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27 Sep 19. Japan promotes China as bigger threat than nuclear-armed North Korea. China’s growing military might has replaced North Korean belligerence as the main security threat to Japan, Tokyo’s annual defence review indicated on Thursday, despite signs that Pyongyang could have nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles. The document’s security assessment on China comes after a section on Japan’s ally, the United States, the first time Beijing has achieved second place in the Defence White Paper and pushing North Korea into third position.
Russia, deemed by Japan as its primary threat during the Cold War, was in fourth place.
“The reality is that China is rapidly increasing military spending, and so people can grasp that we need more pages,” Minister of Defence Taro Kono said at a media briefing. “China is deploying air and sea assets in the Western Pacific and through the Tsushima Strait into the Sea of Japan with greater frequency.”
Japan has raised defence spending by a tenth over the past seven years to counter military advances by Beijing and Pyongyang, including defences against North Korean missiles which may carry nuclear warheads, the paper said.
North Korea has conducted short-range missile launches this year that Tokyo believes show Pyongyang is developing projectiles to evade its Aegis ballistic missile defences.
To stay ahead of China’s modernizing military, Japan is buying U.S.-made stealth fighters and other advanced weapons.
In its latest budget request, Japan’s military asked for 115.6bn yen (£870m) to buy nine Lockheed Martin (LMT.N) F-35 stealth fighters, including six short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variants to operate from converted helicopter carriers.
The stealth jets, U.S.-made interceptor missiles and other equipment are part of a proposed 1.2% increase in defence spending to a record 5.32 trillion yen in the year starting April 1.
By comparison, Chinese military spending is set to rise this year by 7.5% to about $177bn (£94.9bn) from 2018, more than three times that of Japan. Beijing is developing weapons such as stealth fighters and aircraft carriers that are helping it expand the range and scope of military operations.
Once largely confined to operating close to the Chinese coast, Beijing now routinely sends its air and sea patrols near Japan’s western Okinawa islands and into the Western Pacific.
China has frequently rebuffed concerns about its military spending and intentions, including a ramped-up presence in the disputed South China Sea, and says it only desires peaceful development.
The Defence White Paper said Chinese patrols in waters and skies near Japanese territory are “a national security concern”.
The paper downgraded fellow U.S. ally, South Korea, which recently pulled out of an intelligence sharing pact with Japan amid a spat over their shared wartime history. That could weaken efforts to contain North Korean threats, analysts said.
Other partners, including Australia, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and India, feature more prominently in the defence paper.
“It’s a reflection of the level of cooperation we undertake with each partner,” a defence ministry official said at an earlier briefing.
South Korean government officials took issue with the White Paper’s reference to ownership of an island in the Sea of Japan that is also claimed and controlled by South Korea. The outcrop is known as Dokdo in Seoul and Takeshima in Tokyo.
“Our government strongly protests Japan’s repeated claim. The Japanese government should acknowledge that it is not helpful for bilateral relations,” South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement. (Source: Reuters)
26 Sep 19. Australian Defence Force warns climate will stretch armed forces. The Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) military capability could be strained by the demands of response to climate change, according to a speech prepared for General Angus Campbell.
The speech highlighted how the ADF was increasingly having to devote money and personnel to deal with natural disasters.
A section of the speech reads: “Australia sent around 1,000 troops to support Operation Fiji Assist… about 1,600 ADF personnel assisted after Cyclone Debbie hit Queensland and… 3,000 troops helped North Queensland clean up after the floods.
“At the height of our involvement, we had about 1,500 troops in Afghanistan.”
Campbell gave the speech at a private event and it is unclear how closely he closely he followed the prepared statements that were released. The speech argued that increasingly being forced to deal with natural disasters could mean that in the event of conflict the ADF would not have enough forces to cover all its needs.
It adds: “The number of troops deployed on disaster relief missions can, at times, be a significant commitment for defence.
“Deploying troops on numerous disaster relief missions, at the same time, may stretch our capability and capacity.
ABC Australia reported that climate change may also lead the ADF into unforeseen conflicts, with the speech noting how a drought in the Middle East “added enormous pressure” to Syria in the run-up to the country’s ongoing civil war.
The speech said: “Defence may also be increasingly called upon to support stabilisation, governance or peace-keeping activities.” As countries’ climates change and experience natural disasters armed forces may be called in more often to help with support efforts.
Last year the Australian Government signing a declaration recognising the threat of climate change to the Pacific region.
Campbell gave the speech in June with the details of the threat of climate change being released under the freedom of information act.
At the time reports said Campbell spoke of the issues outlined in the newly released speech and the threat of China taking advantage of climate change to exert more control in the region. (Source: army-technology.com)
26 Sep 19. Russia is About to Get A Close Look at the F-35 Stealth Fighter. The trillion-dollar plane is getting into the air-policing game. Moscow won’t like that. Italian F-35As belonging to the Italian air force’s 13° Gruppo, 32° Stormo are on track to take over the air-policing mission in Iceland, David Cenciotti reported at The Aviationist on Sept. 25, 2019.
“The Italian aircraft, that have already deployed to Keflavik International Airport, from their homebase at Amendola air base in southeastern Italy, will start flying familiarisation sorties in the next few days,” Cenciotti wrote. “After achieving the NATO certification they will start quick-reaction alert duties.”
“The F-35s, were accompanied by a KC-767A tanker, a C-130J and a P-72A maritime patrol aircraft,” Cenciotti added, citing data from flight-tracking websites.
F-35s surely will become regular fixtures in NATO deployments. Several NATO countries besides Italy are acquiring F-35s, including the United States, the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and Norway. Spain has expressed interest in the stealth fighter. Canada seems likely to acquire the type. Under the air-policing scheme, NATO’s larger members deploy fighters in order to patrol the air space of smaller members that lack their own fighters. The main air-policing destinations are Iceland and the Baltic States. F-15s, F-16s and Typhoons have handled most of the air-policing deployments in the last decade.
The deployments are significant because they put NATO fighters in close contact with Russian warplanes flying along Russia’s western frontier and in North Atlantic air space. It probably won’t be long before NATO F-35s intercept Russian Sukhois.
The F-35 recently has passed several important milestones despite lingering cost, technical and maintenance problems. The Royal Air Force’s F-35Bs flew in combat for the first time on June 16, 2019.
Taking off from the British air base at Akrotiri in Cyprus, a pair of the vertical-landing stealth fighters patrolled over Syria alongside RAF Typhoon fighters, the U.K. Defense Ministry announced.
The F-35s didn’t drop bombs or fire missiles or guns during their combat patrol. Still, the mission made the United Kingdom the third country after Israel and the United States to deploy F-35s in wartime.
The Israeli air force claimed it was the first to fly F-35s in combat. Tel Aviv in May 2018 announced it deployed the radar-evading jet on two fronts. The Israeli government circulated a photo of an Israeli F-35A flying over Beirut in Lebanon during the daytime, strongly implying the fighter struck targets in Lebanon. Israeli warplanes also frequently operate over Syria.
U.S. Marine Corps F-35Bs in September 2018 conducted an air strike in support of what the U.S. Navy described as “ground clearance operations” in Afghanistan. The U.S. Air Force flew its own F-35As in combat for the first time over Iraq in April 2019. The U.S. Navy is still working up its F-35C squadrons for their first front-line cruise aboard an aircraft carrier, currently scheduled for 2021.
The U.S. military plans to begin rotating F-35 stealth fighters into South Korea starting in a few years, a South Korean newspaper reported. The American planes would join a growing fleet of South Korean F-35s. So far, the U.K. F-35B’s sortie rate in wartime conditions is no better than the sortie rate the remnant fleet of 1980s-vintage Tornadoes achieved in the years preceding their retirement. The eight Royal Air Force Tornadoes at Akrotiri as recently as 2015 managed two, two-ship sorties a day, each lasting six to eight hours, according to Financial Times.
Trade publication Defense News in early June 2019 revealed lingering flaws in the F-35’s design.
At high angles of attack, the F-35B and the carrier-compatible F-35C have a tendency to depart from controlled flight, Defense News reported.
“Specifically, the Marine short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing variant and the Navy’s carrier-launched version become difficult to control when the aircraft is operating above a 20-degree angle of attack, which is the angle created by the oncoming air and the leading edge of the wing,” Defense News explained. David Axe serves as Defense Editor of the National Interest. He is the author of the graphic novels War Fix, War Is Boring and Machete Squad. (Source: News Now/https://nationalinterest.org)
26 Sep 19. KF-X fighter prototype to be rolled out in first half of 2021, DAPA confirms. Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) is expected to complete construction of the first KF-X fighter aircraft prototype by the first half of 2021 and conduct the first test flight of the platform a year later, South Korea’s Defence Acquisition Programme Administration (DAPA) confirmed in a 26 September statement.
DAPA said that the critical design phase of the aircraft has now been completed, allowing the KF-X/IF-X project, which stands for Korean Fighter eXperimental/Indonesian Fighter eXperimental, to move on to the next phase: prototype construction.
Development of the single-seat, twin-engined, multirole aircraft began in January 2016, with the preliminary design of the KF-X being finalised in June 2018. Production work on the first prototype began in February 2018, with KAI announcing at the time that it had started manufacturing the aircraft’s bulk head.
As Jane’s reported, the KF-X development programme envisages the production of six prototypes, followed by four years of trials and the completion of development by mid-2026. Serial production of the aircraft will take place during 2026-32, with an initial 120 units intended to replace the Republic of Korea Air Force’s (RoKAF’s) ageing fleets of F-4E Phantom and F-5E Tiger II aircraft.
Total production is expected to exceed 350 units, including a quota for exports.
Indonesia is currently renegotiating its involvement in the programme, although Jakarta remains committed to honouring its payment obligations set out under a 2015 financial agreement.
Under this original agreement, which is now subject to renegotiation, Indonesia committed to paying for 20% of the total development costs, which are estimated at about USD8 billion. The South Korean government would pay for 60% of the development programme, with prime contractor KAI covering the remaining 20%. KAI’s industry partner on the project is PT Dirgantara Indonesia. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
26 Sep 19. South Korea and Australia move to deepen energy, defence and industry ties. Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his South Korean counterpart, President Moon Jae-in, have outlined plans for an expanded period of collaboration on key national security issues, including defence, industry development and energy security, during a meeting at the UN Headquarters in New York.
Alliances are pivotal in maintaining prolonged periods of peace and prosperity – Australia’s position in the Indo-Pacific has been contingent on the alliance with the US. However, as the region continues to evolve, Australia’s core economic and strategic relationships also need to evolve.
Since 2009, successive Australian governments have sought to slowly shift the nation’s focus away from the Middle East towards what has become known as the Indo-Pacific. The most recent Foreign Policy White Paper, released in 2017, has formally identified the shift in the global power paradigm and its impact on Australia’s long-term economic, political and strategic interests in the 21st century.
Australia emerged from the Second World War as a middle power, essential to maintaining the post-war economic, political and strategic power paradigm established and led by the US. This relationship, established as a result of the direct threat to Australia, replaced Australia’s strategic relationship of dependence on the British Empire and continues to serve as the basis of the nation’s strategic policy direction and planning.
This international rules-based order has played a critical role in supporting Australia’s long-term development and is anchored by economic and strategic alliance frameworks. However, the rise of totalitarian nations, including China, Russia and the like, are challenging the order, which is recognised by the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper, which states:
“The international order is also being contested in other ways. Some states have increased their use of ‘measures short of war’ to pursue political and security objectives. Such measures include the use of non-state actors and other proxies, covert and paramilitary operations, economic coercion, cyber attacks, misinformation and media manipulation. (Source: Defence Connect)
24 Sep 19. Ahead of huge parade, China complains of ‘strange logic’ about its military. China’s military complained on Tuesday that if it displayed new weapons at next week’s huge military parade in Beijing it would be seen as a “show of force”, and if it didn’t then it would be blamed for a lack of transparency. President Xi Jinping will oversee a massive parade of the armed forces through central Beijing on Oct. 1 to mark 70 years since the establishment of Communist China, with state media promising that new missiles, aircraft and drones will be shown.
Xi has overseen an ambitious military modernisation programme and rising defence spending since he took power in late 2012. China has been frequently criticised by Washington and its allies for being overly secretive and a threat to regional stability.
Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Wu Qian, speaking at a news conference about the parade, said there were always certain people and forces who “liked to hype things up untruthfully” about the country’s military.
“In their heads they have an extremely strange logic: if the Chinese armed forces show off arms and equipment then it’s a ‘show of force’, and if they don’t then they ‘lack transparency,’” Wu said.
In the last seven decades, China’s military development has been plain for all to see, he added.
“We have no intention, and no need, to use a military parade as a ‘show of force,” said Wu. “The stronger we are, the more positive energy we can bring to world peace.”
China has been coy about exactly what new equipment it will put on display at the parade.
Attention in state media has focused on the Dongfeng-41 intercontinental ballistic missile that may be able to carry several nuclear warheads and reach the United States, supersonic drones and stealth fighters.
Tan Min, one of the senior officers overseeing parade preparations, told the same news conference that people would have to “wait and see” exactly what China would put on show. Tan promised the equipment would all be made-in-China and show off the country’s prowess at innovation.
Service personnel taking part all have to reach exacting standards, including their absolutely loyalty to the party and to Xi, he added.
The youngest soldiers would be around 20, while the oldest – the more senior officers – would be around 60 and above, Tan said.
Around 15,000 personnel and more than 160 aircraft are taking part and the parade will last around 80 minutes, added Cai Zhijun, another senior officer helping oversee preparations. (Source: Reuters)
24 Sep 19. The Secret Reason for China’s Massive Aircraft Carrier Build-Up. The quest for dominance is on Beijing’s mind. Key point: Beijing knows that the only way to regional dominance is through a major naval expansion.
China understands that in the steady-state security environment of the Western Pacific, its carrier force would be a pivotal and influential capability, essential to its quest for regional dominance. Furthermore, China understands that in a maritime conflict with virtually any nation but the United States, its carriers would be would be a powerful combat advantage. Finally, China understands that if conflict with the United States comes, its carriers’ warfighting capability would—like the rest of its arsenal—have to be employed based on the principle of calculated risk. It would be wise for strategists in the United States to remember these same principles.
China’s recent release of its first strategic white paper signals its official emergence as a maritime—and therefore global—power. Little in the document should surprise those who have monitored China’s rise, though it remains to be seen whether China watchers will discern nuance and inscrutability instead of taking Beijing at its word. Simply put, China views the United States as Asia’s hegemon, and its strategy seeks to deprive the United States of this role.
In its quest to eject the United States from a position of power and influence in the region, China has embarked upon a naval building and modernization program. At first, this program seemed aimed at rendering U.S. wartime support to Taiwan moot after the 1996 Taiwan Straits crisis. The effort included weapons and platforms designed specifically to target U.S maritime power projection capability—primarily resident in the air wings of its nuclear-powered aircraft carrier force. Early on, some assigned non-threatening motives for the buildup given the sensitivity of the Taiwan issue to Beijing. Yet over time, China began to develop weapons and sensor architectures far beyond those necessary or even useful for Taiwan scenarios. The Chinese naval program began to lay the foundation for regional maritime dominance and global influence by building modern multi-purpose destroyers, nuclear attack submarines, amphibious vessels, and an improved logistics force.
By far the most powerful symbol of China’s design on regional dominance is the development of its own fleet of aircraft carriers. With one flat-top already launched and two to three more in the works, an interesting question arises. Why would a nation that has spent considerable time and effort to deny the U.S. Navy freedom of maneuver by creating the impression that its aircraft carriers were vulnerable embark on the expensive, logistically arduous, and operationally dubious decision to build its own carriers? The answer is that the benefit of a carrier force to achieving China’s strategic goals far outweighs the risks associated with operating them—a lesson that the United States once embraced, and one which must be generationally re-learned.
Whether in a direct or support role, carriers have taken part in almost every major military operation the United States has undertaken since the Second World War. They also serve as first-rate diplomatic tools to either heighten or ease political pressure. When regional tensions increase, a carrier, or sometimes two, is sent to patrol off their coast. And when an election takes place in a nascent democracy or country central to U.S. interests, a strike group typically is sailing offshore.
China recognizes this brand of unique flexibility and the extensibility of the aircraft carrier across the spectrum of conflict, from presence through deterrence to coercion and war-fighting. China cannot be ignorant of the multiplicity of threats arrayed against its potential carrier force. For starters, the peerless U.S. Navy Submarine Force would likely make short work of China’s carriers in a conflict. But that scenario is unlikely. More likely, Chinese fleet architects are thinking about carriers more for their ability to exert influence throughout the region, like coercing nations reluctant to toe China’s nine-dash-line claims in the South China Sea, and in order to display global Chinese influence as far afield as the Eastern Pacific and the Mediterranean Sea.
Modern, first-rate navies tend to operate three main types of vessel: submarines, surface ships (including amphibious transport ships and logistics ships), and aircraft carriers with embarked air wings. Submarines are superb war-fighting platforms—able to operate in the opaque undersea environment. They hunt surface ships, provide incredible platforms for surreptitious surveillance, and can strike targets ashore. That said, submarines aren’t great platforms for presence, since they must stay unseen to stay alive.
Surface ships are the primary platforms employed for naval presence, deterrence, and coercion. Presence can be accomplished by unarmed or even modestly armed ships, though these are less useful in deterrence and warfighting. More heavily armed surface ships perform presence missions and are considerably more potent deterrence platforms, but are more vulnerable than submarines to modern weaponry when the shooting starts.
Aircraft carriers combine the ability to carry out everyday missions well while remaining a deadly warfighting platform. Carriers remain premier instruments for presence, deterrence, and coercion, while the embarked air wing renders the carrier a potent warfighting system able to project power and exert control of the seas around which it operates. Though achieving this unmatched capability has taken the U.S. Navy decades, the Chinese may realistically replicate it within twenty years. Additionally, the Chinese Navy will contend with the U.S. Navy for dominance in the Pacific under China’s growing anti-access/area denial umbrella, reducing the risk to its carrier force.
The Burden of Fleet Architecture
Even as the Chinese Navy expands its fleet architecture to match expansive maritime goals, several U.S. defense analysts want to consolidate the U.S. Navy. These carrier detractors would end the U.S. Navy’s balance between everyday missions and warfighting requirements by killing off America’s carriers to fund more submarines and drones. The problem with this approach is that a fleet disproportionately composed of submarines and drones cannot perform the missions necessary to keep conflict from occurring. While a submarine- and drone-heavy approach would do well once the shooting started, the U.S. Navy exists to prevent the war from starting in the first place.
That said, these analysts also unfairly undercut the warfighting ability of carriers by refusing to consider their realistic employment. No one would think of stationing a U.S. Air Expeditionary Force in harm’s way without adequate protection and air and missile defense. Similarly, no one would send an army division across a hostile border without air cover. Yet these carrier detractors have led audiences to believe that the U.S. Navy would simply steam its carriers into the teeth of an enemy’s defenses without the benefit of a joint, combined arms concept of operations to mitigate risk. Framing the debate in such terms subjects the aircraft carrier to a standard of invulnerability applied to no other weapon system.
This tendentious presentation of the carrier’s value has negatively impacted America’s carrier force. Only two years ago, carrier program chief Rear Admiral Thomas Moore commented that America has “an 11-carrier Navy in a 15-carrier world.” Worse yet, the combination of one carrier in long-term maintenance and the gap between the overhaul of the USS George Washington and the completion of the USS Gerald Ford means that America operates a single-digit carrier navy today with just nine carriers. Even though the George Washington survived sequestration-inspired attempts to cut it, the Ford remains under constant attack by Congress. Meanwhile, China is only adding to the ranks of the roughly ten nations operating or building carriers of one form or another. While the size, capabilities and effectiveness of these vessels vary widely, the fact that India, Brazil, Thailand and China enter and stay in the aircraft carrier business speaks to the ship’s continued utility both in war fighting and war prevention. China understands that in the steady-state security environment of the Western Pacific, its carrier force would be a pivotal and influential capability, essential to its quest for regional dominance. Furthermore, China understands that in a maritime conflict with virtually any nation but the United States, its carriers would be would be a powerful combat advantage. Finally, China understands that if conflict with the United States comes, its carriers’ warfighting capability would—like the rest of its arsenal—have to be employed based on the principle of calculated risk. It would be wise for strategists in the United States to remember these same principles. (Source: News Now/https://nationalinterest.org)
24 Sep 19. Japan and New Zealand deepen defence ties in boost to region. Japan and New Zealand have committed to strengthen their defence ties as part of a commitment to boost their bilateral strategic partnership, following talks in Tokyo between Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his visiting New Zealand counterpart Jacinda Ardern.
Despite a shaky start to the NZ Prime Minister’s visit, with Ardern mixing up which Asian country she was visiting (accidentally calling Japan, China), the productive meeting is undoubtedly a boost for the Indo-Pacific region.
In a joint statement, the two nations confirmed that they have “reaffirmed their commitment to further strengthening the security and defence relationship”, highlighting the positive characterisation of the bilateral defence relationship in both Japan’s National Defense Program Guidelines for FY 2019 and Beyond and New Zealand’s Strategic Defence Policy Statement 2018.
Specifically, Japan and New Zealand committed to “working proactively together to maintain and promote a free and open Indo-Pacific region for ensuring a free, open and rules-based international order”.
The intentions of Japan to strengthen its relationship with New Zealand has been prominent for some time, with Tokyo mentioning that it would promote efforts, including joint training and exercises as well as bilateral collaboration on third-party engagement in its National Defense Program Guidelines.
This commitment is in line with Australia’s close bond with Japan, which was highlighted in the JFY2019 Defense Related Budget Request, which recognises the broad importance of the Australia-Japan relationship, saying, “The Japan-US alliance as well as defence cooperation with India, Australia, ASEAN countries and other partners can work very effectively in maintaining peace and stability of Japan and the region. Japan should develop a defence capability that can further deepen and expand these endeavours.”
Japan and New Zealand also share Australia’s concern with disputes in the South China Sea, with the statement noting:
“The two leaders raised concerns about the situation in the South China Sea. They reiterated the importance of settling disputes by peaceful means in accordance with international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS.) The two leaders encouraged the finalisation of an effective and substantive Code of Conduct (COC) that is consistent with existing international law, including UNCLOS, and does not impinge on the rights or interests of third parties.”
“The two leaders shared their intention to remain in close communication about the situation in the East China Sea, and expressed concern about any unilateral actions which increase tensions in the area.”
Important of note, too, was the two nations’ interest in pursuing cyberspace defence measures, with the statement continuing:
“The two leaders shared the importance of developing and strengthening the rules-based system in new domains such as cyberspace and outer space, and they confirmed their shared interests in continuing to closely cooperate in these areas.
“They also decided to enhance their efforts for a free, open and secure cyberspace, including through cooperation in multilateral frameworks and a bilateral cyber security dialogue. On outer space, the two leaders confirmed the importance of implementing the Guidelines for the Long-term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities and took note of ongoing discussions on a bilateral memorandum on the registration of space objects. They expressed a desire to expand space cooperation between the two countries. For this purpose, they encouraged discussions on a possible partnership arrangement on bilateral space cooperation.” (Source: Defence Connect)
20 Sep 19. Japan leads development of regional ‘capability aggregation and collective deterrence.’ The Japanese government’s approval of the F-35B acquisition and modernisation of its maritime capabilities has been designed to reinforce the nation’s commitment to the regional and global rules-based order. The growing commonality of platforms and weapons systems fielded by Japan, Australia, the US and South Korea provides avenues for Australia ahead of the new Defence White Paper.
Australia has long sought to balance the paradigms of strategic independence and strategic dependence – seemingly limited by a comparatively small population and industrial base, the pendulum has always swung more heavily towards a paradigm of dependence, however the changing nature of domestic and global affairs requires renewed consideration.
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 balance of economic, political and strategic power in the Indo-Pacific.
This perfect storm of factors, swirling like a maelstrom across Australia’s northern borders, has largely gone unnoticed by the Australian public, beyond the odd port visit by American or, as recently happened, Chinese naval vessels that seem to cause momentary flurries of concern. Meanwhile, Australia’s strategic and political leaders appear to be caught in an increasingly dangerous paradigm of thinking, one of continuing US-led dominance and Australia maintaining its position as a supplementary power.
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.
Key to these recommendations for Australian and regional partners, like Japan and South Korea, is: “Pursue capability aggregation and collective deterrence in the Indo-Pacific with regional allies and partners.” This can be more broadly defined as emphasising increased training, platform commonality driving interoperability, collaboration on operating doctrine and force structure and a joint pursuit of key, ‘joint force’ strategic deterrence platforms.
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 (STOVL) fighter aircraft and the subsequent modernisation and upgrade of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force’s (JMSDF) 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.
Allies carrying the mantle
One of the core challenges facing the US in the Indo-Pacific and, more broadly, key allies like Australia, Japan and South Korea, is the growing atrophy of America’s armed forces in the region, and the report cites a number of contributing factors directly impacting the capacity of the US to wage war, particularly as China, a peer competitor, presents an increasingly capable, equipped and well funded array of platforms, doctrine and capabilities.
“America has an atrophying force that is not sufficiently ready, equipped or postured for great power competition in the Indo-Pacific — a challenge it is working hard to address. Twenty years of near-continuous combat and budget instability has eroded the readiness of key elements in the US Air Force, Navy, Army and Marine Corps. Military accidents have risen, ageing equipment is being used beyond its lifespan and training has been cut,” the study identifies.
The USSC spells out the one thing few of Australia’s strategic policy thinkers and political leaders seem willing to come to terms with, beyond the radical fluctuations between doom and gloom scenarios: some of which range from a complete retreat by the US, leaving Australia and other regional allies alone, or a semi-retreat and focus on limiting risk to key American assets in the region.
In doing so, the USSC recognises that for the first time America has a true competitor in China – a nation with immense industrial potential, growing wealth and prosperity, a driving national purpose and a growing series of alliances with re-emerging, resource rich great powers in Russia, and supported by a growing network of economic hubs and indebted psuedo-colonies throughout the Indo-Pacific and Asia.
As part of this recognition, the USSC identifies the growing need for capability aggregation and collective deterrence in the Indo-Pacific, with both Australia and Japan playing critical roles in balancing any decline in the US and its capacity to unilaterally project power, influence and presence throughout the region.
“Prudent capability aggregation between the armed forces of Australia, Japan and the United States will be critical to addressing the shortfalls that America is likely to face in its military power over the coming years. The strategic purpose of such efforts should be to strengthen the collective capacity to deter prospective Chinese fait accompli aggression in strategically significant regional flashpoints, particularly along the First Island Chain and in the South China Sea,” the USSC paper identifies.
“Australia and Japan have credible roles to play in an Indo-Pacific collective balancing strategy. For capability aggregation to work, the United States must fully ‘read in’ allies like Australia and Japan, starting with more integrated intelligence sharing and evolving towards regional operational military planning. Establishing pathways towards joint operational directives are necessary building blocks for an effective denial strategy, as knowing how multi-national forces will be employed in peacetime and war is critical to the reliability of the collective deterrent.”
“As Tokyo and Canberra continue to modernise their militaries over the next decade, they will maintain — and in some cases, expand — their collective inventory of assets in several crucial areas: attack submarines, anti-submarine warfare assets and principal surface combatants,” the USSC paper adds, which also identifies the potential for both Australia and Japan to bring forward the planned acquisition of their respective future submarine capabilities to counter balance any decline in the US Navy’s nuclear attack submarine fleet in the 2020s.
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 anti-access/area-denial (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 paper said.
The growing proliferation of advanced submarines, combined with the growing naval aviation capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army Navy and the People’s Liberation Army Air Force have triggered a robust response from both Australia and Japan to invest heavily in a range of capabilities that will enhance the anti-submarine, maritime patrol, anti-surface and long-range strike capabilities of their respective armed forces.
“Australian and Japanese naval and maritime air forces can also make significant contributions to coalition strategic anti-submarine warfare operations. Large-scale, co-ordinated and networked ASW campaigns remain a critical area of asymmetric advantage for coalition forces in the Indo-Pacific … Over the next decade, the Royal Australian Air Force will operate up to 15 P-8s, while the JMSDF will have 70 P-1s in its inventory,” the USSC states.
“Australia’s surface vessel recapitalisation is also adding sophisticated ASW capability to the entire feet, with nine new ASW frigates, towed-array sonars for the new destroyers and 24 MH-60 Romeo maritime helicopters. Taken together, these capabilities mean that Tokyo and Canberra will possess a genuinely credible capability to bring to bear in any major ASW campaign in the Indo-Pacific — finding, tracking and, if necessary, countering Chinese submarines as part of an overall defensive strategy of deterrence by denial.”
However, Japan, like South Korea and China, has begun a rapid period of naval aviation capability modernisation and expansion with the approval of 42 F-35 aircraft to form the basis of the island nation’s growing power projection and amphibious warfare capabilities — this acquisition flies in direct contradiction to Japan’s post-World War II constitution.
As part of Abe’s commitment toward 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.
Supporting this, Abe’s government plans to operate a fleet of approximately 147 fifth-generation aircraft, including the 42 ‘B’ variant STOVL F-35 aircraft, in a similar manner to American amphibious warfare ships and the UK’s Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers. The introduction of these capabilities will directly support Japan’s long-range maritime strike, air interdiction and fleet aviation capabilities, which are critical to defending Japanese territorial and economic interests in Indo-Pacific Asia.
These vessels, in conjunction with smaller Osumi Class transports, will also play host to the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force’s (JGSDF) ‘Amphibious Rapid Deployment’ brigade – a specially developed amphibious unit similar to US Marine Expeditionary Units designed to defend Japanese interests in the South China Sea, namely the Senkaku Islands, which have served as a flash point between the two nations. (Source: Defence Connect)
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