The European-made NHIndustries NH90 is the star of the newest military capability of Australia, where the type dubbed MRH-90 Taipan, is a major part of the Amphibious Ready Element (ARE). The expeditionary unit is now prepping for an important series of exercises lasting several months and that will give the ARE operational readiness status by October this year.
This week crews and support personnel of the Royal Australian Army’s 16th Aviation Brigade were prepping their MRH-90s together with the 2nd Battalion and the Royal Australian Navy’s sole aircraft carrier (landing helicopter dock) HMAS Canberra. Location of the operations: the waters off the North Queensland coast.
The Amphibious Ready Element includes a force of 900 Australian Defence Force and other Government personnel, supported by four MRH-90 helicopters embarked on the Canberra. The Sea Series of exercises will will enable the amphibious force to achieve an interim operational status, meaning limited combat and full humanitarian disaster response capability.
The main goal of the current exercises is to have all units and personnel combined learn how to operate as one force, with focussing on putting ground forces on a beach with both the MRH-90s as well as landing craft and to control a larger area beachhead.
Australia has dropped plans to buy Lockheed Martin F-35B Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) fighter aircraft for its Landing Helicopter Ships HMAS Canberra and HMAS Adelaide, various sources report on Thursday 9 July.
Plans to operate the F-35B from both ships first emerged last year and were even confirmed by Defense minister David Johnston. Those plans have now been quietly ditched, the apparent reason being the large number of modifications needed to both brand new ships.
Australia therefore will only operate the standard F-35A variant, of which 72 are on order and two are currently used for training in the US. The first Royal Australian Air Force pilots are learning to fly the F-35A at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona.
The Royal Australian Navy and Royal Australian Air Force will operate a shipborne version of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II stealthy fighter jet. Australia’s Defence Minister David Johnston told The Weekend West the second week of May 2014 that the government is considering buying the B-model, the same variant as the US Marine Corps is getting.
A yet to release number of F-35s are preliminary planned to fly from HMAS Canberra and HMAS Adelaide, the new Landing Helicopter Ships (LDHs) that are currently starting to mark Australia’s come-back into the more strategic maritime role since the country stopped using the HMAS Melbourne in 1982. AIRheads↑Fly editor Marcel Burger wrote a much read article on the introduction of these new vessels in March this year.
Other sources within the Australian government confirm that a shipborne version of the F-35 has been considered for the LHDs from the moment the order for the vessels went out.
Despite all the pro-talk, if and when the Canberra and/or Adelaide will house the first Australian stealthy fighter jump jets is much subject to pricing and budget of course. For now the official order is “only” for 72 conventional F-35As for the RAAF, but like a government spokesperson confirmed – the door is open for more.
UPDATED 28 November 2014 | Officially commissioned on 28 November 2014, it is the largest ship ever built for the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and it is sporting an interesting ski-jump. Will we see Harriers or F-35B Lightning IIs operate from the brand new HMAS Canberra?
Likely, but not flying in Royal Australian Navy (RAN) or Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) service … for the time being. The official roles of the new ADF Landing Helicopter Dock ships include “to embark, transport and deploy a military force. In case of the ADF it will be the Army, but it could equally be an allied Army or Marines Corps”.
Hello US Marines and British Royal Navy/Royal Marines F-35s! The short take-off and vertical landing fighter jets ordered by the two services would make excellent fighter coverage for any naval combat force with the HMAS Canberra or its future sister ship HMAS Adelaide as its centrepiece. Or it might host other navy’s Harrier jump jets, like the EAV-8B Matador IIs of 9a Escuadrilla Aeronaves that can deploy on the SPS L61 Juan Carlos I. The Australian Canberra-class LHDs are based on this Spanish design.
But things are looking good for a RAAF/RAN F-35 force on board the HMAS Canberra. “The Government is considering buying the “B” model of the F-35, the variant to operate from aircraft carriers”, Australian Defence Minister David Johnston more or less told the newspaper The Weekend West in the beginning of May 2014. Other sources confirmed the stealthy Lightning II has been considered for the two new LHDs from the very first day the Australian government ordered the vessels.
Rotary wing fleet
The Canberra’s flight deck is 202.3 m (663 feet) long and 32 m (105 feet) wide with six landing spots, primarily designed to accommodate the ADF’s rotary wing fleet. It allows simultaneous take off and landing operations of six medium-sized helicopters like the MRH90 Taipan, S-70B-2 Black Hawk, the new MH-60R Seahawk, or four simultaneous take off and landings of the larger CH-47D/F Chinooks in Royal Australian Army service. There are two aircraft elevators – one aft of the flight deck and one forward of the island on the starboard side – that can accommodate medium sized helicopters, with the after one able to accommodate the larger Chinooks.
Between the flight deck and the accommodation deck is a contiguous hangar and light vehicle deck. The hanger (aft) can accommodate up to 8 medium sized helicopters with 18 medium sized helicopters able to be accommodated if the light vehicle deck (front) is also used. Accommodation is provided for 1400 personnel, of which 400 are the ship’s own company. The LHD will be jointly crewed with personnel from Navy, Army and the Air Force.
Untill (foreign) Harriers or F-35s are admitted during operations, the biggest aerial combat power on the Canberra and Adelaide will come from embarked ARH-Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopter, of which 22 operate with the RAA’s 1st Aviation Regiment in Darwin. Getting the two LHDs out at sea has put Australia back in a more strategic maritime role, after the last aircraft carrier of the nation – HMAS Melbourne – was decommissioned in 1982.