[ Ken Murray's letter to the OZ brass
Revised 08/12/00 ]

    They are the Nelsons...They have the imagination. They don't go by the book because warfare doesn't go by the book....It takes boldness to beat the enemy

    .............Joe Metcalf

$10 billion plus worth of big surface combatants and submarines and we don't have even the basic tools to handle our #1 strategic problem. For the 700 Australians and others trapped in the Solomons it could have been a bloodbath. While our Navy's big ships were cruising the blue waters of who knows where looking for that big fleet action . The real drama was unfolding on an island nation, where once again our high price big ships were of no use.

The pleas for our unarmed police to go in and help and our confusion and total lack of any meaningful policy re these island nations security problems and protection for our citizens is pretty ominous. The "mother of all island revolt" is about to erupt soon and that will be our next door neighbour Papua and if we cant handle a few rebels in the Solomons, God help Papua, as we sure can't.

......... A PROPOSAL .........


For the past year, prior to the crisis in East Timor, Fiji and Guadalcanal I have been contacting our politicians and others on the following subject of our spending probably 6 billion ( and now maybe 7 billion) dollars) on submarines and billions more on new large surface combatants that are the wrong ships for patrolling our coast and the protection of the island nations to our north.


The events over the course of the East Timor campaign and now Fiji and Guadalcanal proved my point when I suggested that what we really need are....

    100 basic, low cost, multi-purpose, heavily armed 90 foot - 90 ton, fast (50 knot plus) attack patrol boats modeled on the Norwegian/U.S. Navy P.Ts or Nasty Class P.T.F.

These boats to be mass produced of mahogany/glass modular construction. 

These PTFs can in times of need be armed with all or any of the following: Torpedos- cannon- depth charges- mortar- rockets- machine guns- missiles and smoke. The missiles would be anti-aircraft Stingers. New lightweight target search radar would allow these ships if needed to carry SSMs preferably as of this time the smaller Exocet ASM38 or Harpoon (1).

Pound for pound absolutely nothing comes close to these little ships for firepower and bang for the buck. Not only would we have mastery of our coastline under the Navy or a Fighting Coastguard, re illegal fishing, drug and people smuggling, but the ability to show the flag and patrol and attack with overwhelming numbers any vessels that threatened shipping in our northern maritime approaches.

    Far seeing naval men have long predicted that the most terrible danger threatening the ironclads in any future naval warfare will be when they are assaulted on several sides at once by a series of agile gunboats, difficult to hit.........Geoffrey Till

In times of need, these boats could deploy in squadrons or fight in small groups as did the P.Ts of WW2 fight guerilla skirmishes in these very same waters.

In addition the PTFs would be ideal in times of conflict as ship escorts and to ferry Special Service troops into shallow waters.

With their glass/wood hulls they could not only lay mines, but sail through them better than any ship in the Navy

As part of an intergrated Island & Coastal Defence System, teamed as a unit with island based (see below) Blackhawk helicopters (that along with the RAAF and other Navy ships could direct them for over the horizon missile guidance) PTFs and Blackhawks would make an ideal combination for the type of operations that we will sooner or later be facing from overthrows of goverments or social unrest conflicts in these island nations. A slaughter of innocent civilians as in East Timor will someday most likely occur again and fairly soon. As most of these island nations larger towns and cities are next to the sea, these boats could quickly provide firepower and protection for the majority of residents while awaiting reinforcements. They could also quickly evacuate Australian citizens (or troops) and others or deploy medical aid teams.

In other words these little ships would fill a role completely opposite to what those subs were supposed to fill and are for the most part impotent in this type of situation that we will face again one day.


The decision of the U.S. not to get involved in was the right one for their national interest. We made our bed so let us sleep in it. The need for Australia to get into the real world of defending our neighbours real estate has to be addressed and for Australia there will be more than a few chances for a skirmish with a hostile Indonesia especially if their military or Muslim extremists gain complete control and decide to block our sea lanes or add one of our neighbours real estate to their territory.

Aside from the U.S. no country could invade Australia especially a third world one. There will be no amadas coming our way. If an enemy, even a third world one wanted all out war, with the right wind, they could loose biological or chemical gas right off our coast or fire missiles right into our cities from innocent looking freighters or even explode nuclear devices right inside our harbours, so why do we need more big ships?

As for PTFs with Exocets defending our waters, one only has to look at what happened in the Gulf War. The U.S. Navy, the worlds most powerful would not bring its ships in close because of the Exocet equipted Iraqi patrol boats and almost half of all U.S. aircraft were assigned to guarding against and hunting those Exocets. The British in the Faulklands almost lost due to few Argentine planes equipted with Exocets . The Argentinians had a total of 6 Exocets . What would have been the outcome if they would have had 2 dozen? Not against modern warships? Look at the USS Stark.

If we scrapped one of those subs or new big surface combatants we could build 100 of those PTFs for $50 million (plus hardware and weapon systems) and look at the benefits as opposed to that sub. Not the least a savings of $950 million.

We could then build (KISS) PTF bases. Inexpensive Quonset huts with small fixed or floating docks, also C-130 landing strips for supplies. (There is a float option now available for the C-130 for areas where an airstrip is not practical)

Each base would have 3 boats . 2 on patrol and 1 being serviced all along our (Australian) northern shores and islands. Also complete patrol coverage for smugglers etc. of every river, inlet and bay. Something we do not have now.

For any of our regional neighbours that would like the protection of these bases we could make them Mutual Participation Defence Bases, larger, with more boats and with Blackhawks and their facilities and even portable Over Horizon Radar Units to give better overall regional coverage. These bases would give us and our friends and neighbours some real security and enable a quick time response for us and let a hostile Indonesia or other belligerent know that there will be no more excursions into another helpless "Timor". These bases would also be insurance for the legally elected governments against possible coups or insurrections, as any sort of of situation like this would be from poorly armed and trained (if at all ) mobs. The goodwill forged would also help keep an aggressive expanding China from a regional naval port.


The catamaran troop carrier is also something that needs to be looked at. A ship carrying 500 troops would be the #1 target for every hostile aircraft in a real combat situation. 100 PTF boats each carrying say only 15 troops (WW2 PT's landed with 70 troops) with their gear would total 1500 troops. That's 3 times as many as the cat. These PTFs could land their troops practically anywhere on beaches or up rivers in a few minutes and scatter equally as fast if enemy aircraft approached. A large group of PTFs equipped with Stinger missiles are not something that to many pilots would want to attack.

If the cat was hit it would be a catastrophic disaster as were the British ships that were hit in the Faulklands. It could take just 1 missile to kill 500 men in the cat, but it would take more than 30 missile hits (on much smaller targets with a massed Stingers defence) to equal that number in the PTFs.

I believe that the cat should only be used to follow up landings with equipment and supplies and with a PTF escort.

The cat I believe is costing $40 million for a 2 year lease. For that money we could build 40 PTFs and the Navy gets to keep them.


Defence Minister Moore wrote me that these PTFs would be considered for a replacement for our current patrol boats in a few years.

First of all we need these boats now and not just as coastal patrol boats but if needed, as a fast forward flexible defence/strike force.

Secondly I don't believe they would be considered. Lets face it the Navy likes their toys big and very expensive. These PTFs are small, inexpensive and not very prestigious, yet during WW2 how many large warships were sunk by our large warships? I believe it was 2 light cruisers,(1 Italian) yet look at what we lost from HMAS Sydney thru HMAS Canberra. Yes, later our biggest ship the carrier Melbourne did sink 2 destroyers but they were both ours.

If we would have had 100 PT boats in WW2 it is doubtful that the Japanese could have invaded New Guinea. At the very least they would have been delayed until reinforcements arrived.

Today these small missile capable, multi purpose, wood/glass, low profile, very fast, very manouverable PTF boats could give any ship a run for its money in these waters.


While our Navy is hell-bent on buying more destroyers and frigates. Does it not make more sense for the RAN to support and complement the USN with their shift from blue-water operations to littoral operations, with something they don't have. A large fleet of small specialized ships (teamed with a quick strike force of SAS troops and Blackhawks ) that are ideal for amphibious operations (including as Pathfinders and shallow water mine recon and clearance and Black Operations ) in this part of the world, rather than duplicate the 7th. Fleets big ships which they have in abundance. Just what real combat advantage is achieved re our coalition obligations by sending a destroyer or frigate to an engagement such as the Persian Gulf? Just what do we achieve by having a half dozen more destroyers and frigates at a staggering cost to our small nation, that fill no defined need, when we have a more than capable airforce that can destroy a surface fleet much faster and from further away than our big ships.

The only battle scenario involving big ships is China / Taiwan. Most Chinese missiles will come from the shore which will mean total annihilation for any fleet. This war will flare up and be over so fast our ships would not get there in time and even if they did, what difference would our few frigates and destroyers make?

Still not convinced of the P.T'F,s worth?

  1. In the East Timor campaign ( I now add Fiji and Guadalcanal) which ships would have proven more useful in protecting civilians.
          (a) Submarines
          (b) P.T.F.s integrated with Blackhawks
  1. What type of conflicts will Australia be most likely to be engaged in in the near future and beyond?
          (a) Blue water eg; big ship battles
          (b) Inshore island conflicts?
  1. What type of ship would best serve double duty in war and as coastal interdiction patrol boats in peace.
          (a) 20 billion plus dollars worth of subs and large surface combatants.
          (b) 100 P.T'F.s at $50 million.
  1. What has the most firepower

         (a) 1 destroyer or 1 sub.
         (b) 100 P.T'F boats at a fraction f the cost?

If the answers are mostly (b) then why should we waste any more money with square pegs in round holes? How can we justify a billion dollars on a limited purpose ships when we can have so much more from these PTFs.

We need to cancel at least one of those bug filled subs. or new big, surface combatants and get some practical defence for our northern waters.


I also believe that we need a much faster Army response team than what we have now. When we know that trouble is fairly imminent, there should be a High Rediness Force of 1000 Special Service troops on standby trained in amphibious landings ready to fly to the nearest "friendly" airfield and be ready to ship off in the PTFs within 12 hours.


Illegal immigrants (boat people) are going to be a real major threat to this country and are now costing us hundreds of millions of dollars and we aint seen nothing yet.

The third world is adding 80 million people a year to its population and that number will increase every year. That's 4 times the population of Australia and as conditions in the third world worsen, we will be overwhelmed with swarms of craft, large and small coming down the island chain (especially if the ethnic/religious problems continue in Indonesian ) and the more illegals we reward with visas and work permits, the more that are going to come.

The dangers of disease and oil spills are very real as has happened in Guam (the U.S. backdoor) of Chinese ships being run up on reefs and shores to claim asylum. As the U.S. Coast Guard has discovered, they will become more belligerent and willing to fight. The only way to prevent this is to have large numbers of fast, heavily armed patrol boats that are physically able to turn these illegals around before they land on our shores and be escorted away, if necessary with an armed boarding party.


There is no way the Navy would willingly acquiesce to having its future big ships replaced with smaller ones. The Juggernauts and battles of Jutland in WW1 still figure prominently in the bigger is better mindset of Navy Brass. (Their big ship, big battle maritime strategy is a way of justifying their disproportional large budget vis a vis the budgets of the RAAF and Army.)

Yet we could build this formidable PTF force and bases for under $100 million which is less than just the cost overuns on the Collins Class Subs. and a fraction of the cost of restoring those 2 U.S. Navy troopships. Surely we cant afford not to as we could also share costs with New Zealand (or at least crews, including NZ reserves) who also have budget constraints and an obligation to preserve peace in the islands.

We do not need national service, many more big ships or to increase the defence budget . We just need to get our priorities straight and spend our monies on the best and right weapons for our particular geographical location and needs for a change.

I suggest that new blood, bright young Turks be put in charge of the buildup of the PTF force with their own budget , as a separate unit of the Navy or as a Fighting Coastguard.


There are a few PTFs available from the Vietnam War that are for sale in the U.S. I suggest that we purchase at least one and start conducting tests by an independent of the Navy group such as the CSIRO with hull modifications, new type engines and weapons systems. It will be the best buy we ever made.


These PTF boats are not "missile boats" per se but fast patrol boats with missile carrying capability as well as torpedoes and mines etc. none of these weapons would have to be carried unless there was a need. Then they would only have to carry 1 or 2 ASM,s. The chance of ever having to actually carry and use them is very remote.

I believe these PTFs are the right ships for the job as they are....

    (a) Under 100 feet. Which means they will be faster, more maneuverable (a tough target) and more economical to run.  The British Brave class is also an excellent design, however they are larger all round and more expensive to build and run.

    (b) A proven design (unlike the "experts" selection of the Collins Class sub) that was ideal for these waters in WW and still is today.

    (c) Has a shallow draft that is almost beach-able with the brown water (up rivers) capability that will be needed..

    (d) Easy maintenance for these island situations, plus very few crew, which mean fewer buildings. In the island nations, the bases need to be low profile along with the boats and crews, which will discourage criticism from other not so friendly neighbours. Having big warships hanging around costs a fortune and smacks of colonialism, besides bigger ships are a liability in these inshore waters.

    (e) Inexpensive to build. This gives us the capability to build more boats, which in turn allows more area to be patroled/defended. there is no point in building 20 or 50 of these boats, or build them with exotic materials. The whole concept is to build a very large fleet of low cost ,low tech, very fast, evasive, multi-purpose boats, with high tech weapons that would deter any aggressor by sheer numbers. Attacks coming from different directions can confuse any ships weapons systems.

As for manning the boats.

As a good many PTFs would be stationed at Mutual Participation Defence Bases in the island nations, each boat could have part of it's crew and maintenance personnel that were from the host country and paid by that country. Also RAN reserve members should be trained year round on these boats and could make up a good percentage of the crews.

I know the Navy will say that these boats are not big enough for missile carrying boats and don't have the range. This is wrong. As I have already stated, the smaller WW2 PTs carried 9000lbs.of torpedoes the same size as the ASM,s and operated through all the combat areas of the stormy Aleutians, Mediterranean, Atlantic and Pacific Ocean including areas of the most potential threats to our sea lanes in the South China and Philippines Seas and with many more bases throughout the whole region and new more powerful, fuel efficient turbine engines and even jet drives, these boats could do the job as no other and give the RAN and the Army a much more rounded and flexible naval operations capability for a fraction of the money being spent on other limited purpose ships.

As its just a matter of time before we are engaged in operations in the South China and Philippine Seas because of Muslim terrorists/pirates etc., it would be advantageous for the PTF,s to be refueled at sea by submarine tankers. This would have many obvious advantages (especially Black Ops.) not the least the sub. could rendezvous submerged, instead of surface tankers that would need surface combatants for an armed escort.

Converting attack subs. to tankers has been done successfully by various countries. It would be ideal if our Oberon class submarines could be used for such a purpose.

I would also like to clarify this. I am not about sinking all the Navy's big ships, but getting the right ships for our regional needs first and foremost.

In fact I believe that corvettes would be a very appropriate vessel for our needs in these waters . We could afford to build more of them than destroyers and frigates and the weapons they pack are the same and just as lethal. Also larger patrol boats have their use especially for offshore patrols that are not practical for the PTFs in our western and southern waters.

Australia needs to promote people in the ADF to top of the ladder that are not blinded by illogically favouring one branch of the service over the other for self interest and keep making the same old mistakes year after year.

This costs our country billions and wastes our limited resources while weaking our defences. These defences are now a hodge-podge shambles.

I suggest that we have one representative from each branch of the services and a civilian (not politician) make up our version of the Defence Joint Chiefs.


Missile systems are getting smaller and more powerful every year. This will mean even more bang for the buck for the "Nasty Boats". General MacArthur said "Give me 100 PT boats and I will defend any shore within 300 miles" and that was before the age of the surface ship missile.

Ken Murray
NSW Australia (1) Cost is paramount. The choice of Exocet over Harpoon even with its longer range.

UPDATE FIJI CRISIS .................................................................................... 

Under ANZ leadership a PTF / Blackhawk force based on Fiji could have moved immediately on the rebels, blocked off all roads and communications to the media from parliament house, secured the airport and protected and even evacuated the government members and foreign nationals to a nearby safe zone. As this coup went on it gained momentum and picked up support from the populace. The ANZ force would have provided the backbone and logic to the local military bungling and ensured a quick result. 

Democracy is dead in Fiji. There will never in the foreseeable future be another stable government in Fiji without a UN or ANZ force on these islands and these insurrections will occur again and again throughout these island nations and Australia and New Zealand are not going to help solve this very serious chain of events, by building more big naval combatants. 


More than a year after the events in East Timor, the new White Paper (not implementation of any plan, but just the White Paper) later this year will show that our military "experts/planners" have not learned a damn thing from past events. They will put out a huge sheaf of documents full of high tech mil. speak and big picture over the horizon plans to do this and that as they always do, with no actual nuts and bolts solutions to the very real problems in our own backyard. Then the navy will put in new bids for bigger ships (and maybe an aircraft carrier, even though the last one did enough damage us) and we will continue to drift aimlessly along sans any real policy or plan of action while this regions governments topple, innocent people are killed by roving bands of terrorist thugs and we are flooded with illegal third world immigrants who cost us a fortune to the detriment of our own needy citizens.