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05 Dec 19. Putin says Russia ready to extend New START nuclear arms treaty. Russia is ready to extend the New START nuclear arms control treaty by the end of this year without any more conditions or discussion, President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday, appearing to drop Moscow’s earlier defiant tone.
The New START accord, signed in 2010, limits the number of strategic nuclear warheads that Washington and Moscow can deploy. Its fate has been in the spotlight since Washington pulled out of another key arms accord in August, citing violations by Russia that Moscow denies.
“Russia is not interested in starting an arms race and deploying missiles where they are not present now,” Putin told officials in a meeting.
“Russia is ready to immediately, as soon as possible, by the end of this year, without any preconditions, extend the START Treaty so that there would be no further double or triple interpretation of our position,” Putin said.
A month ago, Russia said there was no longer enough time left to negotiate a full-fledged replacement for the New START treaty, which expires in February 2021.
In mid-November, the head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service said it was unlikely the agreement would be extended. (Source: Reuters)
06 Dec 19. Iran vows to continue missile work, dismisses EU powers’ U.N. letter. Iran on Thursday rejected pressure to shelve its ballistic missile programme after a European letter to the U.N. Security Council accused Tehran of developing missiles capable of delivering nuclear bombs.
The British, German and French ambassadors to the Council, in a letter circulated on Wednesday, called on U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to tell the body in his next report that Iran’s missile programme was “inconsistent” with a U.N. resolution underpinning the 2015 nuclear deal reached between Iran and six world powers.
Iran responded defiantly, saying it was determined to proceed with its missile programme, which it has repeatedly described as defensive in purpose and nothing to do with its nuclear activity.
“Iran is determined to resolutely continue its activities related to ballistic missiles and space launch vehicles,” Iranian U.N. envoy Majid Takhte Ravanchi said in a letter to Guterres.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denounced the European powers’ intervention.
“Latest E3 letter to UNSG on missiles is a desperate falsehood to cover up their miserable incompetence in fulfilling bare minimum of their own #JCPOA obligations,” Zarif tweeted, referring to the nuclear deal by its formal acronym. He urged Britain, France and Germany not to bow to “U.S. bullying”.
The letter surfaced at a time of heightened friction between Iran and the West. Tehran is rolling back its commitments under the deal step by step in response to Washington’s withdrawal from the pact last year and reimposition of sanctions on the Islamic Republic that has crippled its economy.
A 2015 U.N. resolution “called upon” Iran to refrain for up to eight years from work on ballistic missiles that could be capable of delivering nuclear warheads.
Some states – including Russia, which with four other world powers wields a veto on the Security Council – argue that the language does not make it obligatory.
France said on Thursday that Iran’s ballistic missile activities did not conform with the Security Council resolution and called on Tehran to respect all of its obligations under that resolution.
The Security Council is due to meet later this month on the state of compliance with the resolution underpinning the nuclear deal, and the European letter “will add to that discussion,” a senior European diplomat told Reuters.
Britain, France and Germany have sought to salvage the nuclear pact, under which Iran undertook to curtail its disputed uranium enrichment programme in return for relief from sanctions. But Tehran says European powers have failed to shield Iran’s economy from U.S. sanctions.
The United States and its allies in the Middle East view Iran’s missile programme as a Middle East security threat. (Source: Reuters)
05 Dec 19. U.S. Bolsters Indo-Pacific Alliances in Face of Threats. A top Defense Department official said the U.S. and its allies are facing a number of global threats — from Russia, North Korea, Iran, Syria and various terrorist groups. John C. Rood, undersecretary of defense for policy, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that a growing concern, however, is the military, economic and political high-end threats to Indo-Pacific region allies and partners emanating from China. Rood testified today at a hearing on strategic threats, ongoing challenges and National Defense Strategy implementation.
In response to regional threats from China, the Defense Department is strengthening its military relationships with a number of countries, he said, citing examples in his oral and written testimony:
The department is integrating its National Defense Strategy with Japan’s analogous National Defense Program Guidelines and has an ongoing dialogues to reevaluate roles, missions and capabilities while increasing operational readiness and training, Rood said.
DOD is also increasing cooperation with the Japanese in space, cyberspace, the electromagnetic spectrum, and artificial intelligence as well as cross-domain operations, he added.
“We are committed to a common vision for the U.S.-India Major Defense Partnership, which we will advance … on Dec. 18,” Rood said.
Additionally, the department has agreed to expand military-to-military cooperation and improve interoperability, including by establishing a new tri-service amphibious exercise that will be called Tiger Triumph, he said.
“No country in Southeast Asia does more than Singapore to enable a U.S.-forward presence in the Indo-Pacific,” Rood said.
More than 100 U.S. warships and 800 to 1,000 U.S. military aircraft transit through Singapore each year, he noted.
Singapore supports DOD’s rotational deployment of its littoral combat ships and P-8 Poseidon aircraft, Rood mentioned.
Also, Singapore forces have four active training units stationed in the United States. “We expect to agree soon on a permanent Singapore fighter training presence in Guam,” he said, adding that Singapore is a top purchaser of advanced U.S. weapons systems.
Consistent with the policy articulated in the Taiwan Relations Act, the U.S. continues to make available to Taiwan the defense materiel and services necessary to enable it to maintain sufficient self-defense capability, Rood said.
This year, DOD has approved more than $10bn in defense sales — such as M1A2 Abrams tanks and F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters — to recapitalize its force.
“We are supporting their development of more mobile, survivable and asymmetric capabilities,” Rood said. “The ultimate goal is to develop a more combat credible force.”
“In Vietnam, we are building a productive defense relationship and overcoming the legacy of the Vietnam War,” he told lawmakers.
Last year, the U.S. Navy conducted the first aircraft carrier visit to Vietnam since the end of the war. The U.S. has also transferred a high-endurance Coast Guard cutter to Vietnam. In addition, Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper announced during his visit to Hanoi two weeks ago that the U.S. will provide a second such cutter to Vietnam.
Besides mentioning those nations, Rood said the department is engaging with island nations throughout the Pacific and is planning to invest $521m over the next five years in programs like the Maritime Security Initiative to build the capacity of allies and partners in the region, including developing partners’ ability to conduct maritime security and maritime domain awareness operations and advancing interoperability with U.S. forces.
Air Force Lt. Gen. David W. Allvin, the Joint Staff’s director for strategy, plans and policy, also testified. The two discussed a number of other topics. (Source: US DoD)
05 Dec 19. No Plans to Leave Iraq, Defense Official Says. The U.S. military presence in Iraq is predicated on permission to be there from the Iraqi government, and U.S. forces will remain so long as the Iraqi government agrees, the undersecretary of defense for policy said.
“Our intention is to stay. Do we plan to change the posture of U.S. forces? Not at this time,” said John C. Rood, who spoke yesterday during a Defense Writers Group meeting in Washington.
“We are very clear that we are there with the permission of the Iraqi government,” Rood said. “And that is a necessary condition for U.S. forces to be there.”
U.S. military initiatives in Iraq have been effective, he said. Those initiatives include helping Iraqi military forces build their capabilities, providing other types of assistance and also assisting with the conduct of the fight against ISIS.
“ISIS at one time occupied and controlled large swaths of Iraqi territory,” Rood said. “The fight against ISIS is not done. There are still a substantial number of ISIS fighters there. And the Iraqi government knows that and they really value — and I heard this directly from them — the partnership with U.S. forces, the partnership with the U.S. military in addressing that.”
Protests in Iraq, which kicked off in October, have been met in some cases with violence on the part of the Iraqi government, he said. This is something that Rood said the U.S. has addressed.
“Obviously, the violence occurring in the protests and against the protestors is also something we persistently express concerns about, directly, and I did, to the Iraqi leadership,” he said. “We’ve made no secret of the fact we’d like to see greater restraint exercised in terms of the use of violence there.”
Rood also said, however, he finds the tone of those protests to be noteworthy — especially in the national identity being expressed by the Iraqi population.
“There is an Iraqi identity that is evident in the protests and in the reaction to them throughout the country that is more pronounced, I think, than most Iraq observers have seen in recent months and years,” he said. “[It’s] an Iraqi identity and a willingness and a desire to be a state that stands on its own two feet to a greater extent, and a reaction against some of the negative Iranian influence, the influence of other countries trying to interfere in internal Iraqi activities.” (Source: US DoD)
05 Dec 19. Morocco and Saudi Arabia have discussed closer defense-industrial cooperation within the framework of their existing military relationship. Participants in the second meeting of the Moroccan-Saudi Military Joint Commission discussed areas of common interest, including efforts to improve interoperability between the two countries’ Armed Forces. Officials also pledged to continue cooperation activities in 2020. During the gathering, the joint committee discussed various aspects of military cooperation, welcomed the positiv outcome of the cooperation and praised the partnership between the Armed Forces of the two countries. Under a military and technical cooperation agreement, signed in December 2015, the two countries committed to co-operate on training, industrial development, logistical support and other services. (Source: defenseindustrydaily.com)
05 Dec 19. U.S. military completes pullback from northeast Syria, Esper says. The United States has completed its military pullback in northeastern Syria, settling into a more stable posture of about 600 troops in the rest of the country after repositioning and reducing forces, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said. Esper’s remarks in an interview with Reuters could signal the end of a period of turbulence and uncertainty surrounding the U.S. military presence in Syria after President Donald Trump’s initial withdrawal order in October.
Since then, troop levels in Syria have fallen about 40 percent from around 1,000.
Esper stressed he retained the ability to move in and out smaller numbers of forces as needed into Syria. But he suggested the number of troops will fluctuate around the 600-level for the foreseeable future.
“It will be relatively static around that number. But if we see things happen … I can dial up a little bit,” Esper said late on Wednesday during a flight back from the NATO summit on the outskirts of London.
Esper also didn’t rule out being able to reduce U.S. troop levels in Syria further if European allies contributed to the Syria mission.
“The coalition is talking a lot again. We could see some allies want to volunteer troops,” Esper said, without suggesting any new contribution was imminent.
“If an allied country, a NATO country, decided to give us 50 people, I might be able to turn off 50 people.”
The U.S. military says it is focused on preventing a resurgence of Islamic State in Syria and carried out a raid last month that led to the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Trump, in London, said he wanted remaining U.S. forces to ensure Syria’s oil reserves don’t fall back into the militant group’s hands.
“We kept the oil. And the oil is what fueled ISIS,” Trump said, using an acronym for Islamic State.
NO MOVEMENT ON TURKEY S-400S
Trump softened his pullout plans for Syria after backlash from Congress, including among key Republicans, who say he cleared the way for a long-threatened Turkish incursion against Kurdish forces in Syria who had been America’s top allies in the battle against Islamic State.
NATO diplomats worry that Turkey, a NATO member since 1952 and a critical ally in the Middle East, has increasingly acted unilaterally, launching its incursion in Syria against U.S.-backed forces and buying advanced Russian S-400 air defenses.
Washington says the S-400 system is incompatible with NATO air defenses, poses a threat to Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35 stealth fighter jets and announced in July it was removing Turkey from the F-35 program. It has also warned of possible U.S. sanctions.
After summit talks between Trump and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, Esper suggested Ankara had not budged yet on the S-400 issue.
“There’s no movement at this point,” Esper said.
Still, after lobbying by NATO allies, including the United States, Erdogan backed off from a threat to block defense plans for the Baltic states and Poland unless allies declared Kurdish fighters in Syria terrorists.
“I think it was a positive move forward,” Esper said, of the change in position by Turkey.
“They’ve been a valuable part of NATO for decades, from the earliest days. So we got to keep them in the fold.” (Source: Reuters)
03 Dec 19. Israel Asks Trump To Withhold TOWs, Drones From Lebanese Military Aid. A senior Israeli defense source who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “Washington has not realized that the Hezbollah is Iran’s very strong proxy and that supplying weapons to such an organization that actually is calling the shots in Lebanon is sheer stupidity.”
TEL AVIV: Don’t give Lebanon weapons that can be used against us, Israel is asking Washington, adding a new wrinkle to the $105m in Foreign Military Financing that had been withheld without notice by the Trump administration.
The Office of Management and Budget director failed to answer questions from the House Foreign Affairs Committee about why the Trump administration froze the aid. It may have come at the behest of Israeli sources, who media have reported have been lobbying the US to withhold the aid since summer.
A senior Israeli defense source who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “Washington has not realized that the Hezbollah is Iran’s very strong proxy and that supplying weapons to such an organization that actually is calling the shots in Lebanon is sheer stupidity.”
In particular, the Israeli sources say anti-tank missiles and drones should be barred from any military aid.
The drumbeat of criticism was consistent among close observers of Israeli military policy. Amos Gilad, former director of policy and political-military affairs at the Ministry of Defense, told Breaking Defense that the military aid to Lebanon has been a dilemma in recent years “Since the Hezbollah terror organization actually controls the country , the military assistance should be limited to weapons systems that cannot be used against Israel”
Giora Eiland, former head of the Israeli National Security Council, told Breaking Defense the assistance should be given under strict restrictions: “Lebanon is controlled by a terror organization and therefore the U.S security assistance should not include items that can harm Israel.”
The Israeli government has struggled with how to explain to Washington that military support to the Lebanese army is actually helping Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy, which the Israeli government argues controls Lebanon. Many American Middle East experts share a less absolute view, pointing to the Lebanese army as one of that country’s only institutions that is multi-ethnic and includes members of most of the country’s religious groupings. Bolstering it, they argue, provides Israel with a buffer against Syria and, thus, Iran.
Mordechai Kedar, a research associate of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies considered one of the leading experts on Middle East issues, says unequivocally that Hezbollah controls Lebanon. “The organization controls the country’s presidency. No president was elected during two years until the candidate was approved by the Hezbollah. It controls the government, the army and everything else.”
Kedar added that countries supporting the Lebanese army simply ignore this: “The same thing happens with Iran when European governments deal with Teheran and close their eyes in order not to see the reality.”
Eldad Shavit and Aaron Kornbluth, experts at the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), say in a paper that since 2006 the U.S. has provided the Lebanese army with more than $1.6bn in military aid, including six A-29 Super Tucano light attack planes, 32 Bradley M2-A2s, light attack helicopters (MD 530G), and six Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicles. In addition, US Special Forces personnel are in Lebanon to do training.
Meanwhile, Russia, so deeply ensconced in Syria, has begun talks with the Lebanese army to sign a cooperative agreement, according to the two Israeli researchers. The agreement would open Lebanese seaports and airports to Russian military maritime vessels and planes. Russia is also reportedly interested in assisting the Lebanese army with training and military equipment.
Shavit and Kornbluth say the US administration emphasizes that its military aid to Lebanon does not pose a threat to Israeli forces, and that the weapon systems are not expected to fundamentally change the balance of power. But Israeli national security officials and experts clearly don’t agree.
“In practice, a great deal of evidence, including evidence that accumulated over 2017, is indicative of cooperation between Hezbollah and the Lebanese army in the operational realm, within the framework of the military measures against the Islamic State on the Syrian-Lebanese border, and in the course of incidents that have occurred along the Israeli-Lebanese border,” the experts write.
If Hezbollah starts launching missiles into Israel from Lebanon, Israel, our sources say, will consider it an act of war. (Source: glstrade.com/Breaking Defense.com)
03 Dec 19. Malaysia points to top concerns in first-ever defense whitepaper. Malaysia has unveiled its first-ever defense whitepaper, identifying its maritime claims in the South China Sea as a top concern, amid a stagnant budget that continues to dog attempts at modernizing its military. Tabling the document in Malaysia’s Parliament, Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu said the whitepaper is an opportunity to discuss the Southeast Asian nation’s strategic outlook. Unsurprisingly, ongoing tension between the U.S. and China received attention in the minister’s speech, where he noted that competition between both powers over technological, maritime and other issues were likely to intensify in the future, despite there being areas for cooperation.
He also highlighted continuing encroachment by foreign military and paramilitary vessels near islands and features in the South China Sea to which Malaysia claims ownership. He did not identify the origin of the foreign vessels, although the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative has reported that Chinese Coast Guard vessels have maintained a regular presence at Luconia Shoals.
In addition to security issues brought on by the occasional spillover of separatist and extremist insurgencies in the southern Philippines, the minister said Malaysia’s armed forces will continue to plan for improvements in the security of eastern Malaysia. The maritime domain will be the top priority, he added..
Opposition lawmakers have criticized the whitepaper for lacking detail. Hishammuddin Hussein, who served as defense minister in the former government and was voted out of office in a shock result last year, pointed out that Malaysia’s ongoing defense procurement programs were initiated by the former government.
In response, the minister said Malaysia will release a separate document outlining its procurement priorities, although he gave timeline. He also said he will call for an increase in Malaysia’s defense budget, although Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng has since clarified that any increase will be dependent on how the country’s economy performs.
Malaysia’s defense procurement plans have been derailed in recent years by the country’s continuing budget problems, with little funding cleared for equipment recapitalization. This has led to projects like the purchase of maritime patrol aircraft being put on ice.
In late November, the defense minister said Malaysia intends to lease transport helicopters as a stopgap measure following the grounding of its aging Sikorsky S-61 Sea King helicopters. However, neither details on the type of helicopter to be leased nor tender documents have been issued.
The minister also said Malaysia is considering an offer from Russia to take back Malaysia’s retired MiG-29 jets and replace them with newer MiG-35 fighters, although such a move would face obstacles from CAATSA, or Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act — a law passed by the U.S. Congress that imposes sanctions on countries that conduct business transactions with adversary countries such as Russia or North Korea.
The defense whitepaper has only been circulated among Malaysia’s members of Parliament. It received approval late Monday after a full day of debate. It will now be further refined, and an executive summary will be released later this week, with a full document to follow by early next year. (Source: Defense News)
03 Dec 19. Australian Government responds to growing foreign interference concerns. Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton have announced an $87.8m investment in a new Counter Foreign Interference Taskforce.
The taskforce will work in the National Counter Foreign Interference Coordinator that was established last year in the Department of Home Affairs and will expand the resources the coordinator has at their fingertips.
This new taskforce will be led by a senior ASIO officer and bring together a new team of Australian Federal Police investigators and representatives from AUSTRAC, the Australian Signals Directorate and the Australian Geospatial Intelligence Organisation; additionally, the Office of National Intelligence will also support the taskforce.
The increase in intelligence collection, assessment and law enforcement capabilities will help turn more intelligence assessments into operational disruptions to better protect Australians from foreign interference.
The new dedicated capability of the taskforce will also increase the collaboration and streamline the decision-making between agencies, and strengthen Australia’s analysis of the sophisticated disinformation activities happening across the world, particularly against democratic processes and elections.
“This is a boost to our ability to discover, track and disrupt foreign interference in Australia. Importantly, this investment will deliver a new capability without detracting from agencies’ continued and necessary efforts on other security challenges,” the joint release articulated.
This announcement builds on the $38.8m the government has committed since 2018-19 to counter foreign interference, which includes establishing a Foreign Interference Threat Assessment Centre in ASIO and funding to support criminal prosecutions under new foreign interference offences.
The joint release added, “We have already taken significant steps to strengthen Australia’s capacity to defend against foreign interference, including through the package of legislation introduced in 2018.
“We will continue to take strong action to deter acts of foreign interference as the threat evolves, defend against them when they occur, and uphold our laws.” (Source: Defence Connect)
03 Dec 19. First indigenous aircraft carrier will be fully operational by 2022, says Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh. Admiral Singh, speaking at an annual press conference, also said that the Navy’s long-term plan is to have three aircraft carriers.
The first indigenous aircraft carrier will be fully operational by 2022, said Navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh on Tuesday.
Admiral Singh, speaking at an annual press conference, also said that the Navy’s long-term plan is to have three aircraft carriers. He asserted that the Navy is fully prepared to deal with national security challenges.
“We are putting our defence and security in place to ensure that threats from terror groups like are thwarted. I want to assure that Navy along with the Coast Guard and other security agencies are ready to face any challenge,” Singh was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.
He also revealed that the Navy’s annual budget allocation has come down from 18 per cent to 12 per cent in the last five years.
The Navy chief said India is playing a stabilising role in the Indo-Pacific region and no action by any other player in the region should impact New Delhi.
He then said that seven to eight Chinese ships are usually present in Indian Ocean region, PTI reported. When asked about the massive expansion of the Chinese Navy, Singh said “they are moving at the pace they are capable of and we are moving at the place we are capable of”. (Source: News Now/https://www.hindustantimes.com/)
02 Dec 19. DIA Report Highlights Role of UAVs in Iran’s Defence Strategy. A US Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) report has highlighted the importance of UAVs in Iran’s defence strategy, and the possibility of new fighter buys when United Nations sanctions end in 2020.
“UAVs are Iran’s most rapidly advancing air capability,” says the report. “Iran uses these versatile platforms for a variety of missions, including ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) and air-to-ground strikes.”
The UAVs are mainly operated by the the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force, and not the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force, which operates most of the country’s fixed wing assets..
The DIA Report is in line with annual reports the agency produces about the USA’s other major competitors, China and Russia.
Tehran’s UAVs are used for ISR missions along the country’s borders as well as in the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz. Armed and unarmed UAVs have also been dispatched to Syria and Iraq in support of operations against Islamic State. This included a long-range strike in 2018 that saw armed UAVs used in concert with ballistic missiles to attack the Islamic State in Eastern Syria.
The DIA report lists 14 ingenuously produced UAVs that are in military service. These are mainly for ISR missions, but there are three main armed systems: the Shahed-129, Mohajer-6, and Fotros. Several of Iran’s UAVs are based on the re-engineering of captured western UAVs.
The country’s primary UAV developer is Iran Aviation Industries Organization, which also produces light aircraft. Tehran has set UAVs as a development priority through 2021.
“However, despite advances in its UAV manufacturing capabilities, Iran remains reliant on Western manufactured engines and components to support its UAV production,” the report says. “Iran is developing a domestic UAV engine but is struggling with quality issues.”
Tehran’s conventional airpower, meanwhile, still relies on legacy western types obtained before the Iranian Revolution of 1979. These include the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom, Grumman F-14A Tomcat, and Northrop F-5E, which are supplemented by Mikoyan MiG-29s and Sukhoi Su-24s obtained in the 1990s.
“Iran is unable to produce complete combat aircraft, but it has established a robust capability to maintain, upgrade, and modify its aging U.S. and Russian military aircraft.”
While Tehran seeks to produce modern fighter aircraft, it would need substantial foreign help to so.
The report adds that the arms embargo imposed on Iran is will be lifted by October 2020, allowing it to obtain new weapons systems such as fighters and main battle tanks. It contends that Tehran is already in discussions with Moscow about Su-30 fighters and Yakovlev Yak-130 trainers, as well as the Almaz-Antey S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile system.
“Once the UN arms embargo ends, Tehran can purchase advanced fourth-generation fighter aircraft. Iran will also develop and field more-capable UAVs, including armed platforms.” (Source: UAS VISION/FlightGlobal)
02 Dec 19. SEA 1000 costs and delivery time balloon again. The latest round of Senate estimates hearings has revealed a startling cost explosion for Australia’s Attack Class future submarines, raising questions about affordability and a potential capability gap leaving the nation exposed at a time when half of the world’s combat submarines are expected to be operating in the Indo-Pacific.
It is the largest defence acquisition project in the history of the nation, but the apparently $50 bn project to replace the ageing Collins Class submarines with 12 regionally-superior submarines is in deep water as growing concerns about cost, capability and delivery time frame are again making headlines following a fiery exchange at Senate estimates.
Future Submarine Program manager, Rear Admiral Greg Sammut, explained to the Senate estimates hearing that the ‘out-turned’ cost of Australia’s future fleet of submarines was estimated to be around $80 bn – a figure frequently cited but subsequently rubbished by former defence minister Christopher Pyne and other Defence officials.
Further compounding the costs associated with the acquisition is the continuing concerns about the capability of the proposed vessels with many expressing, often vocally, concerns about the obsolescence of lead-acid batteries and the conventional power plant expected to power the vessels out to the 2080s.
When then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the DCNS, now Naval Group, conventionally-powered Shortfin Barracuda, now the Attack Class, as the successful design for the hotly contested SEA 1000 Future Submarine program in April 2016, it seemed as if the disastrous procurement of the Collins Class would be put aside.
The Attack Class is expected to deliver a quantum leap in the capability delivered to the Royal Australian Navy and its submarine service by leveraging technology and capabilities developed for nuclear submarines, implemented on a conventional submarine.
France’s own projected fleet of Barracuda Class serve as the basis for Australia’s own Attack Class with one major difference, nuclear propulsion.
However, with the first vessel expected to enter the water in the mid-to-late 2030s, concerns regarding the cost, delivery and capability of the vessels is serving to raise questions about the value proposition for a conventional submarine at a time of increasing technological advancement in comparable vessels operated by peer and near-peer competitors in the Indo-Pacific.
Another bump in the road – cost increases and delayed construction
As part of the Senate estimates hearing, RADM Sammut revealed that the total cost for the turned out vessels was now estimated to be $145bn, bringing the total SEA 1000 program cost to around $225bn by the time of the vessel’s planned retirement sometime in the 2080s.
“It is only an estimate of the sustainment of the fleet, we are designing the sub today,” RADM Sammut explained.
This cost explosion is further exacerbated by an apparent ‘slip’ in the planned commencement date for construction of the lead boat, HMAS Attack, which was widely publicised as 2022-23 and has now subsequently been pushed back to the 2024 time frame – further exposing Australia’s ageing Collins Class vessels to potential adversary over match.
RADM Sammut was quick to explain this away, like a skilled operator, informing Senate estimates that the slated time frame was referencing the standing up of construction personnel, tools, infrastructure, processes and equipment to commence the construction of HMAS Attack’s pressure hull in 2024.
These bombshells come following a revelation earlier in the year that the cancellation fees associated with the SEA 1000 program amounted to $404m – which seems like a steal when measured against the ballooning costs associated with the program.
Plug and play construction, allied collaboration and the future of Australia’s submarine force
To contrast the costs associated with Australia’s future Attack Class submarines of between $4.2 and $6bn per unit (including infrastructure development, research and development costs) – compared with the unit cost of the French Barracuda’s of approximately US$1.4bn ($2bn) per unit (based on 2013 prices raises questions about the validity and cost-benefit analysis conducted on doubling down with early-20th century technology).
Contemporary submarine construction, like contemporary naval and civilian shipbuilding, is done predominantly in a modular, ‘block build’ fashion enabling an easier integration for technology development and enhancements throughout the build phase – what this means is a stark difference between the broader capabilities and technology in vessels over the life of the build phase.
The long lead-time prior to the commencement of the construction process provides a number of additional opportunities, particularly for Australia’s Attack Class submarines – in particular to avoid the costly redesign and conversion phase, purchase the standard Barracuda Class design and make the necessary modifications to incorporate the US-designed weapons systems and combat systems without reinventing the wheel.
Doing so builds on the technological and industrial lessons learned by Naval Group throughout the same process getting Suffren to the launch stage – it wouldn’t serve to hinder the build process for Australian industry and would serve to reduce risk for Australia.
Additionally, it would provide the opportunity for Australian industry to bring the phase forward by using Australian workers to build the full submarines while drawing on French nuclear propulsion expertise to serve as “technology insert” experts to install the nuclear reactors for the Australian submarines.
The long lead-time for this development would also provide an opportunity for Australia to embed both civilian and military nuclear experts and submariners in the nuclear industries and nuclear-powered submarine fleets of key allies including France, the US and UK to develop the expertise and skills required to safely, efficiently and effectively operate nuclear-powered submarines.
This stubborn insistence to consistently reinventing the wheel and calling it progress will serve to challenge the long-term capability of both Australia’s submarine fleet while also cementing a 20th century focused industrial capacity.
However, it doesn’t have to be this way, as Australia’s recently initiated design clarification process, long lead-time for construction and combined with international partnerships provide the opportunity to reset the paradigm.
Questions to be asked
As an island nation, Australia is defined by its relationship and access to the ocean, with strategic sea-lines-of-communication support over 90 per cent of global trade, a result of the cost effective and reliable nature of sea transport.
Indo-Pacific Asia is at the epicentre of the global maritime trade, with about US$5trn worth of trade flowing through the South China Sea and the strategic waterways and choke points of south-east Asia annually.
While the Indian Ocean and its critical global sea-lines-of-communication are responsible for more than 80 per cent of the world’s seaborne trade in critical energy supplies, namely oil and natural gas, which serve as the lifeblood of any advanced economy.
Submarines are critical to the nation’s ability to protect these strategically vital waterways and key naval assets, as well as providing a viable tactical and strategic deterrent and ensure the nation’s enduring national and economic security – recognising this, the previously posed questions will serve as conversation starting points.
However, given the geographic area of responsibility Australia will become increasingly responsible for and dependent on, is the RAN and the recapitalisation and conventionally-focused modernisation program for Australia’s submarine fleet enough for Australia to maintain its qualitative and quantitative lead over regional peers?
Traditionally, Australia has focused on a platform-for-platform acquisition program – focused on replacing, modernising or upgrading key capabilities on a like-for-like basis without a guiding policy, doctrine or strategy, limiting the overall effectiveness, survivability and capability of the RAN. (Source: Defence Connect)
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