2013 Vernon Parker Oration – David Hobbs


By Commander David Hobbs, MBE, RN (RTD)*

It is a privilege to have been asked to give the 2013 Vernon Parker Oration and, as a member of the ANI a pleasure to join so many of you this evening.

Captain Mike Fell DSO DSC* RN, a fighter pilot with a distinguished war record commanded HMAS Sydney’s air group in 1951 during her operational tour in the Korean War. In 1966 he commanded HMS Ark Royal IV. In the Far East Fleet and when asked by the media what his ship did, he replied that it had the ability to steam vast distances quickly and then perform any operational task assigned to it. ‘Any operational task’ is an accurate and succinct description of what a big-deck warship can do and I believe that similar words will be used to describe Canberra and Adelaide by their commanding officers when they join the Fleet. The world is actually a more dangerous place today than it was 50 years ago and aviation, within a maritime strategy, will have a vital part to play in many operations that cannot, yet, be predicted.

The Royal Navy first deployed a three-dimensional task force almost exactly one hundred years ago, in July 1913, when the cruiser Hermes was commissioned as a dedicated seaplane carrier during the autumn mobilisation manoeuvres. We can say three-dimensional because her two aircraft were embarked to carry out aerial reconnaissance for the ‘Red Fleet’ and provide a surface picture for its commander. Less sophisticated experiments with aircraft were carried out in the same year by the United States, French, Italian and Japanese Navies. Hermes’ aircraft included a Caudron with both wheels and floats that could, and did, take-off from a small flight deck over the forecastle in ideal conditions and a Short ‘Folder’, the first naval aircraft in the world to be designed with folding wings for stowage in a ship’s hangar. It was also fitted with a wireless transmitter but its engine lacked sufficient power to lift the weight of a receiver.

Wireless telegraphy was the technological break-through that allowed time-critical information to be passed from an airborne observer into a fleet ‘net’ but it still took some years to evolve the system. After 1913 naval aviation developed with the procurement of seaplane carriers which were really floating hangars and workshops; their aircraft used the sea as their runway but their operation proved to be difficult in any but the most ideal sea conditions. These were seldom found in the North Sea. The RAN fleet unit had no embarked aviation capability in 1913 but a number of Australians serving in the RN made significant contributions to the early development of naval aviation. Among them were Lieutenant Longmore, one of the first four qualified RN pilots, and Captain Dumaresq, a gunnery expert who was one of the first senior officers to appreciate the value of embarked aircraft and to insist on his own ship having the best aircraft and equipment available.

Pre-war strategists including Clement Ader in France and Victor Loughead in the USA predicted ships with flight decks and aircraft support facilities which would form the core of future fleets. Both saw aviation as the third dimension of naval warfare rather than an isolated force fighting its own battles but many British politicians believed that aircraft heralded a new and different form of warfare that would be better conducted within the Empire by a unified force to avoid rivalry between separate Naval and Army air arms.

Thus the Royal Flying Corps was created by Royal Warrant on 13 April 1912 to take responsibility for all British military flying. It comprised Naval and Military Wings with a central organisation responsible for the training of pilots and the development and procurement of aircraft and engines. All three Wings were manned by personnel seconded from the RN and the Army.

The integrated RFC had many points of merit; surprisingly so considering that none of the men who drew up its terms of reference had any real idea what aircraft could, or could not, actually achieve. It was intended that pilots and aircraft from either Wing would reinforce the other if necessary. The Military Wing was quite capable of deploying a handful of aircraft as part of an expeditionary force on land and operating them from a suitable flat surface close to the divisional or brigade headquarters.

The airmen could search for enemy forces over a wide area by day in clear weather and, once located, the enemy was likely to be either static or moving sufficiently slowly for the pilot to fly back to the general and his staff and give positions, including accurate map references, which would remain tactically relevant for hours or even days. They could also locate the exact positions of friendly forces that were out of contact with headquarters and drop written messages to them.

These were exactly the functions the RFC performed for the BEF in 1914 but it was neither trained nor equipped to perform a useful function over the sea. An Australian Flying Corps, similar to the Military Wing RFC was established at Point Cook in 1914 and was organised as a Corps of the Australian Imperial Force.

The Naval Wing in 1912 had no real operational capability; a means of operating aircraft routinely from ships did not exist. From 1913 when seaplanes could be operated to locate enemy warships, they were time- sensitive targets that required an accurate assessment of their position course and speed to be passed to the command quickly, hence the need for wireless telegraphy. Unlike their military contemporaries, naval pilots could not use map references and had to develop a means of accurate navigation over the featureless sea to give the enemy’s position relative to the flagship or some other agreed navigational ‘fixed point’; even a small navigational error would render their information useless.

The politicians who created the RFC had assumed that the two operational Wings would integrate to develop new aeronautical ideas; while laudable in theory, the concept failed because of the different environments Civilians being evacuated in HMS Warrior. (David Hobb’sCollection) Journal of the Australian Naval Institute Issue 151 23 they had to operate in. Aviation trials were carried out in 1913/14 under the direction of an Admiralty Air Department, formed in November 1912 to deal with all questions and organisation relating to aircraft in commission with the Navy. Aircraft flew over coastal waters in differing sea states to see if it was possible to detect submarines or mines below the surface and air weapons including torpedoes, machine-guns, darts and even a two-pounder cannon were tested. The focus on naval activities drew the Naval Wing away from the Military Wing of the RFC and the Royal Navy’s air component was officially recognised as the Royal Naval Air Service, RNAS, in July 1914. The RAN had no separate aviation element but a large number of Australians joined the RNAS and served in it with distinction.

Given the forceful nature of Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, the new RNAS quickly absorbed a number of unconventional and unforeseen tasks but made rapid progress. Command and control of naval aircraft shifted from the Admiralty Air Department to commanders-in-chief and area flag officers in 1915, helping their integration into naval tactics. In 1917 the post of 5th Sea Lord was established to administer air matters and an Admiral Commanding Aircraft appointed to the Grand Fleet as the focus of naval air operations. Admiral Beatty created the Grand Fleet Aeronautical Committee, an informed and influential group of senior officers to force the pace of development of embarked aviation from 1917, leading directly to the commissioning of the world’s first aircraft carrier, HMS Argus, in September 1918.

Captain GW Steel USN, an observer sent to study aviation in the Grand Fleet reported to his General Board that so many ideas had been gained from the British that any discussion of the subject must consider their methods. The RNAS had designed and developed an effective airborne torpedo, the Sopwith to carry it and the practical aircraft carrier from which they could be launched. Realistic training for a carrier-borne air attack on the German fleet in its harbours had begun before the war ended.

Aviation was not the decisive weapon that some had predicted but its achievements were significant. The naval attempt to force the Dardanelles was undoubtedly encouraged by the anticipated ability of aircraft to spot for ships’ guns and the contribution of shore-based RNAS aircraft and airships to littoral convoy defence was remarkably effective although not widely understood outside the RN. Throughout the war RNAS aircraft operated ashore in France and Belgium in support of naval operations off the enemy-occupied coast and when the RFC called for help in the autumn of 1916, the RNAS honoured the original Naval Wing commitment and deployed fighter squadrons from Dunkirk to RFC control. Some of these units earned fame and fought with considerable distinction over the German side of the lines whilst integrated with RFC Brigades. Other RNAS Wings were formed to strike at German industrial targets in the Ruhr with the aim of reducing the amount of steel available for the construction of U-boats and yet others in the Mediterranean, the Sopwith one-and-a- half Strutter launch from HMAS Australia.

In 1917 air operations became a focus of political attention with arguments over the supply of material, command and control. A Committee was set up under the nominal authority of Prime Minister Lloyd George to study the organisation of Imperial air forces but its report was effectively the work of one man, the South African General Smuts, who took evidence in closed session and recommended the amalgamation of the RNAS and RFC into a single air force. The post-war structure of aviation in the British Empire was not the result of wartime experience, therefore, but of political wrangling for control of air operations.

Named the Royal Air Force, the new service came into being on 1 April 1918 and focused on the activities of its larger element, the former RFC. By October 1918 Admiral Beatty was complaining that the RAF was failing to provide for the growing air requirements of his Grand Fleet. Between 1918 and 1939 the Admiralty and the Air Ministry shared control of the aircraft embarked in the growing number of British aircraft carriers with the former retaining operational control at sea but the latter having administrative control ashore, including the training of pilots and the procurement of aircraft. The cost of this less-than- ideal organisation was borne by the Admiralty. The British Government insisted that the embryo RAF be given five years to settle in after 1919 but by the end of that time the policy that all pilots should be capable of all roles with time at sea considered as a temporary detachment meant that most of the carriers’ time at sea was spent training new pilots who would be lost to naval aviation after a few months and air mechanics who could not be used like sailors for ship duties such as damage control and fire- fighting.

Attempts by the Admiralty to recover the RNAS led to a compromise agreed after a series of discussions between Admiral Keyes and Air Marshall Trenchard in 1924 and subsequently known as the Trenchard/Keyes Agreement.

Whilst keeping the status quo of RAF administrative control, all observers and telegraphist air gunners were to be provided and trained by the Navy and 70% of all pilots were to be naval officers. There was a significant ‘but’ however in that the pilots would have to have a ‘flying rank’ in addition to their naval rank and serve in whichever was appropriate to their current appointment although, in practice, they always wore their naval uniform. The term Fleet Air Arm was a positive outcome of the Agreement, the previous title of’RAF Detachments in HM Ships’ being considered rather long-winded.

In the USA similar arguments for a unified air service were voiced and in 1925 President Coolidge set up a President’s Air Committee to look into the subject with Dwight D Morrow, a prominent lawyer, as chairman.

The Morrow Board, as it was known, rejected these arguments, retained the navy’s air arm and recommended that only pilots should be given command of aircraft carriers and naval air stations ashore. This encouraged many senior officers, some in their late forties including ‘Bull’ Halsey, to learn to fly and ensured that aviation was given the prominence it deserved before the outbreak of war. The Board established the aviation structure of the USN including carrier air wings, shore-based aircraft and specialised training that endures to this day.

Australia, Melbourne and Sydney had all embarked RNAS aircraft during their time with the Grand Fleet and attempts were made to form an RAN Air Service when they fleet returned but, instead, the RAAF was formed in 1921 charged, like its UK role model, with providing seaplanes for operation from warships. The seaplane carrier Albatross was partly the result of political pressure to provide domestic ship-building work but also the response to Admiralty advice that the Australian Squadron must be self- sufficient in aircraft to be viable.

By 1933 the Admiralty had a clear concept of what it wanted from naval aviation and the dynamic Rear Admiral Henderson, a former carrier captain, was appointed Rear Admiral Aircraft Carriers. Among the many changes he forced through was the replacement, in 1933, of six-aircraft flights by operational squadrons with twelve or more aircraft numbered in the 800 series, the system that is still used in the RN and RAN today.

By 1937 dual-control was clearly unworkable and the Admiralty made a further bid to regain full control of its air element. Sir Thomas Inskip, like Morrow an eminent lawyer, was Minister for Defence Co-ordination and in a judgement subsequently RAAF Meteors of 77 Squadron being ferried into the Korean War Zone in HMS Unicorn. (David Hobbs Collection) Journal of the Australian Naval Institute Issue 151 25 known as the Inskip Award he stated that naval aircraft and their crews were a great deal more than passengers in a convenient vehicle; that a pilot in the Fleet Air Arm would no longer need to be an Air Force officer and that the Admiralty should enjoy a more decisive voice in settling the type of machine suitable for naval use.

The Admiralty was given two years to take over full control of the aircraft which flew from ships including their procurement and shore support and did so two months before the deadline.

However, Inskip ruled that the shore based maritime aircraft which formed Coastal Command should remain a part of the RAF as they had important secondary functions including bombing and troop transport which he considered, on the advice before him, to be incompatible with naval operations. The ruling applied not only to the RN and RAF but was adopted by the Services throughout the Commonwealth which evolved from them. Thus the Morrow and Inskip judgements are responsible for the different structures of the US and Commonwealth naval air arms to this day.

Before the Second World War the RAF had concentrated on the development of a strategic bombing force to emphasise its independence with the result that tactical aviation in support of naval and land warfare had atrophied. The RN Fleet Air Arm was small and despite the success of operations in Norway and the Mediterranean in 1940, it was unable to expand until significant numbers of ‘hostilities only’ pilots and technical ratings reached the squadrons in 1941. It was a maritime conflict in which the allies used an expeditionary strategy to attack the enemy at their point of choice. Australian forces operated as integrated elements of larger Commonwealth formations with RAAF squadrons embedded in Coastal, Bomber and Fighter Commands of the RAF based in the UK. The RAN operated with the RN in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Middle East Stations, with the US forces in the South West Pacific area later in the war and with the British Pacific Fleet, BPF, which joined the US Fifth and Third Fleets for the assault on the Japanese homeland in 1945. The BPF was miss-named, and could more accurately be described as the Commonwealth Pacific Fleet since it relied heavily on Australia, New Zealand and Canada for its composition.

In Australia, the RAN and RAAF provided the BPF with bases, airfields, ships and, latterly, replacement pilots who volunteered to transfer from the RAAF to the RANVR to fly RN aircraft from carriers. Many subsequently joined the RAN Fleet Air Arm. The naval aircraft of 1945 improved dramatically over earlier types. Carrier-borne aircraft had been seen as purely naval assets in 1939, intended to support the battle fleet in operations far out at sea but by 1945 the allied fast carrier task forces demonstrated a more comprehensive capability, able to concentrate force where and when needed and to regroup for diverse, different objectives afterwards.

As three-dimensional operations came to dominate the activities of navies, the RAN found itself out of step in 1945 in that, based on a force of cruisers and destroyers it could no longer form a viable task force on its own. Negotiations to borrow two new light fleet carriers from the RN had begun in 1944 but were slowed by Prime Minister Curtin’s suspicion that the Admiralty was merely trying to solve its own manpower crisis by obtaining Australian sailors to man ships that could not otherwise be brought into service. Agreement was finally reached in February 1945 when the BPF arrived in Sydney but by then it was too late for the ships to be transferred in time to see action and the plan was eventually shelved.

After 1945 the UK Government could not afford to donate carriers to the RAN but offered to sell two to the RAN for the construction cost of one plus the cost of their initial outfits of stores in 1947. After a study led by the then Lieutenant Commander VAT Smith DSC RAN, who had served with Fleet Air Arm as an observer during the war, the offer was accepted and HMS Terrible, under construction in Devonport Dockyard, was completed and handed over to the RAN in 1948 as HMAS Sydney, perpetuating a famous name.

The second ship, Melbourne, was completed at a slower pace so that she could incorporate new technical advances including the steam catapult, angled deck and mirror landing aid, emerging in 1955 as one of the first three ships to have them built in during construction rather than retro- fitted later. The two carriers formed an important element of Australian maritime capability for three decades and increased the nation’s standing, both with allies and potential adversaries.

Despite the ships’ obvious value, the RAAF spoke against their procurement at the time as being not in the best interests of defence but the Prime Minister accepted the new capability, based on the role models in the UK and USA, as part of a five-year defence plan. This opposition is difficult to understand in retrospect because it appears that men who considered themselves to be proponents of air power spent time and effort in trying to limit the nations’ ability to deploy aircraft as part of a maritime strategy. Similar arguments were deployed later in the UK and succeeded in diverting Phantom fighters ordered for the RN to operate from the carrier Eagle and a number of Buccaneer strike aircraft to the RAF which was to operate them from land bases as part of a scheme named the Tactical Air Support of Maritime Operations or TASMO by politicians who wanted the big-deck carriers to be scrapped quickly. A more apt name would have been Removal of Air Support from Maritime Operations since the aircraft sat uselessly on their UK airfields while Sea Harriers in Hermes and Invincible fought in the South Atlantic War of 1982.

On only her fifth day of operations, Commander Fell led her air group to equal the record for the largest number of aircraft sorties yet flown by a light fleet carrier in a single day and her performance was judged by her RN and USN contemporaries, with their extensive wartime carrier experience, as quite excellent. The RAN’s Fleet Air Arm, which had only been in existence formally since 1948, had done extremely well, albeit with a little help from the RN.

Sydney flew her aircraft in support of the naval blockade of North Korea, on combat air patrol over the fleet, tactical ground attack and reconnaissance missions in support of allied troops ashore and strategic strikes against logistics, road and rail communications including bridges.

The latter were integrated into an air- targeting scheme co-ordinated by the US 5th Air Force.

Sydney’s usefulness did not end with the Korean War although financial restrictions prevented her being modernised to the same standard as Melbourne. In 1961 the Australian Chiefs of Staff agreed to bring her out of reserve and refit her for service as a fast troop transport as a short-term expedient to improve the ADF’s strategic mobility. She did not embark assault helicopters like her RN and USN contemporaries in the LPH role but gave valuable service carrying out 25 ferry trips to Vietnam between 1965 and 1972 with men and equipment from every element of the ADF. She was withdrawn from service for the last time at unexpectedly short notice in 1973; an example, perhaps, of politicians identifying a ship with a single role without comprehending its full capability.

Melbourne remained in service until 1982 with arguments about her replacement that mirrored debates in the USA and UK. She never saw action but for nearly three decades her latent capabilities underpinned Australia’s maritime capability. In her time she operated the first all- weather fighters to go into service anywhere in the southern hemisphere, sophisticated anti-submarine aircraft and helicopters and, latterly, the very capable A-4 Skyhawk strike aircraft.

Her ability to provide humanitarian relief was demonstrated in December 1974 when she used her helicopters to support Darwin after it was hit by Cyclone ‘Tracy’. Her withdrawal in 1982 left a serious gap in Australian maritime capabilities and the RANs Fleet Air Arm became an all-helicopter force with Seahawks and Sea Kings in the front line which were able to operate from most of the surface combatants and auxiliaries in the anti-submarine, surface search and what has come to be known as sea control roles.

In the UK, the deployment of HM Ships Hermes and Invincible in the task force sent to the South Atlantic to liberate the Falkland Islands in 1982 provides a very clear example of how big-deck ships can respond quickly to unexpected emergencies. Hermes was actually in refit when the crisis broke in late March but she was prepared for action, stored and sailed from Portsmouth as flagship of the task force on 5 April, by which time she had embarked her own reinforced Sea Harrier and Sea King squadrons and a commando assault Sea King squadron plus a number of Royal Marines’ commando units and their equipment.

Without the two carriers the mission would not have been possible as they were the only means of providing tactical aviation.

The RAF aircraft allocated for TASMO duties stayed on their UK airfields and played no part but, fortunately the RAF’s Harrier ground attack aircraft could be operated from a carrier and several were deployed south with air-to-air refuelling to embark in Hermes and support the Sea Harriers in the ground attack role.

Thus a medium-sized carrier was not only able to take its own air group into action but to take other aircraft to the fight as well, just as RN carriers had previously taken RAF aircraft to the action in Norway, Malta, the Far East and a number of ‘brush-fire’ actions after 1945. The 1982 deployment succeeded on a diplomatic level with the highly publicised departure from Portsmouth; on a strategic level with the ability to deploy a balanced force over 8,000 miles from the UK and on a tactical level with the ability to fly many different types of aircraft from different services on different missions around the clock. Hermes spent 108 days continuously at sea, not bad for a ship that was dismissed by politicians in 1966 as being too small for effective use in an overseas intervention.

Some years later, and on a smaller scale, the deployment of Army Air Corps Apache gunship helicopters to the British LPH Ocean for action over Libya in 2011 showed another example of how flexible such ships can be in placing the right amount of force in the right place and, more importantly, sustaining it in action for a long time if necessary. These big- deck ships provided politicians with an option they would not, otherwise, have had and which, sadly, some of them might not even have known their nation possessed.

Some commentators think that aircraft carriers can only be used in a limited number of scenarios in major conflicts. They could not be more wrong and I could spend hours giving examples of aircraft carrier operations in a broad range of crises. Examples include the 1961 Suez Crisis when Bulwark acted not only as an LPH but used its radar both to direct RAF fighters from Bahrain and to provide an air traffic control service for RAF transport aircraft as they arrived in the Northern Gulf. In the 1956 Suez Crisis two thirds of the tactical fighters were operated from land bases in Malta and Cyprus and one third from British and French carriers. Analysis of the results show that two thirds of the strike sorties were actually flown from the carriers and only one third from land bases because the carriers could be positioned ideally within reasonable distance of the designated targets. Balkan operations during the 1990s revealed a similar imbalance with the British Government insisting that a carrier remained in range of British troops on the ground since shore-based aircraft were often grounded by bad weather and could not be relied upon. Since 1945 Commonwealth carriers have rescued helpless civilians from war zones; evacuated wounded nationals; protected nations at short notice that had asked for help, deployed peace-keepers and their equipment, and carried out a host of other tasks that have continued to vindicate the statement by Captain Fell with which I started this talk. Their very presence off Indonesia during Confrontation Sea King helicopter being refuelled in flight. and off Belize deterred aggressors and prevented conflict.

A historical appreciation of the contribution of naval air power to the national strategy published by the Sea Power Centre-Australia in 2008 noted that such ships were not only the weapons system that had supplied most of the air support for amphibious operations around the world since 1939, but that the placement of carriers close to the centre of operations improved the flexibility with which command, control and communications could be exercised by all arms and responses to tactical situations could be made swiftly and effectively with the minimum of resources concentrated where they matters most. The Paper concluded by noting that the procurement of the two new ships of the Canberra class will provide the ADF with an unprecedented capability to project military force from the sea.

They can, in my opinion, do even more than that as part of a maritime strategy that makes use of the sea and the air above it to provide the broadest range of capabilities at the time and place of Australia’s choosing. The future is unknowable and it would, surely, be wise to ensure that the LHDs can be used to their full potential in the national interest. They are, of course, perfectly capable of landing and sustaining a peace-keeping force but they may be required to go further into harm’s way to land military forces against sophisticated opposition and it is not beyond the realm of possibility that they may have to fight a hostile three- dimensional enemy for control of seas that are vital to Australian interests with, or without allies. Should this happen, limitations placed on the full potential of these ships might not have been such a clever idea.

At the 2012 Australian Sea power Conference, the Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Geoff Brown, stated that the RAAF was committed to supporting the full range of Navy activities and the Maritime Strategy.

Further, he observed that Australia is surrounded by air as well as sea and that the RAN’s ability to secure the nation’s approaches and sea lines of communication represent a fundamental contribution to the defence of Australia. He informed the audience that the air contribution to the new amphibious capability will comprise a number of roles including the provision of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information; strike; air mobility and the control of the air, complementing the principal roles of sea power.

In answer to questions the Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, stated that a lot of work needed to be done before unmanned air vehicles could be procured for operations with the fleet and that it was not Government policy to include fixed-wing STOVL fighters in the potential air groups to be embarked in the new LHDs. The Chief of Air Force’s enthusiasm for the maritime strategy is heartening but the ability of land-based fighters to sustain operations for any length of time beyond the Australian littoral must, surely, be open to question.

Their radius of action can be extended by in-flight refuelling but prolonged operations would lock up much of the tanker force and prevent it from carrying out its transport role concurrently. Fighters that rely on tankers to operate at extreme range in this way cannot react quickly or flexibly to unexpected threats and only have value while their weapons last.

There is little point in maintaining a fighter on station if it fires out its weapons in the first few minutes after arrival.

Perhaps airfields on friendly territory or islands near the focus of action can be negotiated or seized but does Australia have the logistic and engineering capacity to develop them at short notice into bases while the focus of strike fighter, tanker and AEW & C activity is over the task force at sea? Will the air warfare destroyers be able to defend the bases as well as the task force? Can Australia, if necessary alone, supply a temporary base in addition to the seaborne task force itself with sufficient fuel, weapons, maintenance facilities spare aircrew and their needs for command, control and briefing in a timely manner? Can such a base be realistically defended? If these capabilities do exist, they are impressive but if they do not, dare I point out that once Canberra and Adelaide are in service, they will be at the focal point of the action, just like Hermes in 1982. They will bring flight decks, bulk fuel, accommodation, workshops, magazines, technical sailors and command, control and logistic support for a broad range of tactical aircraft. In short, they are a mobile and effective air base with command and control facilities that can move over vast distances quickly and then perform any operational task assigned to them.

Strike fighters have important roles to play in expeditionary operations, integrated alongside embarked helicopters and long-range, high- endurance aircraft based ashore. The US Marine Corps must be considered the primary role model and it does not believe that shore-based fighters can support the full spectrum of maritime operations. The ADF will have to work with the Corps closely and the STOVL F-35B Lightning II was designed for the USMC to operate alongside helicopters in ships similar to the new Canberra and cross-deck STOVL operations must, surely, be considered important. The F-35B is not without major problems but it is being produced for the USMC, RN and RAF.

Before Australia orders production Lightnings, the significant increase in integrated performance the STOVL version would give an Australian task force ought to be considered. Without such a discussion Project Air 6000 is unlikely to deliver the maximum potential for Australia’s maritime strategy and one has to question the judgement of those who dismiss embarked capability too readily.

More immediately, the F/A-18F already operated by the RAAF was designed for carrier operation with the US Navy; could detachments be embarked in USN carriers to augment the tactical fighter force and illustrate allied resolve when necessary. There have been precedents with UK, French and Argentinean fighters operating from US carriers for short periods.

The past is full of examples of good and bad ideas; the many uses to which big-deck ships can be put within a maritime strategy are among the very good ones. Multi-purpose ‘flat-tops’ like the LHDs equip many of the world’s navies, arguably becoming the capital ships of the twenty-first century. Remember the words of Captain Mike Fell with which I started and imagine all the ways Canberra and Adelaide can achieve their aim.

* Commander Hobbs is a well-known author and naval historian. He served in the Royal Navy from 1964 until 1997 and flew fixed wing and rotary aircraft though a long career as a Fleet Air Arm pilot He has flown Gannet, Hunter and Canberra aircraft as well as Wessex Commando Helicopters. His Log Book contains 2,300 hours with 800 deck landings, 150 of which were at night His service afloat included the aircraft carriers Victorious, Hermes, Albion, Bulwark, Centaur, Ark Royal (IV) and Ark Royal (V).

After retirement from the active list as a commander in 1997 he became Curator and Principal Historian of the Fleet Air Arm Museum at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton in Somerset until 2006 when he became a full time author and lecturer.

He writes for several journals and magazines and in 2005 won the Aerospace Journalist of the Year, Best Defence Submission. He has written 12 books on naval aviation and co-authored nine more. A Century of Carrier Aviation -The evolution of Ships and Shipborne Aircraft has become a standard reference book on the history of flying at sea. His most recent book was The British Pacific Fleet. This is a definitive study of the Royal Navy’s operations in the Indian and Pacific oceans in 1944-45. His interest in the history of maritime aviation in Australia is of long duration. He won the essay prize awarded by the Navy League of Australia in 2008.

David lectures and broadcasts on naval subjects worldwide and has been a regular presenter at King Hall Naval History Conferences over the last decade including the one just concluded last week. He has become well known to readers of Headmark for his book reviews and his incisive articles. He deploys his historical understanding of flying at sea in the twentieth century to illuminate the opportunities technology make possible in aviation in this new maritime century.


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