• An M1A1 tank aboard an LHD landing craft in July.
Chief of Navy via Twitter
    An M1A1 tank aboard an LHD landing craft in July. Chief of Navy via Twitter

Army’s Land Mobility System Program is currently looking at replacing the ageing Mechanized Mark 8 Landing Craft (LCM8), which were originally brought into service by the US Navy for river operations during the Vietnam War. The Australian Army have been using similar platform types for many years, which will soon be replaced by a more suitable watercraft under Project Land 8710 Phase 1 (Army Water Transport).

Now that the landing craft (LLCs) aboard HMAS Canberra and HMAS Adelaide are fit for purpose, they could serve as a viable contender to meet Army’s future water transport requirements.

The LLCs were originally flagged in Senate Estimates in May 2016, when tests of the crafts’ suitability to take Army’s M1A1 Abrams tanks were suspended after RAN discovered the vessels ‘sat lower in the water than expected’ with an Abrams on board.

Defence also postponed further trials until May 2018 because of an inability to transit out the back of the ship in a docked position. This meant that the ADF’s ability to use Abrams tanks in amphibious operations depended on the two Mexeflote craft on board HMAS Choules, which are also compatible with RAN’s two Landing Helicopter Dock ships (LHDs).

However, HMA Ships Canberra and Adelaide’s LLCs are now performing well beyond expectations, as seen during the recent Talisman Sabre exercise, thanks to work undertaken by Naval Ship Management (NSM) at Sydney City Marine’s dockyard in Rozelle, a short water transit from Fleet Base East.

The LLCs have undergone a major bulkhead upgrade program to increase their operating load carrying capacity as a primary ship-to-shore connector, and can now successfully carry Abrams tanks and heavier support vehicles across the full range of operating sea states. With only a few vessels awaiting completion of their upgrades, this has paved the way for the LLCs final certification to further support the RAN in achieving Final Operational Capability (FOC) for Australia’s Amphibious Task Group.

This upgrade work is ongoing and continues to be managed by NSM at Sydney City Marine.

With the LLCs now fit for purpose, these vessels could represent an ideal alternative to the ageing LCM8s and satisfy the requirements for Land 8710 Phase 1.

Additional LLC platforms would enable the Army to use them in their current operating parameters and also enable greater interoperability between Army and Navy to and from the deployed LHDs. With increased platform numbers positioned in Townsville and Darwin, a greater degree of flexibility is now being afforded to the LHDs’ command should they be required to sail without the full complement of LLCs onboard. The LHDs could rely on embarking LLC platforms either from Townsville or Darwin and then proceed on deployment with the required assets and maintain full operational capability.

Despite the ever-increasing operational demands of the ADF and the on-going need to review and acquire more assets to meet and satisfy those obligations, the ADF remains hesitant to increase maritime asset platform types if there is little need.

Now that the current Navantia-designed LLCs are fit for purpose and future-ready, building more to be used by both Army and Navy appears to satisfy those requirements and would provide greater flexibilities for the ADF in the long term.

Note: Warren Levin is Commercial & Defence Director for Sydney City Marine.

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