Should the Royal Australian Navy induct Lockheed Martin F-35B to counter PLA Navy?

Recent intrusion by Chinese Navy into Indonesian exclusion economic zones, Indonesia turns to France to enhance it’s military capability to deter China venturing into Indonesian littoral zone. China is flexing its muscles in the South China Sea, learnt GDC quoting the Jakarta Post.

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The Chinese Navy recently escorted fishing boats around the Natuna Islands in the South China Sea which is part of exclusive economic zone of Indonesia prompting Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto to meet his French counterpart Florence Parly in France last week to discuss an advanced defense cooperation treaty between both nations.

Disputed Spartly Island

On August 14 2019, five Chinese warships were spotted venturing into the Philippines southernmost territorial waters, according to the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Mindanao Command reported AFP.

The warships were seen passing through Sibutu Strait, considered an international sea lane where foreign ships have the right of innocent passage. However, customary maritime law requires warships to notify the government of the coastal state beforehand.

Read More Chinese type 094 nuclear submarine in embarrassing south china sea incident

The Chinese Navy’s Jin-class nuclear submarine entered in the exclusive economic zones of Vietnam to project power and naval might. Recently, Chinese Navy ships violated sovereign littoral zone of Brunei.

Naval Muscle by the Chinese Navy

The Chinese navy is conducting a week-long exercise in the Gulf of Tonkin to test new warships and weapons, military experts said.

The Type 055 Destroyer

The Maritime Safety Administration posted “no sail” notices for three parts of the gulf, warning vessels not to enter the zones because of live-fire drills. The exercises began on August 9 2019.

Read More The Hobart-class Air Warfare Destroyer (AWD):

Beijing-based military expert Zhou Chenming said the Tonkin Gulf and Paracel drills were part of regular training designed to test the PLA’s new warships and ship-borne weapons.

“The Chinese navy has stepped up its replacement [of warships] so more vessels and weapons are entering service,” Zhou said.

New warships such as advanced Type 054D guided-missile destroyers, next-generation Type 055 destroyers, type 002 aircraft carrier and Type 071 amphibious assault vessels have been commissioned in the past year.

Type 002 Aircraft Carrier of Chinese Navy

The Type 055 destroyers are large ships, probably displacing around thirteen thousand tons and carrying 112 vertical launch system (VLS) cells, in addition to a 130-millimeter gun and a wide array of sensors and defensive weapons. The type 055 offers a variety of technological developments such as VLS, power generation, sensor capability, and future avenues in railguns and lasers gun.

Should Australia induct the Lockheed Martin F-35B on to Canberra-class LHD?

A modern maritime strategy involves air, sea and land forces operating jointly to influence events in the littoral together with traditional blue water maritime concepts of sea denial and sea control.

HMAS Canberra (L02), a Royal Australian Navy landing helicopter dock ship, arrives at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for Rim of the Pacific 2016.

A maritime strategy is not just about naval forces or naval strategy.

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The key elements of a maritime strategy include sea denial, sea control and power projection:

Sea Denial has the ‘aim of prevention of the use of the sea’ by another force against us. This is ‘defined as the condition that exists when an adversary is denied the ability to use an area of sea for its own purposes for a period of time.

Sea Denial implies a more passive posture where the emphasis is on defense (although this does not preclude the employment of offensive capabilities), and where the initiative is likely to remain with the attacking power.

Sea Control is ‘defined as that condition which exists when one has freedom of action to use an area for one’s own purposes for a period of time and, if required, to deny its use to an opponent’; and

Power Projection, while not exclusively a maritime strategic concept, recognizes that maritime forces, through Sea Control, can shape, influence and control the strategic environment, and can deliver combat force ashore if necessary’.

Read More Royal Australian Navy’s Canberra-class Amphibious Assault Ship:

Answer to the above strategy is to induct Lockheed Martin F-35B on to Canberra Class LHD.

The Lockheed Martin F-35B

The F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant is the world’s first supersonic STOVL stealth aircraft. It is designed to operate from austere bases and a range of air-capable ships near front-line combat zones. It can also take off and land conventionally from longer runways on major bases. The U.S. Marine Corps’ F-35B aircraft reached initial operational capability (IOC) on July 31, 2015, and as of January 2017, a squadron of F-35Bs is permanently based at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan.

The F-35B STOVL operation is made possible through the Rolls-Royce patented shaft-driven LiftFan propulsion system and an engine that can swivel 90 degrees when in short takeoff/vertical landing mode. Because of the LiftFan, the STOVL variant has a smaller internal weapon bay and less internal fuel capacity than the F-35A. It uses the probe-and-drogue method of aerial refueling.

Currently, F-35B aircraft is operated by the U.S. Marines, the Italian Navy and the Royal Navy. The Singaporean Air Force ordered 12 F-35B and Japanese Self Defense Maritime Forces ordered 42 F-35B. The F-35 Lightning will provide the ultimate punch of the Royal Navy’s Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers. 

The Cavour aircraft carrier of Italian Navy will face a preparatory training period in the United States where it will conduct tests with the F-35B aircraft on board. The Italian Navy ordered 15 F-35B aircraft.

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