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Wednesday, 24 October 1984
Page: 2412

(Question No. 1035)

Senator Macklin asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice, on 21 August 1984:

(1) Does the Royal Australian Navy now have greatly reduced capability to provide:

(a) vital tactical reconnaissance;

(b) air defence of shipping;

(c) flexibility to support army in deployment and operations;

(d) anti-submarine warfare;

(e) aircraft for training purposes in major exercise areas;

(f) support to friendly governments; and

(g) evacuation of Australian nationals from neighbouring countries in time of political tension of natural disasters; if so, why, and if not, what are Australia's capabilities in these areas.

(2) Is the Government going to provide a helicopter weapons system which is urgently required by our Fleet; if not, why not, if so, when will this be provided.

Senator Gareth Evans —The Minister for Defence has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) Defence Force structure decisions are made on the basis of overall Defence Force capabilities and not on those of one Service acting alone. Developments in military technology will sometimes argue that some tasks previously carried out in one way and by one Service will in future be better carried out in a different way. Judgments about what is best will, of course, be made in the context of Australia's unique strategic circumstances.

In some of the instances of the honourable senator's question, Navy's capability is reduced as a consequence of the retirement of HMAS Melbourne but the Government is satisfied that, as a result of various other actions, the overall capability of the Defence Force will be sustained at a level appropriate to our security needs. In most cases the capability will be greater than before.

As a general point, the new Defence Force capabilities will be more versatile and less vulnerable than those based on a single aircraft carrier. Depending on priorities at the time and the availability of support and suitable airfields for the land based air element, they will be able to be employed simultaneously at several different locations, and they will not be subject to periodic total loss of the single aircraft carrier platform whenever it is due for refit.

Dealing with the specific capabilities of the question:

(a) Tactical Reconnaissance: By 1986 the present maritime force of RAAF P3B and P3C aircraft will have been upgraded to 20 P3C long range maritime patrol aircraft all with advanced sensor systems with all-weather capabilities for superior to previous RAN aircraft. New helicopters are planned to be operating from each of the RAN's four FFGs by 1988, and to be available for the two further Australian-built FFGs when completed in the early 1990s. These improvements will be reinforced by a program of upgrading our northern airfields , and by technological developments such as the Jindalee over-the-horizon radar project.

(b) Air Defence of Shipping: This capability will soon be provided by a combination of FA18 aircraft operating from airfields around Australia and the variety of area and point air defence guided missile and radar-directed gun systems of the RAN's destroyers and frigates, including a capability, not previously available, to defeat anti-ship missiles. Developments in broad area surveillance systems could be an important element in future maritime air defence.

(c) Flexibility to Support Army in Deployment and Operations: The Defence Force has considerable flexibility to support the Army in deployment and operations. Elements which could be used for deployment tasks include fixed and rotary wing transport aircraft, amphibious and other ships, and, of course, the arrangements developed to use the substantial capacity of the civil transport system in defence emergencies. The FA18 is far more capable than any aircraft we have previously owned for air support of ground force operations using a range of specialised guided weapons and other munitions in all weather.

(d) Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW): Our ASW capability is substantial now and will be further enhanced when the entire long range maritime aircraft force is made up of the new P3C aircraft equipped, amongst other systems, with the Barra Sonobuoy system specially optimised for our sea conditions. The new helicopters for the FFGs will have advanced ASW capabilities.

(e) Aircraft for Training Purposes in the Major Exercise Area: Air support for Fleet, training is now provided by RAAF tactical fighter, strike aircraft and others which will expose the RAN to a wider range of high-performance aircraft than was possible before, and by contracted civil aircraft for target towing. This new arrangement enhances the emphasis on maritime operations by the RAAF's squadrons.

(f) Support to Friendly Governments: There are obviously many elements of the Defence Force which could provide entirely appropriate support to friendly governments.

(g) Evacuation of Australian Nationals: With HMAS Tobruk and HMAS Jervis Bay, Navy retains a significant capability to provide assistance in times of tension, or natural disasters. As evidenced by the movement of stranded civilians from New Zealand some time ago, the C130 transport aircraft squadrons have a very substantial 'evacuation' capacity. The number of Australian nationals involved is not such that these capabilities, supplemented when appropriate by civil air transport resources, are likely ever to be deficient.

(2) Helicopter Weapon Systems for the Fleet: The Minister for Defence announced on 9 October 1984 an in principle decision that 8 Seahawk helicopters are to be acquired for the FFGs. The helicopters will provide anti-submarine warfare and surface surveillance and targeting capabilities appropriate to our longer-term defence needs. The first helicopter is planned to be delivered in late 1987.