Canberra is currently striving on many fronts to counter China’s pervading influence in the Indo Pacific region. On February 17, in the latest initiative in pursuit of this policy, a Royal Australian Navy (RAN) Task Group (TG) set sail from Sydney on a four month operational deployment, named Pacific Endeavour.
First on the agenda for the TG, which is made up of the landing helicopter (dock) (LHD) Canberra, the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate Newcastle and the replenishment-at-sea tanker Success, is a series of exercises off the west coast of Australia, which will also involve British and New Zealand Navy warships.
On completion of these exercises, ships from the TG will visit India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam, exercising with naval forces from these nations. The TG will also be ready to assist in the event of natural disasters and humanitarian emergencies. Canberra, with its extensive internal space, and the ability to operate up to 18 helicopters, is particularly well suited for such tasking, which, as well as saving lives, can reap major diplomatic gains.
The response of the RAN, and the Royal New Zealand Navy, to the severe impact of a cyclone on Fiji in 2016, for instance, was a significant factor in reinvigorating the relationships of Canberra and Wellington with Suva. The Fijians had for some years been drawing closer to both Beijing and Moscow.
The LP(D)’s prime role is amphibious warfare, but it is fitted with advanced Saab Sea Giraffe surveillance and tracking radar, and electronic warfare equipment, and has strong command and control and intelligence gathering capabilities. This means that Canberra will also be a very useful asset in offshore exercises involving surface, undersea and air warfare scenarios.
The deployment will be the swan song for two of the participating vessels, which are due to be decommissioned after their return to Australia. Newcastle is to be retired following the entry into service of Sydney, the last of the three new air warfare destroyers of the Hobart class. Success will be withdrawn following the commissioning of Supply, the first of two replenishment tankers currently under construction by Navantia in Spain.
Maritime security expert and columnist, Trevor Hollingsbee was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, Senior Superintendent with the Hong Kong Marine Police, Assistant Secretary for Security in the British Hong Kong Government Security Branch, and Intelligence Analyst in the UK Ministry of Defence. As an independent defence and security analyst he has had some 1,500 articles on maritime security, and geopolitical topics, published in a range of international journals and newspapers. He is an Associate Fellow of the Nautical Institute, and a past Vice-Chairman of the Institute’s Hong Kong branch.