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04 Jul 19. Taiwan looks to incentivise foreign investment in defence. Taiwan’s legislature, the Legislative Yuan, has passed a bill to encourage foreign direct investment (FDI) in defence and other “strategic sectors”. A news report by the state-run Central News Agency (CNA) said the new bill will offer “preferential tax rates to potential returning investors”.
The tax incentives are applicable in investments in the industrial sectors that the government has identified as priorities for modernisation. These include defence and aerospace, ‘intelligent machines’, technologies to support Taiwan’s development of “Asia’s Silicon Valley”, alternative energy, and biomedicines. The CNA reported that the bill allows foreign investors in these sectors to claim “special tax rates” and also tax rebates of up to 50%. (Source: Google/IHS Jane’s)
04 Jul 19. Hybrid warfare and a new role for Australia’s Special Forces? The rise of asymmetric threats backed by state and non-state actors is challenging conventional force structures. Australia’s Special Forces are internationally recognised as some of the world’s best non-conventional fighting forces – does the rise of hybrid warfare asymmetric threats mean Australia’s special operators will take on a different role?
The occupation of the Crimea in 2014 sparked international condemnation as the world responded to renewed Russian aggression, however, it wasn’t the might of the Russian Army that led the invasion and occupation, rather it was a combination of special forces, local insurgents acting as a fifth column and a collection of international mercenaries, giving rise to a dangerous new form of proxy conflict and power projection.
While asymmetric combat operations have typically been the realm of guerrilla forces like al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Islamic State, the Viet Cong and Narco-terrorists, the successful deployment of asymmetric forces by Russia to annex strategic locations in the Ukrainian-held Crimea dramatically reshaped the world of asymmetric warfare.
Like traditional guerrilla warfare, hybrid warfare has evolved to leverage irregular methods of combat to counter a conventionally superior fighting force, negating a number of tactical and strategic advantages ranging from precision fire, air support, armoured vehicles and overwhelming infantry.
The US Joint Forces Command defines a hybrid threat as “any adversary that simultaneously and adaptively employs a tailored mix of conventional, irregular, terrorism and criminal means or activities in the operational battle space. Rather than a single entity, a hybrid threat or challenger may be a combination of state and non-state actors”.
Special Operations Forces (SOF) have served as powerful tactical and strategic force multipliers throughout history. Modern SOF came to prominence during the Second World War with the advent of organisations like the British Special Air Service, Special Boat Service, Royal Marine Commandos, US Army Rangers and Australia’s own Force Z – SOF became potent and permanent components of contemporary armed forces around the world.
The asymmetric skills of SOF proved their worth in combat operations during the Vietnam conflict and more recently against asymmetric forces in Afghanistan, Iraq and the broader Middle East. However, Australia and its allies are not alone in their use of the tactical and strategic force multiplier capabilities of SOF – potential peer competitors, like Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, have used SOF to enhanced their ‘hybrid warfare’ operations.
Direct action hard power application
For Australia, SOF like the SASR, 2nd Commando and the Navy’s Clearance Diving Teams and Air Force’s No. 4 Squadron form the core of the nation’s Special Operations Command – providing Australian strategic and political decision makers with a precise, scalpel-like force for asymmetric operations including counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism, clandestine intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and direct action combat operations.
Australia’s SOF also provide a range of training and capability development options for the nation – with recent examples in the Middle East and south-east Asia, particularly in response to the rising threat of violent religious extremism in the southern Philippines. Australia’s support of the Philippines and ongoing commitments to countering the spread of violent extremism at home and abroad, particularly throughout south-east Asia is forcing the nation to dramatically rethink the way it engages with these asymmetric threats.
This shifting focus and responsibility of Australia’s Special Operations community given the increasing prominence of hybrid conflicts, asymmetric threats and ‘gray warfare’ was identified by Chief of the Defence Force, General Angus Campbell, during an address to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s (ASPI) ‘War in 2025’ conference, which focused on the increased threat posed by state and non-state based actors and raised an important question – is it time for Australia’s Special Operations Command to become a separate branch of the broader Australian Defence Force?
The role of Special Forces in the face of ‘hybrid warfare’
Interestingly, in the era of ‘fake news’ hybrid forces have sought to leverage the power of the internet and social media to serve as a powerful force multiplier, enabling the spread of propaganda, terror, influencing political outcomes and, as Islamic State successfully demonstrated, recruitment in an increasingly globalised world.
As an increasingly powerful tool of modern statecraft, hybrid warfare has been used successfully by both the US and one of its major rivals, Russia, to effectively influence and occupy territories or conduct proxy wars in order to further broaden national interests in geo-strategically important parts of the world.
The implementation of such doctrines has resulted in both American and Russian authorities accusing one another of conducting such operations to hinder the influence and effectiveness of their significant conventional capabilities as well as undermining the security of both nations.
Special Operations Forces, combined with increasingly clandestine intelligence operations, are serving as powerful tools in countering the effectiveness of non-state supported hybrid warfare opponents, however, should a hostile state-based actor wish to influence and support such actors in the region, the response of both Australia and its regional and global allies would be significantly hindered.
Hybrid warfare is serving as a potent tool for both traditional state and non-state actors seeking to blur the distinctions between traditional concepts of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ power, enabling such actors to dramatically influence regional and global events in an increasingly cost-effective and timely manner.
While traditional ‘hard’ power methods of power projection form a key component of contemporary hybrid warfare, the growing prominence of cyber warfare capabilities, combined with political influence peddling and lobbying, are all serving to raise questions about the strength of democracy and the walls that protect it both in Australia and across the world. (Source: Defence Connect)
02 Jul 19. Russia: Fire kills 14 sailors aboard navy research submersible. A fire aboard a Russian navy research submersible has killed 14 crew members, the Russian defence ministry says.
The crew was poisoned by fumes as the vessel was taking measurements in Russian territorial waters on Monday.
The ministry gave no details about the type of vessel. But Russian media reports say it was a nuclear mini-submarine used for special operations.
The fire was later put out and the vessel is now at Severomorsk, the main base of the Russian Northern Fleet.
Russian press say the sub on which the 14 servicemen died was an AS-12 “Losharik”, which is used for special operations. This is the same sub that the US claimed was capable of damaging undersea cables, accusing Russia of seeking to intercept or disrupt communications.
The defence ministry did not say how many crew members were aboard at the time. Reports in local media say several crew were injured and taken to hospital. An investigation into the incident has begun under the commander-in-chief of the navy.
Russian President Vladimir Putin later on Tuesday pulled out of a scheduled event in the Tver region, north-west of Moscow, to discuss the issue with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.
Mr Putin described the incident as a big loss for the Russian Navy, and expressed “sincere condolences” to the victims’ families.
Seven captains and two service personnel awarded Russia’s highest honorary title, Hero of the Russian Federation, were among those who died on board the vessel, the president said.
Mr Shoigu was ordered to go immediately to Severomorsk.
It’s still not clear what caused the fire, which the crew ultimately brought under control; we don’t know how many men survived.
And there are still questions over exactly what vessel was involved.
President Putin said the dead included two heroes of Russia and seven “captains 1st rank”- which seems unusually senior – for research work.
Some media in Russia are citing sources saying they could have been on board a nuclear-powered submarine, possibly even the secretive AS-12. It is thought to be used for highly sensitive missions.
Mr Putin returned especially to the Kremlin from out of town to order his defence minister to oversee the investigation.
The president is clearly keen not to repeat his disastrous handling of the Kursk submarine disaster in August 2000, when 118 men died.
That accident was shrouded in secrecy – and Mr Putin initially stayed on holiday for several days.
Submersibles are generally smaller vessels with limited crew on board supported by ships on the surface, while submarines are larger vessels capable of operating autonomously over long distances.
The Kursk submarine, which was destroyed by the blasts in the Barents Sea, was also part of the Northern Fleet. (Source: BBC)
03 Jul 19. Defence industry as a catalyst for Australia’s industrial rebirth. Success leaves clues – as Australia embarks on the largest peacetime recapitalisation and investment in the nation’s defence and defence industrial capability, the long-term success of the nation’s defence industrial development program can provide avenues for the broader reindustrialisation of the Australian economy to capitalise on the opportunities of the Asian Century and enhance the nation’s strategic weight. As Australia’s domestic defence industrial base continues to grow, the need to embrace export opportunities becomes critical to the enduring success – with policy needed to support the nation’s existing trade and strategic partners serving as valuable markets for industry collaboration and export growth.
While Australia’s defence industry has gone from strength to strength in a short period of time – relying solely on domestic consumption is a fateful trap that has previously hindered the sustainable development of Australia’s broader manufacturing industries. Avoiding this pitfall requires a dramatically different approach to the policies that have been used in the past, paired with a growing focus on leveraging the nation’s key economic and strategic partnerships.
This $200bn program incorporates the first long-term industry development policy in Australia’s recent history – the Defence Industrial Capability Plan released in 2018 identifies the government’s long-term vision to build and develop a robust, resilient and internationally competitive Australian defence industry base that is better able to help meet defence capability requirements.
The Defence Industrial Capability Plan sets out a comprehensive plan for Australia’s defence industry. The government is investing in Australia’s defence industry and ensuring that it is positioned to support delivery of the Integrated Investment Program over the next decade. The plan acknowledges that as Australia builds its defence capability, we must also grow our defence industrial capability. By 2028, Australia will require a larger, more capable and prepared Australian defence industry that has the resident skills, expertise, technology, intellectual property and infrastructure to:
- Enable the conduct of ADF operations today;
- Support the acquisition, operation and sustainment of future defence capability; and
- Provide the national support base for Defence to meet current needs and to surge if Australia’s strategic circumstances require it.
Recognising the importance of the export market, the government established the Defence Export Strategy, which identifies that “Australian industry cannot sustain itself on the needs of the Australian Defence Force alone. New markets and opportunities to diversify are required to help unlock the full potential of Australian defence industry to grow, innovate and support Defence’s future needs”.
Further supporting the long-term development of Australia’s defence industrial base is the Defence Export Strategy, which focuses on developing “greater export success to build a stronger, more sustainable and more globally competitive Australian defence industry to support Australia’s Defence capability needs” by 2028, which is supported by five key objectives:
- Strengthen the partnership between the Australian government and industry to pursue defence export opportunities;
- Sustain Australia’s defence industrial capabilities across peaks and troughs in domestic demand;
- Enable greater innovation and productivity in Australia’s defence industry to deliver world-leading Defence capabilities;
- Maintain the capability edge of the Australian Defence Force and leverage Defence capability development for export opportunities; and
- Grow Australia’s defence industry to become a top 10 global defence exporter.
This focus on enhancing Australia’s exposure and access to export markets serves as one of the critical defining points in a new era of Australian industry policy as a whole – this focus on developing export markets serves as an opportunity for Australia to develop and enhance its “strategic weight” during a period of increasing geo-political, economic and strategic competition and turbulence.
Catalyst for re-industrialisation
While Australia’s long-term plan for developing a robust, globally competitive defence industry is still in the early stages of implementation – the early success and increasingly global integration and participation of Australian industry in global supply chains provides an avenue for building on the success to transform the broader Australian economy inline with the Commonwealth government’s Innovation Agenda.
This focus on exports echoes the South Korean concept of export oriented industrialisation (EOI) and the related industrial development policies that were used to great effect in the post-Korean War redevelopment of the Korean economy – which is responsible for turning the nation into a major economic and modern, advanced manufacturing powerhouse.
Korea’s industry development is driven by a range of government incentives for industry, including corporate tax incentives, employment incentives and payroll tax incentives. As a result, in order to develop Australia’s own naval shipbuilding industry, similar innovative and adaptive policy making is essential to developing a competitive domestic naval shipbuilding industry.
Supporting the next stage of industry development requires a unique policy approach as well as combining the existing elements of Australia’s existing innovation and science agenda with a suite of grant allocation and targeted, contractual tax incentives (signed between the Commonwealth and the company as a memorandum of understanding) linked to a combination of long-term, local job creation, foreign contract success, local industry content, and research and development programs – in specialised export orientated industry clusters.
National critical industries
Australia as a nation, like many Western contemporaries, has been an economy and nation traditionally dependent on heavy industries – capitalising upon the continent’s wealth of natural resources including coal, iron ore, copper, zinc, rare earth elements and manufacturing, particularly in the years following the end of the Second World War.
However, the post-war economic transformation of many regional nations, including Japan, Korea and China, and the cohesive, long-term, nation building policies implemented by these nations has enabled these countries to emerge as economic powerhouses, driven by an incredibly competitive manufacturing capability – limiting the competitiveness of Australian industry, particularly manufacturing.
Recognising this incredibly competitive global industry and the drive towards free trade agreements with nations who continue to implement protectionist policies buried in legislation, Australia needs to approach the development of nationally significant heavy industries in a radically different way, recognising the failures of the past and the limitations of Australia’s past incarnations of heavy industry.
Transitioning towards an advanced manufacturing, exporting economy
Despite Australia’s widely recognised position as providing a world-leading research and development capacity – supported by both private and public sector R&D programs driven by organisations like the CSIRO – traditional areas of high wage-costs and low productivity in Australia’s manufacturing industry, exemplified in the failure of Australia’s domestic car industry and in the series of cost overruns and delivery delays on both the Collins and Hobart Class programs, have characterised Australia’s reputation as a manufacturing economy.
Enter Industry 4.0 – the combination of additive manufacturing, automated manufacturing and data sharing, with a coherent National Strategic Industry development policy can compensate and in some cases overcome the traditional hindrances faced by the Australian economy, with public-private collaboration essential to ensuring the long-term sustainability and success of Australia’s defence industrial base and broader manufacturing economy.
Building ‘strategic weight’ and economic diversity off the back of Defence
Australia’s position and responsibilities in the Indo-Pacific region will depend on the nation’s ability to sustain itself economically, strategically and politically. Despite the nation’s virtually unrivalled wealth of natural resources and agricultural and industrial potential, there is a lack of a cohesive national security strategy integrating the development of individual, yet complementary public policy strategies to support a more robust Australian role in the region.
Establishing and implementing a cohesive, innovative and long-term vision for Australia’s sovereign defence industry capability can also serve as the basis for developing, and in some cases redeveloping, a robust, advanced manufacturing economy taking advantage of Australia’s unrivalled resource wealth, highly-educated workforce and proximity to the rising Indo-Pacific markets. (Source: Defence Connect)
03 Jul 19. Defining a ‘great power’ and what it looks like for Australia. As US ambassador to Australia Arthur Culvahouse calls for Australia to embrace a ‘great power’ presence in the Indo-Pacific – understanding the characteristics of a ‘great power’ and the potential the status presents for Australia is essential to supporting the nation navigate its way through the turbulent waters of the Asian Century.
History has been defined by the ambitions and conflagrations of ‘great powers’. Great powers typically combine a range of characteristics that set them apart from lower tier middle and minor powers, including a complementary balance of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ power dynamics such as military and economic strength and diplomatic and cultural influence.
While the definition between superpowers and great powers has become increasingly blurred since the end of the Cold War – the now clear delineation between great powers like the UK, France and Germany, and to a lesser extent a resurgent Russia and Japan, and established global superpowers like the US and emerging superpower China makes the definition increasingly flexible.
Typically these ‘hard power’ capabilities are defined by a combination of characteristics including:
- Conventional military capabilities – including air, land and sea-based power projection capabilities;
- Strategic deterrence capabilities – including but not limited to nuclear triad, strategic bomber and naval strategic force multipliers; and
- Economic power – focused on maintaining strategic industries with a focus on being globally competitive across manufacturing, resource and energy security, innovation and research and development.
Recent developments in the Indo-Pacific and the rapidly changing geo-strategic environment have prompted the new US ambassador to Australia to encourage the nation to embrace a ‘great power’ role in the region: “We think the natural course is the Australian government, as it goes forward, will be even more supportive of US policy in the Pacific and that may include calling out malign influences where they see them.”
This comes at a time of increased debate about Australia’s national identity as it relates to the Indo-Pacific and the direction of the nation in light of the deteriorating geo-political, economic and strategic outlook in the region.
Echoing this new request from the US are comments made by renowned Australian strategic policy thinker Hugh White, who has recently called for a major increase in Australia’s defence expenditure and capabilities, including a review of Australia’s stance on nuclear deterrence in response to what White identifies as a decline in US strategic capability.
“It’s made perfect sense for Australia not to contemplate nuclear weapons for the last 40 years because we’ve enjoyed a very high level of confidence in the American nuclear umbrella, but America provided that umbrella because it secured its position as the primary power in Asia,” Professor White explained to The Sydney Morning Herald.
These calls come as the US faces an increasingly contested world order – with the traditional guarantees of the US primacy now under threat, prompting Washington to actively begin prodding allies to take a greater role in securing not only their own economic, political and strategic interests, but also more directly engage in efforts by the US to effectively sustain the post-Second World War order.
Australia the great power
Establishing Australia as a great power in the Indo-Pacific is not an overnight project. Rather it is a long-term multi-decade project that requires an integrated strategy, in a similar manner to the National Security Strategy concept identified by former General and NSW senator Jim Molan – recognising that from the ‘hard power’ realm military and economic power and influence go ‘hand in glove’ and are intrinsically linked to the enduring success of such designs.
From the economic aspect, diverse, ‘globally competitive’ industries serve to enhance the strategic weight of a nation – the importance of developing a robust and highly capable national industrial base was the focal point of a recent business lunch hosted by the Australian British Chamber of Commerce. Panel guests included Kate Louis of the AiGroup, Dr Mark Hodge of the DMTC, John O’Callaghan of Defence Victoria, Professor Len Sciacca of Melbourne University, and Mike Kalms of KPMG.
As a nation Australia is unlike any other, the continent enjoys a virtually unrivalled wealth of resources, including iron ore, coal, rare earth elements, uranium, natural gas, copper and is home to one of the most robust, yet underdeveloped industrial bases in the ‘developed world’ – the nation also enjoys a world-leading agriculture sector, one hindered by reliable access to water and again, as expressed by speakers at the ABCC panel, a highly competitive, driven and dedicated labour force that has fallen victim to enduring stigma around competitiveness.
Further amplifying this potential is Australia’s geographic position at the cross roads of the Indian and Pacific Oceans – sharing long-standing economic partnerships with the rapidly growing economies of the region – which have voracious demands for energy, resources, agricultural and consumer goods and an overwhelming desire to enjoy a ‘Western’ standard of living.
From the military perspective, robust debate is critical to identifying the roles and capabilities Australia needs to develop in order to complement the capabilities of the US – while also focusing on establishing and maintaining Australia’s capacity to act independently in defence of its own unique economic, political and strategic interests and ambitions in the Indo-Pacific.
Doing so requires a holistic review of the size, doctrine and force structure of the Australian Defence Force and a frank discussion about the strategic realities of the Indo-Pacific and the changing economic, political and strategic environment not just of today, but equally in 20 years time.
It won’t be an easy sell for both Australia’s political leadership and the public at large, however the costs of not investing in and adequately developing the nation’s capacity to act as an independent actor – with its own economic, political and strategic designs in the Indo-Pacific, the region intrinsically linked to our own enduring prosperity, security and stability – will spell disaster for modern Australia and the standards of living many have become accustomed to.
Geo-political chess in the Indo-Pacific
It is important for Australia’s political and strategic leaders and more broadly the public to recognise that for the first time America has a true competitor in China – a nation with immense industrial potential, growing wealth and prosperity, a driving national purpose and a growing series of alliances with re-emerging, resource-rich great powers in Russia, and supported by a growing network of economic hubs and indebted psuedo-colonies throughout the Indo-Pacific and Asia.
Unlike the Soviet Union and especially the smaller periphery states the US has engaged since the end of the Cold War, China is a highly industrialised nation – with an industrial capacity comparable to, if not exceeding, that of the US, supported by a rapidly narrowing technological gap, supporting growing military capability and territorial ambitions, bringing the rising power into direct competition with the US and its now fraying alliance network of tired global allies.
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 South China Sea and the strategic waterways and choke points of south-east Asia annually.
Enhancing Australia’s capacity to act as an independent power, incorporating great power-style strategic economic, diplomatic and military capability serves not only as a powerful symbol of Australia’s sovereignty and evolving responsibilities in supporting and enhancing the security and prosperity of Indo-Pacific Asia – shifting the public discussion away from the default Australian position of “it is all a little too difficult, so let’s not bother” will provide unprecedented economic, diplomatic, political and strategic opportunities for the nation. (Source: Defence Connect)
02 Jul 19. Senior Iranian Lawmaker Threatens Israel with Annihilation. Israel will be annihilated in half an hour if the United States retaliates against Iran over a string of unprovoked attacks, a senior Iranian lawmaker warned Monday in an interview with a Tehran-based Arabic language network.
“If the U.S. attacks us, only half an hour will remain of Israel’s lifespan,” said Mojtaba Zolnour, the chairman of the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission.
Zolnour also refuted U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent claim that he had called off a military strike on Iran to spare innocent lives. “If they [the Americans] had predicted their attack would be successful, they would not have canceled it and it would definitely have happened,” the official charged.
The U.S. has repeatedly said that it seeks no military escalation with Iran, while at the same time taking all appropriate and effective measures to protect American interests in the region. The White House said Monday that it would continue to apply “maximum pressure” on Iran “until its leaders alter their course of action.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which monitors Iran‘s nuclear program, confirmed earlier that the Iranian regime has amassed more low-enriched uranium than permitted under its 2015 nuclear accord with world powers.
A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “Such action by the Islamic Republic of Iran would not help preserve the plan, nor secure the tangible economic benefits for the Iranian people.”
The news came against the backdrop of heightened regional tensions due to a string of unprovoked attacks by Iran against the United States and Arab allies. On Monday, the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency confirmed that the Islamic Republic was behind attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.
Yossi Cohen said, “I can tell you, with certainty, from the best sources of Israeli and Western intelligence, that Iran is behind the attacks.” He added that the attacks “were approved by the Iranian leadership, and were carried out, at least mostly, by the Revolutionary Guard and their surrogates.” (Source: theisraelproject.org)
26 June 19. Thailand progresses defence industrial investment plans. The Thai government has outlined a plan to establish ‘special economic zones’ focused on supporting defence industrial development. The move is geared towards stimulating private-sector investment and is being pursued in parallel with a plan to introduce offset-like obligations on foreign military contractors.
According to the state-owned National News Bureau of Thailand, the plan was revealed in a meeting of the country’s Defence Council – chaired by Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon – on 26 June. The news report said government agencies have been asked to ensure that they collaborate with the plan as it progresses over the coming months.
The government did not provide details about the special economic zones, including their location.
However, Thailand’s Defence Technology Institute (DTI) – an agency under the Ministry of Defence (MoD) charged with supporting national defence industrial development – is expected to be involved in the plan, which is likely part of the government’s Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) development project. The EEC project was launched in 2016 to revitalise Thailand’s eastern seaboard over the coming decade.
Linked to the EEC project, Thailand has already outlined a commitment to develop the existing U-Tapao international airport, which is a joint military-civilian facility located on the Gulf of Thailand coast.
This site is the centre of planned investment in aerospace maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) capability in military and commercial domains. Foreign companies, including Airbus, Safran, Sikorsky, and Saab, have already expressed interest in engaging with the project.
Saab’s investment in Thailand has, to date, mainly been linked with its supply of 12 Gripen fighter aircraft to the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) from 2011, but the company has also recently partnered with a local company, Amata, to explore potential areas for development under the EEC project.
01 Jul 19. The Real Reason China Keeps Buying Russia’s Best Fighter Jets. A problem? For a nation that boasts of developing an advanced stealth fighter, it seems strange that China would need to buy warplanes from its former rival Russia. Yet Moscow is offering to sell more Su-35 fighters to Beijing – and Chinese media reports that Beijing may accept. China has already bought 24 Su-35s – an upgraded version of the Cold War Su-27 Flanker – in a 2015 sale worth $2.5bn, according to Russian news agency TASS. “We are expecting a response from China on our offer to purchase modern weapons and military equipment manufactured in Russia, including additional batches of Su-35 fighter jets,” Russia’s arms export agency told TASS last week. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
02 Jul 19. China may buy more Su-35s to replace older aircraft. China has about 3,000 aircraft – roughly the size of the U.S. Air Force – including 1,700 fighters. But many are obsolete Cold War planes, including several hundred Chinese copies of Russia’s 1960s-era MiG-21. Thus even as China fields the fifth-generation J-20 stealth fighter – ostensibly the counterpart of the American F-22 and F-35 – the People’s Liberation Army Air Force is saddled with the logistical challenges of maintaining a huge fleet of old planes.
Yet, China’s state-controlled Global Times newspaper also cited a Chinese military expert who believes there are other reasons to buy the Su-35. Fu Qianshao told the Global Times that “while China could indeed buy more Su-35s, they are not meant to replace older Chinese jets because the Russian aircraft is too expensive and China has too many old jets. The replacement will most likely be done by domestically made warplanes, he said.”
“Having already bought a batch of Su-35s previously, China does not need more to learn from it technically, Fu noted. But if China indeed buys more, it would make the Chinese Air Force’s logistical support for the warplane fleet more efficient as there would be more spare parts and dedicated personnel, Fu said, noting that economic and political factors might also play a part in the potential deal due to China and Russia’s close relations, and a Chinese purchase would help boost Russia’s aviation industry.”
The Chinese analyst has a point: Global airpower has been trending away from the mass airfleets of World War II and the Cold War, in favor of smaller numbers of highly sophisticated and expensive warplanes. If Beijing only bought 24 Su-35s the first time around for $2.5bn, then buying hundreds to replace the J-7 and J-8 fighters would be financially ruinous as well as numerical overkill. But interesting is the suggestion that an Su-35 purchase would support the aviation industry of Russia, a nation with a stagnant economy but a strong military research and manufacturing capability. Still, given Beijing’s pride in its growing military and economic strength, and its ability to develop advanced weapons such as stealth fighters, it seems surprising that China must import warplanes, jet engines, anti-aircraft missiles and other equipment. China’s GDP is about nine times larger than that of Russia (Britain also buys American warplanes, but Britain’s economy is one-eighth that of America’s).
For now, it may indeed make sense for China to buy fighters from Russia: the two nations, which once fought a border war and vied for supremacy in the Communist bloc, now enjoy friendly – but wary – relations. But given its ambitions, at some point China will have to rely on its own resources. (Source: News Now/https://nationalinterest.org)
01 Jul 19. Iran Files UN Security Council Complaint Against US Over Airspace Violation. The (Iranian) Foreign Ministry filed a complaint to the UN Security Council and the organization’s president (Mansour al-Otaibi) after a US spy drone violated Iran’s airspace and was shot down. It lodged the complaint under Article 51 of the UN Charter,” Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs Gholam-Hossein Dehqani said on Friday.
“The complaint states that Iran reserves the right to defend its maritime borders and confront any violation in case such acts are repeated. The US side claims that the drone had not entered the Iranian airspace. This is while they cannot corroborate such an allegation because it went down in the Iranian territory after being targeted,” he added, Press TV reported.
Last week, Iran’s Vice President for Legal Affairs La’ya Joneidi threatened that the Islamic Republic will take legal action against the US for the “violation of international law” by deploying a spy drone into Iranian airspace.
In the early hours of June 20, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force shot down the US unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that intruded into the airspace of Iran. The IRGC said the MQ-4C spy drone had taken off from a US military base in the United Arab Emirates, switched off all of its communication systems, and flew towards the port city of Chabahar via the Strait of Hormuz in maximum stealth. When flying back to the western part of the region, the unmanned plane violated the Iranian airspace near the Strait of Hormuz and began to spy on Iran and collect information, the IRGC added. The intruding drone was shot by Iran’s homegrown air defense missile system “Khordad-3rd”. (Source: UAS VISION/Tasnim News Agency)
01 Jul 19. Australia’s rapidly closing window of opportunity. Over the weekend, renowned Australian strategic policy expert Hugh White added fuel to the fire about the rapidly changing strategic environment of the Indo-Pacific. White focused his commentary on the limitations of Australia’s major allies, namely the US, returning Australia’s strategic policy discussion to a state of “it’s all a little too difficult”.
Since the nation’s earliest days, Australia’s strategic and defence planning has been intrinsically defined and impacted by a number of different, yet interconnected and increasingly complex factors, namely:
- The benevolence and continuing stability of its primary strategic partner;
- The geographic isolation of the continent, highlighted by the ‘tyranny of distance’;
- A relatively small population in comparison with its neighbours; and
- Increasingly, the geo-political, economic and strategic ambition and capabilities of Australia’s Indo-Pacific Asian neighbours.
Australia’s earliest strategic relationship with the British Empire established a foundation of dependence that would characterise all of the nation’s future defence and national security relationships both in the Indo-Pacific and the wider world. As British power slowly declined following the First World War and the US emerged as the pre-eminent economic, political and strategic power during the Second World War – Australia became dependent on ‘Pax Americana’ or the American Peace.
While the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War cemented America’s position as the pre-eminent world power – this period was relatively short lived as costly engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq, peace-keeping interventions in southern Europe and enduring global security responsibilities have drained American ‘blood’ and ‘treasure’ – eroding the domestic political, economic and strategic resolve and capacity of the US to unilaterally counter the rise of totalitarian regimes and peer competitors in both China and Russia.
The broader economic, political and strategic rise of Indo-Pacific Asia further compounds the US and its ability to secure Australia’s strategic interests, challenging the nation’s long-held belief that it will never really need to do its own heavily lifting in a tactically and strategically challenging environment.
Enter widely respected Australian strategic and defence policy analyst Hugh White, who has recently kicked off discussion with the launch of his new book, How to Defend Australia, and a series of supporting opinion piecesover the weekend. White set the scene for the Australian public, presenting perhaps one of the most asinine questions of recent strategic debate: “Should Australia defend itself? Our choice is not an easy one. Just because we probably can build the forces to defend ourselves does not mean we necessarily should. As we have seen, the costs would be very high, and it is not a foregone conclusion that the benefits outweigh those costs.”
Recognising the limits of American power
It is important to recognise that for the first time America has a true competitor in China – a nation with immense industrial potential, growing wealth and prosperity, a driving national purpose and a growing series of alliances with re-emerging, resource rich great powers in Russia, and supported by a growing network of economic hubs and indebted psuedo-colonies throughout the Indo-Pacific and Asia.
Unlike the Soviet Union, China is a highly industrialised nation – with an industrial capacity comparable to, if not exceeding, that of the US, supported by a rapidly narrowing technological gap, supporting growing military capability and territorial ambitions, bringing the rising power into direct competition with the US and its now fraying alliance network of tired global allies.
The increasing cost blow outs and project delays of major US defence acquisition and development programs, including strategic programs like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Gerald R Ford Class of aircraft carriers, B-21 Raider strategic bomber, combined with ballooning US government debt and domestic political and societal challenges, serve as unique and important challenges, limiting America’s enduring ability to project presence.
Whether consciously recognising the potential of this challenge or not, the US President’s direct, often confrontational approach towards allies belies domestic concerns about America’s ability to maintain the post-Second World War global order. Andrew Davies of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) highlighted the importance of recognising the limitation of US power in a recent piece for ASPI, saying, “The assumption of continued US primacy that permeated DWP 2016 looked heroic at the time. It seems almost foolishly misplaced now.”
Australia’s need for strategic independence
As Australia’s traditional strategic benefactors continue to face decline and comparatively capable peer competitors – the nation’s economic, political and strategic capability are intrinsically linked to the enduring security, stability and prosperity in an increasingly unpredictable region. White’s focus on and underlying belief that Australia seriously committing to a sustained and focused effort to develop a true regional power is too difficult continues to perpetuate a ‘black’ and ‘white’ approach to developing strategic policy.
This approach fails to recognise the precarious position Australia now finds itself in, however it does identify key areas for the nation’s political and strategic leaders to focus on if Australia is to establish a truly independent strategic capacity – this focuses largely on:
- Australia’s continuing economic prosperity and stability and the role the economy plays in supporting defence capability;
- The economic, political and strategic intentions of Australia’s Indo-Pacific neighbours; and
- The rapidly evolving technology-heavy nature of contemporary warfare.
“We probably can defend ourselves independently if we choose to do so and if we go about it the right way, which means adopting a military strategy that exploits the advantages of our geography and trends in the technology of warfare … Second, it depends on how new technologies affect the conduct of military and maritime operations,” White posits.
“Third, it depends on whether we can get access to the technologies that we would need to make our military strategy work. And finally, it depends on how our own economy fares, which will determine how much we would have to sacrifice to build the forces required to defend ourselves.”
Responding to these challenges requires an approach that recognises each of these factors are all part of national security policy. This includes a dedicated focus on developing a robust economic and industrial capacity – devoid of dependence on any single source of economic prosperity – while focusing on developing a robust and independently capable tactical and strategic military capability, supported by Australia’s enduring diplomatic good will and relationships in the region.
These responses do not hinder Australia’s economic growth or strategic stability – rather, if developed, communicated and implemented correctly they support the economic growth, diversity and development of the nation, building on a record period of economic growth and prosperity – providing flow on benefits for Australia’s strategic capacity to act as an independent strategic benefactor.
As a nation, Australia is at a precipice and both the Australian public and the nation’s political and strategic leaders need to decide what they want the nation to be – do they want the nation to become an economic, political and strategic backwater caught between two competing great empires and a growing cluster of periphery great powers? Or does Australia “have a crack” and actively establish itself as a regional great power with all the benefits that entails? Because the window of opportunity is closing.
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 South China Sea and the strategic waterways and choke points of south-east Asia annually.
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’. (Source: Defence Connect)
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