Surface Forces: April 17, 2004

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The United States Navy and the Royal Australian Navy signed the Surface Forces Statement of Principles on February 27th. This agreement is slated to ensure that the United States and Australia can work together to protect interests in the Pacific and around the world. This is the second such agreement, the first being a Submarine Statement of Principles signed in 2001.

The major reason for this agreement is to prevent a repeat of the disasters of the ADBA command and the Battle of Savo Island early in World War II. The series of battles in the Dutch East Indies were almost universally disasters for the ADBA command. The August 8, 1942 Battle of Savo Island was another wipeout, the American/Australian force suffering the loss of four heavy cruisers (three American, one Australian) without taking out any of the Japanese ships in return and it was a major reason for the length and the near-run status of the subsequent Guadalcanal campaign. The two major reasons for those disasters were the lack of compatibility in systems (Australian and American ships could not talk to each other in the heat of battle a very big problem), and the lack of joint training (which meant an American commander had no idea what his Australian counterpart might be doing in a given situation).

The Submarine Statement of Principles was the first step the agreement and the exchange of information and technology eventually allowed the Australian Collins-class guided missile submarines to work with American attack submarines like the Los Angeles and Seawolf classes and the forthcoming Virginia-class submarines. American and Australian submarines use many of the same weapons (the deadly Mark 48 ADCAP torpedo and the UGM-84C Harpoon anti-ship missile). The two navies trained together in exercises like RIMPAC (which usually takes place off 
Hawaii). In one RIMPAC exercise, a Collins-class submarine penetrated the screen of a carrier battle group and was in position to sink the carrier.

With this new agreement, the same principle is being extended to surface forces. Australia has already selected some American systems (some variant of the Aegis radar system will probably be acquired), and their Perry-class frigates will be upgraded with the SM-2 and Evolved Sea Sparrow anti-aircraft missiles, and is committing to exchange more information. Australia will also be integrating the Harpoon Block II missile into its navy. The two navies will also work to ensure that the Air Warfare Destroyer will be able to work with the United States Navys surface vessels, like the Ticonderoga-class cruisers, the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, and the Zumwalt-class destroyers, much as Collins-class submarine are able to do so now.

The other major aspect of this agreement, and probably more important than the information exchanges, is an increase in joint training exercises. A military force fights the way it trains. Two military units will work better if they have trained, and know how each other will react. They will also know how the other side will operate, and what they can do in a situation as close to war without actually trying to kill people, ships, and aircraft. This is probably what gives Western military forces their biggest edge over their opponents.

The growing close relationship between the United States and Australia will make the two navies much stronger as the 21st century continues on. They will train together, and will have systems that are compatible in the heat of battle. This will hopefully prevent a 21st century version of Savo Island. Harold C. Hutchison (hchutch@ix.netcom.com)

 


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