• HMAS Canberra prepares to come alongside at Fleet Base West. (Defence)
    HMAS Canberra prepares to come alongside at Fleet Base West. (Defence)

The RAN's Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) flagships HMA Ships Adelaide and Canberra have achieved final operational capability.

At 230-metres long and with a speed of more than 20 knots, the 27,500 tonne ships are home-ported at Garden Island, Sydney. Each ship has the ability to support six helicopters, and four small landing craft which are able to carry Army’s M1A1 main battle tank following recent upgrades.

Minister for Defence Senator Linda Reynolds said HMA Ships Adelaide and Canberra are ready to be deployed on amphibious operations such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and amphibious warfare.

“The ADF’s amphibious capability is an integral part of Australia’s strategic posture and this milestone is another step in Navy’s roadmap to delivering amphibious excellence,” Minister Reynolds said.

Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Michael Noonan said Navy is closer to achieving a resilient, sustained and integrated Navy, as outlined in the Plan Pelorus strategy for 2022.

“As we transition to a more technologically advanced Navy, our goal is to be capable of conducting sustained combat operations as part of a Joint Force,” Vice Admiral Noonan said.

The LHDs are sustained by Naval Ship Management, a joint venture between UGL and Babcock, under a $1.5 billion contract awarded in December last year.

The journey to FOC has not been without hiccups, notably when HMAS Adelaide was dry-docked at Fleet Base East after RAN observed the migration of oils across seals and tiny metal particulates in the propulsion pods' lube oil. Oils of different viscosities were also found to have mixed within the pods of both ships. The root cause was thought to be wear issues in bearings.

Defence reached a settlement with Navantia in April and the ships now operate 'free of significant issues'.

The LHDs are the largest ships ever made for RAN and form the backbone of Australia's amphibious capability, able to land 1,000 personnel with equipment and vehicles. They were designed with a shallow draft to facilitate operations in secondary ports and the littoral waters to Australia's north.

In addition to deploying troops, the ships can also embark a number of helicopters: MRH-90 Taipans, CH-47 Chinooks, ARH Tigers, Blackhawks and Seahawks. Four Chinooks can take off simultaneously from the flight deck.

Whilst certainly capable in the amphibious role they are designed for, the LHDs have come under criticism from strategic commentators as being too vulnerable to modern A2/AD capabilities. Some have called for the LHDs to be upgraded, or supplemented by a third variant, to carry F-35B fighters. Others, such as Hugh White, have called for them to be sold.

The ships are also Australia's prime asset for responding to humanitarian crises throughout the region and supporting the government's Pacific engagement strategy. HMAS Adelaide has just deployed to the Solomon Islands to help clear WW2-era explosives and previously deployed to Port Moresby to provide security for this year's APEC summit, whilst HMAS Canberra lead Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2019.

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