The coming of the new class of amphibious ships to the Royal Australian Navy has been a major change in its capabilities and operations, including using the new ships as key C2 leads in task forces.
But in the recent RIMPAC exercise, the Marines discovered just how good this new class of ships is from a design and ops perspective.
The Australian’s LHD – built by Navantia based on the design of the Spanish Navy’s Juan Carlos I – differs from an American LHD in a couple key ways, one of them being the well deck (which the Australians call a well dock).
In an American amphib, despite the ship ballasting down to allow the well deck to flood, the AAVs’ tracks maintain contact with the floor and then a ramp during their exit from the ship. When they drive off the end of the ramp and lose contact, there’s a splashdown, with the AAV mostly or sometimes fully sinking under the surface of the water before bobbing back up. For the 20-plus combat-ready Marines in the back, in a dark passenger cabin that reeks of diesel fuel, that evolution is particularly unpleasant.
In the Australian amphib, though, the well dock is built at such a slope that the AAV begins to float before it gets halfway down its lane towards the back of the ship. With the AAV already floating, there’s no major splash and no sinking – though a handful of AAV drivers proved that starting the evolution at too high a speed can create a wave in the well dock that comes back to douse them standing in the open hatches.
The discovery that record-setting AAV operations can be conducted with U.S. Marine AAVs and Royal Australian Navy ships highlights the main point of the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise, during which this operation took place: interoperability.
“If we need to conduct any future ops with Australians, I’m confident it would be a seamless execution,” U.S. Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Nolan Paduda, the AAV platoon commander for Combat Assault Company, told USNI News on July 22 from the Adelaide well dock. He reminded visitors to the ship that, though the operation looked smooth, it was the first time a full platoon of AAVs had ever operated on an Australian ship…..