Papers in Australian Maritime Affairs: Prospects for Maritime Aviation in the 21st Century

Papers in Australian Maritime Affairs No. 7
Papers in Australian Maritime Affairs No. 7

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David Stevens


This volume is the proceedings of a workshop held at the Naval Air Station, Nowra on 4 November 1998 concerning the future of maritime aviation, with contributions from both Australian and foreign aviators.

Notwithstanding the planned acquisition of new helicopters for the Anzac Class frigates, the lessons of the past should not be forgotten when examining naval aviation. The Fleet Air Arm was almost stillborn and was subject to financial stringency even in its very early years. Doomed to an early death in 1959, it survived, first through anti-submarine warfare helicopters and then with a rejuvenated fixed-wing force. The long and very nearly successful battle to replace the aircraft carrier, HMAS Melbourne, finally ended in 1983, and with it, operational fixed-wing aviation in the RAN.

One message that can be taken from this history is that however bright the future, it is never assured. Therefore in giving consideration to the likely future of maritime aviation in Australia, there should be a concentration on capability rather than an attachment to platforms. The future is not a matter of whether the RAN should ever have an aircraft carrier again, or of replacing the RAAF P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft. It is very much a question of what capabilities Australia needs to fight a war at sea. Once there is agreement on the range of capabilities which the future may demand, such as adequate surveillance, early warning, strike and anti-submarine warfare forces, then there can be an examination of how best to provide them.