Over the past few decades, the U.S. Navy and Royal Australian Navy (RAN) have exercised and operated together in the Middle East, Indian Ocean, and Pacific, mainly focusing on counterpiracy and maritime interdiction operations. Now it is time to train together for combined high-end warfighting.
The (RAN) closed out 2018 with HMAS Hobart’s (DDG-39) weapons and combat system trials in the United States, proving the functionality of the systems in the first of the RAN’s three air warfare destroyers. Not only has the Hobart certified its weapon and combat systems, but it was the first foreign warship to successfully share Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) data with a U.S. Navy ship.
For the first time since the introduction of the SPY-1 radar and Aegis combat system in the Ticonderoga class cruisers in the 1980s, the U.S. Navy has a partner that is interoperable in high-end air defense. Yet system interoperability is just the beginning.
The Hobart-class ships are being built in Australia by ASC, using a Spanish Navantia hull, mechanical, and electrical design, and featuring significant U.S.-made electronic equipment and weapons, including the SPY-1D radar and Standard 2, Evolved Sea Sparrow, and Harpoon missiles. During her trials in the United States, she trained with the USS John Finn (DDG-113), including sharing CEC data. She refueled at sea from the USNS Yukon (T-AO-202). Her advanced capabilities build on the Royal Australian Navy’s existing training, exercises, and operations with the U.S. Navy, and provide the means by which the two navies can achieve high-end warfighting together.
Broadly, high-end warfighting connotes high-intensity combat in a major theater war; and the United States and Australia have worked to revitalize these capabilities in complementary ways. Learning from shared experience in World War II, both navies seek to establish high-end warfighting capability before the onset—rather than after the commencement—of the next major theater war. The two navies’ efforts must converge, just as they did more than 75 year ago.
The Case for Combined High-End Warfighting
The three challenges for the United States and Australia in operating a combined force in a high-end war are: interoperability, sustainability, and capacity. These challenges were first observed in the early months of World War II in the Pacific. Combined high-end warfighting between Australia and the United States followed Japan’s attacks against the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor and the Royal Navy’s Force Z off the Malay Peninsula on 10 December 1941, and the near destruction of the Australian-British-Dutch-American (ABDA) Naval Force over the course of several battles in January and February 1942, notably at the battles of Makassar Strait and Java Sea. The destruction of well-organized U.S. and allied navy forces proved they were not ready to operate against Japan’s naval and air forces. The loss of U.S. and Royal Navy battleships compelled the U.S. Navy to focus on carrier warfare; and the confinement of the Royal Navy to the Indian Ocean forced the Royal Australian Navy to rely on combined maritime operations with the U.S. Navy in the South West Pacific.
Australian and U.S. forces in the South West Pacific applied three lessons from the ABDA Command’s failed attempt to stop Japan’s occupation of the Malayan Peninsula, Singapore, and Dutch East Indies. The first lesson was the importance in preparing commanders and ships to operate as a unified naval force, particularly to plan, communicate, and fight together in air and surface battles. The second lesson was the need for the force to sustain itself during protracted battles at sea. Finally, the force had to coordinate with air forces before and during battle for protection, scouting, and attacks. The ABDA ships, coming from four navies with different languages, equipment, and doctrine, were too few and had too little time to prepare to fight the Japanese naval and air forces.
Following the disestablishment of ABDA, these lessons were incorporated by the Australian, New Zealand, and U.S. ships in the ANZAC Squadron on 12 February 1942. This squadron was renamed Task Force 44 (TF 44) following the creation of the South West Pacific Area (SWPA) Command on 22 April 1942. Participation in and support of U.S. carrier raids and convoy protection between February and April 1942 gave its commander, the Royal Navy’s Rear Admiral John Crace, the opportunity to train and prepare U.S. and Australian ships to fight Japan and to apply the lessons from Force Z and the ABDA. The support missions provided Crace and his captains the opportunity to improve communications, interoperability, and planning between Australian and U.S. ships before they faced battle. The second and third lessons in force sustainment and coordination with air forces were helped with appointment of Vice Admiral Herbert Leary as commander of Allied naval forces in the ANZAC area, and later in the SWPA.
By the Battle of Coral Sea in May 1942, TF 44 (consisting of HMAS Australia (D84), HMAS Hobart (D63), USS Chicago (CA-29), and three U.S. destroyers) had benefited from three months of preparation applying the lessons from Force Z and the ABDA. Despite Crace’s efforts to improve high-end warfighting among his cruisers and destroyers, Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher anticipated a battle between U.S. and Japanese carriers, and that lingering doctrinal and material differences between the USN and RAN ships prevented the incorporation of TF 44’s Australian ships into protection of the US carriers. Despite TF 44 effectively defending itself from Japanese land-based bombers, drawing Japanese attacks away from the U.S. carriers and contributing to Japan canceling its invasion of Port Moresby, the challenges in integrating TF 44 into the defense of the U.S. carriers against Japanese carriers arguably contributed to Fletcher’s withdrawal from the Coral Sea battle following the disabling of his only oiler, USS Neosho (AO-23), sinking of the USS Lexington (CV-2), and heavy damage to the USS Yorktown (CV-5).
The Way Ahead
It is difficult to assess how effective Allied naval and air forces would have been had they been trained and equipped for high-end warfighting at the onset of war. Australian cruisers might have presented Admiral Fletcher the option to protect his carriers.
Currently, the RAN’s legacy 1980’s-era Adelaide and 1990’s-era Anzac class frigates, despite decades of maritime security operations with the U.S. Navy in the Middle East, are no better prepared for combined high-end warfighting than Crace’s cruisers were to fight with U.S. carriers in 1942. The Hobart and her sisters will provide the RAN with interoperability, sustainability, and capacity for high-end warfighting.
The Hobart’s capabilities represent a small part of Australia’s $90 billion defense modernization program—its greatest recapitalization since World War II. In addition to the Hobart, the modernization includes nine Hunter-class Aegis frigates, two new Supply-class replenishment ships, E-7 Wedgetail airborne warning and control aircraft, P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft, and F-35 strike fighters. All these platforms will be interconnected via Link 16 and CEC.
With these impressive new platforms and systems, the Royal Australian Navy is a capable ally in the Indo-Pacific region. Now it is time for the U.S. and Australian navies to ramp up their combined training to build readiness for high-end warfighting. That readiness will serve as a strong deterrent to war and will ensure preparedness at the onset of a major war, if one should come.
 Samuel Eliot Morison, History of United States Naval Operations in World War II: Volume 3, The rising sun in the Pacific, 1931–April 1942 (University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 1948), 332, 347, and 358.
 Philip M. Ruhlman, War Winning: Paradigms and Visions for High-End Warfare (National Defense University, Institute for National Strategic Studies, 2001), 4.
 Wayne P. Hughes Jr., Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2000), 90–93.
 Ibid, 90.
 Morison, 332, 347, and 358.
 Mike Carlton, Flagship: The Cruiser HMAS Australia and the Pacific War on Japan (Australia: William Heinemann, 2016), 248, 249.
 John B. Lundstrom, Black Shoe Carrier Admiral: Frank Jack Fletcher at Coral Sea, Midway, and Guadalcanal (Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 2006), 100; Carlton, 248-249.
 Carlton, 345; Lundstrom, Black Shoe Carrier Admiral, 88, 99, 100, and 108.
 Lundstrom, Black Shoe Carrier Admiral, 100; Carlton, 248–249.
 George Hermon Gill, Royal Australian Navy, 1942–1945. Australia in the War of 1939–1945, Series 2, Volume II. (Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1968), 49; Lunstrom, The First Team, 185; Lundstrom, Black Shoe Carrier Admiral, 162.
 Gill, 50; Carlton, 287.
 Vice Admiral Tim Barrett, AO, CSC; Major General Kathryn Toohey, AM, CSC; and Air Marshal Leo Davis, AO, CSC, “Keynote Speech from Sea Power Conference 2017, Sydney, 3-5 October 2017,” Australian Defence Force Journal, no 203, 2018, 31-41.