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23 Jun 19. US Cyber Command Launched Digital Strike Against Iran. After US President Trump rescinded the order to strike Iranian targets following Iran’s downing of a US spy drone, it has been revealed that he sent US Cyber Command in to do the job instead. The move comes as cyber security experts report increased Iranian hacking attempts against the US.
US Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) launched digital strikes aimed at crippling Iranian computers used to control rocket and missile launches.
The cyber attack came as the president held back from conducting airstrikes on Iranian targets in response to the downing of a US Global Hawk drone. President Trump said that he called off a conventional military retaliation after he learned that 150 people would be killed. Instead, he that the US would announce new sanctions on Iran Monday next week.
It was also reported that Iraqi military bases linked to the US had been targeted in rocket attacks. The Iraqi army on Wednesday said it was investigating a series of mysterious rocket attacks on military bases hosting US personnel and an oil field linked to the US oil giant ExxonMobil.
Citing two former intelligence officials, the Associated Press reported that US Cyber Command targeted an Iranian spy group that has tracked the movement of ships passing through the strategic Strait of Hormuz where oil tankers had previously been attacked by Iranian forces.
The cyber offensive was reportedly in the works for weeks and its launch was proposed following last week’s attacks on two oil tankers, which US officials blamed on Iran, although Iran denies any involvement.
Tensions between the two countries have risen after the US withdrew from the failed 2015 international nuclear deal last year and imposed heavy sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.
Iran has remained defiant despite the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure campaign”. The extremist Muslim Iranian regime has Russian support and any new conflict in the Middle East could draw in Iran’s more powerful ally.
Iran has been waging a Russian-style campaign in the Middle East, using proxies and deniable engagements, such as the tanker bombings.
On Saturday, a senior spokesperson from the Iranian armed forces warned that a US military strike would trigger a crushing response.
Set the region ablaze
“A military mistake from the enemy, particularly from the US and its regional allies, will be tantamount to firing at a powder keg on which are the US and its interests, and it will set the region ablaze and burn up the US, its interests, and its allies,” Brigadier General Abolfazl Shekarchi told the semiofficial Tasnim news agency.
Iranian Hackers Increase Cyber Attacks on US
The cyber strike follows information from the Department of Homeland Security that Iran has recently increased its digital attacks against the US government and US businesses.
Cyber security firms CrowdStrike and FireEye also said that suspected Iranian-backed hackers have targeted US government agencies, as well as critical infrastructure, including oil and gas.
The hackers used phishing emails to try and hack into US systems, although it is unclear if any were successful.
The Department of Homeland Security’s agency tasked with infrastructure protection said in a statement on Saturday that it was aware of a recent rise in cyber activities against the US government by Iranian regime actors and proxies.
“What might start as an account compromise, where you think you might just lose data, can quickly become a situation where you’ve lost your whole network,” said Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Christopher Krebs.
The US and Iran have previously engaged in cyber warfare. In 2010, the US and Israel deployed the Stuxnet virus to disrupt centrifuges at an Iranian uranium enrichment facility. And Iran showed its capabilities in 2012 when it infected Saudi state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco with a virus that erased data on 30,000 computers. In 2016, the US indicted seven Iranian hackers for cyber attacks on US financial institutions and a dam in New York. (Source: Warfare.Today)
22 Jun 19. Donald Trump says US was ‘cocked and loaded’ for Iran strike before reversal. President says he is in ‘no hurry’ to retaliate but adds it would result in ‘obliteration.’ Donald Trump said he called off US military strikes on Iran at the last minute to avoid killing people, capping a week of drama in which fears of war between the two countries escalated after Tehran shot down an unmanned American surveillance drone. “We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights (sic) when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer,” the US president tweeted. “10 minutes before the strike I stopped it, not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone.” In an interview with NBC News, Mr Trump said he did not want to go to war with Iran, but warned Tehran that war would be “obliteration like you’ve never seen before”. He also denied reports that US aircraft had been en route to conduct the strikes when he called off the mission. “Nothing is green lighted until the very end, because things can change,” he said. “But we had something ready to go subject to my approval.” While Mr Trump tweeted that he aborted the strikes 10 minutes before the designated time, he told NBC the decision came 30 minutes ahead of time, after his military advisers responded to a last-minute question about the potential death toll.
Our Military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go, by far the best in the world Donald Trump tweet © AP “I thought about it for a second, and I said . . . they shot down an unmanned drone . . . and here we are sitting with 150 dead people that would have taken place probably within a half an hour after I said go ahead. And I didn’t like it,” Mr Trump told NBC. Critics have questioned why Mr Trump only asked about the potential death toll just before the attack was due to commence. Some experts suggested that it was unlikely that the military had not provided the commander-in-chief with those estimates when they discussed options. “He should have known from the beginning the military assessments on the casualties and on [the] likely response on escalation of the conflict,” Ben Cardin, a top Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee, told CNN. “He should have known that before he started the mission. But he’s now given the impression that he was on-again, off-again, which shows weakness.” Mr Trump’s explanations have exacerbated a sense of uncertainty and a perception of chaotic decision-making in the handling of a crisis that has threatened to push the US and Iran on the path to war. William Cohen, a former Republican senator who served as defence secretary under Bill Clinton, criticised the way Mr Trump had handled the crisis. “The good news is he didn’t take any action. The bad news is it looks pretty chaotic in terms of the decision-making process,” Mr Cohen said. Mr Trump withdrew from the 2015 international nuclear deal designed to curb Tehran’s atomic ambitions and reimposed economic sanctions that were waived during the Obama administration, seeking to apply “maximum pressure” on Iran. But Tehran is showing no signs of submitting to US demands. “You have got two sides really making calculations on the basis of actions the other party is very unlikely to take,” said one European diplomat. “The idea they [Iran] are just going to just stop doing this and not get any concessions on economic pressure would be a very poor scenario for the regime. On the flip side, you’ve got the US thinking they just have to keep ramping this up and [they are] going to achieve Iran’s full submission.” The UN Security Council will convene to discuss Iran on Monday following a US request, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Separately on Friday, Mr Trump nominated Mark Esper, the army secretary, to be his new defence secretary following the resignation of Patrick Shanahan as the acting Pentagon chief. Mr Shanahan had been serving as acting defence secretary since Jim Mattis resigned in December in protest over Mr Trump’s policies. Mr Shanahan withdrew from consideration after it emerged that the FBI was probing allegations of domestic violence involving his family. Mr Esper is a former lobbyist for Raytheon, the defence manufacturer. The last-minute reversal on military strikes by Mr Trump underlines how the US president is grappling with the conflicting desire to be tough on adversaries and meet his campaign pledge of avoiding military interventions.
The drone attack was a “very big mistake”, Mr Trump tweeted on Thursday only to play down its significance hours later by saying it was “hard to believe” it was intentional. It was possible that it was ordered by “somebody who was loose and stupid”, he said. In an interview with Time magazine this week, Mr Trump contradicted his own secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, by deeming attacks on oil tankers last week — which the US say were carried out by Tehran — as “very minor”. The White House said Mr Trump spoke with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Friday about “the threat posed by the Iranian regime’s escalatory behaviour”. There were hints that the aborted strikes raised concerns about Mr Trump’s willingness to maintain his firm stance on Iran among the US’s regional allies — Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. They have pushed for the president to take a tougher line than the Obama administration. “What the hell is going on Mr @realDonaldTrump? You are not making sense. We thought you are different from President Obama,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, a prominent Emirati academic and commentator, on Twitter. “The first [way to view the US reversal] is to say Trump has proven wisely reluctant — he’s de-escalating, and the Iranians should seize this opportunity and stop their own provocations,” said Emile Hokayem, a Middle East expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “The other way is to say Trump is incoherent and confused, and he has made the US look weak, so the Iranians have won this round and could push their advantage.”
Oil prices edged up on Friday with Brent crude rising 0.3 per cent to $64.59, having jumped 4.5 per cent on Thursday after the drone was shot down. An Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander on Friday said a manned US Navy reconnaissance aircraft was flying close to the targeted drone, but that Iranian forces “decided to target the unmanned plane”. A US defence official confirmed that the P-8 aircraft — which has a crew of eight — was flying approximately 4.2 nautical miles from the drone. US Central Command, which overseas military operations in the Middle East, said no American aircraft had entered Iranian airspace. Explaining his reversal on Friday, Mr Trump tweeted that he was in “no hurry” to retaliate: “Our Military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go, by far the best in the world. Sanctions are biting & more added last night,” he said on social media. “Iran can NEVER have Nuclear Weapons, not against the USA, and not against the WORLD!” The two sides continued to blame each other for triggering the shooting down of the unmanned drone. Iran, which claims the drone was in Iranian airspace, summoned the Swiss ambassador to Tehran — who represents US interests because Washington has no diplomatic staff in the country — and handed him a letter protesting against the “intrusion of the unnamed US aircraft”. Donald Trump, left, and John Bolton listen to Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, who blamed Iran for the tanker attacks, saying the assessment was ‘based on intelligence’ © Getty In the first public comments from a senior US official after the aborted military strike, Brian Hook, the US special representative for Iran, emphasised the need to de-escalate tensions. “Our diplomacy does not give Iran the right to respond with military force: Iran needs to meet our diplomacy with diplomacy and not military force,” Mr Hook told a press conference in Riyadh, according to Reuters. Responding to Mr Hook, the Iranian foreign ministry said Iran would answer diplomacy with diplomacy, respect with respect and war with strong defence.
“Mr Hook! Do you name years of war and economic terrorism imposed on the Iranian nation and breach of commitments and resolutions as ‘diplomacy’?” tweeted Abbas Mousavi, the foreign minister’s spokesperson.
The Financial Action Task Force, a 38-member inter-governmental organisation aimed at preventing money laundering, said on Friday it would reimpose more stringent conditions on doing business with Iranian financial institutions if Tehran did not do more to combat illicit money flows and terrorist financing. Critics in the US have worried that John Bolton, the hawkish national security adviser, has been pushing Mr Trump to strike Iran. Asked on Thursday if some of his team were pushing him into war, Mr Trump said no. “Not at all. In fact, in many cases, it’s the opposite,” Mr Trump said. “I said I want to get out of these endless wars. I campaigned on that . . . But this is something, this is a new wrinkle . . . And this country will not stand for it.” (Source: FT.com)
20 Jun 19. Strait of Hormuz: US official confirms Iranian claim that it shot down US drone on 20 June. On 20 June, an unnamed US official stated that a US Navy MQ-4C Triton drone had been shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile (SAM) in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz. Earlier, the Iranian state news agency had claimed that its Revolutionary Guard force had shot down a US RQ-4 Global Hawk drone in Iranian airspace near Kuhmobarak in the southern province of Hormozgan on the Strait of Hormuz during the morning of 20 June. No details have been released regarding the type of SAM system employed or the altitude at which the engagement took place. However, both the MQ-4C and RQ-4 are capable of operating up to altitudes of around FL600. Previously, an official US statement on 16 June included an assessment that a modified Russian-made 9K32 Strela-2 (SA-7 GRAIL) man-portable air-defence system (MANPADS) was employed by Iranian forces in an unsuccessful attempt to shoot-down a US military MQ-9 Reaper drone over the Gulf of Oman on 13 June. The unsuccessful MANPADS engagement of the drone reportedly occurred in between the first and second attacks on two commercial tanker vessels in the Gulf of Oman, which the US and UK have attributed to Iran. According to the US FAA, the most capable variants of MANPADS can pose a threat to aircraft at altitudes up to 25,000 feet AGL. On 16 May, the US FAA issued a NOTAM and background information for the airspace over the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman due to increased political tensions and heightened military activities in the region, stating that “Iran has publicly made threats to US military operations” (KICZ A0015/19). The US FAA has an additional standing NOTAM and background information advising operators to exercise caution when transiting Iranian airspace (FIR Tehran (OIIX)) due to unannounced military activity and missile launches (NOTAM KICZ A0016/18).
While the altitude of the US drone when it was engaged by the SAM system has not been confirmed, given the operational capabilities of the MQ-4C Triton – and assuming that was the type downed – it is possible that a high-altitude conventional SAM system was used during the engagement. The confirmed Iranian use of such a system to target a US military drone in-flight over the Strait of Hormuz would be highly concerning as the airspace in the vicinity of this area includes numerous high-traffic ATS routes used by civil aviation operators. In its background information to the NOTAM published on 16 May, the US FAA stated that certain Iranian conventional SAM systems capable at altitudes well above FL260 “have ranges that encompass key international air routes over the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman”. For example, commercial satellite imagery from late May confirms that Iran has deployed one of its four Russian-made S-300PMU2 Favorit (SA-20PMU2 GARGOYLE) conventional SAM battalions to the Persian Gulf coastal city of Asaluyeh in the southwest province of Bushehr. The SA-20PMU2 has the ability to engage aircraft at altitudes well above FL800 and at ranges out to 120 miles (193 km). In addition to the above, the US National Security Advisor has stated that notable US armed forces deployments to the Middle East region since 16 April were “in response to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” related to Iranian military and proxy group activity in the Persian Gulf region. Short-notice airspace restrictions for Iranian airspace may be enacted should regional tensions significantly escalate within FIR Tehran (OIIX) portions of the Persian Gulf and/or Gulf of Oman. We continue to assess Iran, to include over-water areas of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, to be a MODERATE risk airspace operating environment above FL260 and HIGH risk below FL260; this is being kept under constant review.
Risk area recommendation: Comprehensive risk mitigation measures
- Flights below FL260 not advised; essential flights over FL260 via measures below
- Defer diverting from flight plan with the exception of life threatening situations
- Security and operational risk-based identification of pre-planned divert airports
- Reliable and redundant communications with an established communications plan
- Fully-coordinated and robust emergency response plan supplemented by asset tracking
Approvals: As a precaution, conduct operational risk-based identification of divert and alternate airports for flight schedules with planned stops at aerodromes in the country or with overflight of the airspace. Operators are advised to ensure flight plans are correctly filed, attain proper special approvals for flight operations to sensitive locations and obtain relevant overflight permits prior to departure. In addition, ensure crews scheduled to operate to or over the country in the near term are fully aware of the latest security situation.
Missile Launches: Unannounced rocket and missile launches that transit airspace used by civilian aircraft pose a latent threat to operations at all altitudes. The country has a history of not issuing adequate notice of activities in its airspace that could affect flight safety. Multiple safety of flight concerns emanate from a situation where a missile malfunctions during the boost, mid-course or terminal phases of flight. Such an event would cause the missile to fly an unplanned trajectory and altitude profile which could expose overflying aircraft to mid-air collision, route diversion and or debris splashdown issues. Leading civil aviation governing bodies have standing notices advising operators of the threat to civil aviation in the airspace due to unannounced military activity, rocket test firings and or missile launches.
Shoot-down Policy: The country has an aggressive air intercept and shoot-down policy which allows air and air defence forces to intercept and disable aerial targets violating airspace regulations. Military air and air defence assets may be employed to down aerial targets under the auspice of the policy. While legal civil aviation flights are unlikely to be directly targeted, there remains a latent but credible risk of misidentification and interception by military air and air defence assets. (Source: Osprey)
BATTLESPACE Comment: This move confirms the main reason for the US reluctance to launch wholesale attacks into Iran. For many years Iran has had the best layered missile defence system in the world and this move proves their point. (See: BATTLESPACE ALERT Vol.21 ISSUE 13, 20 June 2019, Iran shoots down MQ-4C Triton)
18 Jun 19. DOD Announces $250m to Ukraine. The Department of Defense announced today plans to provide $250m to Ukraine in security cooperation funds for additional training, equipment, and advisory efforts to build the capacity of Ukraine’s armed forces.
This reaffirms the long-standing defense relationship between the United States and Ukraine and will bring total U.S. security assistance to Ukraine to $1.5bn since 2014.
The new funds will provide equipment to support ongoing training programs and operational needs, including capabilities to enhance: maritime situational awareness and operations as part of ongoing U.S. efforts to increase support for Ukraine’s Navy and Naval Infantry; the defensive capacity and survivability of Ukraine’s Land and Special Operations Forces through the provision of sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and counter-artillery radars; command and control; electronic warfare detection and secure communications; military mobility; night vision; and, military medical treatment.
This security cooperation is made possible by Ukraine’s continued progress on the adoption of key defense institutional reforms to align Ukraine’s national security architecture with Euro-Atlantic principles.
The United States remains committed to helping Ukraine implement provisions of Ukraine’s 2018 Law on National Security to strengthen democratic civilian control of the military, promote command and control reforms, enhance transparency and accountability in acquisition and budgeting, and advance defense industry reforms. These reforms will bolster Ukraine’s ability to defend its territorial integrity in support of a secure, prosperous, democratic, and free Ukraine.
18 Jun 19. Understanding Australia’s strategic moat in the ‘sea-air gap.’ The strategic buttress of congested waterways and densely populated archipelagos of the ‘sea-air gap’ has formed the backbone of Australia’s defence and national security policy since the late-1980s – however, as the region continues to evolve it is critical to understand the role the ‘sea-air gap’ will continue to play in strategic calculations.
Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam conflict at the behest of the US signalled a major shift in the direction of the nation’s strategic policy that continues to influence Australia’s doctrine to this day. Domestic political back lash and a changing geo-strategic environment would see Australia adopt an arguably more isolationist policy, focusing almost entirely on the ‘Defence of Australia’.
While Australia’s alliance with the US further enhanced the nation’s position as an integral US ally –mounting domestic political dissatisfaction, the new Whitlam government and the mounting cost of Australia’s involvement in the conflict, combined with rapidly declining US support for the conflict, saw the nation’s post-Second World War strategic reality and doctrine begin to shift away from regional intervention and towards a policy favouring the defence of the Australian mainland and outlying territories.
This shifting domestic and regional environment saw the formalisation of the Defence of Australia (DoA) policy in the 1986 Dibb report and the subsequent 1987 and 1994 Defence White Papers, which established the ‘sea-air gap’ as a strategic ‘buffer zone’ for Australia enabling the reorientation of Australia’s strategic and broader defence industry posture, shifting away from what Dibb identifies: “Until the late 1960s, Australian defence planning and policy assumed that our forces would normally operate in conjunction with allies, and well forward of the continent. We saw our security inextricably linked with the security of others.”
Dibb’s report leveraged the 1973 Strategic Basis paper’s focus on the nation’s isolation to reinforce the concept of the ‘tyranny of distance’ as justification for reducing Australia’s interventionist role and capabilities in the region: “Australia is remote from the principal centres of strategic interest of the major powers, namely western Europe and east Asia, and even those of secondary interest, the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the north-west Pacific.”
The ‘sea-air gap’ encompasses what has long been defined as Australia’s primary ‘sphere of primary strategic interests’ – the narrow maritime sea-lines-of-communication and air approaches to the north of the Australian landmass throughout south-east Asia that served as the nation’s strategic, economic and political links to the broader region, through what would eventually become known as the Indo-Pacific.
As a result of these shifting geo-political and strategic dynamics, Dibb’s late-1980s report suggested a number of force structure changes to the newly formed Australian Defence Force that would focus on protecting Australia’s northern maritime and air approaches, known as the ‘sea-air gap’, through a range of force structure and acquisition programs, including:
- Retaining the F-111 force with a minimum update to maintain service capacity until the mid-1990s, while enhancing the capability of the F/A-18 Hornets to receive information from the JORN network;
Retain the planned acquisition of the Collins Class submarines to replace the ageing Oberon Class vessels with a focus on “retain[ing] the program for six new submarines but establish a financial ceiling and, if necessary later, explore options for lesser capabilities”;
- Acquire eight light patrol frigates (future-Anzac Class) to enter service from the early-to-mid-1990s, cancel the acquisition of a second fleet replenishment vessel, while cancelling the acquisition of an additional Tobruk Class and the six heavy amphibious landing craft vessels; and
- Focus on replacing the Air Force’s 22 Caribou and 12 Hercules with a fleet of 20 new Hercules-type aircraft.
Additionally, these reductions saw a massive strategic reorientation focused entirely on the north of the Australian mainland, with a focus on directly monitoring the northern maritime and air approaches to the continent, namely the ‘sea-air gap’, and included:
- Raising three Regional Force Surveillance Units for long-range patrols in northern Australia;
- Redeveloping RAAF Base Tindal as an operational fighter base;
- Developing three ‘bare bases’ for the RAAF in northern Queensland and Western Australia to support the rapid domestic deployment of Army units in event of invasion; and
- Upgrade and enhancement of the Jindalee Operational Radar Network (JORN) to support the long-range air and sea defence of the ‘sea-air gap’.
However, the emergence of economic, political and military superpowers like China and India continues to develop as the economic, political and strategic powers at the core of Indo-Pacific Asia. Additionally, Australia has also witnessed the development of the region’s periphery powers including Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, each with competing priorities and objectives.
These factors, combined with the rise of both complex asymmetric challenges and the rapid evolution of contemporary weapons systems, including hypersonic weapons systems and multi-domain weapons systems to national security, serve to challenge the established geo-political, economic and strategic security and prosperity of the region – while also effectively serving to reduce the effectiveness of Australia’s strategic moat, the ‘sea-air gap’.
Responding to a shrinking moat
As the nation embarks on its largest peace time modernisation and recapitalisation of the Australian Defence Force, the 2016 Defence White Paper (DWP) moved quickly to recognise the rapidly evolving nature of the economic, political and strategic status quo of the Indo-Pacific – the DWP correctly identified: “Australia’s strategic outlook to 2035 also includes a number of challenges which we need to prepare for. While there is no more than a remote prospect of a military attack by another country on Australian territory in the foreseeable future, our strategic planning is not limited to defending our borders.
“Our planning recognises the regional and global nature of Australia’s strategic interests and the different sets of challenges created by the behaviours of countries and non-state actors such as terrorists.”
Both of these statements clearly identify a shift in the nation’s attitude towards the Indo-Pacific, while also recognising that the nation can no longer depend on buffer zones, or strategic moats like the ‘sea-air gap’, to serve as the basis for protecting the nation and its interests, particularly as the world and Indo-Pacific continue to integrate.
In particular, the growing capability of China’s military, namely advances in long-range strike platforms, have long been identified by Dr Malcolm Davis, senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, as evidence for the nation to embrace a new doctrine of ‘Forward Defence in Depth’.
Dr Davis explained, “Given the risk a forward Chinese military presence would pose, Australia needs to consider updating its military strategy to one of ‘forward defence in depth’ throughout Indo-Pacific Asia, including into the south Pacific. Australia should not maintain a reactive military strategy that continues to rest on foundations established in the mid-1980s when our strategic outlook was far more benign.”
On the back of this, Dr Davis identified the core of the ‘Forward Defence in Depth’ doctrine, with a focus on three strategic defence objectives, namely:
- Deter, deny and defeat attacks on or threats to Australia and its national interests, including incursions into its air, sea and northern approaches;
- Make effective military contributions to support the security of maritime south-east Asia and support the governments of Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and Pacific island countries to build and strengthen their security; and
- Contribute military capabilities to global operations that support Australia’s interests in a rules-based international order.
“Forward defence in depth would integrate the first objective – essentially the ‘defence of Australia’ mission – with the second objective by giving the ADF a far more visible and regular role throughout maritime south-east Asia and the south Pacific. In doing so, we’d extend our defence in depth far forward, rather than basing the defence of Australia task on being able to defend a comparatively narrow strategic moat that is the ‘sea-air gap’,” Dr Davis identified.
“The third objective – more far-flung operations in support of a global rules-based order – should be prioritised to contingencies across the Indo-Pacific region. The objective of forward defence in depth is to expand our regular military presence and meet any threats that emerge much further from Australia’s shores.”
For Australia, a nation defined by its relationship with traditionally larger, yet economically weaker regional neighbours, the growing economic prosperity of the region and corresponding arms build up, combined with ancient and more recent enmities, competing geo-political, economic and strategic interests, places the nation at the centre of the 21st century’s ‘great game’.
Australia’s security and prosperity are directly influenced by the stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific, meaning Australia must be directly engaged as both a benefactor and leader in all matters related to strategic, economic and political security, serving as either a replacement or complementary force to the role played by the US – should the US commitment or capacity be limited. (Source: Defence Connect)
17 Jun 19. Another front: The growing challenges of political warfare. Political warfare is emerging as another battlefront for Australia to engage with potential 21st century adversaries on. However, Australia, like its major allies, is struggling to counter the targeted and consistent assault on liberal democracy – raising the question, how does the nation respond?
For both the Australian public and its policy makers, the rise of Indo-Pacific Asia is serving to exacerbate Australia’s long-term identity crisis – while many comparable nations have embraced their geographic position and the wealth of the nation to chart a path towards a clear, concise and considered plan for national development and prestige.
Australia emerged from the Second World War as a middle power, essential to maintaining the post-war economic, political and strategic power paradigm established and led by the US. This relationship established as a result of the direct threat to Australia replaced Australia’s strategic relationship of dependence on the British Empire and continues to serve as the basis of the nation’s strategic policy direction and planning.
Now for the first time in nearly a century, Australia’s benevolent ‘great power’ benefactor, the US, is being challenged by a series of ascending and resurgent peer and near-peer competitors, hell bent on eroding the global order and undermining the economic, political and strategic stability the US, UK, Australia and other allies established throughout the Cold War and into the new millennium.
Further complicating the geo-strategic, political and economic order is the increasing prominence of unconventional and asymmetric challenges to political institutions, geo-strategic and economic interests through a range of concerted efforts and state-based actors – the shift towards ‘political warfare’ was a key focus for Chief of Defence, General Angus Campbell, AO, DSC at the recent ‘War in 2025’ Conference hosted by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
The adversaries array against Australia and its broader Western allies enjoy a number of advantages, namely the consistency of political leadership, long-term national ambition and a commitment to establish themselves as world leaders. Recognising this, many potential adversaries have sought to leverage political warfare as a potent form of coercion and influence peddling to limit the effectiveness of allied response.
In the contemporary context, political warfare is defined as using political means to compel or coerce an opponent to do one’s will, based on hostile intent – it includes the calculated interaction between a government and a targeted audience. The world has seen a number of examples of concerted political warfare in recent years, with even the US potentially falling victim to the hostile action of adversaries.
Advantage – tyrants
GEN Campbell identified not only the growing importance of political warfare, but also its invasive nature in his speech, saying, “Political warfare subverts and undermines. It penetrates the mind. It seeks to influence, to subdue, to overpower, to disrupt … It can be covert or overt, a background of white noise or loud and compelling. It’s not limited by the constructs or constructions of peace or peacetime. It’s constant and scalable, and most importantly, it adapts. Political warfare has a long and fascinating history.”
Increasingly, political warfare is being combined with traditional ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ power capabilities, including direct action, economic pressure, subversion, espionage, asymmetric warfare and diplomacy – Russia has leveraged both its traditional ‘hard’ power and elements of its ‘soft’ power to effectively destabilise former-Soviet countries in eastern Europe, while also beginning to apply increasing pressure on neighbouring European nations and powerhouses, including Germany through economic means.
This emerging ‘hybrid’ approach to state v state conflict, combined with the differing views of democratic and totalitarian states, is clearly identified by GEN Campbell, who explains, “Those leaning towards utopian democracy generally have a narrow conception of war, and their actions reflect this. Conversely, those positioned more towards totalitarian regimes tend to have a much broader conception of war.”
These differing views towards conflict naturally place democracies like Australia at a natural disadvantage, as nations with more totalitarian leanings increasingly view direct conflict as part of the nature of government and achieving national objectives. Additionally, the increasing ‘dishonourable’ view of political and hybrid warfare dramatically limits the Australian and, more broadly, Western response to adversaries with less moral compunction.
“This rejection of political warfare has only been reinforced over the last 30-or-so years as we have demanded and expected greater transparency, scrutiny and critique of government. We have embraced our Western virtue and — at the same time — contrasted it with the willingness and increasing ability of other states to control information, people and events,” GEN Campbell explained.
“Typically, these states cluster at the other end of the spectrum: where the people serve the state — as does the law — and all the other elements and institutions of society and state. States with limited or no built-in constraints, and which often rely on deception for survival.”
Parry with a national plan and strategy
Traditionally, great powers have been defined by their global reach and ability to directly influence the flow of international affairs. There are a number of recognised great powers within the context of contemporary international relations – with Great Britain, France, India and Russia recognised as nuclear capable great powers, while Germany, Italy, Japan and increasingly Brazil are identified as conventional great powers.
The majority of these recognised great power nations have a history of embracing a unifying goal, a concept of ‘manifest destiny’, which plays a central role in directing the political, economic and, critically, strategic and military development of these nations and their position within the international community.
By contrast, Australia’s history of dependence on larger powers has hindered its ability to emerge as a great power. This strategic dependence is further exacerbated by a lack of cohesive strategy and planning for the long-term development of Australia in the new regional and global power paradigm. Responding to this now century-long paradigm requires supporting the Australian public invest in the future of the nation and the role it will play in the rapidly changing Indo-Pacific order.
Using elements of strength exhibited by potential state-based adversaries, namely the cohesive nature of their national identity – clearly defined, articulated and planed goals further strengthen the domestic resilience in the face of hostile political warfare, while also ensuring that should the unimaginable of direct state v state conflict become unavoidable, the nation and its allies are well positioned to defend against the horrors of global tyranny.
Whether Australia’s political leaders and public will it, totalitarian regimes are becoming increasingly powerful and assertive, challenging the values and virtues for which the West stands. This rise of tyranny requires that Australia embrace what will become an increasingly important role in supporting the maintenance of the post-Second World War political, economic and strategic order the nation is an essential part of. (Source: Defence Connect)
17 Jun 19. The Indo-Pacific’s maritime choke points: Sunda and Lombok. The Straits of Sunda and Lombok provide deep water alternatives to the Straits of Malacca within close proximity of the Australian mainland, reinforcing the maritime dominated reality of the Indo-Pacific – more than this, both Sunda and Lombok are pivotal pieces in the long vaunted ‘sea-air gap’.
For Australia, the Straits of Malacca and Singapore in particular are responsible for the vast majority of the nation’s liquid energy supplies, placing the waterway at the centre of the nation’s national security engagement with the Indo-Pacific. On average, approximately 100,000 vessels pass through the straits annually, accounting for about a quarter of the world’s traded goods, including the liquid and gas energy resources essential for the enduring success of the regional and, more broadly, the global economy.
While the 890-kilometre stretch of water between the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra that forms the Straits of Malacca serves as one of the major geo-political, economic and strategically important waterways in the Indo-Pacific, the geographic confines of the narrow waterway limits its capacity.
Enter the Straits of Lombok and Sunda – strategically critical waterways in the Indonesian archipelago that present viable alternatives for maritime access to the economies of China, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea via the South China Sea, through which US$5trn worth of trade flows annually.
Lombok – Deep water passage
At its narrowest point – the southern approach – the Lombok Strait has a width of approximately 20 kilometres between the islands of Lombok and the island of Nusa Penida, expanding to 40-kilometres across at the wider, northern approach to the channel, which is 60 kilometres long in contrast to the 890-kilometre long, narrow stretch of water in the Straits of Malacca.
Lombok also enjoys a dramatically deeper passage, with a maximum depth of 250-metres enabling post-Malaccamax vessels – namely large bulk ore and liquid energy carrying vessels that are unable to traverse the narrow, shallow waterways of the Straits of Malacca – to access the growing markets of south-east and western Asian powerhouses.
For Australia, the Lombok Strait serves as an invaluable maritime corridor for the nation’s export goods – namely resources, energy and agricultural produce – combined with critical energy supplies and consumer goods from Asia and Europe, meaning that Lombok is one of three economic and strategically critical waterways intrinsically linked to Australia’s long-term economic and strategic national security.
The ‘sea-air gap’ and Sunda Strait
In contrast to Lombok, Sunda is relatively narrow with a minimum width of 24 kilometres and shallow depth in the eastern approach of 20 metres, combined with a series of channel islands and strong currents, limiting the ability of large vessels to traverse. However, the waterway served as the site of a major naval battle during the Second World War – the Battle of the Sunda Strait in 1942.
This battle saw Australian and American warships clash with an amphibious task group of the Imperial Japanese Navy preparing to invade the island of Java, which would further expose the Australian mainland – namely northern Western Australia and the Northern Territory – to potential Japanese air and sea attacks, or invasion.
Controlling the choke points
Fast-forward to contemporary times – the geographic confines of these major waterways presents Australia with the opportunity to rapidly develop a complementary force structure and doctrine for the ‘joint force’ ADF to effectively establish and maintain control of such narrow waterways, in conjunction with regional allies, to the benefit of the Indo-Pacific order.
Further complicating the strategic environment is the increasing proliferation of highly capable conventional submarines, like the Russian Kilo Class, operated by many nations, including China, and the variants operated by nations throughout the Indo-Pacific – Singapore’s existing Archer and Challenger Class submarines and French Scorpene Class – combined with larger nuclear attack submarines. All serve as key asymmetric force multipliers capable of directly influencing the tactical and strategic calculations of nations dependent on the critical maritime choke points in the region.
Additionally, while submarines represent the high-end of the maritime asymmetric warfare calculations, fast, nimble and light torpedo and anti-ship missile carrying vessels supported by dedicated or pseudo-motherships are potent, cost-effective ways of establishing sea control while also providing close-in support for larger, power projection focused naval task groups.
Australia’s security and prosperity are directly influenced by the stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific, meaning Australia must be directly engaged as both a benefactor and leader in all matters related to strategic, economic and political security, serving as either a replacement or complementary force to the role played by the US – should the US commitment or capacity be limited.
The nation’s response can no longer be an “all or nothing” approach – rather it requires nuance and understanding. In particular, it requires an understanding that Australia will be required to present a more conventional force projection capability, supported by a fleet of advanced, high-speed and adaptable asymmetric sea control capabilities – combining doctrine and technology to enhance the independent and interoperable tactical and strategic capabilities of the RAN in particular.
Additionally, the Australian Army will also serve a unique and powerful role in enhancing the security and stability of these waterways through the development of a networked, ‘hardened’ army capable of supporting uncontested Australian and allied access to these economic and strategically vital waterways.
The nation is defined by its relationship with the region, with access to the growing economies and to strategic sea-lines-of-communication supporting over 90 per cent of global trade, a result of the cost effective and reliable nature of sea transport. Indo-Pacific Asia is at the epicentre of the global maritime trade, with about US$5trn worth of trade flowing through the SCS and the strategic waterways and choke points of south-east Asia annually. (Source: Defence Connect)
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