At the end of October 2014, Australia’s first landing helicopter dock ship, known then as NUSHIP Canberra, was farewelled from Melbourne as she headed to her home port of Sydney.
The voyage from Melbourne to Sydney was significant in many respects, not least because it represented the first ship of its kind to be delivered to the Navy by the Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO). The commissioning of HMAS Canberra on 28 November 2014 marked the completion of a tremendous combined effort signifying a new era for the Australian Defence Force (ADF) in the region.
The 27,000-tonne landing helicopter dock now provides the ADF with one of the world’s most capable and sophisticated amphibious assault ships.
Following the commissioning, the ship’s company pushed itself to prepare the Navy’s largest ship to achieve unit readiness certification. First-of-class flight trials for helicopters were conducted in a variety of weather conditions from Tasmania to Townsville. Landing craft were embarked and teamed with the ship’s company of more than 400 sailors, soldiers and airmen and airwomen, who conducted continuous drills as part of the ship’s preparation.
During 2015, Canberra has conducted hundreds of landings—from both the Taipan multi-role helicopters of 808 Squadron and S-70B-2 Seahawks of 816 Squadron—and refined deck landings and emergency procedures. Her hangar deck is able to accommodate up to eight medium-sized helicopters, the movement, storage and maintenance of which are vital to support the ship’s role.
The ship, along with her sister ship NUSHIP Adelaide (when commissioned), will provide the ADF with one of the most capable and sophisticated amphibious deployment capabilities in the world. With four landing craft and embarked helicopters, Canberra will be able to quickly deliver up to 1,400 personnel ashore in support of a variety of amphibious operations, and provide humanitarian aid at a level not seen before within the region.
The ship has state-of-the-art medical facilities, including operating theatres, an eight-bed critical care unit, a variety of wards, pathology and radiology services, X-ray and dental facilities, and a pharmacy.
This milestone represented the excellent collaboration between the DMO and BAE Systems Australia, with the commissioning of Canberra signifying the first major component of the Navy’s modernisation programme.
These two new ships will significantly increase the Navy’s ability to contribute to an integrated joint mission for air and missile defence, and signifies the growth of the Navy in strength, agility, intelligence and lethal capacity.