Exclusive media report: Inside HMAS Canberra
With Melbourne city silhouetted across a shimmering Port Phillip Bay, the ship's expansive 32-metre wide flight deck stretches for 203 metres as pleasure yachts bob at their moorings more than 30 metres below.
Such is the sheer size of HMAS Canberra that the antennae on top of the ship's stern mast will touch the deck of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
This Canberra is known as a Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) and she dwarfs anything else in the Royal Australian Navy fleet. She is the first of a $3 billion two-ship build. The second, HMAS Adelaide, will arrive early next year.
It is Australian engineering and technical expertise at the BAE Systems' Williamstown shipyard that is putting the finishing touches on vessels that will alter the nation's power projection capabilities forever.
Navy Captain Craig Bourke is a fierce advocate for a project that he manages on behalf of taxpayers via his job with the Defence Materiel Organisation.
Such is the sheer size of HMAS Canberra that the antennae on top of the ship's stern mast will touch the deck of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Picture: David Caird
From the moment News Limited begins the first ever media tour of Nuship Canberra, Captain Bourke is a mine of information. His enthusiasm for the ships and the project is infectious and his praise for the BAE Systems workforce, including 200 technical staff still beavering away in the ship each day, is effusive.
Given past problems with central keel blocks for the new Air Warfare Destroyers built at the facility, the gaggle of nervous BAE executives following along is understandable, but there is no aspect of the LHD project that Captain Bourke leaves untouched.
From the unique and precise welding systems employed to construct the seven superstructure modules and the exact tolerances employed to ensure that all 112 modules from around the nation and around the globe fit together senselessly, to the quality of the accommodation for "embarked forces" and the high-tech ovens in the ship's bakery, this is a project manager who knows his stuff.
Ship Safety Officer Mark Carter takes in the best view of Melbourne's CBD from the top of the 'aircraft take off ski jump' at the bow of the ship. Picture: David Caird
He is very proud that the build is running on time and on-budget and he is supremely confident that the ship will pass its sea trials later this year with flying colours and be in the navy's Order of Battle on schedule by the first quarter of 2014.
The first Commanding Officer of HMAS Canberra is Captain Jonathan Sadleir. The former Canadian officer has 27 years experience including 12 in the Canadian Navy. His last command job was driving the 3600-tonne Anzac frigate HMAS Parramatta.
As he surveys Port Phillip Bay from what will soon become his new office, dodging some of the 760km of cables being installed in the ship and the technicians doing the work, Captain Sadleir describes his new role as "humbling, but hugely exciting".
However, the excitement of commanding a ship more than eight times the size of his previous vessel is tempered by the responsibility of being the first CO of his adopted country's biggest ever warship and her 360-strong crew. For the first time a ship's crew will include up to 60 army and air force personnel, as well as 300 sailors.
The ship's expansive 32-metre wide flight deck stretches for 203 metres as pleasure yachts bob at their moorings more than 30 metres below. Picture: David Caird
Captain Sadleir says that having the levers of the nation's first truly global military capability is a huge honour.
"This is an amazing self-sufficient capability, but our biggest challenge will be understanding just what we can do with it," he says.
Navy doctrine will change significantly with the arrival of the two LHDs and three Adelaide-built Hobart Class Air Warfare Destroyers, the most lethal warships ever to serve in the RAN.
The two amphibious assault ships and the AWDs will be home ported at Garden Island in Sydney, but the big ships will spend a great deal of time operating with the 2nd Battalion Royal Australian regiment out of Townsville or representing the nation around the region or the world.
Crew members, AS Roma Scheepers, PO Steven Firkin, Ships Capt. Jonathan Sadleir, Commander Dave Walter and CPO James Dew on the top flight deck. Picture: David Caird
Being able to carry up to 1600 fully equipped combat troops (1000 comfortably), 110 trucks and vehicles and up to a dozen Abrams main battle tanks, not to mention 16 helicopters including Chinook heavy lift machines and Tiger attack helicopters and thousands of tonnes of humanitarian aid, gives the government previously unimaginable power projection capability.
Like all crew members, Captain Sadleir and Chief Engineer Commander Dave Walter have spent a lot of time training on simulators at HMAS Watson and at Mascot in Sydney learning how to operate the vessel. Simulation technology has become so refined that sailors can virtually step out of the land-based sim, on to the ship and start working.
In terms of capability and technology, the Canberra represents a quantum leap for the RAN. For example she has 65,000 control and monitoring points compared to just 1500 on an Anzac frigate and the vessel is fitted with more water tight doors than the entire eight-ship Anzac frigate fleet combined.
The hull and vehicle, aircraft, flight and accommodation decks and machinery spaces were all built in Spain, but the four modules that contain the "brains" of the ship were constructed in Newcastle, Perth and at Williamstown where they are being installed at BAE's shipyard.
In terms of capability and technology, the Canberra represents a quantum leap for the RAN. Picture: David Caird
This includes the bridge, operations rooms including the deployable joint force headquarters, command and control rooms, communications and combat systems. All the sensitive areas of the ship are encased in 25mm thick ballistic steel and the bridge is built from the same alloy used to protect the Abrams main battle tank.
Wherever soldiers will be moving around the ship passageways are extra wide with built in slides for packs to be moved between decks. The light vehicle deck, where Bushmaster infantry vehicles, light trucks and Land Rovers will be stored covers a massive 2400 square metres and can handle a maximum load of 611 tonnes. It includes workshop facilities on each side that will enable virtually any maintenance task to be undertaken in-house.
Vehicles can be moved between decks via a ramp on the port (left) side or a light vehicle elevator. There are also two aircraft elevators, two personnel elevators, an ammunition elevator and a hospital elevator running between the decks.
Between the light vehicle and heavy vehicle decks are the accommodation, recreation and living spaces as well as the 40-bed hospital fitted with two operating theatres, intensive care unit and X-ray room as well as mess decks, galleys and office spaces.
There are two internet cafes and two gyms and all recreation areas are equipped with satellite TV, internet and projectors and CCTV so they can double as briefing rooms.
The state-of-the-art central galley is huge and includes a bakery section to bake bread for 1500 people a day. Up to 25 chefs will work around the clock to dish up a maximum of 6000 meals a day using equipment that can cook 400 chicken breasts at once as well as enough meat sauce to feed 300 people.
The fourth deck down on the ship is the heavy-vehicle deck that covers 1400 square metres and can accommodate 196 shipping containers and a maximum load of 1524 tonnes. It is located forward of a 70m by 17m welldock that is flooded to allow four 24m-long landing craft and other boats to operate inside the ship.
The welldock, landing craft and helicopters mean that all troops, equipment and supplies can be landed without wharves or docking facilities.
The ship's gas turbine generator produces 19.5 megawatts of electricity and two diesel generators seven megawatts each, which is enough to power a city the size of Darwin.
The key challenge for Captain Bourke and the BAE Systems project team headed by Marcos Alfonso, will be a successful program of sea trials this spring followed by a seamless delivery to the Chief of Navy, Vice-Admiral Ray Griggs, before March 2014.
"We can do it provided we keep focused and stay on the ball and work together," Captain Bourke said.
HMAS CANBERRA/ HMAS ADELAIDE
* Amphibious assault ships
* 27,800 tonnes
* 230 metres long
* 32 metres wide
* 202 metre flight deck 28 metres above water
* 360 crew and up to 1600 troops
* 100 vehicles and 12 tanks
* 4 X 24 metre landing craft
* Internal well dock to load and unload craft
* 16 helicopters, six operating at once
* 40-bed hospital and two operating rooms
* Maximum speed above 20 knots (35km/hr)
HISTORY OF A NAME
Read more at http://www.news.com.au/technology/exclusive-report-inside-hmas-canberra/story-e6frfro0-1226639639652