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Wednesday 23 Aug 2017 | 22:04 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 23 Aug 2017 | 22:04 | SYDNEY

LHDs: Consular operations on steroids



30 May 2012 12:44

It's taken me too long to respond to LT COL Ben Pronk's thoughts on the force structure debate.

But before discussing the specifics, it's worth recognising the relative novelty of having a serving Army officer taking to an open forum such as this one to debate strategic policy. So, a tip of the hat to Ben for taking the initiative.

Ben's discussion of Australia's growing amphibious capability is revealing. He agrees that the forthcoming capability, built around two large amphibious ships (LHDs), is more than is required for 'uncontested stabilisation missions and disaster relief'.

So then what is it for? Ben does not argue that this capability would be useful in a full-scale war. Instead, Ben makes the case for Australia's amphibious capability based on a scenario somewhere between those two extremes. The scenario he chooses is the '(e)vacuation of Australian citizens from a non-permissive environment, even one short of full-scale conflict'. I imagine Ben has in mind something like the Lebanon evacuation of 2006, or perhaps another military coup in Fiji, where there is lawlessness or open conflict and Australians are in danger.

But if this is the most urgent contingency Ben can conjure for the LHDs (he offers no others), then I'm led to wonder how consular operations became such an important force-structure determinant for the ADF. Several Lowy Institute observers, myself included, have criticised the unhealthy preoccupation that successive governments have developed with consular affairs, but if Ben is right, it really takes things to a whole new level. Were evacuations really what the Howard Government had uppermost in mind when it ordered the two biggest ships ever to be operated by our navy?

Photo by Flickr user Contando Estrelas.

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