26 August 2013

AUS: Sea-riding in the Spanish LHD – a glimpse of what’s to come for Canberra’s crew

Spanish Armada's Juan Carlos 1 LHD (File Photo)

As NUSHIP Canberra's personnel step closer to bringing the first Landing Helicopter Dock into service, a massive amount of preparation is underway ranging from the development of standard operating procedures and policies, to ship specific training involving the incorporation of an amphibious and flight capability that has never been seen before in the ADF.

As part of this preparation, 20 Canberra personnel recently travelled to Spain and embarked in the Spanish Armada ship Juan Carlos I to gain experience in operating a ship of the same class. Personnel were selected from all Departments to ensure all aspects of the LHD’s operation could be observed.

CO Canberra, Captain Jonathan Sadleir said the experience was invaluable.

“The introduction of this class of ship into the ADF will dramatically change the way we do business. Being a brand new class of ship for our Navy, this was a unique opportunity for us to observe the way the Spanish operate this type of capability,” he said.

While each Defence Force operates according to their own doctrine, sea riding in Juan Carlos 1 gave the Canberra personnel a close insight into how the major elements of the ship, including the embarked forces, aircraft and landing craft, all operated together.”

Over the period of embarkation, the Canberra personnel maximised every opportunity to discuss, and in some cases test, draft RAN LHD Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) with their Spanish counterparts. This process was made all the more meaningful by being onboard the platform itself and most importantly, underway at sea during an amphibious exercise.

The crew observed Exercise MARFIBEX, a five-day low level Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation that involved the Spanish amphibious task group consisting of the LHD, two LPDs, an FFG escort and over 800 Spanish marines. Conducted within the Armada training areas south of Cadiz, it was an impressive sight to observe the landing and recovery of the embarked forces via watercraft and helicopter, with close air support provided by the embarked AV-8 Harriers from above. 

With the ship’s company, a full air wing, and several hundred Marines embarked, along with Midshipman sea-riders from the Spanish Naval Academy onboard for a training cruise, there were well over 1000 people onboard the ship. Under these circumstances, it allowed the Canberra personnel to view all manner of evolutions ranging from slipping and close quarter manoeuvring in harbour using the LHD Azipod System, through to observing the movement and securing of vehicles onto landing craft in the dock. But of equal importance was the need to observe the more mundane routines that support higher end activities like the operation of the garbage compactor - a thousand people make a lot of rubbish!

In summing up how the visit to Spain went, Canberra’s Executive Officer, Commander Jon Earley said the crew of the Juan Carlos I were extremely accommodating in allowing maximum access to all parts of the ship.

“Their honest and frank discussions with us about how they operated their LHD were greatly appreciated and no question was left unanswered. We have indeed learned a substantial amount about our new ship that will certainly help inform the development of our routines and processes.”

Juan Carlos I is the Spanish flag ship, the largest warship Spain has ever had and the first of class for the Strategic Projection Ship or LHD. Based at Rota Naval Base in southern Spain, it has been in commission for three years.