Friday 17 Aug 2018 | 13:45 | SYDNEY
Friday 17 Aug 2018 | 13:45 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: Ski-jumping to conclusions


Sam Roggeveen


26 June 2008 15:16

Chris Skinner is a regular correspondent, and I kind of knew my post on the RAN's new amphibious ships would get his blood boiling. My response follows Chris' email:

Sometimes I despair at your perception that Australia must tiptoe around making sure not to upset anyone in the region with what we are about. Frankly I think you seriously underestimate the respect and goodwill that Australia enjoys because of its steadily increasing engagement in the region and its preparedness to assist (eg Aceh, RAMSI and East Timor).

No-one that I have ever met expects Australia to act solely as a Peace Corps with the ability to intervene but carefully avoiding any aggressive capabilities. Such impracticality! An iron fist in a velvet glove is nearer the reality – act peacefully but never obscure the capability to respond decisively if ever needed. Would our role in Timor have been effective without such a capability? I don’t think so.

Removing the ski-jump is an unnecessary and laughable option. The aircraft carrier debate in the 70s was lost because the Navy could not see past the ship – it is the aircraft that make the capability, not the ship, and STOVL aircraft can operate off any large horizontal platform – with or without a ski-jump. Bulk ore carriers would do nicely, thank you.

As I said in the original post, Australia is an exemplary regional citizen. But a little empathy is in order here. No one ever sees us precisely as we would expect or wish to be seen, and my post just argued that those perceptions, whether warranted or not, will have consequences.

I'm not arguing that Australia must tiptoe around the region for fear of upsetting anyone. But we could choose a more non-provocative defence posture. It's a change that would have very few costs and would set a good example. If the region gets more dangerous, it could even help avert an arms race.

Chris makes a valuable point about the ski jump; just removing it would not be a definitive signal that Australia planned never to use the ships as platforms for offensive air power. But the ski jump has no other purpose than to improve the take-off performance of fixed wing aircraft that could be used as bombers, so removing it would send a signal of non-aggression. It would also, incidentally, increase the deck space available for helicopters.