Developments Down Under

By Commander Richard T. Jackson, Royal New Zealand Navy

The RNZN did commission the first ANZAC frigate, HMNZS Te Kaha , in July 1997. The second frigate, Te Mana , was launched at Melbourne last May. But there is little political will for more expensive frigates—the Te Kaha was valued at $560 million (NZ dollars) on delivery—and the problem of eventually replacing HMNZS Canterbury will not go away. Last year the Navy investigated the possibility of acquiring two U.S. Navy FFG-7s, but the desired goal is to maintain commonality and acquire one more ANZAC frigate. Given the scant domestic understanding of the RNZN's purpose in the post-Cold War world, the Navy will have a long struggle to get an order for a third ANZAC-class ship confirmed.

Both countries' navies are challenged to justify their missions, not only to the public but to the other services as well. With the current emphasis on joint national operations, some Australians consider their Navy simply a source of floating radar pickets for the Air Force or troop transports for the Army.

Yet the two nations are part of an immense maritime region in which the potential flash points are largely maritime: sea and seabed boundaries under the 1982 Law of the Sea, conflicting claims over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, secessionist violence in East Timor and Bougainville, and rivalries over various rocks and islets in North Asia. Both Australia and New Zealand have major trading interests and commitments throughout the region; both nations' economies would be affected by regional conflict.

These issues are addressed in Australia's new Strategic Review , which (like New Zealand's Defense White Paper ) examines the future international environment of the Asia-Pacific region and draws conclusions for the future shape of the Australian Defense Force. The new Strategic Review downplays the existing focus on "defense of Australia" and instead emphasizes the value to be gained from improved military links with Australia's friends and neighbors—a concept known as forward cooperation.

This should be good news. The Royal Australian Navy, with port visits to China and periodic deployments to North Asia among its duties, already is demonstrating its value through naval diplomacy. The RAN places a high value on its part in the regular RIMPAC exercises, and both Navies take a full part in the annual Five Power Defense Arrangement exercises with Singapore, Malaysia, and the United Kingdom. As well, both navies have contributed ships to the U.N.-mandated Maritime Interception Force operating off Iraq, while HMNZS Canterbury provided naval presence off Bougainville during the 1997 peace initiatives. Again, both navies are using their ships to good effect for regional security.

Hence the ANZAC Warfighting Improvement Program (WIP) and the FFG Progressive Upgrade Project (PUP) are important for the future of the Royal Australian Navy's surface fleet. The new ANZAC-class frigates were designed with room for additional weapons, and the improvement program will add mine detection and improved antisubmarine warfare systems, followed by an antiair warfare upgrade. In contrast, the first of the Australian frigates have been in service for almost 20 years, and hull and machinery life extensions, as well as an update of command-and-control systems and weapons, are planned. The Australian frigates presently operate S-70D Seahawk helicopters, but both navies have ordered Kaman SH-2G helicopters for the new ANZAC-class frigates.

The two Royal New Zealand Navy ANZACs will not undergo the full WIP, but the purchase of a towed-array sonar, improved ASW torpedoes, and the Evolved Seasparrow point defense missile will improve their combat power. New Zealand is taking delivery of four SH-2F Sea Sprite aircraft early in 1998 (until the SH-2G can be delivered in 2000) to be used as interim helicopters for their frigates to replace the old Westland Wasp helicopters that have been in service since 1966. New Zealand's current pair of old but modernized Leander -class frigates, HMNZS Wellington and HMNZS Canterbury , also will be able to operate the Sea Sprites.

Early in the new century the surface combatants of the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal New Zealand Navy should be well equipped for operations and deployments throughout their region. It is likely that naval diplomacy and maritime constabulary will be the priorities for the two navies, yet the need to have effective combat power has not been forgotten.

Commander Jackson is on the Directing Staff of the Royal Australian Navy Staff College, HMAS Penguin . He is a 1972 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy.

 

Rear Admiral Hicks is Program Director, Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense, the sea-based element of the Ballistic Missile Defense System under development by the Missile Defense Agency.

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