Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 06:24 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 06:24 | SYDNEY

Notes from the Sea Power conference

3 February 2010 13:14

Last week's Sea Power 2010 Conference charted a course for Australia's amphibious forces, and the security environment in which they will operate. The impressive range of Australian and international speakers sparked quite a few insights, and reminded us of others. Some of the key takeaways I drew are below.

  • Australia has an important maritime legacy, both civil and military. Our first military action as a lead nation was an amphibious operation, clearing Pacific German possessions in the very first months of the Great War.
  • Projecting power and influence from the sea is as important as projecting power and influence at sea. Sea power is in part about the projection of power and influence within the littoral environment, where the land and sea environments meet — the littoral extends into each environment as far as force and influence can be projected from the other. Importantly, the littoral is influenced by other domains – not just air, but increasingly, space and cyberspace. Success in the littoral environment demands capabilities working in a symbiotic relationship in each of these domains.
  • Australia's maritime strategy, as recently described in the 2009 Defence White Paper, acknowledges the amphibious nature of the many security missions likely to occur in the littoral, along Australia's coastlines and beyond. Five of our nearest neighbours (Indonesia, Philippines, the Solomons, PNG and Fiji) together comprise over 25,000 islands.
  • As humans increasingly occupy, urbanise and exploit the littoral, it will become pivotal to the interests of nations and the global community. Yet threats are growing in those same areas. Criminal acts, sovereignty threats, and blends of both will test the national security and law enforcement abilities of Australia and its neighbours in the littoral.
  • The scale of increase in Australia's amphibious capability (see graphic above) is difficult to grasp: simply as a raw tonnage comparison, our present amphibious capacity totals just over 27,000 tonnes – dwarfed by the nearly 80,000 tonne aggregate by around 2020. The two future amphibious ships – the LHDs – will far outstrip the current two ships, and even our last aircraft carrier.
  • Australia's future actions in the littorals won't be limited to inserting combat forces during a conflict. Rapid response to humanitarian events and disasters – aid, evacuation, reconstruction and sustainment — will be important, while providing a reassuring security presence or demonstration of national intent will remain as valuable as ever.
  • Other scenarios might involve the amphibious delivery of development assistance such as stores, equipment and people. But an amphibious vessel is no cruise ship, and any personnel – government or civilian — operating from them will need specialised preparation and training.
  • Opposition in the littoral environment might comprise not only conventional military but also irregular adversaries, both state and non-state, as seen in insurgent operations around Mindanao in the Philippines, piracy off Somalia and in the Malacca Straits, and the surprisingly sophisticated operations of the Tamil Sea Tigers off Sri Lanka. Our police and other law enforcement agencies therefore need to be capable of operating in the littoral – both independently and in concert with military and other government actors.

The amphibious capability development on which Australia has embarked embodies the ongoing shift from a reactionary defensive posture of Australia as a continent to one of 'grasping the nettle' of Australia’s littorals and beyond. It will also redefine the way Australia applies its instruments of national power and engagement to future national security challenges.

Image courtesy of the Department of Defence.