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16 Aug 19. Japan Decides to Procure F-35B Fighters from U.S.. Japan’s Defense Ministry on Friday announced the selection of the U.S.-made F-35B cutting-edge stealth fighter as a short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft model it plans to introduce. The ministry plans to renovate the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Izumo-class destroyers into de facto aircraft carriers to host the F-35Bs. The Japanese government decided last December to procure 42 STOVL aircraft to strengthen the country’s air defense capabilities in the Pacific side of the country where the number of air bases with long runways is limited. The procurement plan was included in the government’s new defense policy guidelines and medium-term defense program, both compiled late last year. Selection work started in March, and the F-35B, recommended by the U.S. government, was the only model proposed in the process, according to the ministry. (Source: News Now/Jiji Press)
16 Aug 19. Trump OK’s F-16 sale to Taiwan amid China tensions. The Trump administration has informally green lit a potential major arms sale to Taiwan involving dozens of new Lockheed Martin F-16V fighter jets, according to administration and Capitol Hill sources.
The move is part of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s larger drive to combine arms bought from the U.S with domestically developed training jets, submarines and other weapons technology. It’s also sure to infuriate China amid its tense trade dispute with the U.S. and controversial crackdown on Hong Kong protesters.
The fighter jet sale had been in limbo as the White House directed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to hold off, Capitol Hill sources said. That fueled speculation Trump planned to use it as a bargaining chip in ongoing trade negotiations with China.
Washington negotiated the sale with Taipei over several years, leaning on leaders the island nation to devote a significant part of its budget to purchase the fighter jets. Lawmakers were concerned a reversal by Trump who look bad for Tsai, whose government has proposed increasing the total national defense budget by 5.2 percent in 2020 and is running for reelection.
The State Department advanced the sale late yesterday for informal review and approval by the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee, according to Capitol Hill sources. From there, there is a mandatory 30-calendar-day formal review process before the State Department can issue a letter of offer and acceptance to Taiwan for the sale.
Key members of Congress on Friday said the sale will likely be supported on a bipartisan basis in both chambers, and they invoked the strong bonds between the U.S. and Taiwan. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and the panel’s top Republican, Rep. Michael McCaul, of Texas, said in a joint statement that the sale “sends a strong message about the U.S. commitment to security and democracy in the Indo-Pacific” amid China’s “military aggression in the region.”
“Following our meeting with President Tsai Ing-wen in New York last month, we know this sale will underscore our deep and enduring partnership with Taiwan,” they said. “Further, it will help deter China as they threaten our strategic partner Taiwan and its democratic system of government.”
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s chairman, Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, cheered Trump and welcomed the sale as “critical to improving Taiwan’s ability to defend its sovereign airspace, which is under increasing pressure from the People’s Republic of China.”
“Taiwan is a steadfast partner of the United States in advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific, and the United States remains firmly committed to supporting its defense,” Risch said.
The U.S. is Taiwan’s main supplier of defensive weapons, despite the lack of formal diplomatic ties. However Beijing considers self-governing Taiwan part of China, to be annexed by force if necessary ― and it has objected to past U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.
The F-16V is the most advanced version of a plane that already forms the backbone of Taiwan’s air forces. The country is expected to use the F-16Vs to replace the Northrop F-5E/Fs that are being retired in the next couple of years. Taiwan was also hoping to be cleared to buy F-35s, particularly the STOVL F-35B variant, but approval for that jet does not appear forthcoming.
In July, the U.S. approved the potential sale of 108 M1A2T Abrams tanks and other equipment, worth a combined $2 billion.
The State Department said it was its policy not to comment on proposed defense sales until they are formally notified to Congress.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-T.X., hailed Trump for the move in a Twitter post Friday and also pointed to China’s defense posture as a reason to approve the sale.
“With China building up its military to threaten us & our allies-and the People’s Liberation Army aiming thousands of missiles at Taiwan and deploying fighter aircrafts along the [Taiwanese Strait]-now more than ever it is critical that Taiwan has the support needed to defend itself,” Cruz’s post read.
Before heading out for Congress’s summer recess weeks ago, Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee were urging the Trump administration to move the sale forward.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., downplayed fears the sale would impact trade negotiations with Beijing and said it should go through as soon as possible. “We can’t allow that to dictate our foreign policy or dictate our policy toward Taiwan,” Rubio said.
“Hell, I’d like to sell them F-35’s, so the least we could do is sell them F-16s,” Sen. Corey Gardner, R-Colo., and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee that covers Asia. “It’s the law.”
The U.S. is bound by the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act to “make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability.”
Previous requests, including one for 66 new F-16s, were rejected by the Obama administration. The White House at the time instead offered to upgrade Taiwan’s existing fleet of about 140 F-16A/B Block 20 aircraft, the first of which have been delivered to Taiwan’s Air Force. As of March, however, this process was behind schedule.
In addition to its F-16s, Taiwan’s Air Force is operating the French Mirage 2000 and the locally made AIDC F-CK-1 Ching-kuo fighters, although all three types date from the 1990s and are due for replacement soon, even after upgrades. (Source: Defense News)
16 Aug 19. Using a national network of Centres of Excellence to support industrial capability. Combining the legislative and policy-setting power of state and federal government provides an opportunity to develop an interconnected network of highly competitive, advanced manufacturing hubs around the country – providing avenues for Australia’s defence industry to kick-start the nation’s Industry 4.0 revolution.
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.
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.
This 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
- 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”.
While the federal government has set the policy foundation with the Defence Industrial Capability Plan, the Defence Export Strategy and the creation of the Australian Defence Export Office, there is scope for enhancing the efficacy of these policies through closer collaboration and input from the various state and territory defence advocacy bodies around the nation.
Recently, BAE Systems Australia and the NSW government have kicked off the next stage in developing an aerospace, space and advanced manufacturing research and development centre of excellence at the future Western Sydney Airport and Aerotropolis with the signing of a memorandum of understanding – providing an effective precedent for other state and territory governments to establish similar hubs around the country.
Expanding Australia’s advanced manufacturing capabilities
The foundation established by the government’s Defence Export Strategy and the broader Defence Industrial Capability Plan provides a strong basis for supporting the early stage development of Australia’s sovereign industry capability. Looking forward, government will play a critical role in attracting additional industry partners through cohesive, long-term policy.
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-oriented industry clusters.
Developing centres of excellence supporting export growth in partnership with Australian and international primes can leverage the policy levers used to develop other national facilities and integration within global supply chains and programs to support the development and rehabilitation of local naval shipbuilding capabilities, with a focus on capitalising on the growing demand for warships in the Indo-Pacific and Middle East in particular.
Despite Australia’s widely recognised position as providing a world-leading research and development capacity – supported by both private and public sector research and development 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.
This is done through a range of government-driven incentives for industry, including corporate tax incentives, employment incentives and payroll tax incentives. Australia’s now firm commitment to develop a robust domestic defence capability requires innovative and adaptive thinking in order to expand the capabilities and competitiveness of the domestic industry.
COAG Industry incentives
Unfortunately, the current paradigm of industry development policy is defined by the concept of “government shouldn’t be picking winners in industry”, a concept that has a great deal of merit and should be supported to the fullest. However, supporting and incentivising industry to establish centres of excellence and manufacturing capabilities locally is more appropriately viewed through the lens of “picking the dog with the least fleas” and provides avenues to enhancing Australia’s industrial capacity.
While industry largely provides the technological expertise, government policy provides the certainty for investment – particularly when supported by elements of Australia’s innovation and science agenda, combined with grant allocation and targeted, contractual tax incentives linked to a combination of long-term, local job creation, foreign contract success, local industry content, and research and development programs, which are critical components that can be used to empower and enhance the overall competitiveness.
Supporting the development of both Australia’s defence industrial base and the broader manufacturing economy also requires the legislative power of government to counterbalance industry development policies of allied yet still competitor nations like South Korea – which leverages the industrial development policies of export-oriented industrialisation to develop its economy into a major economic and modern, advanced manufacturing powerhouse.
This is done through a range of government-driven incentives for industry, including corporate tax incentives, employment incentives and payroll tax incentives. Australia’s now firm commitment to develop a robust domestic defence capability requires innovative and adaptive thinking in order to expand the capabilities and competitiveness of the domestic industry. (Source: Defence Connect)
14 Aug 19. Russia flies nuclear-capable bombers to region facing Alaska. Russia said on Wednesday it had flown two nuclear-capable TU-160 bombers to a far eastern Russian region opposite Alaska as part of a training exercise that state media said showed Moscow’s ability to park nuclear arms on the United States’ doorstep. The Tupolev TU-160 strategic bomber, nicknamed the White Swan in Russia, is a supersonic Soviet-era aircraft capable of carrying up to 12 short-range nuclear missiles and of flying 12,000km (7,500 miles) non-stop without re-fuelling.
Russia’s Ministry of Defence said in a statement that the planes had covered a distance of more than 6,000 km (3,728 miles) in over eight hours from their home base in western Russia to deploy in Anadyr in the Chukotka region, which faces Alaska.
The flight was part of a tactical exercise that would last until the end of this week, it said, and was designed to rehearse the air force’s ability to rebase to operational air fields and to practise air-to-air refuelling.
Footage released by the Defence Ministry showed the planes taking off in darkness and landing in daylight at an airfield set amid flat grassy terrain in the Russian far east.
The flight comes amid heightened tensions over arms control between Moscow and Washington. The United States withdrew from a landmark nuclear missile pact with Russia this month after determining that Moscow was violating that treaty, an accusation the Kremlin denied.
The U.S. ambassador to Moscow said earlier on Wednesday that another arms treaty, the last major nuclear pact between Russia and the United States, was outdated and flawed and could be scrapped when it expires in 2021 and replaced with something else.
And on Tuesday, the Kremlin boasted that it was winning the race to develop new cutting-edge nuclear weapons despite a mysterious rocket accident last week in northern Russia that killed at least five people and caused a brief spike in radiation levels.
“20 MINUTES FROM ALASKA”
Russian government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta said on its website on Wednesday that the TU-160s’ flight showed Moscow’s ability to base nuclear bombers within 20 minutes flight time from U.S. territory.
“The distance from Anadyr to Alaska is less than 600 km (372 miles) – for the TU-160 that takes 20 minutes including take-off and gaining altitude,” it said.
“Moreover the capabilities of the missiles which the plane carries would allow it to launch them without leaving Russian airspace. If necessary, the bombers’ first target could be radar stations and the positions of interceptor missiles which are part of the U.S. missile defence system.”
TU-160s, codenamed Blackjacks by NATO, have flown in the past from bases in Russia to Syria where they have bombed forces opposed to President Bashar al-Assad, one of Moscow’s closest Middle East allies.
The Defence Ministry said a total of around 10 TU-160 bombers and TU-95MS and IL-78 planes were involved in the exercise, suggesting it covered other areas too.
Russia is in the process of modernising the TU-160. President Vladimir Putin last year praised the upgraded version after watching it in flight, saying it would beef up Russia’s nuclear weapons capability.
Ten of the modernized TU-160M nuclear bombers are due to be delivered to the Russian Air Force at a cost of 15bn roubles ($227m) each between now and 2027. Tupolev, the plane’s manufacturer, says the modernised version will be 60 percent more effective than the older version with significant improvements to its weaponry, navigation and avionics. A similar flight was made a year ago to Anadyr, where state media say the local air field has been modernised to be able to receive bigger planes like the TU-160. (Source: Reuters)
14 Aug 19. South Korea moves to kick its missile defense shield up a notch. South Korea plans to spend more money on boosting its missile defense shield in response to North Korea’s evolving missile capability, the Ministry of National Defense announced Aug. 15. Under the midterm defense budget plan, the South Korean military will spend about $240bn, representing an annual defense budget increase of 7 percent over the 2020-2024 period. Out of this, some $85bn would be invested on arms improvements, marking a 10.3 percent year-on-year increase over the next five years.
To enhance its low-tier missile network, called the Korea Air and Missile Defense system, or KAMD, South Korea plans to acquire two more ground-based anti-missile early warning radars and three more Aegis-equipped destroyers.
“The missile defense system is to have a larger defense area with increased intercept capabilities,” the ministry said in a statement. “By upgrading the Patriot and Cheolmae II missile systems, along with the ongoing development of L-SAM, we will establish a multi-layered defense capability enough to intercept new types of North Korean short-range ballistic missiles more effectively.”
L-SAM refers to a locally made long-range surface-to-air missile current under development, while the Cheolmae II, also known as KM-SAM, is a domestically manufactured medium-range surface-to-air missile capable of engaging an incoming target at an altitude as high as 20 kilometers.
South Korea has deployed several batteries of upgraded Patriot Advanced Capability-2, or PAC-2, systems bought from Germany. For upgrades, the country gave an order of new PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement, or MSE, missiles under a U.S. Foreign Military Sales contract valued at about $53m.
“The PAC-3 MSE uses a two-pulse solid rocket motor that increases altitude and range to defend against evolving threats, so that the newer missile interceptors are expected to be useful in thwarting the North’s new type of missile threats,” a ministry source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The ballistic missile operational center is also to be upgraded to help detect enemy targets eight times more than now and increase interoperability with other radars and interceptors,” he added.
For the past month, North Korea launched new types of short-range ballistic missiles and multiple launch rocket systems in defiance of the U.S.-South Korean training exercises that began Aug. 11.
One of the missiles has been identified as KN-23, modeled on Russia’s Iskander, capable of flying horizontally and then diving to a target to avoid interception. On Aug. 10, North Korea also test-fired another type of ground-to-ground ballistic missile on par with the Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS, deployed in the South, according to analysts.
The South’s midterm defense improvement plans also involve strengthening independent capabilities of reconnaissance and surveillance. To that end, the ministry plans to acquire five spy satellites by 2023 and deploy mid- and high-altitude unmanned reconnaissance planes.
The military also plans to locally build a ship armed with precision-guided missiles, a large-deck landing ship that can carry short takeoff-and-landing fighter jets, and 3,000-ton heavy attack submarines.
Among other force improvement plans are the acquisition of electromagnetic pulse bombs, SM-3 ship-launched surface-to-air missiles, more airlifters and upgrades of F-15K sensors, including an anti-jamming system. (Source: Defense News)
13 Aug 19. Australia approves first stage of Project GREYFIN for special forces. Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced that the government will invest A$500m ($338.15m) in advanced equipment to enhance the capabilities of the country’s special forces. The funding is the first stage of Project GREYFIN, which will see spending of A$3bn ($2.02bn) over a period of 20 years. The investment is intended to better equip Australia’s Special Forces to better respond to threats, including terrorism.
Morrison said: “I’ve always said keeping Australians safe is my government’s number one priority. That’s why we’re ensuring the men and women in our special forces have the equipment and training they need to succeed in their operations.
“Global threats will continue to evolve in ways which threaten Australia’s interests. This funding will ensure our special forces have cutting edge capabilities to stay ahead of those who might threaten Australia’s interests.”
Australia Defence Minister Linda Reynolds stated that project GREYFIN will focus on equipping the special forces with ‘the best’ communications, body armour, weapons, medical search and rescue, as well as diving, parachuting, roping and climbing systems.
The project funding will cover human performance training and support.
For the Australian defence industry, the project funding will mean opportunities for small-to-large enterprises.
The funding approval is in line with the special operations capability enhancements outlined in the Defence White Paper 2016.
Reynolds said: “Our special forces, now more than ever, need to be ready and able to deploy on operations anywhere in the world, at short notice, and in very uncertain conditions.
“This first stage of funding enables our special forces to engage with intelligence, science and technology, and innovation organisations to ensure future threats and opportunities are assessed, to make sure we are delivering them the capability they need in the future.”
The government aims to increase investment in defence to 2% of GDP by the fiscal year ending June 2021. (Source: army-technology.com)
13 Aug 19. Kremlin says it is winning arms race against U.S. despite rocket accident. The Kremlin boasted on Tuesday it was winning the race to develop new cutting edge nuclear weapons despite a mysterious rocket accident last week in northern Russia that caused a temporary spike in radiation levels.
Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear agency, has said that the Aug. 8 accident occurred during a rocket test on a sea platform in the White Sea, killing at least five and injuring three more.
It has pledged to keep developing new weapons regardless, portraying the men who died in the test as heroes.
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter on Monday the United States was “learning much” from the explosion which he suggested happened during the testing of a nuclear-powered cruise missile vaunted by President Vladimir Putin last year.
Russia, which has said the missile will have an “unlimited range” and be able to overcome any defences, calls the missile the 9M730 Burevestnik (Storm Petrel). The NATO alliance has designated it the SSC-X-9 Skyfall.
A senior Trump administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity on Tuesday, said Washington was not prepared to say at this point whether it was a nuclear explosion but believed it did involve radioactive elements.
The official said the explosion could represent a potentially significant setback to the Russian programme although it remained unclear whether it was caused by a launching failure.
Trump had said on Twitter that the United States had “similar, though more advanced, technology” and said Russians were worried about the air quality around the facility and far beyond, a situation he described as “Not good!”
But when asked about his comments on Tuesday, the Kremlin said it, not the United States, was out in front when it came to developing new nuclear weapons.
“Our president has repeatedly said that Russian engineering in this sector significantly outstrips the level that other countries have managed to reach for the moment, and it is fairly unique,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Putin used his state-of-the nation speech in 2018 to unveil what he described as a raft of invincible new nuclear weapons, including a nuclear-powered cruise missile, an underwater nuclear-powered drone, and a laser weapon.
Tensions between Moscow and Washington over arms control have been exacerbated by the demise this month of a landmark nuclear treaty. Russia says it is also concerned that another landmark arms control treaty will soon expire. In a sign of how serious the situation in the accident area remains, Russian news agencies cited authorities as advising residents of the nearby village of Nyonoksa to briefly leave while clear-up work was being carried out. That recommendation was later rescinded, the same news agencies reported. Russia’s state weather service also said on Tuesday that radiation levels in the nearby city of Severodvinsk had spiked by up to 16 times last Thursday, while medics who treated victims of the accident have been sent to Moscow for a medical examination, the TASS news agency reported. It said the medics had signed non-disclosure agreements about the nature of the accident. (Source: Reuters)
14 Aug 19. Preparing for a new Australian Defence Force Posture Review. Opposition defence spokesperson Richard Marles used the election to commit the ALP to conducting a new Defence Force Posture Review – the first such review since 2012. As the regional balance of power continues to evolve and we prepare for a new Defence White Paper, perhaps it is time to take a renewed look at the nation’s force posture.
Australia as both a continent and a nation is unique in its position, enjoying relative geographic isolation from the flash points of global and regional conflagration of the 20th century. Blessed with unrivalled resource wealth and industrial potential, the nation has been able to embrace vastly different approaches to the nation’s strategic role and responsibilities.
However, the growing conventional and hybrid capabilities of peer and near-peer competitors – namely Russia and China – combined with the growing modernisation, capability enhancements and reorganisation of force structures in the armies of nations, including India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, all contribute to the changing nature of contemporary warfare.
Modern warfare has rapidly evolved over the last three decades, from high-tempo, manoeuvre-based operations that leveraged the combined capabilities of air, sea, land and space forces to direct troops, equipment and firepower around the battlefield during the first Gulf War, to low-intensity humanitarian and peacekeeping operations in southern Europe and the south Pacific, and the eventual rise of asymmetrical, guerilla conflicts in the mountains of Afghanistan and streets of Iraq.
In responding to these challenges, the Australian government has initiated the largest peacetime modernisation recapitalisation of the Australian Defence Force with a record $200bn expected to be invested into developing next-generation military and industry capability. However, the rapidly evolving nature of the Indo-Pacific balance of power has prompted many within Australia’s strategic policy community to begin planning for the next Defence White Paper.
However, prior to the development stage of the Defence White Paper, a much needed review of Australia’s force posture is needed – this was identified by opposition defence spokesperson Richard Marles during the course of the recent federal election campaign: “The world looks different from when Australia’s last Force Posture Review was undertaken by the former Labor government in 2011-12. We now face the most challenging set of strategic circumstances since the Second World War.”
The lay of the land
Strategic policy thinkers, academics, Australian politicians and the public all have a role to play in the discussion to change the nation’s approach to defence policy. It is also important to recognise that while Australia’s defence expenditure looks set to increase to $38.7bn in 2019-20, the rapidly evolving strategic realities of the Indo-Pacific region will necessitate greater investment in the nation’s strategic capabilities.
As it stands, the personnel budget for the Australian Defence Force for 2018-19 is $11,776m, supporting 14,689 for the Royal Australian Navy; 14,295 for the Royal Australian Air Force; and 30,810 for the Australian Army – for a total ADF strength of 59,794 personnel. Additionally, the budget supports 16,393 within the Australian Public Service and 19,850 reservists.
In light of the relatively small numbers fielded by the ADF, the question about personnel numbers becomes an increasingly important one – with the key question becoming: as the Indo-Pacific becomes increasingly contested and Australia’s interests are challenged, is the ADF large enough to reliably execute the mission in a radically evolving geo-political and strategic order?
Dr Malcolm Davis of ASPI reinforced this, telling Defence Connect at the Avalon Airshow in late February, “The government aspiration of spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence is simply not enough any more. We need to look at planning our force structure, our capability requirements and spending on a number of factors, including allied strengths and potential adversarial capabilities, not arbitrary figures.
“It is time for us to throw open the debate about our force structure. It is time to ask what more do we need to do and what do we need to be capable of doing.”
Focusing on 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.
Hugh 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, thus limiting Australia’s capacity to assertively and proactively intervene to defend its own national interests should the nation’s larger allies become increasingly distracted and limited in their ability to do so.
White’s approach, like many others within the Australian strategic policy community, fails to adequately and appropriately articulate the very real geo-political, economic and strategic challenges facing the country – what they do focus on is ensuring that Australia’s strategic capability fits within the neat confines of agreed-upon force structure, capability development, manpower and acquisition models first developed during the mid-to-late 1980s.
This doctrine focuses largely on isolating Australia from any form of direct responsibility or role within the Indo-Pacific, entrenching further dependence on larger great powers for key capabilities and support despite their own unique tactical and strategic responsibilities. It is important to recognise that while Australia does comparatively “punch above its weight”, the nation has since the end of the 1990s continued to reduce its capability to actively and assertively project sustainable, tactical and strategic presence in the Indo-Pacific, thus limiting Australia’s capacity to act independently.
Former SASR officer turned government MP and chair of the influential parliamentary intelligence and security committee Andrew Hastie has in recent days reinforced the nation’s need to focus on dictating its long-term future, developing and implementing a cohesive plan outlining direction and an end goal of reinventing itself, and its position within the rapidly evolving regional and global order, lest potential adversaries begin dictating those terms of engagement for us:
“Right now our greatest vulnerability lies not in our infrastructure but in our thinking. That intellectual failure makes us institutionally weak. If we don’t understand the challenge ahead for our civil society, in our parliaments, in our universities, in our private enterprises, in our charities – our little platoons – then choices will be made for us. Our sovereignty, our freedoms, will be diminished.”
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 chokepoints of south-east Asia annually.
For Australia, a nation defined by this 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 geopolitical, economic and strategic interests, places the nation at the centre of the 21st century’s “great game”.
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)
14 Aug 19. Further Chinese crackdown in Hong Kong sends renewed warning to region. With the People’s Liberation Army massing on the border of Hong Kong and a series of renewed pro-democracy riots, the message to the Indo-Pacific is becoming clearer by the day: China will stop at nothing to enhance its hold on locations, peoples and resources the nation deems are in its “national interest”.
Like every ascendent economic, political and strategic power, China has used its period of rapid industrialisation and economic expansion to begin establishing its position within the broader global context – fuelled by a long memory of a “century of humiliation” at the hands of Western imperialism, finally ending with the successful Communist Revolution in 1949, China and its political leaders have dedicated the nation to establishing a new era of Chinese global primacy.
As China’s position within the global order has evolved and its ambitions towards the Indo-Pacific, in particular, have become increasingly apparent, the Chinese government, driven by an extremely ambitious leader, President Xi Jinping, has identified a number of factors of both “internal” and “external” concern for the rising superpower’s status.
These “concerns” extend to traditional areas of Chinese focus, namely, central Asia, Tibet and the Taiwan situation, and have now seemingly spread to Hong Kong as dissent continues to grow and nearly 200,0000 military police have been deployed to the border. This commitment to resolve “internal” matters through either the threat of or the use of force, combined with China’s insistence on unilaterally defined “national interests” being internal matters, casts an ever-growing shadow of concern for many nations throughout the Indo-Pacific.
Concerningly, China’s continued recalcitrance towards foreign concerns about the use of force and the threat of force, combined with the seemingly sensitive nature of the Chinese Communist Party to external criticism, either from corporate entities, like luxury goods companies Swarovski and Coach, serves as a unique conundrum for the rising superpower while raising some troubling questions for nations throughout the region.
This confluence of issues was further exacerbated following a statement released by the Chinese state-owned Global Times, which stated: “If Hong Kong rioters cannot read the signal of having armed police gathering in Shenzhen, then they are asking for self-destruction.”
Thrashing against this seeming sensitive nature, China has been quick to highlight its focus on a number of “internal” security challenges that directly impact the rising superpower’s sovereignty, security and therefore directly impact the continuing economic development of the nation – despite the “domestic” nature of these national security issues, they have nevertheless drawn international condemnation.
This reinvigorated, seemingly aggressive posture was identified in the Chinese government’s new Defence White Paper, “China’s National Defense in the New Era”, which focuses on securing China’s growing designs and ambitions for the Indo-Pacific, with a focus on securing China’s sovereignty, economic and territorial ambitions in the region – posing important questions for Australia to consider moving forward.
Questions for Australia
China’s insistence on maintaining its “peaceful rise” is seemingly contradicted by its willingness to declare any area of economic, political or strategic interest a part of China, and nowhere is this more evident than in the South China Sea – placing the rising superpower’s ambitions in direct conflict with the post-Second World War economic, political and strategic order established by the US and supported by a number of established regional powers, including Japan, Australia and South Korea.
Despite Australia’s enduring commitment to the Australia-US alliance, serious questions remain for Australia in the new world order of President Donald Trump’s America, as a number of allies have been targeted by the maverick President for relying on the US for their security against larger state-based actors, which has seen the President actively pressuring key allies, particularly NATO allies, to renegotiate the deals.
Enhancing Australia’s capacity to act as an independent power, incorporating great power-style strategic economic, diplomatic and military capability serves, 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. However, as events continue to unfold throughout the region and China continues to throw its economic, political and strategic weight around, can Australia afford to remain a secondary power or does it need to embrace a larger, more independent role in an era of increasing great power competition? (Source: Defence Connect)
13 Aug 19. China’s Army May Miss Some of Its Modernization Goals. The PLA’s modernization schedule is more than symbolically tied to President Xi Jinping’s goals for the “Two Centenaries” (两个一百年). (The 2021 centenary marks the 100th anniversary of the Party’s founding; the second, in 2049, will mark the hundredth birthday of the People’s Republic of China itself.) A more capable PLA is a fundamental part of Xi’s “China Dream” (中国梦), a wide-ranging development and modernization ambition for the Chinese nation.
By next year — a deadline first laid out publicly in the 2008 Defense White Paper — the PLA is meant to have achieved basic mechanization (机械化) and made progress towards informationization (信息化). The PLA has never made public what exactly it means by either term, but the former is broadly understood to address modernizing equipment inventories, while the latter addresses the widespread adoption of digital systems in a networked environment. Taken together, they show how the PLAhas been racing to catch up with other major militaries, particularly the United States, in equipment and operational prowess.
In 2017, Xi appeared to announce that the PLA had already achieved mechanization and had made rapid progress towards informationization. Yet the authors of the white paper write that the PLA has achieved good progress, but “has yet to complete the task of mechanization, and is in urgent need of improving its informationization.” In fact, an examination of known information suggests that, particularly with regard to mechanization, Xi’s rhetorical flourish appears overly optimistic and the white paper’s caution perhaps overly pessimistic.
The PLA Army proper — that is, the ground forces — remains the service most likely to fail to meet the 2020 objectives. The most recent reorganization has shrunk the Army to fewer than one million personnel, still twice as many active-duty troops as the U.S. Army. Equipping such a force with modern equipment is an enormous undertaking. It is an even greater challenge given that the navy, air force, and rocket forces are receiving priority over the army for their own ambitious programs.
While the Army has ambitions to standardize its equipment across its newly restructured combined arms brigades, with heavy, medium, and light roles redolent of the U.S. brigade combat team structure, many formations still depend on older platforms and systems. This “partial mechanization” of the army has long been seen as a major complication in the PLA’s pursuit of informationization.
The Army has about 5,800 main battle tanks in service, according to the IISS Military Balance+ database but only around 60% are based on relatively modern designs such as the ZTZ-96 and ZTZ-99. Around 2,000 are based on the obsolescent ZTZ-59, a license-built version of the Soviet T-54. Only one or maybe two brigades currently operate the Type-15 (ZTQ-15) light tank mentioned by the white paper. For other armored vehicles, the picture is worse: Only about 20 of the roughly 50 heavy and medium combined arms brigades (excluding amphibious formations) are currently equipped with the latest tracked (ZBD-04/-04A) or wheeled (ZBL-08) infantry fighting vehicles.
In short, replacing the PLA Army’s older vehicles – presumably a key component of true mechanization – would require thousands of new armored vehicles and artillery pieces over the next two years. This is highly unlikely, even if army modernization received a higher priority. Chances are better that a bare majority of the Army’s armored vehicles, artillery and air-defense systems will be modern by 2020.
While such a result might be less politically palatable than full modernization, it is important to remember that even a partially modernized PLA Army still represents an impressive capability. Even the 20 brigades that operate the ZBD-04 and ZBL-08 already outnumber the active duty U.S. Army’s 17 Armored and Stryker Brigade Combat Teams. Meanwhile, China’s neighbors, such as India, Russia and Taiwan, are all have their own problems of ground-forces modernization.
Given that the PLA Navy and PLA Air Force in particular are much further ahead than the army in terms of equipment modernization, the 2020 deadlines may represent more of a presentational concern than a practical one for the PLA. (Source: Defense One)
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