Draft papers by former Federal Vice President & Past President Victoria Division, John Bird Life Member on Maritime Air - Endorsed by Victoria Division Executive.
"It is now a decade since the Navy League of Australia seriously pursued the acquisition of a fixed wing maritime air capability. Since that time, the following two factors have determined that the League desist in its efforts, even though the need has not disappeared during the intervening period -
a.) The previous government's determination that the capability should be dispensed with,
b.) Continued endeavours by the League could embarrass Navy without achieving any tangible benefit.
The general view that the defence budget could not fund an organic air capability for the fleet, has never been accepted by the League as a reason for not recognising the need. It is a matter of priorities and it has long been held by many, that a fleet without organic air support is much less viable than a smaller fleet with that support; indeed the former is not a complete entity. The time has come when it becomes necessary to remind the present government of its undertaking when in office in 1982, to maintain a fixed wing maritime air capability. Discussion at high level within Navy, has suggested that such an approach would no longer be seen as an embarrassment to the Service; there are of course some who think that such action would still he unproductive ('twas ever thus). The views of others in the defence community would lead one to believe that it would now be worthwhile revisiting the matter of the acquisition of this vital addition to our defence armoury. The capability referred to is still the STOVL aircraft with an appropriate carrying vehicle aircraft which additionally can also be carried by other existing fleet units. To those who hold that if and when the time comes, allies will provide the appropriate facilities that we lack, it must be said that whilst recognising the need to aim for collective defence of our region, realistically it must be accepted that there are circumstances in which we would not receive the support of allies and this of course includes circumstances in which the United States under ANZUS, would not be in a position to provide assistance. The need therefore is to develop a maritime defence force that Is self sufficient to the extent that is economically feasible and a STOVL capability is without doubt the most economical manner in which we can acquire the fixed wing air support that would achieve a degree of self sufficiency that may be seen to be acceptable. The force requires to be able to respond to situations which may develop in and around our island home and in our neighbourhood, embracing at least New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, our island dependencies and to a reasonable extent our sea lines of communications, the loss of which could deny the nation the ability to resist an aggressor for more that a very limited period of time. Economic constraints would determine that a STOVL force would be minimal for the forseeable future, but it would enable us to regain the expertise that we possessed before 1983 and provided sufficient crews were trained (be they dressed in Navy blue or Air Force blue) we would be in a position to expand the facility rapidly if and when the need arises. Current wisdom presumably still dictates that fleet units will be provided with air support by our FA18 squadrons, but since that would require in many circumstances, using up to have of the aircraft likely to be serviceable at any given time, the likelihood of such a commitment being given, at a time when the squadrons may be needed for continental defence, is very questionable. In such an event surface units could well be operating in circumstances which would place them at considerable risk. As a side issue, the value of STOVL aircraft in support of Army in the inhospitable north, when operating in areas remote from even small airstrips would be enormous. Development of the current STOVL aircraft has seen improvements to the machines that were sought in the last decade and it is understood that research is underway aimed at replacing the Harrier/AV8B presently in service in other navies. It has also been reported that unmanned aircraft are being researched that might perhaps fill the role of navy support. If either of these proposals eventually produce equipment which provides our requirements better that the present generation STOVL aircraft that is fine, but let us not wait upon the results of this research before again endeavouring to persuade government of the need for organic air support for the elect; the details of the implementation will follow as part of the inevitable feasibility study that will follow in due course. As to the matter of funding, there is of course no simple solution and serious thought must, as previously suggested, be given to the question of priorities.

Some avenues, which come to mind, are:-
1. Reduce the number of fleet units, which are currently in the pipeline, or in future programs.
2. One defence analyst has suggested that it may be valid to consider a trade off between organic air and future surface to surface missiles.
3. An article in 'The Navy' suggested that when the time comes to replace Kanimbla and Manoora, this could be done with an appropriate 'carrying vehicle'.

There are no doubt other avenues which may be explored and equally doubtless is the fact that some YAII say that we cannot afford to regain a capability that was once seen as an essential part of this nation's defence armoury.

It is suggested that the time is ripe to persuade governments that we cannot afford not to plug this serious gap in our defence capability by acquiring a facility, without which we will possess a fleet unable to carry out its intended functions without placing the ships and their crews at unacceptable peril.

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