Lessons for Australia in US Marines’ new guidance

By Euan Graham*

The planning guidance issued by the new US Marine Corps commandant, General David Berger, is unusually forward-leaning and well written by the standards of most military doctrine. It has received a positive reaction in the US and won over sceptics because its analysis is radical and persuasive.

The impact is likely to be felt in Australia, as a key US ally and host to a Marine Corps rotational presence. It could also usefully influence local debates on military strategy, joint force design and the changing nature of amphibious warfare.

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Time for a ‘quad’ of coast guards

By David Brewster*

The so-called Quad group of Indo-Pacific maritime democracies – Australia, India, Japan, and the United States – is a valuable grouping, although it is still underutilised in many ways. One of the most effective ways that these countries could work together to enhance maritime security in the Indo-Pacific would be through coordinating the work of their coast guard agencies.

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US Navy to revert to manual throttles. Touchscreens to go

IBNS helm controls on USS Dewey (DDG-105). US Navy Photo

The Navy US will begin reverting destroyers back to a physical throttle and traditional helm control system in the next 18 to 24 months, after the fleet overwhelmingly said they prefer mechanical controls to touchscreen systems in the aftermath of the fatal USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) collision, Megan Eckstein of the US Naval Institute reports.

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Are Navy’s fast boats fit for purpose?

By Ewen Levick*

Much has been made of the money currently pouring into Australia’s fleet. The new and forthcoming warships and submarines will form the backbone of Navy’s ability to compete in the high-end fights of tomorrow.

Comparatively little attention, on the other hand, seems to be paid to the auxiliary boats that allow heavy warships to do today’s jobs – tracking and boarding suspect craft ranging from Somali dhows to North Korean oil tankers. The RAN’s jet-propelled Juliet 3 Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBS) are critical to these missions, carrying boarding parties at speed across the last kilometres of open ocean. Yet Navy’s RHIBs may not be fit for purpose.

The first hints of a problem emerged in 2012, when a RHIB carrying members of a Defence tribunal onto HMAS Darwin capsized and caused a number of injuries. The subsequent investigation found that Navy had “inadequate hazard identification and risk assessment arrangements in place for boarding [and] transfer of personnel” as well as an absence of capsize training or experience with RHIBs amongst senior officers. This appears to be the only such incident on the public record.

The problem, however, runs much deeper. First, information obtained by ADM under the Freedom of Information Act reveals that there have been 13 capsizing incidents and 19 near-misses involving fast boats since 2003, potentially injuring dozens of personnel. An additional 14 possible capsizes were averted pro-actively.

Second, apparent operational restrictions put in place to lower the number of capsizing incidents call into question Navy’s ability to board large vessels in rough seas.

Third, the weight of the RHIBs currently prevents the davits on board the Hobart-class destroyers from deploying a fast boat with more than three embarked crew.

Finally, the severe shock forces and cold temperatures experienced by RHIB passengers is likely causing significant performance degradation and medical issues amongst RAN’s most experienced operators with no exposure management system or health monitoring in place off-set the heightened risk of chronic injury.

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China’s rise and the challenge to the US

Interview by Dmitry Filipoff, of the Center for International Maritime Security, with James Holmes who has just published the second edition of Red Star Over the Pacific. Holmes is J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the U.S. Naval War College. Holmes lays out how the theories of Alfred Thayer Mahan helped inform China’s maritime rise, how China built a formidable naval warfighting capability, and how the U.S. and its allies can more effectively deter China militarily. 

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Escorting in the Persian Gulf

By Salvatore R. Mercogliano, PhD*

An image provided by an Iranian news agency showing an oil tanker burning in the Gulf of Oman (August 2019).


The recent attacks on merchant shipping in the Persian Gulf, Straits of Hormuz, and Gulf of Oman by forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps has conjured up images from the Tanker War of the 1980s. The bombing of four ships at anchor off Fujairah, the mining of two tankers as they departed the area, and the recent seizure of a British tanker has raised the question of how to best protect commercial ships plying their trade. This is an age-old problem that has been with nations and navies since the days of oars and sail. Without a rehash of every concept used since the dawn of time, there are three major methods that come to mind that can be readily adopted.

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New series of naval history video and podcast

Australian Naval History Video & Podcast series – Season 4 being released
Once again the ANI has partnered with the University of NSW, the Seapower Centre and the Naval Historical Society to produce another series of the Australian Naval History video and podcast series.

A new episode is released each Monday.

There are 18 episodes in Season 4 with topics such as clearance diving, the coastwatchers, the Melbourne-Voyager and Melbourne-Frank E Evans collisions as well as the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The episodes bring together historians and veterans to outline the story and explain its significance.

The series is available on Soundcloud, Youtube, iTunes, Spotify, the Defence Library Overdrive site and most most podcast apps. Episodes are also available on the Naval Studies Group website: https://www.unsw.adfa.edu.au/acsacs/video-and-podcast-season-4

If you have missed Seasons 1-3 the 35 previous episodes are available on the above sites.

Health and Morale in the RN, 1939-1945

Fittest of the Fit; Health and Morale in the Royal Navy, 1939-1945. By Kevin Brown. Seaforth Publishing, Barnsley 2019

Reviewed by Tim Coyle

The cover of Fittest of the Fit depicts a bronzed, smiling ‘matlo’, his cap tally showing he is member of the pre-war aircraft carrier HMS Eagle ship’s company, standing on the upper deck. His blue jean collar is ruffled by the sea breeze which billows the huge white ensign behind him. Over his left shoulder can be seen a battleship, possibly the mighty ‘Hood’, then the world’s biggest warship.

This 1930s recruiting poster attracted young men to sign on for at least 12 years to ‘see the world’ through visiting the many ports in the British Empire. There was no shortage of recruits. However, adventure turned to a life and death struggle at sea in September 1939 with the outbreak of war.

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‘Quad’ ponders how to contain China

The Free and Open Indo-Pacific is defined by a Japanese commentator as a strategic policy “to keep the United States in, China down and [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] Asean, India and Australia up” in this new geopolitical space of the Indian Ocean and West Pacific regions, Paul Gillespie of the Irish Times writes.

Such a frank and direct formulation of the strategy is a welcome relief from the normal bromides used. It recalls a famous definition of Nato as an alliance “to keep Russia out, the United States in and Germany down” in Europe.

The Indo-Pacific concept, first put forward by Japanese strategists, was in 2017 taken up by the Trump administration and the Modi government in India, along with Australia. This “Quad” rapidly established it as an alternative strategic map of the region.

The rolling-out and maturing of China’s hugely ambitious belt-and-road initiative on land and sea and their negative response to it drives the policy.

The full article can be seen here.

Will Vanguard Bank ignite Vietnamese nationalism?

By Carlyle A. Thayer

Assessment of why Vietnam stood up to Chinese aggression this time around, compared to 2017 and 2018 when it backed down?

ANSWER: It is unclear if “stood up to Chinese aggression” best characterizes Vietnam’s response to events at Vanguard Bank. The Vietnam Coast Guard on station at Vanguard Bank appear to have been ordered to stand their ground while Vietnam made numerous diplomatic protests to China. 

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