi-tasking".
Admiral Henderson proposed a fleet of 4 armoured cruisers, and 5 protected cruisers to the sub base port of Thursday Island in the Torres Strait, which is presently Australia's area of highest border incursions. Today, there are no naval vessels based at Thursday Island today. Hello? Anyone home?
Interestingly Admiral Henderson visited Cooktown, Cairns and Thursday Island and suggested that the protection of our north eastern seaboard should extend to our south Pacific neighbouring countries and the defence policy to be treated as a whole.
Dormant charters are pre-signed at an agreed rate, so that in the event of conflict or emergency response, the vessel comes under Naval control on an hour's notice. A variation on this method is employed by the UK MoD, Scandinavian countries, Canada and the US, mainly with flexible Roro vessels
While larger Roro vessels would be of little use in Australia's regions, due to the lack of port infrastructures, there are potentially far more useful options available.
When trying to determine what type of vessels are most useful in any given environment, there is no better guide than looking at what the locals use. South Pacific Nations including Australia and New Zealand have a variety of coastal commercial vessels 50-80 metres all of proven designs.
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