Not just for the Arctic

The problem with the ships Senator Kenny wants 'axed' is that they are not just ice-capable ships: they are a hybrid design for both arctic and offshore patrol work.

Arctic operations require high endurance: lots of capacity for supplies plus hauling all waste by-products out again.  Fuel is an especially critical consideration.  This, plus the basic need for mass and power to force through ice, which has vastly greater resistance than water no matter the thickness, all puts a premium on size.  Size is expensive, which reduces the number of ships that can be built within the funding envelope provided by the shipbuilding and procurement strategy.

The offshore patrol function puts a premium on numbers for maintaining presence in our waters to counter criminals, smugglers, illegal immigrants, poachers and polluters.  This drives down the size requirement essential for arctic work and shortens the range from supporting bases.

The government is also interested in being able to conduct humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions.  The requirements for these functions also put a premium on size.  Volumetric capacity and speed will be the limiting factors governing effectiveness for these missions.  The larger and faster version first envisioned for the AOPS was the correct concept for HA/DR missions.

So, a dynamic tension exists within the navy between the arguments over which are the most desirable characteristics for the hybridised ship.  It is clear the government’s strategic focus is on the north, which is why the patrol ships are being built first.  It is also clear the navy wants numbers, which is why the size of the ship has been reduced by about a thousand tonnes from the first conceptual version.

The navy is ‘cheeping out’ on this design because they have a different set of priorities than the government. The most important question to be asked is “Who is driving this ‘ship’?” The government has to care about more than just the employment generated and the other economic benefits.  The strategy should also provide clear priorities to be followed when conflicts over desired characteristics crop up.  As usual, they come to light first where service culture conflicts with government policy.  The AOPS is (or soon will be) a physical embodiment of that predicament.