Flashing a little flesh: A few observations in relation to my piece yesterday and the released Australian Defence White Paper today.

Ben Moles

The 2013 Australian Defence White Paper is available hereand here’s yesterdays piece.

2010-routes-maritimes

No new Air Warfare Destroyer, but the Australian government has made a commitment to (eventually replace the already decaying and obsolete Collins Class by 2038 perhaps?) build its new submarine fleet in Adelaide:

8.46 Due to the strategic value and importance of Australia’s submarine capability, the Government remains committed to replacing the existing Collins Class fleet with an expanded fleet of 12 conventional submarines that will meet Australia’s future strategic requirements. The future submarines will be assembled in South Australia. The Government has ruled out consideration of a nuclear powered submarine capability to replace the Collins Class fleet.

Strangely at a time when the Government ‘buzz phrase’ seems to be all options are on the table; where Australia’s submarine future is concerned only one option is left on the table, and in the whole scheme of options, it’s not a particularly good one! Domestic politics, and a political cost-benefit analysis, has trumped strategic need, and a defensive cost-benefit analysis:

8.50 The Government has also taken the important decision to suspend further investigation of the two Future Submarine options based on military-off-the-shelf designs in favour of focusing resources on progressing an ‘evolved Collins’ and new design options that are likely to best meet Australia’s future strategic and capability requirements

Australia will take 12 new Super Hornets (EF-18G ‘Growler’ electronic warfare models) and reduce its JSF F-35 order to 72, from the 100 it had indicated it would require:

8.17 Recognising the importance of winning the electromagnetic battle, the Government announced in 2012 its commitment to a future fleet of 12 EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft for Australia. Since this announcement, the Government has decided to acquire 12 new-build Growler aircraft and retain Australia’s 24 existing F/A-18F Super Hornet aircraft in their current configuration. This decision takes advantage of a valuable opportunity to assure Australia’s air combat capability during the transition period to the Joint Strike Fighter.

Expect to see the number of Super Hornets increasing overtime relative to a decrease in (interest, as the price soars) JSF F-35’s.

Concerning ‘what do we want to be able to do’ and ‘where to we want to be able to do it’- the latter seems to have been addressed, worryingly- without too much thought being given to the former:

2.5 The 2009 Defence White Paper made clear Australia’s enduring interest in the stability of what it called the wider Asia-Pacific region. The Indo-Pacific is a logical extension of this concept, and adjusts Australia’s priority strategic focus to the arc extending from India though Southeast Asia to Northeast Asia, including the sea lines of communication on which the region depends.

2.6 The Indo-Pacific is still emerging as a system. Given its diversity and broad sweep, its security architecture is, unsurprisingly, a series of sub-regions and arrangements rather than a unitary whole. But over time, Australia’s security environment will be significantly influenced by how the Indo-Pacific and its architecture evolves.

The Indo-Pacific, a strategic colossus (from an Australian perspective) I’ve warned about before, is now Australia’s apparent region of strategic interest. How we shape our interests and influence what happens there, remains to be seen. A point acknowledged in the paper is:

2.11 For Australia, this more complex environment will make it more challenging for us to achieve or influence outcomes. Asian countries will balance a broader range of interests and partners, and Australia’s voice will need to be clearer and stronger to be heard.

How will this be achieved? Well, no clear answer is provided. With a diminishing defence budget and an already under resourced Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade- we’ll have to make do with hope for the time being, or perhaps there remains a certain amount of intent to attempt to cling onto the coattails of a powerful friend as we get dragged along and through the Indo-Pacific Asian Century?

On the Alliance. If an ANZUS Alliance reliance is to remain the foundation of Australia’s defence strategy (which the White Paper seems to indicate that it is), as we largely continue to attempt to free-ride off the US relying on our demonstrated unwavering loyalty and ‘special relationship’ with them, then Australia will have to be prepared to ‘show a little more leg’- so to speak, to ‘keep them on board’ and this Australia has signalled we are prepared to do, sowing the seeds for a gradual but greater US military ‘footprint’ on Australian soil and in/on our waters soon:

6.14 The second force posture initiative involves enhanced aircraft cooperation, which is expected to result in increased rotations of US Air Force aircraft through northern Australia. This will enhance bilateral collaboration and offer greater opportunities for combined and multilateral training and exercises.

6.15 At the Australia-US Ministerial Meeting (AUSMIN) in Perth on 14 November 2012, Australia and the United States welcomed the success of the first rotation of US Marine Corps personnel and agreed to continue to progress the initiatives in an incremental and considered manner.

6.16 In recognition of the importance of the Indian Ocean and our combined focus on the global strategic significance of the region, Australia and the United States also agreed to continue exploring cooperation on Indian Ocean matters, reflecting our combined focus on the global strategic significance of the region. This will include potential opportunities for additional naval cooperation at a range of locations, including HMAS Stirling, Australia’s Indian Ocean naval base.

6.23 The Government will explore further opportunities to support US defence communications capabilities, including through hosting capabilities and the possible establishment of a Combined Communications Gateway in Western Australia, which would provide both Australia and the United States greater access to the Wideband Global Satellite Communications constellation in which we are partners. This cooperation will build on the longstanding defence communications relationship, including at the Harold E. Holt Naval Communications Station at Exmouth which provides support to US and Australian submarine fleets, and which will host the C-band space object detection and tracking radar to be relocated from the United States.

Whether our powerful friend will take the bait and will be enough, remains to be seen.

Reflecting the overall theme of the 2013 Australian Defence White Paper- for now we will just have to wait, treading water in the Indo-Pacific while we do, and hope for the best!

Ben Moles holds a Masters in International Security Studies from the University of Sydney and has interned for the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute, Sydney. He can be contacted at bwmoles@gmail.com or bmol4353@uni.sydney.edu.au or Follow on Twitter @bwmoles

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