It is never too early to start planning, particularly in the ever-evolving threat environment Australia finds itself in – and while the Royal Australian Navy’s Hobart Class guided-missile destroyers will serve as the backbone of the nation’s maritime-based area-air and missile defence capabilities for the foreseeable future, working with international partners like the US and UK prepares Australia for the future.
With Navy undergoing the largest peacetime transformation of capability and platform in its history, the Royal Australian Navy is well positioned within the broader development of the “joint force” Australian Defence Force and its transition towards a fifth-generation force.
At the forefront of this is Plan Pelorus 2022, Chief of Navy’s vision for developing “a thinking, a fighting, an Australian Navy” supported by uniquely Australian and world-leading capabilities to ensure that Navy is capable of meeting the operational and strategic requirements established by government.
A key component of Plan Pelorus 2022 is the renewed focus on Australia’s immediate region – the Indo-Pacific.
The planning statement articulates: “We live in an increasingly complex geopolitical environment, within a dynamic Indo-Pacific region. The maritime domain is central to the security and prosperity of our nation. As resources become increasingly scarce, and the competition greater, all elements of national power must work together to achieve the desired outcomes for our nation, and those of our friends. Fuelled by technological advances and availability of information, the future is increasingly unpredictable.
“Navy has a crucial role to play to support our government, and we must continue to evolve and prepare for a myriad of operational possibilities. This is the basis of our 2022 Headmark. Clarity and alignment in our understanding of our Headmark will effectively guide our day-to-day actions.”
The role of the Hobart Class within Plan Pelorus 2022
For Chief of Navy, and the government as a whole, Navy operating as a critical combined “sensor-shooter” combination within the broader joint force will serve as a major force multiplier for Navy and as the guiding development principles for the introduction of Plan Pelorus 2022.
A key component of this future force is the relatively small fleet of Hobart Class guided-missile destroyers, powered by the SPY-1D radar and Aegis combat system, the three destroyers alongside the Hunter Class will serve as the backbone of the Royal Australian Navy’s major surface combatant fleet, giving the nation the world’s second-largest Aegis fleet behind the United States Navy, and a formidable capability.
The Hobarts also serve as a key component of the Plan Pelorus 2022 program – with renewed focus broken down into seven key focal points, each with an interlocking and overlapping tactical and strategic impact for the development of the future Navy, its operating capacity and strategic capability into the middle of the 21st century.
Plan Pelorus 2022 reflects a significant undertaking when each element of the statement is defined:
- Workforce: We will be fully crewed at sea and staffed ashore, able to train for future demand, and prepared for continued growth.
- Lethal: We will be able to deny, deter and defeat our adversaries in the face of evolving threats and challenges.
- Integrated: We are integrated with the joint force and operate effectively with our allies and like-minded partners.
Battleworthy: We will provide sea, air and cyber worthy platforms to the Chief of Joint Operations.
- Sustained: Our resources are optimised to enable conduct of all our activities and our future commitments.
- Persistent: We will be able to maintain a long-term presence away from our home ports.
- Near region: Engaged across the Indo-Pacific; we meet all domestic requirements and work closely with our friends and partners in the near region.
Australia’s renewed shift in focus towards the Indo-Pacific and the nation’s immediate sphere of influence, combined with the increasing peer and near-peer capabilities developing throughout the region, will serve as a critical component influencing the deployment of the Hobart Class vessels – in particular the advent of advanced naval aviation and surface combatants, combined with anti-ship cruise and ballistic missile systems and advanced submarines, will all serve to challenge the survivability and capability of the platforms in the future.
The US Navy’s Large Surface Combatant and Royal Navy’s Type 4X programs
Responding to the growing peer and near-peer capabilities emerging both regionally and globally, combined with the limited capacity for modernisation of legacy platforms like the Ticonderoga, older Arleigh Burke and Type 45 Daring Class vessels, respectively, has resulted in both the US Navy and Royal Navy initiating programs to oversee the design and development of a modern, highly capable and flexible surface combatant.
The US Navy’s Large Surface Combatant (LSC) program aims to replace both the Cold War-era Ticondergoa Class guided-missile cruisers and the early Flight I and II/IIA variants of the Arleigh Burke Class with a common platform incorporating the anti-submarine, anti-air warfare and surface warfare capabilities and technologies developed over the life of the respective platforms to form the basis of the US Navy’s future surface combat fleet.
LSC also aims to provide industry benefits for the US defence industrial base, with the program expected to fit lockstep into the US Navy’s long-term naval shipbuilding and modernisation program, commencing following the end of the production run for the enlarged and upgunned Flight III Arleigh Burke guided-missile destroyer program, which will feature an evolved variant of the SPY-1D, the Raytheon-designed and manufactured SPY-6 Air and Missile Defence Radar (AMDR) system.
The Royal Navy’s long-troubled and costly Type 45 Daring Class vessels are slated for replacement beginning in the mid-to-late 2030s, with the Royal Navy currently kicking off research and development for the next-generation of guided-missile destroyer that will be responsible for providing the Royal Navy with an advanced, future-proofed area-air defence and surface combatant capability in support of the Queen Elizabeth Class carrier strike groups and operating independently in contested environments.
Reportedly known as Project Castlemaine, the Royal Navy’s Type 4X program aims to build on the success of the Type 26 Global Combat Ship with the selection by the vessel by the Royal Canadian and Royal Australian Navies, respectively, to maximise the spread costs associated with research and development and acquisition by guaranteeing a larger production run and shared component and acquisition lines.
This approach also provides an opportunity for increased and sustained levels of interoperability for key Five Eyes allies all operating the same or similar platforms – the similar delivery timeline and capability requirements currently fulfilled by both the Daring and Hobart Classes respectively serves to build on the precedent established by the Type 26 and paves the way for larger production runs to meet the growing operational and strategic requirements of both nations.
Type 26 also serves to show that US combat systems, favoured by the Royal Australian Navy, can be integrated within the confines of a large, British-designed surface combatant and could serve to pave the way for a Hunter Class-based Australian replacement for the Hobart, supporting the government’s long-term naval shipbuilding program, supporting the development of Australia’s defence industrial base.
Given the geographic area of responsibility Australia will become increasingly responsible for and dependent on, will the RAN and the recapitalisation and modernisation programs currently underway be enough for Australia to maintain its qualitative and quantitative lead over regional peers?
As an island nation, Australia is defined by its relationship and access to the ocean, with strategic sea lines of communication supporting over 90 per cent of global trade, a result of the cost-effective and reliable nature of sea transport.
Indo-Pacific Asia is at the epicentre of the global maritime trade, with about US$5 trillion worth of trade flowing through the South China Sea and the strategic waterways and choke points of south-east Asia annually.
While the Indian Ocean and its critical global sea lines of communication are responsible for more than 80 per cent of the world’s seaborne trade in critical energy supplies, namely, oil and natural gas, which serve as the lifeblood of any advanced economy.
Submarines are critical to the nation’s ability to protect these strategically vital waterways and key naval assets, as well as providing a viable tactical and strategic deterrent and ensure the nation’s enduring national and economic security. Recognising this, the previously posed questions will serve as conversation starting points.
Traditionally, Australia has focused on a platform-for-platform acquisition program – focused on replacing, modernising or upgrading key capabilities on a like-for-like basis without a guiding policy, doctrine or strategy, limiting the overall effectiveness, survivability and capability of the RAN.