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20 Sep 19. Facing Iran, Saudi Arabia still owes US $181m for Yemen refueling. The Pentagon was set to outline new military options to President Donald Trump on Friday to respond to an attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry, but Riyadh still has an unpaid bill with the Pentagon for $181m over assistance in Yemen.
Despite the Trump administration’s emphasis on the U.S.-Saudi alliance in the wake of an attack that both sides attribute to Iran, Saudi Arabia has not repaid the Pentagon for its midair refueling assistance for its bombing runs over Yemen, nine months after the Pentagon announced it would seek to recoup its costs.
Amid questions about whether it was the responsibility of the Saudis to defend themselves, Trump ― known for his perennial focus on burden-sharing in security arrangements ― told reporters on Monday that Saudi Arabia would play a large role. He emphasized that Riyadh has been a “great ally” for its investments in the U.S., saying: “Saudi Arabia pays cash.”
Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday that as the U.S. builds a regional coalition to face Iran, America will not shoulder the costs by itself. “We’re also working on the cost of this whole endeavor, and Saudi Arabia has been very generous,” Trump said.
The unpaid bill for refueling contrasts with those comments, and it is already inflaming U.S. lawmakers, many of whom are frustrated with Riyadh’s alleged involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the Yemen war’s civilian toll.
“Saudi failure to reimburse us for aircraft refueling — hundreds of ms in taxpayer dollars — involves both deep insult and costly injury. It is entirely unacceptable that the Saudis have not reimbursed the Department of Defense for hundreds of millions in refueling costs,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said in a statement. “The American taxpayer-funded U.S. Department of Defense is not the Saudi Royal Family’s piggy bank.”
Inquiries from Blumenthal and Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jack Reed, D-R.I., prompted the Pentagon to announce in December that it would seek to recoup the money it failed to charge the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia for aid for the midair refueling ― which Riyadh ended in 2018.
The original balance due was since revised from $331m to $291m, and the Pentagon has separately recouped $118m from the UAE, but Saudi Arabia has not repaid the United States, according to congressional sources. Blumenthal is pressing for language in the annual defense policy bill to require the Pentagon regularly update Congress on the matter.
It’s unclear why Saudi Arabia has not made the payments. The Saudi Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Pentagon spokeswoman Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich declined to provide the specifics of its collection efforts on Thursday, but confirmed that “the process of reimbursement is continuing, and we continue to expect full reimbursement of refueling expenses.”
Becca Wasser, a senior policy analyst at the think tank Rand, said Saudi Arabia has an interest in being on Congress’ good side, especially as it may seek to buy American counter-drone weapons or augment its arsenal of Patriot missile defense systems, which are produced by American defense contractor Raytheon.
“Saudi Arabia learned about the importance of the U.S. Congress the hard way, as a result of the war in Yemen and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” Wasser said. “With Saudi Arabia at risk of future attacks, they would want to make sure they don’t have any issues looming over their military relationships.
“You don’t want to want to have a bill with the Department of Defense at the same time you are asking for additional things from the Department of Defense.”
Trump was scheduled to have a meeting Friday to consider a list of potential airstrike targets inside Iran, according to U.S. officials familiar with the planned discussions. He will also be warned that military action against the Islamic Republic could escalate into war, the U.S. officials told The Associated Press. Iran has denied involvement in the attack on Saudi oil infrastructure and warned the U.S. that any attack on it will spark an “all-out war” with immediate retaliation.
Critics in Congress says the president should not lead the country into an unnecessary conflict with Iran to protect Saudi Arabian oil. Tim Kaine, D-Va., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, pledged to file a war powers resolution to force a Senate vote to immediately end any such military action.
The Pentagon said the U.S. military is working with Saudi Arabia to find ways to better protect the northern part of the country. Meanwhile, a forensic team from U.S. Central Command is pouring over cruise missile and drone debris in search of hard evidence that the strikes came from Iran, but the Pentagon said the assessment is not complete. (Source: Defense News)
22 Sep 19. UAE joins naval security coalition in the Gulf. The United Arab Emirates has joined an intentional maritime security coalition to “deter threats to maritime navigation and global trade” in the Arabian Gulf and surrounding waterways, the country’s official news agency reported Thursday.
The UAE joins four other members of the International Maritime Security Construct — the United Kingdom, Australia, Bahrain and the United States. The alliance was set up to protect the interests of its members and their merchant ships when passing through maritime corridors, the Emirates News Agency explains. Its area of operation covers the Strait of Hormuz, Bab Al Mandab, the Sea of Oman and the Arabian Gulf.
The U.S. has maintained a position of defending freedom of navigation in international waters. In mid-June, a Norwegian and a Japanese tanker were attacked near the Strait of Hormuz. The U.S. blames Iran for both events. Iran denied involvement.
“If the Iranians come after U.S. citizens, U.S. assets or U.S. military, we reserve the right to respond with a military action. They need to know that, it needs to be very clear,” U.S. Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at a roundtable in June.
But Selva also called for an international response.
“I think there is a military role in defending freedom of navigation,” he said. “The question will be to what extent the international community is behind that effort.” (Source: Defense News)
19 Sep 19. Government report reveals Pakistan’s progress on military acquisitions amid financial woes. Despite its economic challenges, Pakistan has maintained progress on critical modernization programs to strengthen its conventional military forces, according to a recently revealed government document.
Spiraling debt and rising cost of imports along with low government revenue hit military modernization efforts hard. That, combined with an economic restructuring imposed by the International Monetary Fund as well as currency devaluation, increased the need for indigenous solutions.
Details of ongoing development, the replacement of foreign equipment as well as acquisition programs were recently released by the Ministry of Defence Production in its “Year Book 2017-18” document. The ministry oversees all aspects of state-owned military industrial enterprises, indigenous development programs and foreign acquisition.
The document highlights the prioritization of armored platforms and air power.
Efforts toward improving armored capabilities include finding substitutions to component imports and indigenous development, specifically:
- The manufacturing of auxiliary power units for the Al-Zarrar and T-80UD tanks.
- The development and trials of a sabot FSDS-T round.
- The development of a driver’s thermal imaging/night vision periscope.
- The assembly of engines for the Al-Khalid and T-80UD tanks.
- The rebuilding and upgrading of 160 Type-85IIAP main battle tanks between 2019-2020 and 2021-2022.
- A pilot effort to rebuild T-80UDs (completed in August 2019).
- The continued rebuilding of M113-series armored personnel carriers.
- The continued upgrade of Type-59 main battle tanks to the Al-Zarrar version.
- The low-rate production of 20 Al-Khalid I tanks, plus the final-stage development of the Al-Khalid II (featuring an enhanced power pack and fire-control/gun-control system).
A program for a tracked infantry fighting vehicle, or IFV, was also mentioned in the ministry’s document. State-owned armored fighting vehicle manufacturer HIT developed the Viper to meet this need. The static prototype was displayed at the IDEAS2018 defense expo. The platform was based on the M113 series, but was armed with a Slovak Turra 30 unmanned turret.
At IDEAS2018, China North Industries Group Corp., or NORINCO, told Defense News that its VT-4 main battle tank had essentially been selected to meet Pakistan’s requirement, but no deal has been signed.
Meanwhile, Pakistan bolstered its infantry anti-tank capabilities by purchasing Kornet-E anti-tank guided missiles (a Russian-made weapon) and Spanish Alcotán-100 shoulder-fired anti-tank rockets. However, financial expenditure information in the ministry’s document did not list acquisitions from Russia, indicating the Kornet-E may have come from an alternative source.
Author, analyst and former defense attaché to Islamabad Brian Cloughley told Defense News that emphasis on heavy armor indicates Pakistan’s “preparedness for conventional war, and it seems that the riposte is alive and being refined in direct answer to India’s overwhelming numerical superiority.”
Cloughley said the government may have realized the use of tactical nuclear weapons would spark an uncontrollable escalation, and so it is focusing on other capabilities. However, “this by no means indicates that tactical nuclear [surface-to-surface missiles] are not a most important asset — simply that Pakistan has been considering all options and appears to have concluded it had better maintain and develop conventional forces, concentrating on armor,” he added.
Defense from above
Air power developments discussed in the ministry’s document primarily center on the JF-17 fighter program. A deal was signed for the twin-seat and advanced Block III variants in May 2018.
However, improvements to the preceding versions are ongoing, notably air-to-air refueling modification and the acquisition of Chinese CM-400AKG supersonic anti-ship missiles to strengthen seaward defenses.
Author, analyst and former Pakistan Air Force pilot Kaiser Tufail pointed to these efforts as significant for the military.
“Speed confers not only a higher kill probability on an anti-ship missile due to greater momentum on impact; it also enhances its own survivability against close-in weapons that are fired against it. Thus, a supersonic missile like the CM-400AKG is definitely an improvement over the subsonic predecessors,” he said.
“A flight of JF-17s configured with a single missile each, along with underwing drop tanks, offer sufficient range to keep any hostile surface task force at bay,” he added.
Newer air-to-air missiles are reportedly being integrated, but when asked to comment on the possibility that more advanced standoff weaponry may follow, Tufail said: “Standoff bombing is the new attack norm, as demonstrated by the [Feb. 27] riposte by [the Pakistan Air Force] in reply to [the Indian Air Force’s] unsuccessful attempt a day earlier. Bombs like the GB-6 K/YBS500, REK Mark 82/83/84 and H-4 will, therefore, be commonplace weapons in any future conflict.”
He also highlighted increased JF-17 production, “from 16 aircraft per year to 24,” which he said will likely continue as the the active electronically scanned array radar-equipped Block III in produced, especially if there’s an increase in exports.
Improvements to existing JF-17s, such as the “retrofit of AESA radars on existing Block I and II JF-17s could take place later, once the priority Block III orders have been completed,” he added.
The Ministry of Defence Production’s report also mentioned the manufacturing of components for an “Al-Rasub” (the name of a sword of the Prophet Muhammad, implying it could be a weapon). However, no source approached by Defense News for clarification could or would comment.
The development of drones by the Aviation Design Institute and of the Project AZM fifth-generation fighter were also mentioned in the report.
A medium-altitude, long-endurance UAV program was previously under discussion, according to industry officials, but the head of UAV-manufacturer Integrated Dynamics, Raja Khan, was unable to shed light on whether the drone development mentioned in the report and slated to have flown by June 2019 was related.
The report said the first “conceptual design phase” cycle for Project AZM is complete, and the first configuration “will go through three more cycles within the conceptual design using higher fidelity analysis tools and codes.” While some speculate the country might work with Turkey on the project, there is no mention of a foreign partner in the report.
Justin Bronk, an aerospace expert with the Royal United Services Institute think tanks, said there is effectively only one option for a foreign partnership.
“I’d assess that neither Pakistan nor, indeed, Turkey have the necessary domestic industrial capabilities to design and manufacture a true fifth-generation fighter for the foreseeable future,” he said. “With that in mind, Pakistan’s fifth-generation ambitions will have to de facto be met by Chinese technology, even if at least partly manufactured in Pakistan.” (Source: Defense News)
18 Sep 19. Saudi Arabia Displays Recovered Drones and Missiles, Points to Iran. Saudi Arabia on Wednesday displayed the burned remnants of what it said were cruise missiles and drones used in a major attack against oil infrastructure earlier this month. It said a total of 25 drones and missiles were fired at two oil plants. Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said the recovered weapons included Iranian Delta Wing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and “Ya Ali” cruise missiles.
“The attack was launched from the north and unquestionably sponsored by Iran,” he told a news conference. “The evidence … that you have seen in front of you makes this undeniable.”
The attack, which severely reduced Saudi Arabia’s oil output, was claimed by the Houthi rebel group in Yemen, an Iranian-backed force that is battling a Saudi-backed coalition for control of the country.
The Saudis claim they identified 25 drones and cruise missiles.
Saudi Arabia’s Malki said the attack could not have originated in Yemen, saying the Houthi movement was “covering up” for Iran.
A spokesman for the Iranian president said the Saudis were misguided in their claims.
“The press conference proved that Saudi Arabia knows nothing about where the missiles and drones were made or launched from and failed to explain why the country’s defense system failed to intercept them,” Hesameddin Ashena said on Twitter.
The de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, said the attack was a “real test” of global will, state media reported on Wednesday. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held talks with the Saudis later on Wednesday, after US President Donald Trump vowed further sanctions against Iran. The US supports Saudi Arabia in its claims that the attacks came from Iran or its proxies. After Saudi Arabia unveiled its findings, Pompeo stepped up these assertions. “This was an Iranian attack,” he told reporters on his plane before landing in the western city of Jeddah, calling it “an act of war.” (Source: defense-aerospace.com/Deutsche Welle German radio)
18 Sep 19. U.S., Turkey Cooperate in Defeat-ISIS Effort. In late August, the U.S. and Turkish militaries agreed to a framework that outlines a security mechanism along the Turkey-Syria border to prevent a resurgence of the ISIS terrorist group and maintain a continued fight against it.
Christopher P. Maier, director of the Defeat-ISIS task force, spoke to reporters this morning about the security mechanism. Published reports say U.S. and Turkish forces began joint patrols in northeastern Syria to ease tensions between Turkey and U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in defeating ISIS.
“Following the development of this framework, we’ve expeditiously continued to put in place key tenets of this agreement,” Maier said.
With activities occurring in Syria and Turkey, the security mechanism continues with a number of combined operations between the U.S. and Turkish militaries, he noted:
- The United States established a fully operational combined joint operations center in southern Turkey. The center is responsible for daily planning and coordination to implement the security mechanism.
- The major elements of the security mechanism now in place involve the removal of Kurdish militia fortifications, which is being done in conjunction with the Syrian Democratic Forces on the Syrian side of the border. This address the Turkish security concerns, Maier said, and demonstrates the SDF commitment to the implementation.
- U.S. and Turkish military are operating in a combined fashion with helicopter overflights and ground patrols.
The United States is executing these combined joint patrols within a few weeks of the start of this mechanism, which is viewed as a significant development in the implementation, training and preparation for future ground and aerial patrols into the security mechanism, Maier noted.
“[We’re] focused on the refugee issue as a longer-term element of the security mechanism,” he said. The U.S. position continues to be safe, voluntary and dignified -refugee returns, he said. “Obviously, this will be the U.N. and other [nongovernmental organizations] helping facilitate this as we work in conjunction with Turkey and our partners in Syria,” he added.
Maier said it’s important to know all the security mechanism elements help support the continued fight against ISIS. With major combat operations now completed in Syria and Iraq, the transition is underway to continue to build those capabilities in the local security force that can deal with continued clandestine threats from ISIS.
The United States and Turkey have focused initially on an area from Tell Abyad to Ras al-Ayn along the border, he said. “The depth is really something that continues to be specific to the actual activities we’re doing, … [so] when we’re doing aerial reconnaissance, it will go certain depths based on how the mission planning is.”
The United States has committed to help ensure the removal of the Kurdish militia elements and, as possible, ensure that doesn’t result in a security vacuum, Maier said. “Our assessment is that there are other security forces there that are local … that would be part of an enduring security force, understanding that that may ultimately result in needing more forces that we would work with Turkey and others to address,” he added.
“Our overwhelming focus remains the defeat of ISIS — the enduring defeat of ISIS and working by, with and through the SDF to achieve that,” Maier said.
19 Sep 19. It’s time for Australia to recognise the real threat, outgoing spy chief warns. Duncan Lewis, outgoing director general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), has identified what he believes is the most serious threat to Australia, and it’s not extremist terrorism or foreign invasion.
Lewis told a Lowy Institute Forum late last week that he sees the three biggest challenges for Australia’s security as foreign interference and espionage, extremist terrorism, and cyber security, and identified the former as the nation’s biggest threat.
“It’s my view that currently, the issue of espionage and foreign interference is by far and away the most serious issue going forward,” the retiring director general said.
“Terrorism has never been an existential threat to established states – for weaker states, yes, but for a place like Australia terrorism is not an existential threat to the state. It is a terrible risk that our populations run and it is a very serious matter which must be addressed every day: the counter-espionage and foreign interference issue, however, is something which is ultimately an existential threat to the state.”
Foreign interference is a global issue that has reared its ugly head in the Western world in recent times, and was specifically identified as an area of concern in the federal government’s 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper.
“The government is concerned about growing attempts by foreign governments or their proxies to exert inappropriate influence on and to undermine Australia’s sovereign institutions and decision-making,” the White Paper said.
“Such attempts at foreign interference are part of a wider global trend that has affected other democracies. Foreign interference aims to shape the actions of decision-makers and public opinion to achieve an outcome favourable to foreign interests.”
Earlier this year, Federal Parliament’s computer network was the subject of a significant cyber breach, with politicians forced to change their passwords as a result of the attack.
“ASD and its Australian Cyber Security Centre will continue to work with DPS to understand the full extent of this network compromise. Meanwhile, the necessary steps are being taken to mitigate the compromise and prevent any harm,” ASD said at the time.
“At this early stage our immediate focus is on securing the network and protecting its users. Proper and accurate attribution of a cyber incident takes time.”
It’s a matter that is making waves not just in national security, but in our education systems, with the government announcing last month it would be conducting formal investigations into foreign interference in Australian universities, which has become more apparent following pro-democracy protests in support of Hong Kong.
It is believed that China was behind a massive hack on the Australian National University’s computer database last year, with the personal information of 200,000 students and staff stolen.
While Lewis never specifically mentioned China in his address to the Lowy Institute Forum, it is clear that state-sponsored hacking from the rising superpower is of great concern to the Western world.
“It is emerging every day, new information about how we are threatened … by the cyber vector,” Lewis said.
“And I think that, as we have those discussions, it is necessary to have a look at capabilities such as the Australian Signals Directorate to see whether it can inform, or assist, or be deployed in the extreme in protecting Australians.”
The outgoing ASIO boss also noted that it is important to conduct counter-measures to foreign interference in a diplomatic manner.
“You can very quickly get to the point where you can vilify the many for the actions of the few … in the counter-espionage and foreign interference space, one needs to be careful that we don’t vilify some of our minority communities here, who are doing wonderful work, and are great Australians,” he said.
“I think getting this balance between zeroing in on those who would wish us harm but at the same time not vilifying the rest of their demographic or their community is very important.”
While Lewis noted that he believed foreign interference was the greatest threat to Australia’s security, he also noted that the risk of extremist terrorism was “unacceptably high”, but the threat had “plateaued”, compared with the rapidly growing threats of cyber security and foreign espionage. (Source: Defence Connect)
19 Sep 19. How far is too far? Australia’s conundrum with China. Reports emerged this week revealing the Australian Signals Directorate determined that China’s Ministry of State Security was behind the cyber attack on Australian Parliament earlier this year, which the federal government decided to keep quiet in order to protect trade relations with Beijing.
The question then needs to be asked…
If state-supported cyber attacks against Federal Parliament, just before the election, doesn’t justify push back against China, what will?
Dr Malcolm Davis, senior analyst at Australian Strategic Policy Institute, is of the opinion that Australia needs to react strongly to the attack, including publicly accusing China of being responsible for the breach.
“I think we need to hold them to task, and we need to do it publicly,” Davis told Defence Connect.
“The moment we start pulling our punches for fear of angering Beijing is the moment they win. We’ve pulled our punches too often in the past where we haven’t brought attention to what China is doing, and that has to stop, because if we don’t bring attention to it, we weaken ourselves needlessly.”
Public accusations levelled at China for the cyber attacks would create a “very real prospect of damaging the economy”, according to one of the sources that blew the whistle on the ASD’s reported findings.
But pandering to China for fear of economic windfall is not a game Parliament should play, according to Davis.
“I think they’ve gone a fair way already. A cyber attack on Australian Parliament and key political parties, by the state of China, not just some hacker in Beijing or Shanghai, is certainly not a friendly act,” Davis said.
“They have gone a fair distance already, and I think Australia has to decide how they push back. They certainly should push back.”
Davis conceded that while it’s unlikely the Morrison government would publicly accuse China of conducting the attack, it may have sent a confidential “cease and desist” type of message to Beijing, with the acknowledgement that they are aware that it was they who were responsible.
“Whether China pays attention to that cease and desist is another issue altogether.”
Davis also suggested that Australia, and the ASD, should aim to strengthen their cyber defences alongside the USA, to ensure such an attack is harder to conduct.
While the findings of Beijing’s culpability haven’t been made official, the reports of China’s involvement was provided by five sources with “direct knowledge of the findings”.
But with the ASD suggesting after the attack that the breach would have had to have been conducted by a foreign power, due to the strength of cyber defences Parliament has had in place for the better part of the decade, it’s a small list of countries with the capability to conduct such an operation, and the list grows smaller when considering which of those nations would have the motive to commit the action.
Just over a fortnight ago, the outgoing director general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Duncan Lewis, issued a stern warning to the country, noting foreign interference as the biggest threat to our shores.
“It’s my view that currently, the issue of espionage and foreign interference is by far and away the most serious issue going forward,” the retiring director general said.
“Terrorism has never been an existential threat to established states – for weaker states, yes, but for a place like Australia, terrorism is not an existential threat to the state. It is a terrible risk that our populations run and it is a very serious matter which must be addressed every day: the counter-espionage and foreign interference issue, however, is something which is ultimately an existential threat to the state.”
Davis told Defence Connect that he strongly agrees with Lewis’ warnings to Australia, noting that the public should be wary that the real threat to our nation is the interference in our democratic process, and not terrorism.
Foreign interference is also a clearly recognised issue by Parliament, as shown in their own words in the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper.
“The government is concerned about growing attempts by foreign governments or their proxies to exert inappropriate influence on and to undermine Australia’s sovereign institutions and decision-making,” the Foreign Policy White Paper reads.
“Such attempts at foreign interference are part of a wider global trend that has affected other democracies. Foreign interference aims to shape the actions of decision-makers and public opinion to achieve an outcome favourable to foreign interests.
“Likewise, ensuring Australia’s business interests and intellectual property are not subject to theft through espionage is important to our national interests. The government endeavours to prevent state-sponsored actions that harm our economic and commercial interests.”
So, with such a “strong” stance on foreign interference, at what point does our relationship sour with China after such actions?
It undoubtedly puts the federal government in a difficult position, with the stranglehold China has on our economy as our largest trading partner.
China also categorically denied the accusations, providing a statement to Australian media that “the Chinese government resolutely opposes and combats any form of cyber attacks according to law”, and “urged some people not to spill dirty water in China in everything they encounter and not to be keen on making false news for the sake of sensationalism and eye catching”.
It’s a complicated position for Australia, very much a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario. However, it’s cause for concern if the government lets China “get away with it”, because it only welcomes further negative interactions as Beijing figures out where the nation’s leaders draw the line. (Source: Defence Connect)
18 Sep 19. Growing concern about affordability of expanded US bomber fleet paves way for Allied participation. With the US Air Force preparing to reveal its next-generation B-21 Raider bomber, calls for a larger force – numbering between 150 and 200, if not more of the new aircraft – will stretch even the US purse strings, with the head of Global Strike Command, General Timothy Ray making thinly veiled references to the importance of Allied bombers in sharing the strategic bomber burden.
Long-range strike – typically conducted by strategic bombers and tactical strike bombers or smaller fighters supported by air-to-air refuelling and airborne early warning and command aircraft – serves as a complementary doctrine to air dominance, with each serving a unique yet symbiotic role in the survivability and effectiveness of tactical units and the broader strategic deterrence.
For Australia, the retirement of the F-111 platform, combined with the limited availability of the Navy’s Collins Class submarines, left the nation at a strategic and tactical disadvantage, limiting the nation’s ability to successfully intercept and prosecute major strategic strikes against air, land and sea targets that threatened the nation or its interests in the sea-air gap, as defined in the 1986 Dibb review.
While the acquisition of the Super Hornets in the mid-to-late 2000s and the acquisition of the fifth-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to fulfill a niche, low-observable limited strike role have both served as a partial stop-gap for that lost capability, the nation has not successfully replaced the capability gap left by the F-111.
Additionally, there were recent announcements about Australia’s pursuit of an advanced remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS) as part of the AIR 7003 program and the advent of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System – designed by Boeing in collaboration with Defence Science and Technology – to enhance the air combat and strike capabilities of the Royal Australian Air Force.
The acquisition of the Reaper-based RPAS, MQ-4C Triton and development of the fighter-like Boeing Airpower Teaming System all serve niche roles as part of a broader and increasingly complex air dominance, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and close-air support strike mix –neglecting the critical long-range strike capabilities once filled by the F-111.
Australia is not the only nation facing a growing shortfall in its long-range aerial strike capabilities as the Cold War-era fleet of American strategic bombers, namely the B-1 Lancer, the B-52 Stratofortress and B-2 Spirit all entering the realm of obsolescence despite years of modernisation and upgrades – further compounding the survivability of these platforms is the advent of advanced Russian and Chinese air defence systems.
In response, the US Air Force and industry partner Northrop Grumman have initiated the B-21 Raider program to replace the ageing strategic bomber fleet of the US Air Force with a focus on responding to the rise of these advanced integrated air defence systems. Like it’s immediate predecessor, the B-21 is designed to be a low observable, penetrating strategic bomber capable of a prompt conventional or nuclear global response.
The Eagle’s talons
In recent decades, even the US has had to face significant cuts to its military expenditure across research and development, acquisition, sustainment and modernisation, and the new B-21 program is no exception, as the US Air Force has steadily increased the planned number of airframes to be acquired, the cost has equally risen, placing increased pressure on existing and future acquisition programs.
The US Air Force currently has plans to acquire one hundred B-21s to operate in conjunction with a fleet of 75 B-52s that will be modernised. However, as the Air Force surges towards an ambitious plan to field 386 squadrons, up 75 from its current strength, will translate to an increased fleet of B-21 aircraft, with additional strategic experts in the US calling for a larger fleet of between 50 and 75 additional Raiders.
This growing number of new, costly platforms has drawn the attention of the head of the US Air Force’s Global Strike Command, General Timothy Ray, who has made thinly veiled comments about America’s allies, raising questions about the potential for allied participation in the B-21 Raider program to ease the economic and strategic burden on the US. “Only the United States flies or builds bombers among its allies and partners. The last foreign squadron retired in 1984,” he said.
Avenues for allied collaboration
The precedent already established by the collaboration between Defence Science and Technology and Boeing on the development of the “loyal wingman” concept provides avenues for Australia to partner with defence industry primes and global allies to develop a long-range, unmanned, low observable strike platform with a payload capacity similar to, or indeed greater than, the approximately 15-tonne payload of the retired F-111.
The US has developed increasingly capable long-range, low observable unmanned platforms, including the Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel; the highly secretive Northrop Grumman RQ-180 high-altitude, long-endurance, low observable intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft; and Northrop Grumman’s X-47 series of carrier-based, low observable strike platform.
Meanwhile, BAE Systems has successfully developed and tested the Taranis unmanned platform at the Woomera Test Range as a proof of concept for future collaboration and development – each of these individual platforms provide a unique opportunity for Australia to collaborate with a global industry prime and a global ally to fill a critical capability gap for each of the respective forces.
Such a capability would also enjoy extensive export opportunities with key allies like the US and UK, who could operate the platform as a cost-effective replacement for larger bombers like the ageing B-52H Stratofortress, B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit, and complement the in-development B-21 Raider long-range strategic bomber – even drawing on a common airframe, avionics and engine suite to enhance interoperability while reducing supply chain challenges.
For the UK, the co-development and participation in such a system will fulfil a unique role – complementing the air-to-air and air-to-ground strike capabilities of the Eurofighter Typhoon and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as a low observable, long-range, heavy strike aircraft to counter the rapidly modernising bomber fleet of an increasingly resurgent and assertive Russia.
Similarly, Australia needs a credible, long-range strike option capable of replacing the lost capability of the F-111 to penetrate increasingly advanced and complex integrated air defence networks and anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) systems rapidly developing in the Indo-Pacific region.
The introduction of such a system could also support the development and eventual modernisation of the US B-21, which is being developed in response to the increasing air defence capabilities of both Russia and China, particularly the widespread introduction of the S-300 and S-400 integrated air and missile defence systems. (Source: Defence Connect)
18 Sep 19. Japan steps up rollout of A2/AD and amphibious brigade in southern island chain. As Japan’s program of military modernisation and recapitalisation reaches fever pitch, the regional power has sought to take a leaf out of China’s book, fielding a growing network of advanced anti-ship weapons batteries supported by rapid response, power projection amphibious units in the Ryuku Islands.
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, guerrilla conflicts in the mountains of Afghanistan and streets of Iraq.
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.
In particular, the advent and expansion of advanced, integrated anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) networks, particularly by the Chinese in the South China Sea, with an equally growing presence in the East China Sea, has sparked a flurry of response from the Abe government as the two Asian powers frequently clash in the region over freedom of navigation, territorial disputes and ambitions for the region.
Recognising the increasing confluence of challenges facing enduring US tactical and strategic primacy, the University of Sydney-based United States Studies Centre (USSC) has released a telling study, titled Averting Crisis: American strategy, military spending and collective defence in the Indo-Pacific, which makes a series of powerful recommendations for Australian and allied forces in the region.
As a result of the nation’s proximity to China and repeated provocations by the rising superpower in the East China and South China Seas, combined with the increasing capability of the People’s Liberation Army and its respective branches, the Japanese government under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe embarked on a series of expansive modernisation, force posture and capability modernisation and acquisition programs.
Central to this is Japan’s recently approved acquisition of a fleet of 42 Lockheed Martin F-35B short take-off, vertical landing fighter aircraft and the subsequent modernisation and upgrade of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Izumo Class multipurpose amphibious warfare ships to serve as light aircraft carriers, in a similar fashion to the Lightning Carrier concept pioneered by the US Marine Corps.
Major surface units, amphibious capabilities and naval aviation will continue to play a key role
While much has been made about the growing capabilities of China’s seemingly impregnable A2/AD network rapidly developing throughout the Indo-Pacific, the USSC identifies the continued importance of major surface units and the power of interoperability between Australian naval units like the Hobart and Hunter Class vessels and Japan’s own growing fleet of Aegis-powered major surface combatants.
“The fact that Japan and Australia will have a combined total of 20 major surface combatants equipped with sophisticated Aegis missile defence systems will permit them to play a crucial warfighting role in degrading and blunting missile strikes against immobile allied targets. Major surface combatants from Australia and Japan could also play critical roles in facilitating and escorting coalition amphibious operations to reverse Chinese territorial gains, or providing missile defence for forces providing offensive operations,” the USSC report stated.
Enhancing this capability further is the introduction of the 2,100-strong Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade (ARDB) formally established in April last year with the capability to respond to potential attacks on remote islands around the East China Sea. The island fortress of Okinawa, home to both American and Japanese military forces is the linchpin of the Ryuku Islands and Japan’s renewed counter-punch to Chinese aggression in the region.
Providing tactical and strategic mobility, as well as integrated maritime fixed-wing aviation resources, is the Abe government’s commitment towards shifting the paradigm following continued Chinese naval build-up – particularly the growing capabilities of China’s aircraft carrier and amphibious warfare ship fleets.
Japan has initiated a range of modernisation and structural refits for the Izumo Class vessels to develop small aircraft carriers capable of supporting airwings of 28 rotary-wing aircraft, with capacity for approximately 10 ‘B’ variants of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, with both 27,000-tonne vessels capable of supporting 400 marines.
The smaller Hyuga Class vessels, weighing in at 19,000 tonnes, are capable of supporting an airwing of 18 rotary-wing aircraft, with space for amphibious units and supporting equipment. Additionally, it is speculated that like their larger Izumo Class cousins, the Hyuga and sister Ise can be modified to accommodate the F-35B.
These vessels, in conjunction with smaller Osumi Class transports, will also play host to the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force’s ARDB – a specially developed amphibious unit similar to US Marine Expeditionary Units designed to defend Japanese interests in the South China Sea, namely, the Senkaku and increasingly the Ryuku Islands, which have served as a flashpoint between the two nations.
The ‘southwestern wall’ Japan’s answer to China’s A2/AD network
This “southwestern wall” as it has been labeled by a number of American and Japanese strategic experts is designed to serve in a similar function to that of China’s own A2/AD network – that is to blunt any potential adversary’s concerted naval and aerial attack through the use of integrated anti-ship and anti-air defence systems, combined with roving packs of hunter-killer submarines, airborne early warning, command and control aircraft, fighters and, in the event of an amphibious occupation, the ARDB.
Supporting this rollout is the development of military bases on more-remote islands stretching west towards Taiwan, to house troops and missiles capable of defending territory, waterways and airspace.
On the island of Miyako, among sugar-cane fields, Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force opened a new base in March that will accommodate 700 to 800 troops, anti-ship and surface-to-air missile batteries, and radar and intelligence-gathering facilities. A similar such base was established on the island of Amami Oshima at the same time. A smaller facility opened on the westernmost island of Yonaguni in 2016, and another is planned for the island of Ishigaki by 2021, each forming a brick in the wall.
The ongoing territorial dispute centers on five small, uninhabited islands controlled by Japan and known here as the Senkakus but claimed by China, which calls them the Diaoyu, as well as by Taiwan.
Providing the teeth in Japan’s own A2/AD network is the growing suite of advanced weapons systems and platforms, including the two Izumo class vessels, supported by the highly capable Aegis destroyer fleet, and the Soryu class submarines. In the air, Japan’s fleet of F-15J, F-2 and the increasing number of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, KC-46 Tankers and E-2D Advanced Hawkeye and E-767 AWACS all provide a powerful A2/AD capability.
Further supporting this is the introduction of Japan’s suite of locally developed anti-ship cruise missiles, including the ASM-3, Type 93 air-to-ship missile and the road-mobile Type 88 surface-to-ship missile systems, which all combine to form an integrated net effectively limiting the tactical and strategic mobility of potential adversaries in the region. (Source: Defence Connect)
17 Sep 19. Costly Saudi defences prove no match for drones, cruise missiles. Billions of dollars spent by Saudi Arabia on cutting edge Western military hardware mainly designed to deter high altitude attacks has proved no match for low-cost drones and cruise missiles used in a strike that crippled its giant oil industry.
Saturday’s assault on Saudi oil facilities that halved production has exposed how ill-prepared the Gulf state is to defend itself despite repeated attacks on vital assets during its four-and-a-half year foray into the war in neighbouring Yemen.
Saudi Arabia and the United States have said they believe Iran, the kingdom’s arch-enemy, was probably behind the strike. On Tuesday, a U.S. official said Washington believed the attack originated in southwestern Iran. Three U.S. officials said it involved both cruise missiles and drones.
Tehran has denied such accusations, saying that Yemenis opposing Saudi-led forces carried it out. Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement is alone in claiming responsibility.
Iran maintains the largest ballistic and cruise missile capabilities in the Middle East that could overwhelm virtually any Saudi missile defence system, according to think-tank CSIS, given the geographic proximity of Tehran and its regional proxy forces.
But even more limited strikes have proved too much for Saudi Arabia, including recent ones by Houthis who claimed successful attacks on a civilian airport, oil pumping stations and the Shaybah oilfield.
“We are open. Any real facility has no real coverage,” a Saudi security source said.
The Sept. 14 assault on two plants belonging to state oil giant Saudi Aramco was the worst on regional oil facilities since Saddam Hussein torched Kuwait’s oil wells during the 1990-91 Gulf crisis.
The company said on Tuesday that production would be back to normal quicker than initially feared, but the attack nonetheless shocked oil markets.
Riyadh said preliminary results indicated the weapons used were Iranian but the launch location was still undetermined.
Authorities initially specified drones, but three U.S. officials said the use of cruise missiles and drones indicated a higher degree of complexity and sophistication than initially thought.
“The attack is like Sept. 11th for Saudi Arabia, it is a game changer,” said a Saudi security analyst who declined to be named.
“Where are the air defence systems and the U.S. weaponry for which we spent billions of dollars to protect the kingdom and its oil facilities? If they did this with such precision, they can also hit the desalination plants and more targets.”
The main Saudi air defence system, positioned mainly to defend major cities and installations, has long been the U.S.-made long-range Patriot system.
It has successfully intercepted high-altitude ballistic missiles fired by the Houthis at Saudi cities, including the capital Riyadh, since a Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen against the group in March 2015.
But since drones and cruise missiles fly more slowly and at lower altitudes, they are difficult for Patriots to detect with adequate time to intercept.
“Drones are a huge challenge for Saudi Arabia because they often fly under the radar and given long borders with Yemen and Iraq, the kingdom is very vulnerable,” said a senior Gulf official.
SPATE OF ATTACKS
Washington and Riyadh have blamed Iran and its proxies for a series of explosive blasts on tankers in Gulf waters, including two Saudi vessels in May, and attacks on Saudi oil assets.
Two oil pumping stations were hit that month. A transformer station near a desalination plant in Shuqaiq in the south was struck in June.
Those caused limited damage, unlike Saturday’s strikes on Abqaiq and Khurais that damaged the world’s biggest petroleum processing facility and knocked out 5.7 million barrels per day of production.
A Gulf source familiar with Aramco operations said the security system in place at Abqaiq is imperfect against drones. Authorities are investigating whether radar picked up the drones which struck in pre-dawn darkness, the source added. An executive at a Western defence firm dealing with Saudi Arabia said that as of a year ago there were Patriots protecting Abqaiq.
Asked why Saudi defences did not intercept Saturday’s attack, coalition spokesman Col. Turki al-Malki told reporters: “More than 230 ballistic missiles were intercepted by coalition forces…we have the operational capacity to counter all the threats and protect the national security of Saudi Arabia.”
The government media office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
It is unclear if U.S.-built short-range Avengers and medium-range I-Hawks and Swiss short-range Orelikons which the kingdom owns are currently operational.
SMALL BUT EFFECTIVE
The Saudi security source and two industry sources said Riyadh has been aware of the drone threat for several years and has been in discussions with consultants and vendors for possible solutions but has not installed anything new.
The security source said authorities moved a Patriot battery to the Shaybah oilfield after it was hit last month. There are Patriots at Aramco’s Ras Tanura refinery.
“Most conventional air defence radar is designed for high- altitude threats like missiles,” said Dave DesRoches at the National Defense University in Washington.
“Cruise missiles and drones operate close to the earth, so they aren’t seen because of the earth’s curvature. Drones are too small and don’t have heat signature for most radar.”
Intercepting drones possibly worth several hundred dollars with Patriots is also extremely expensive, with each missile costing around $3m.
Jorg Lamprecht, CEO and co-founder of U.S. airspace security firm Dedrone, said there are more effective ways of dealing with drones, especially in swarms.
A combination of radio frequency detectors and radar detect them, high-powered cameras verify payloads and technologies like jamming demobilise them, he said.
But the latest technology presents its own challenges: frequency jamming could disrupt industrial activities and have negative health effects on people.
Armed drones are becoming more readily available, so the threat to vital infrastructure is rising disproportionately, according to U.S. intelligence consultancy Soufan Group.
Saudi policymakers have long dreaded a strike against a desalination plant in Jubail which serves central and eastern Saudi Arabia. A successful attack would deprive millions of people of water and could take a long time to repair, the Saudi source said.
“It’s a very target-rich environment,” said an industry source with knowledge of Saudi Arabia. “They’ve kicked them right where it hurts and there’s plenty more of them around.” (Source: Reuters)
17 Sep 19. U.S. Team Sent to Help Saudis Assess Oil Attack Forensics. The United States is giving Saudi Arabia time to assess the Sept. 14 attacks on its oil facilities, but all signs point to Iran or Iranian proxies, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford told reporters traveling with him in London that U.S. Central Command has sent forensic specialists to assist Saudi Arabia with its assessment.
“In the region, wherever it originated from, the most likely threat is either Iran or Iranian-backed proxies,” Dunford said. “Without getting out in front of the Saudi investigation, I think that is a reasonable conclusion.”
The United States doesn’t have “an unblinking eye” over the Middle East, the chairman said. “Our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities are focused on threats routinely to us; we wouldn’t necessarily see everything that goes on in the region,” he said.
The general said the military is planning options for the president and other civilian leaders. Dunford stressed that the military is only one possible response, noting that economic, political and diplomatic responses are available as well.
The United States provides intelligence to Saudi Arabia to help the kingdom protect itself from the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The Saudis have not requested additional intelligence support or military assistance from the United States, the chairman said. “We haven’t changed the intel arrangement in the wake of this incident,” he added.
The attack was not a surprise given the tensions in the region, Dunford said.
“We did assess, and continue to assess, that we have deterrence in place against Iranian-backed proxies against the United States,” he told reporters. “But we know, based on attacks against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, … that they have not been deterred from attacking those countries.”
Though the size of this attack was greater than others, Saudi Arabia has been attacked a number of times by Iranian-backed proxies, Dunford said. “Without prejudging intelligence, this looked like a very complex, precise attack, not consistent with previous Houthi attacks,” he added. (Source: US DoD)
16 Sep 19. Saudi Arabia – Evidence indicates Iran responsible for cruise missile & drone strikes on 14 September (UPDATE #1). On 16 September, the Saudi-led coalition released additional information on the 14 September attacks targeting two major oil facilities in Eastern Province, indicating that the weapons used in the strikes were Iranian-made and that despite the Houthi rebels claim of responsibility, the attacks did not emanate from Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition has yet to indicate definitively which state or non-state actor is responsible for the attacks or from which country the strikes emanated. The US Secretary of State and the US Ambassador to the United Nations have publicly indicated that Iran is responsible for the attacks and that there is no evidence the strikes emanated from Yemen. International media reporting citing unnamed senior US officials indicates that the attacks into Saudi Arabia were launched by Iranian forces from within the territory of Iran via the employment of approximately 20 military-grade weaponised drones and 12 cruise missiles. Additional international media outlet reporting has suggested that the strikes into Saudi Arabia could have been launched by Iranian-backed Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Unit (PMU) militia forces from locations in southern Iraq, as evidenced by previous weaponised drone strikes launched against a Saudi oil facility near Riyadh by PMU forces based in southern Iraq on 14 May. However, the Iraqi Prime Minister has stated the US Secretary of State has specifically indicated to the government of Iraq that the 14 September attacks into Saudi Arabia were not launched from Iraqi territory. The locations of the attacks in Eastern Province lie outside the southwest provinces of Asir, Jizan and Najran, which are located within the Security Control of Air Traffic and Air Navigation Aids (SCATANA) area of Saudi Arabia, which is covered by a notice and a publication issued by the civil aviation authority of the country (NOTAM OEJD W0438/18; AIP SUP AIRAC 05/18 and 07/18). EASA, Germany and France have issued notices to operators advising against conducting civil aviation flight activity within the southwest provinces of Saudi Arabia (EASA CZIB 2018-01-R3, NOTAM EDGG B0609/19, France – AIC A 03/19).
We currently assess the 14 September strikes on the Saudi Arabian oil installations in Eastern Province did not emanate from Yemen or Iraq due to the complexity of the attacks and the sophistication of the weapons employed, as evidenced by satellite imagery analysis of the strikes publicly released the US. We assess the drone and potential cruise missile strikes into Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia were launched from southern Iran by Iranian military forces, which possess the requisite capability to conduct large-scale precision attacks. Assessed Iranian military use of cruise missiles could be an attempt to avoid Saudi Arabian US-made MIM-104 Patriot conventional surface-to-air missile (SAM) system detection and interception due to the very low altitude and high-speed flight profile specific to cruise missile trajectory. The use of military-grade weaponised drones by Iran flown at slow speed and low altitude could also be an attempt to evade Patriot conventional SAM system engagement during the assessed strikes. The Patriot has the capability to engage air targets at altitudes up to FL800 and at ranges out to 100 miles (160 km). We continue to assess territory in Saudi Arabia outside the SCATANA area to be a HIGH risk airspace environment at all altitudes. We continue to assess the SCATANA area of Saudi Arabia and the entirety of Yemen to be an EXTREME risk airspace environment at all altitudes. We continue to assess southern Iran, to include over-water areas of the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman, to be a HIGH risk airspace operating environment at all altitudes. We continue to assess the remainder of northern Iran to be a MODERATE risk airspace operating environment above FL260 and HIGH risk below FL260. We continue to assess the entirety of Iraq to be a HIGH risk airspace environment at all altitudes. The situation in the Gulf Region remains fluid and is subject to change rapidly; the Osprey analysis team continues to monitor the situation closely and our airspace risk ratings for the above areas are 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)
16 Sep 19. Defence economists publicly discuss the funding elephant and its impact on ADF capability. With Australia edging ever closer to the elusive 2 per cent of GDP on defence expenditure amid the largest peacetime rearmament program in the nation’s history, much concern has been placed on the nation’s capacity to finance the next-generation capabilities and mega projects over the long-term.
The election of the Coalition in 2013 saw a major shake-up in the way defence was approached by government. Following what the Coalition describes as six years of neglect under the tumultuous Rudd/Gillard/Rudd governments, the newly formed government sought to create an environment of stability and consistency for defence with a number of key policy objectives.
Central to this was the commitment to return Australia’s defence expenditure to 2 per cent of GDP following what both Prime Minister Scott Morrison and now former minister for defence Christopher Pyne explained as a 10 per cent reduction in real terms in the last year (FY2012-13) of the previous government – resulting in defence investment falling to its lowest levels since 1938.
While Australia’s defence expenditure looks set to increase to $38.7bn in 2019-20, it is a case of business as usual for defence and industry, with the Coalition’s budget announcement signalling the government’s continued commitment to supporting the capability and development of Australia’s sovereign defence industry capabilities.
The Coalition remains committed to continuing the delivery of a number of key projects identified as part of the government’s 2016 Defence White Paper, which focused on delivering a series of major capability upgrades and modernisation programs across the Australian Defence Force, including:
- The delivery of the first unit as part of the $5.2 bn LAND 400 Phase 2 program for Boxer combat reconnaissance vehicles;
- Industry partners presented their bids as part of the $10-15bn LAND 400 Phase 3 Armoured Fighting Vehicle program;
- Construction progress for the $35bn SEA 5000 Hunter Class guided missile frigate program;
- Construction commencement and milestones at the $535m SEA 5000 Shipyard facility at Osborne, South Australia;
- The continued arrival of Australia’s Lockheed Martin F-35A Joint Strike Fighters;
- Signing the Strategic Partnership Agreement for the $50bn SEA 1000 Attack Class future submarine program; and
- Committing to the acquisition of 30 self-propelled howitzers and 15 support vehicles to be built and maintained at a specialised facility in Geelong.
Further supporting these milestones, the government has confirmed over the next decade to 2028-29 that it will invest more than $200 bn in defence capabilities.
Despite this seemingly unprecedented period of modernisation and recapitalisation within the ADF, Michael Shoebridge of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) identifies the challenges facing both the ADF and Australia as a whole when it comes to funding the ‘future force’ of the ADF, drawing on support from his ASPI colleague and Defence economist, Marcus Hellyer.
“You’d think that $40bn a year on defence (2 per cent of gross domestic product) and mega-projects giving the military what it has always wanted – frigates, submarines, strike fighters, infantry fighting vehicles and the electronic systems to lace them all together – meant defence spending and force structure were off the Morrison government’s to-do list. The 2016 Defence White Paper is the plan and it just needs to be implemented,” Shoebridge explained.
Regional responsibilities stretching resources
Shoebridge takes his claims further, focusing on the expanded role the government has placed upon the ADF, namely the Pacific step up program, designed to counter the growing influence of China in the region, while also serving to reinforce the nation’s own geo-strategic, political and economic interests in the region.
“Australia is ‘stepping up’ in the south Pacific, with the first package of initiatives costing more than $2bn. Defence is involved with a new humanitarian assistance ship to be built, crewed and operated, a big new joint naval base project with Papua New Guinea and the US on Manus Island, a training facility in Fiji and a deeper, more frequent tempo of military engagement with PNG and south Pacific forces,” Shoebridge states.
“The costs for Defence’s bit are magically being absorbed into the budget, putting more unaffordability into the mix. That’s not sustainable without hard choices, particularly with further steps such as opening ADF recruitment to Pacific islanders, which would be a smart strategic, people-to-people and ADF capability move.”
Further compounding these challenges is the continued evolution of the regional order, namely the rise of China and periphery nations in south-east Asia and the western Pacific, each with their own competing ambitions, designs and often ancient enmities which serve as potential flashpoints for Australian response should they threaten the strategically and economically vital waterways the nation is dependent upon.
Invest in cheaper, ‘disposable’ platforms
Shoebridge shifts his focus to the seeming reluctance within the Defence and political establishments to augment the impressive array of manned military capabilities with a growing range of unmanned and semi-autonomous land, air, sea and undersea platforms, each of which will serve to ensure that Australia’s expensive and valuable manpower and manned platforms remain as safe as possible.
“It has become glaringly obvious that small numbers of exquisitely complex, capable, manned platforms to which we have committed will be vulnerable unless complemented by large volumes of cheap, disposable, replaceable semi-autonomous and autonomous systems: unmanned systems in the air, on land, in the sea and under the sea. But the Defence integrated investment plan treats these new technologies as speculative hobbies that may prove disruptive sometime later on,” Shoebridge eloquently describes.
Going further, Shoebridge states, “They have done so already and they will continue to. Sticking with the all-in bet the white paper places on small numbers of complex, manned systems is a broken strategy that risks the ADF being the obsolete Kodak of militaries. But, luckily, the complementary technology that will protect and empower the ADF’s small number of big platforms is relatively cheap and likely deliverable by Australian industry.” (Source: Defence Connect)
16 Sep 19. Time to rethink Australia’s strategic milling over China. Australia’s strategic, economic and political apprehension about the rising power of China in the Indo-Pacific has dominated recent national debate – with the growing competition between the United States and China further exacerbating the nation’s anxiety, resulting in a need to reconsider the relationship between Australia and China, explains Dr Peter Layton of Griffith University.
China dominates Australia’s defence debates, with four distinct alternatives emerging. The first is moving towards the US and away from China, embracing balancing against China in deed, if not in word. The Australia Strategic Policy Institute’s Peter Jennings passionately advocates this realist position that sees the world as it is, not as it could be, and considers military power the final arbiter of international disputes.
Trouble is, as the US Secretary of State’s soybean comment highlighted, deepening our US alliance implies Australian economic decline, given China is our greatest trading partner. World War I’s disruption to Australia’s international trade when exports as a percent of Australia’s GDP were similar suggests our possible future pain: GDP declined almost 10 per cent while per capita incomes dropped over 15 per cent.
“America First” shows no sign of being willing to mitigate such possibilities. Indeed, the reverse. The Trump administration is actively damaging the global trading system through its attacks on the WTO rules and organisation. Its first economic action was abandoning the Trans-Pacific Partnership, leaving Australia and other allies in the lurch. Astonishingly, given Australia’s large trade deficit with the US, we only avoided tariffs on exports to the US due to personal relationships.
The second strategic alternative is seemingly the reverse. The Australian National University’s Hugh White eloquently argues the US is leaving Asia so Australia needs to rely principally on self-defence. A much larger military is required, with a strategy not dissimilar to Singapore’s poisoned shrimp defence concept – “Don’t swallow us, we’ll poison you” – or Ross Babbage’s “rip an arm off” a large aggressor. This notion suggests Australia cutting a favourable economic deal with China, constraining the US military embrace and having a risk management defence force able to limit the damage China could inflict if it attacked.
Trouble is, China sticks to agreements only when it suits it. Disavowal of a deal at some time could be expected. Like the Trump administration, Chinese adherence to rules-based orders is situational and unpredictable.
The third strategic alternative assails both previous. University of NSW’s Alan Dupont considers authoritarian states counter such strategies by capturing territory in deniable actions not worth waging a major war over, by using irregular proxy forces like paramilitary commercial fishing fleets, and by interfering in democratic processes and institutions. Modern militaries should be reconfigured. War has undeniably changed, but Dupont paradoxically advocates a high-technology maritime defence seemingly unsuitable to address his identified shortcomings.
The final strategic alternative is the one Australia seems to be implementing. The US is being enlisted to help Australia, not the converse, while there is a major push to deepen regional relationships and make new friends. More specifically, the focus is on the ASEAN states, trying to encourage them to be a bulwark against Chinese expansionism for their own good and Australia’s. It sounds like Australia’s Cold War forward defence strategy, but it’s more reminiscent of seeking security with Asia than against it.
The trouble is it may be too late. China is already neutralising ASEAN, working assiduously to bring it within China’s sphere of influence. The Trump administration’s neglect of counters like the Lower Mekong Initiative have helped China’s advance; US regional influence is declining.
Moreover, Australia’s defence force is built to work with the US, not with ASEAN states; it would need quick changing. So, what to do? There are never perfect solutions – all will have strengths and weaknesses with a choice being inevitably an “on-balance” decision.
To help this, let’s step up to the grand strategy level where the issue moves beyond events, lower level issues and military matters. In grand strategy, the key determinant is deciding the type of future Australia wants, not reacting to others. In this specific case, it becomes the kind of relationship Australia would like with China.
The form of such a relationship might be straightforward: complex interdependence. This acknowledges that multiple formal and informal channels connect societies and that interstate relationships consist of many issues. This sounds like the Australia-China relationship as the Prime Minister sees it.
For each issue area, each state has different sensitivities and vulnerabilities that can be exploited – those involved bargain by manipulating their asymmetrical interdependencies across the multiple channels. It’s an idea that blends realist thinking with international engagement but to make real would need considerable fleshing out.
Nevertheless, the complex interdependence idea hints at a different way to approach China-US tensions. Determining our preferred future might be a better basis for initial strategic deliberations than basing them on the US staying, the US leaving, authoritarian state strategies or ASEAN predilections. Such issues might influence later lower-level debates and be part of our implementation plan, but our starting point should be were we wish to end up. The grand strategy idea of thinking about the future Australia-China relationship we want, rather than rushing to react to others’ actions, may be worth adopting. (Source: Defence Connect)
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