- Howland, Tony
- Ship design and development
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 2010 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Survivability depends initially on the capability to counter effectively successive waves of attacks delivered from a variety of launch platforms with a variety of weapons. It refers therefore, not only to the quality of weaponry but also very much on the quantity, both in a single ship and in the force as a whole.
Any consideration of survivability must also address the distasteful prospect of failure to counter attacks successfully. At the lower end of the scale is the ability of a ship to absorb damage and still keep on fighting effectively. At the upper (or perhaps it is even lower) end of the scale is the prospect of a ship or ships being destroyed, and survivability then is a question of the Fleet continuing as a fighting unit — in other words, simply numbers of ships to replace those lost.
This discussion has emphasized survivability because it is such an all-encompassing measure of Fleet effectiveness. It is also, within certain limits, fairly precisely quantifiable, both in reference to a single ship, and in sum to the Fleet as a whole.
Any studies of force structure should express their findings in terms of the individual and collective survivability of the units comprising the force against a range of possible threats. In a study of a no-carrier Navy, this is particularly important. All the studies associated with the Melbourne replacement so far have emphasized the importance of air superiority over the Fleet, particularly outside the range of land-based air support. If it remains the role of the Navy to operate ‘out there’ then we must be able to provide some easily recognisable measure of our ability to do so, initially with a carrier, but more critically, without. That measure is survivability.
In conclusion, I would re-emphasize my theme. I have not argued against the carrier. Rather I have called for a closer and more public examination of the alternatives, starting with the worst case of no sea-borne fixed wing capability at all. My justification for this call is that only by examining the alternatives in detail can we test the strength of our case for the carrier. I have not been made aware that such a detailed examination has taken place.
I hope then that the generalities I have put forward will provoke both thought and action. And for the peace of mind of ‘Proteus’, I would say, not that the question needs no further debate, but that he may profit from a whole new debate.
I’ve never thought of myself as a ‘pot stirrer’, much less a ‘deviant’ or a ‘young Turk’. But these titles featured strongly amongst the avalanche of correspondence – mail and telephone – which followed the publication of my article. I was roundly berated for not following the party line. ‘We must all pull together! There can be no breaking ranks! We must have a new carrier!’ These were the common themes with which I was assailed.
As it happened, my personal situation had changed significantly. My first marriage was ending and it became obvious that I would have to give up my career to care for my children. I had been warned that my next posting would inevitably be to Canberra, and I simply could not make that move. I was obliged to resign my commission.
Several things happened quickly. My next posting did indeed come through: I was posted to Canberra to the Aircraft Carrier Replacement Project! I was incredulous. I phoned my Boss (Desig) and said I would not be joining him, and anyway, I would not have been a good, committed recruit. After some discussion, he simply said, ‘Oh, I would have brought you around.’ I did leave the Navy and started a new and very enjoyable career as a single parent and as an Executive Recruiter, known in the trade as a ‘head-hunter.’
And – surprise surprise! The Government of the day told the country that we couldn’t afford a new aircraft carrier, and that the Navy would have to go back to the drawing board.
Very fortunately, at that time, phrases like ‘border protection’, ‘boat people’ and ‘people smugglers’ had not impacted significantly on the national consciousness, so the Navy’s drawing boards had time to turn out a range of new ships – new patrol boats, destroyers, submarines.
Nowadays, the wheel has turned yet again. An aircraft carrier (of sorts) is again on the drawing boards. I do hope the Government’s pockets are deep enough. I hope too that no-one has to write another historic document such as mine to presage a change.