The Canberra class amphibious assault ships are the largest vessels ever constructed for Australia, and it appears the Royal Australian Navy will be receiving one later this year. Despite measuring 230 meters and weighing over 27,000 tons, the Canberra class can undertake multiple roles, operate from secondary ports and maneuver in the shallow waters associated with littoral areas. As an LHD, the Canberra can carry up to 16 helicopters, including the UH-60 Blackhawk, CH-47F Chinook and the EC665 Tiger ARH.
Recent reporting suggests the vessel has been undergoing a series of sea trials since March, which will eventually culminate in a voyage around Victoria and Gippsland to test the ship’s performance. Those watching satellite imagery of the vessel at BAE’s Williamstown shipyard from 2013-2014, have long awaited the trials. Imagery has shown less and less clutter on the deck suggesting the vessel was readying to sail, further substantiating progress reports. After the trials are complete, the ship will be handed over to the Navy in Q3 2014. If all goes according to plan, it will be commissioned in 2015.
The Canberra is the first of two LHDs being built for the navy at a cost of about $3 billion. It will carry up to 1600 soldiers to support disaster relief and peacekeeping operations, or so the narrative goes. The lower decks will be capable of holding more than 100 trucks as well as other vehicles including up to a dozen Abrams battle tanks. Four mechanized landing craft will also be on board ready to ferry the troops and their equipment to shore, as shown in the cutaway (right).
Most recently, US Marine Corp personnel deployed to Australia in order to instruct the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment (2 RAR) on planning amphibious operations, including expeditionary logistics and expeditionary communications. Members who participated validated their training with a capstone exercise synchronized with the joint US-Australian Exercise Talisman Sabre in 2013. The exercise usually focuses on improving combat readiness and interoperability between the forces.
As a joint production project, the construction of HMAS Canberra began in late 2008 at Spain’s Navantia Shipyard at Ferrol. Her keel was laid in September 2009 and launched on time in February 2011. The first steel was cut for the second ship, HMAS Adelaide, in February 2010. HMS Adelaide was launched in July 2012 and is over 85% complete. In December 2013, the Adelaide was loaded on the MV Blue Marlin where she has since made her way to BAE’s Williamstown shipyard, according to handhelds published in February 2014.
Upon finishing both vessels, Australia will join other Asia-Pacific naval forces like China and Japan in constructing multipurpose aircraft carriers supporting force projection far beyond national boundaries.