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Subject: Australia looked at ordering a CVA-01 to replace Melbourne
Volkodav    1/16/2010 8:13:02 PM
Declassified documents and reports available through the national achives show that consideration was given to replacing HMAS Melbourne with a strike carrier operating F-4B Phantoms, S-2E Trackers and E-2 Tracers during the late 60's. The leading contender, due to delivery times and cost, was an SCB 27 Essex conversion which was expected to provide 18 years service through to the mid 1980's. The CVA-01 was also considered, with both local and overseas construction looked at. It was ruled out as it would not have been available to enter service until the mid 70's when it was believed the FAA would have been out of the fixed wing business for a decade. We now know that Melbourne was upgraded to operate Skyhawks and Trackers into the early 1980's making the CVA-01 viable. My assumption is instead of commiting additional forces to Vietnam Australia decided to boost our defence capability including ordering a CVA-01 as a strike carrier to replace Melbourne. She would have been built locally and entered service in the early 1980's. Her air group would have initially consisted of Skyhawks, Trackers and Seakings, but would have been upgraded to include Bug's, Vikings and Hawkeyes by the early 1990's.
 
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Aussiegunneragain       1/16/2010 8:56:08 PM

The leading contender, due to delivery times and cost, was an SCB 27 Essex conversion which was expected to provide 18 years service through to the mid 1980's.

I've read previously that the Yanks offerred to give us an Essex and the Poms offerred to give us the Hermes, but we turned them down because we couldn't man or afford to run a carrier that big at that time.
 
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Volkodav       1/17/2010 2:38:32 AM
I've read previously that the Yanks offerred to give us an Essex and the Poms offerred to give us the Hermes, but we turned them down because we couldn't man or afford to run a carrier that big at that time.
 
True but it was down to priorities with which the RAN dissented.
 
The Army and RAAF at the time were massive and deployed through out the region on operations in support of the US and UK under the aegis of ANZUS and SEATO.  These two treaties were our guaranty of security, however it was clear by the late 1950's that they were far from binding and while extremely important to us were not seen as critical to either of our powerful friends.
 
We restructured and unbalanced our defence force in support of our foreign policy objectives of keeping the US and UK engaged in the region, in which we failed.  We strived to convince them that, while not as important to them strategically as the two massive, non aligned powers, India and Indonesia, we were a committed and dedicated ally who would always back them militarily.  This came to nought as the UK withdrew from "East of the Suez" and Nixon released his Guam Doctrine.  Our commitment to every regional conflict since the end of WWII had done precisely nothing for our national security with our powerful friends leaving us to see to our own defence.  Infact our extensive involvement in Vietnam may have damaged our security by empowering an anti defence, anti military element in Australia harming future efforts to provide the necessary funding for the ADF and, perhaps, damaging our relationships with other nations in the region. 
 
Many of my what ifs are based on the assumption that the government of the day listened to the advisors who were pushing for a more balanced defence capability rather than to those who believed the best way forward was to try and convince our friends to protect us (even if their interests were better served else where) by fighting along side them at every opportunity.  Imagine the resources we committed to conflicts, such as Vietnam, were instead used to build and maintain a capable, independent defence capability. 
 
 
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Aussiegunneragain    Volkodav   1/17/2010 7:02:42 AM
Doesn't the fact that the US was willing to expend so much blood and treasure in Vietnam also suggest that they would have done the same for us? Lets not forget that even with the Nixon doctrine in place the US was still committed to providing substantial support to allies in the form of the nuclear deterrent, air and naval forces. It is just in terms of boots on the ground that they (quite reasonably IMHO) wanted the country in question to assume primary responsiblity. The British also committed troops to the defence of Malaysia during the 1960s. They would have done the same for us unless unable to do so. .
 
Basically what you seem to be suggesting is that we should have adopted a more neutral stance and focussed on building our defence force for our own protection. I disagree, we've acheived far more through our alliances than we ever would have by ourselves and I'm a passionate believer in the famous quote,
 
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing".
 
You can suggest that we should have been some sort of Sweden of the South if you like and we might have afforded a few extra toys as a conseqence, but lets not forget that the Swedes have to live with the fact that they were the ones who supplied the iron ore to build the Nazi war machine while it was raping Europe. I don't want my country to be in that morally ambiguous situation.
 
 
 
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Volkodav       1/18/2010 5:31:00 AM
We could have limited our involvement in Vietnam to the training teams and special forces on the ground while increasing our air, sea and logistic contribution.  Lower cost, avoids deploying conscripts to a war zone but provides quality support to our ally. i.e. pretty much what we do today.
 
Above all I see it as false economy to neglect investing in national defence capability on the assumption our friends will cover for us if things go pear shaped so long as we spend massive amounts of money to demonstrate that we are a faithful ally.
 
Would it not make more sense simply to do as the Guam Doctrine suggested and look to our own defence while our allies guarantee they will provide logistic support under a nuclear shield?
 
Don't know about you but I think the US and UK would have had more time and faith in a capable versatile ally than an inflexible unbalanced one. i.e. the Australia that fought in Korea, not the one that fought in Vietnam. 
 
In Korea we had a veteran Infantry btn, a fighter / attack squadron and a strike carrier (& escorts) plus supporting units. For Vietnam, over a decade later, we could provide a conscripted brigade, a clapped out bomber squadron, and single destroyers at a time on the gun line. 
 
I could be wrong but I think the US would have been more impressed by an elite regular Inf btn, a SF element, regular support elements, a fighter attack sqn and a strike carrier.  Far less boots on the ground but a greater contribution overall, less casualties, no conscripts, no or limited public bask lash. 
 
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Lawman       1/18/2010 8:46:37 AM
Another option might have been to go for the French Clemenceau carrier design, probably in the late '50s. It has the benefit of being a fair bit bigger than the Melbourne, thus would have been capable of operating a much more balanced air wing. Although the F-4 would almost certainly be a non-starter for them, there are other valid options, such as the F-8 Crusader, or even the F-11 Tiger or F-11F-1F Super Tiger. The Clemenceau was a bit more modern than either the Melbourne or Essex classes, and a fair bit smaller than the CVA-01, so manning would have been a little bit easier.
 
It should be capable of carrying an air wing of a flexible mix of S-2 Trackers, E-1 Tracers, ASW helos (Wessex/Sea King), strike aircraft (A-4s), and Army helos (e.g. UH-1 Bushranger gunships, UH-1H transports, etc...). It is something vaguely similar to the Spanish Navy's approach when they first got their carrier; they had interchangeable flights, each of about four aircraft, with AH-1s, UH-1s, Sea Kings, Harriers etc... The deployed airwing is simply assembled based on the mission. I know this was done by the RAN to an extent anyway, but the Clemenceau size carrier makes it possible to carry aircraft for more than one mission at a time. For example, you can embark both a respectable number of ASW aircraft, and a strike fighter detachment, for a total of, say, twenty A-4 Skyhawks, four S-2 Trackers, four E-1 Tracers, and eight Wessex ASW helos. Equally, you could cut back on the ASW aircraft, and embark some Army helos instead, or even eliminate the fast jets, and carry a huge number of helos.
 
 
On the issue of the escorts, I would love to have seen the RAN getting the DDL design into service, equipped with the SM-1MR, possibly suplemented with the same design, but without the SM-1s for ASW roles, replacing all the older DEs as they come up for replacement. Obviously I would have loved to see the RAN ending up with an escort fleet comprised almost entirely of Aussie built DDLs, since this would have been a major capability boost.
 
Ideally, I would have liked to see the RAN able to routinely field a force like the 'Australia Squadron ', which was pretty useful for the flag-waving role within the region. Basically, the challenge is to maintain a balanced fleet, such that the carrier and its airwing do not render the rest of the fleet unbalanced. For example, the cost of the Skyhawks seems to have made getting the 7th and 8th Oberon class subs unaffordable. If Australia as a whole is to remain a major regional power, then the carrier is only part of the issue, especially in light of the UK's withdrawal from East of Suez, and the Americans shifting Pacific strategies. The Navy needs a big stick, in the form of the carrier, but also the routine 'presence' assets, such as the Oberons (eight preferably), DDLs ideally, DEs, some amphibs, and patrol boats.
 
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Volkodav       1/19/2010 7:23:06 AM
I used to be a fan of Clemenceau and still believe it would have been better than an Essex or Melbourne but would have liked to have seen a larger more capable ship, well ideally two larger more capable ships, maybe the larger Verdun (cancelled 1961) would have done the job.
 
I was very surprised when I read the RAN looked at the CVA-01 but the more I thought about it the better it looked.   Had we gone for an austere version minus Sea Dart and operated a smaller cheaper airgroup we could have kept the manning pressures under control.  We would maintain sufficient aircraft and personnel ashore in training and support units so that when required we could surge them onto the carrier(s) similar to what the RN did in the Falklands.  Had we limited our involvement in Vietnam we may well have been able to afford a second carrier and its crew.
 
We could be smart and buy / build a pair of CVA-01's, normally operate one as a strike carrier and the other as a ASW / Commando carrier.  We would retain Sydney and Melbourne in reserve to replace a CVA-01 in the ASW / Commando role as required.  In the event of an emergency we would have sufficient material and personnel ashore to bring both CVAs up to strength as strike carriers and both Majestics as ASW or Commando carriers as required by the circumstances.
 
As for escorts I would have still gone for my favourite option of the Tartar County building four.  They would initially be supported by the legacy Darings, Rivers and Qs and then by the DDLs as they entered service from the early 80's.  After a total of 8 DDLs had been built through the 80's I would look to replace Melbourne and Sydney with a pair of austere Invincibles or similar in the early 90's.  The late 90's would see the Counties replaced with an AEGIS destroyer or cruiser design and  the DDL's with the F-100 from 2000.  This would see us looking to replace the CVA-01's leading up to 2020 with a pair of CTOL Queen Elizabeths.
 
Subs I would supplement the initial 4 Oberons with locally built modernised Barbels in the 80's and then replaced the them with an evolved Barbel design from EB during the 90's, slowly increasing the number of boats to 12 over a 30 years period.
 
Patrol craft I would have gone for a modern day sloop, something similar to D'Estienne d'Orves class but for but not with ASW systems to reduce cost and manning requirements.
 
P.S.
The DDL was rated higher than Sheffield, Spruance and Oliver Hazard Perry and roughly equivalent to Tromp.  The UK was involved in the project early on but pulled out when Australia insisted on US weapon systems, I bet the crews would have appreciated the two radar directed twin 35mm mounts in the Falklands.
 
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Aussiegunneragain       1/19/2010 8:22:44 AM
I could be wrong but I think the US would have been more impressed by an elite regular Inf btn, a SF element, regular support elements, a fighter attack sqn and a strike carrier.  Far less boots on the ground but a greater contribution overall, less casualties, no conscripts, no or limited public bask lash.
 
I think you are wrong. Westmoreland was always screaming for boots on the ground and while a couple of thousand extra Aussies was not a lot, it was a worthwhile contribution. In contrast the US had and has an overwhelming advantage in terms of air and naval powerand didn't need any more from us (the Canberras were worth sending though because of their suitibility for the task). This is why the Nixon doctrine read:
 
  • First, the United States will keep all of its treaty commitments.
  • Second, we shall provide a shield if a nuclear power threatens the freedom of a nation allied with us or of a nation whose survival we consider vital to our security.
  • Third, in cases involving other types of aggression, we shall furnish military and economic assistance when requested in accordance with our treaty commitments. But we shall look to the nation directly threatened to assume the primary responsibility of providing the manpower for its defense.
  • The US wanted men, not aeroplanes, because an extra Aussie soldier was another American lad that they didn't have to conscript. Quite reasonable given the contribution to our defence that they made (and make) I think.

    As for your proposed strike carriers, I'm finding difficult to justify why we would need them for our own defence. In any conflict with Indonesia had airfields within range of the likely targets, especially if we invested in tankers earlier, so there doesn't seem to be any justification for paying for a couple of extra very expensive floating airfields. For escort operations in the instance of a war with the communist powers Anti-Submarine and Anti-Surface Warfare would have been the priority as the air threat was non existant in the Indian Ocean and on the Western Pacific Rim was manageable with land based fighters in Lae, Guam, the Philipines and Japan, with the assistance of US aircraft carriers and with the bombing of enemy airfields. We would have been better just to keep the Sydney and Melbourne for ASW, then make the choice between Skyhawks or land based bombers for anti-shipping work. 
     
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    Volkodav       1/20/2010 4:22:59 AM
    Man power is far more than just boots on the ground, it is also measured in quality.  If your army is manned by human cabbages there is no point providing them with the latest gear because they will not be able to use it effectively.  Training may be used to bring a cabbage up to the standard of a turnip but will never make them into good soldiers.  Conscription was a major drain on resources and moral which is why most modern defence forces now rely on a high standard of volunteer.
     
    As WWII drew to a close Australia decided to form a Regular Army as well as maintaining the Citizen Military Forces.  It was this professional force, including many WWII veterans, who fought in Korea.  National service was used to expand CMF while the regular force remained volunteer.  The change in the use of National Service to expand the Regular Army was due to concerns that the US and UK would not intervene on our behalf in any conflict with Sukarno's Indonesia.  Ironically it was the decision to send this enlarged, conscript army, we had raised to defend against Indonesian aggression, to Vietnam which turned public opinion against National Service and the military in general.
     
    I still argue that we would have been far better off had we deployed only regular forces to Vietnam, reduced the financial millstone of National Service by limiting it to CMF units only and spent a larger percentage of our defence budget on maintaining and growing the capabilities we developed during and shortly after WWII.
     
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    Volkodav       1/20/2010 5:36:40 AM
    As for your proposed strike carriers, I'm finding difficult to justify why we would need them for our own defence. In any conflict with Indonesia had airfields within range of the likely targets, especially if we invested in tankers earlier, so there doesn't seem to be any justification for paying for a couple of extra very expensive floating airfields. For escort operations in the instance of a war with the communist powers Anti-Submarine and Anti-Surface Warfare would have been the priority as the air threat was non existant in the Indian Ocean and on the Western Pacific Rim was manageable with land based fighters in Lae, Guam, the Philipines and Japan, with the assistance of US aircraft carriers and with the bombing of enemy airfields. We would have been better just to keep the Sydney and Melbourne for ASW, then make the choice between Skyhawks or land based bombers for anti-shipping work. 
     
    t = s/v    where t is time, s is distance and v is velocity.  Assuming a given aircraft has the range to reach a target, patrol area or respond to a request for assistance, the time it will take to get there is determined by its maximum cruising speed.  When you need your aircover to remain on station continually you will need to generate additional sorties to cover the transit time. 
     
    Long story short, fixed bases are suitable for defending or patrolling point targets, choke points, adjacent areas and for launching planned strikes against fixed targets.  In terms of what the RAN needs they are of almost no use in fleet air defence and local sea control, they are only truely capable of, limited, sea denial.

    Carriers on the other hand take the airfield to where it is needed, think sortie generation.  A strike carrier can provide air defence, strike (land and maritime, tactical and strategic), ASW. It can serve as an amphibious helicopter carrier, a transport, a disaster relief platform (i.e. Cyclone Tracy relief).  It's role is decided by its airgroup.  A carrier can do many things an air base can not.  The quality of service and capability we got from our Majestics was irreplaceable by anything other than newer, larger carriers.
     
    I am not suggesting we did not need land based air power, because we needed more than we had (such as the maritime patrol bomber post)  Rather I am suggesting we should have maintained our strike carrier capability, not because our friends needed it but because we needed it.  It would have been a (not the) key element in our independant regional defence capability.
     
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    Aussiegunneragain    Volkodav   1/21/2010 3:57:29 AM
    I'll make this point separately to the rest of my answer because I don't want it to be seen as a cheap attempt to win debating points. It is ok to politely question the merits of a volenteer versus conscripted force but it really is incredibly disrespectful of you to describe those National Servicemen who served in Vietnam as "cabbages". An immediate apology from you is in order in case any of them or their families read this.
     
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