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08 May 20. US pulls Patriot missiles, fighter aircraft from Saudi Arabia amid dispute. The U.S. is pulling two Patriot missile batteries and some fighter aircraft out of Saudi Arabia, an American official said Thursday, amid tensions between the kingdom and the Trump administration over oil production.
The official said the decision removes two batteries that were guarding oil facilities in Saudi Arabia but leaves two Patriot batteries at Prince Sultan Air Base in the Saudi desert, along with other air defense systems and jet fighters.
The decision scales back the American presence in Saudi Arabia just months after the Pentagon began a military buildup there to counter threats from Iran. About 300 troops that staff the two batteries would also leave Saudi Arabia, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military operations.
The move comes as the U.S. has sent Patriot systems into Iraq to protect American and allied troops there, who came under an Iranian missile attack earlier this year. The Army has a limited number of the systems, and they routinely must be brought home for upgrades.
Two other Patriot batteries that are in the Middle East region are also heading home to the U.S., in a planned redeployment for maintenance and upgrades.
It’s not clear, however, whether the ongoing oil dispute or the struggle to parcel out the much-coveted Patriot systems was the key factor in the U.S. decision to pull systems out of the kingdom.
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When Saudi Arabia ramped up oil production and slashed prices this year, Republicans accused the kingdom of exacerbating instability in the oil market, which was already suffering because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The volatility and price crash in oil hurt U.S. shale producers, leading to layoffs in the industry, particularly in Republican-run states.
Some Republican senators warned in late March that if Saudi Arabia did not change course, it risked losing American defense support and facing a range of potential “levers of statecraft” such as tariffs and other trade restrictions, investigations and sanctions.
The U.S. official said a THAAD anti-ballistic missile defense system will also remain in Saudi Arabia. The THAAD complements the Patriots by providing a defense against ballistic missiles traveling outside Earth’s atmosphere.
The Saudi government and the Saudi Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment. State-run media in the kingdom similarly did not immediately acknowledge the troop removal.
The Pentagon announced last year that it would begin deploying forces and Patriot batteries to Prince Sultan Air Base, a former U.S. military hub. The move was one of the more dramatic signs of America’s decision to beef up troops in the Middle East in response to threats from Iran.
When Gen. Frank McKenzie, top U.S. commander for the Middle East, visited the base earlier this year, the American troop presence had grown to roughly 2,500. At the time, McKenzie told reporters with him that the base was a key strategic location, but that continued presence of troops and weapons there would depend on other national security needs around the world.
Tensions with Iran escalated throughout last summer and fall, as the U.S. blamed Tehran for using mines to target oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz and for attacking Saudi oil facilities. Violence peaked when the U.S. carried out a drone strike in Iraq that killed Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s top general.
In response, Iran on Jan. 8 fired ballistic missiles at al-Asad Air Base in Iraq where U.S. troops were stationed, causing more than 100 to be diagnosed with traumatic brain injury.
At the time of the attack, the U.S. had no Patriot defenses at those bases because it judged other locations, in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Gulf, to be more likely Iranian targets. After the attack, the U.S. decided to move Patriots into Iraq to give troops more protection from missiles.
Tensions with Iran remain high. Its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard was involved in a tense incident in the Persian Gulf last month. The Guard’s small boats repeatedly came dangerously close to U.S. warships, crossing in front of them multiple times. And the Guard is believed to have briefly seized control of a Hong Kong-flagged oil tanker.
(Source: Defense News)
08 May 20. US Ships Aid Malaysia As China Tries ‘Bullying’ In South China Sea. A mix of US ships have probed waters illegally claimed by China in the South China Sea in recent weeks, as the PLA Navy continues to harass civilian ships of neighboring countries. Two Navy ships sailed into the middle of a simmering dispute between China and a neighbor in the South China Sea on Thursday, shrugging off a shadowing Chinese warship in Washington’s latest effort to show presence in an increasingly contested waterway.
The Littoral Combat Ship USS Montgomery and supply ship USNS Cesar Chavez sailed close to a Malaysian drillship, the West Capella on Thursday, signalling to Chinese warships who have spent weeks harassing the commercial vessel in international waters illegally claimed by Beijing.
Pacific Fleet commander Adm. John Aquilino said in a statement the US is “committed to a rules-based order in the South China Sea, adding, “the Chinese Communist Party must end its pattern of bullying Southeast Asians out of offshore oil, gas, and fisheries. Millions of people in the region depend on those resources for their livelihood.”
The West Capella, drilling on the seafloor searching for oil deposits, has been drawing attention from Chinese fishing vessels and Coast Guard ships for the past two months. They “continued to harass the rig and its supply vessels. In response, Malaysian navy and law enforcement ships have been regularly patrolling the area,” according to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, run by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The Navy released photos showing the Montgomery operating close to the West Capella, sending a message to China that Washington is paying close attention to its latest attempts to make a power grab in the region. In recent days, top US officials have complained that Beijing is taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic which has gripped the attention of world governments and flatlined the global economy.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said recently that the US “strongly opposes China’s bullying,” charging, “the Chinese Communist Party is exerting military pressure on Taiwan and coercing its neighbors in the South China Sea, even going so far as to sink a Vietnamese fishing vessel. We hope other nations will hold them to account.”
“We continue to see aggressive behavior by the PLA in the South China Sea,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told reporters at the Pentagon earlier this week, “from threatening a Philippine navy ship to sinking a Vietnamese fishing boat, and intimidating other nations from engaging in offshore oil development.”
The Navy has taken to publicizing its operations in the South China Sea in recent weeks, likely as a show of commitment and strength after the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier was forced into port in Guam with 1,100 COVID-19 cases among its crew. The ship has been pierside for about 6 weeks, and it’s unclear when it will resume operations as the only US carrier active in the Pacific.
Late last month, the destroyer USS Barry cruised near the Paracels islands, claimed by China, followed a day later by the cruiser USS Bunker Hill sailing near the Spratlys conducting freedom-of-navigation operations.
On April 30, a day after the Bunker Hill’s transit, two B-1B bombers flew over the South China Sea.
These transits came just days after the USS America amphibious ship packed with Marine Corps F-35s passed through the South China Sea while conducting flight operations.
The America, with a contingent of Marines aboard, operated in the vicinity of the Chinese survey ship Haiyang Dizhi 8, which was being escorted by Chinese destroyers, a frigate, and several coast guard vessels. The ship had been shadowing the West Capella for weeks.
Rear Adm. Fred Kacher, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 7, added in a statement that the “USS Montgomery’s operations with the USNS Cesar Chavez highlight the flexibility and agility of our naval forces in this vital region.” In what was likely a nod to the Roosevelt being out of comission, he added, “our forces fly, sail and operate in the international waters of the South China Sea at our discretion and in accordance with maritime norms and international law, demonstrating the wide range of naval capability we have available in the Indo-Pacific.” (Source: Breaking Defense.com)
06 May 20. Facility near Pyongyang airport linked to North Korea’s missile programme, U.S. think-tank says. A new facility near Pyongyang International Airport is almost certainly linked to North Korea’s expanding ballistic missile programme, according to a report from a Washington-based think-tank. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) cited commercial satellite imagery it says shows the facility and a nearby underground structure have the capacity to accommodate North Korea’s largest intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that experts believe are able to strike anywhere in the United States.
The facility has been under construction since 2016, and includes a number of notable features, including an unusually large covered rail terminal and buildings that are linked by drive-through access, according to the CSIS report, published on Tuesday. The facility is also relatively close to ballistic missile component manufacturing plants in the Pyongyang area.
“Taken as a whole, these characteristics suggest that this facility is likely designed to support ballistic missile operations,” the report said, calling it the Sil-li Ballistic Missile Support Facility.
The North Korean embassy in Beijing could not immediately be reached for comment on the report.
When asked about the report at a regular briefing in Seoul on Wednesday, a spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry said it would be inappropriate to comment.
Negotiations aimed at dismantling North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes have been at a standstill after working-level meetings with the United States collapsed last year.
In 2018, North Korea said it closed its Punggye-ri nuclear test site, and last year it offered to dismantle its Yongbyon nuclear complex in return for the revocation of five key U.N. resolutions during a failed summit between leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump in Vietnam.
But experts and U.S. officials say in the absence of a denuclearisation deal, North Korea has continued to expand its arsenal of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
In recent months, North Korea has also warned it could rethink its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear weapons tests and ICBM launches.
Located on the southwest corner of Pyongyang International Airport – approximately 17km (10 miles) northwest of the North Korean capital – the Sil-li facility encompasses approximately 442,300 square metres (4.76 million square feet), according to CSIS.
“A high-bay building within the facility is large enough to accommodate an elevated Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile and, therefore, the entirety of North Korea’s known ballistic missile variants,” the report said.
“The facility has been constructed next to an underground facility whose likely size is also large enough to easily accommodate all known North Korean ballistic missiles and their associated launchers and support vehicles.”
The buildings are connected by a wide surfaced road network that could help move large trucks and ballistic missile launchers, the report said. North and South Korea on Saturday exchanged gunfire around a rural guard post, raising tension a day after North Korean state media showed Kim visiting a factory, the first report of him making a public appearance since April 11. North Korea launched multiple short-range anti-ship cruise missiles into the sea and Sukhoi jets fired air-to-surface missiles on April 14. (Source: Reuters)
28 Apr 20. India set to ‘ramp up’ defence production following lockdown. The Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) has called on state-owned defence enterprises to prepare to return to work and to “ramp up production” following the end of a national lockdown that has been in place since 25 March.
The MoD said in a statement that India’s defence minister Rajnath Singh has directed the public enterprises, which together employ about 200,000 people, to “prepare contingency plans” to restart work and “compensate for lost working time”. The latter includes a plan for employees to work six days a week, it said.
According to the MoD, some public enterprises have already started low-level operations, although all companies are expected to expand production activity from the beginning of May when the national lockdown is lifted.
The MoD said, “Almost all DPSUs [defence public sector undertakings] have made contingency plans to ramp up production after the lockdown is lifted by [working] in three shifts and extending workdays from five to six days a week.” It added, “Work will be carried out by observing social distancing and other relevant health guidelines.”
The MoD said that the return to work for national defence companies is significant in terms of supporting India’s plans to revive its post-lockdown economy. “DPSUs, along with the private defence industry, could play a major role in the economic revival,” it said, citing Singh.
India’s biggest DPSU, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), resumed scaled-up operations on 28 April, with employees working across two eight-hour shifts. The company has been operational during the lockdown but on a restricted basis.
HAL said in late March, just a week after the lockdown was introduced, that the move had impacted the final testing and certification of aircraft for the Indian defence forces. It added that deliveries of its Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) and its Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) had been delayed. (Source: Jane’s)
05 May 20. Defence reveals new strategy to maintain capability edge. Defence Minister Linda Reynolds and the Defence Science and Technology Group (DST) have announced a new plan for collaborative mission-directed research to ensure Australia’s forces maintain a capability edge.
Titled ‘More, together: Defence Science and Technology Strategy 2030’, it reiterates the necessity for our national science and technology enterprise to focus on big opportunities.
Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds said it is more important than ever to harness science and technology for a secure Australia.
“Australia’s defence and national security is facing a period of technological change and increasing threats. That is why the Australian government is committed to growing Australia’s ability to operate, sustain and upgrade our defence capabilities with the maximum degree of national sovereignty through the 2018 Defence Industrial Capability Plan,” Minister Reynolds said.
Over the next decade, DST will play a vital role in enabling and co-ordinating the support to Defence from a national science and technology enterprise.
Minister Reynolds said publicly funded research agencies, universities, industry, small to medium enterprises and entrepreneurship are critical elements to this.
“A key challenge for Defence in the coming decade will be investing in the right collaborations to deliver outcomes for Australia. That is why Defence must adopt a more targeted, top-down approach to engagement within the S&T ecosystem, both nationally and internationally,” Minister Reynolds added.
The 2016 Defence White Paper outlined the government’s commitment to ensuring Australia maintains a regionally superior Australian Defence Force with the highest levels of military capability and scientific and technological sophistication.
To meet the challenges of our evolving context, DST has led the development of a new science and technology (S&T) strategy for Defence, in consultation with senior leadership across Defence, industry, academia and international partners.
‘More, together’ marks an important step in taking us into the future to deliver strategic advantage across the full spectrum of Defence capabilities.
Focusing our national S&T enterprise on mission-directed research will ensure Defence is best positioned to realise capability advantage in a rapidly evolving environment.
Minister Reynolds added, “Key to this is a well-connected, informed and vibrant defence science and technology enterprise.” (Source: Defence Connect)
04 May 20. China’s Long-Range Xian H-20 Stealth Bomber Could Make Its Debut This Year. China’s new generation strategic bomber is likely to be ready for delivery this year, but Beijing is said to be weighing the impact of its unveiling at a complex time in regional relations due to the coronavirus pandemic. Military sources said the Xian H-20 supersonic stealth bomber – expected to double the country’s strike range – could make its first public appearance at this year’s Zhuhai Airshow in November, if the pandemic was sufficiently under control.
“The Zhuhai Airshow is expected to become a platform to promote China’s image and its success in pandemic control – telling the outside world that the contagion did not have any big impacts on Chinese defence industry enterprises,” a source said.
But the appearance of the bomber at this year’s air show could heighten tensions by directly threatening countries within its strike range, especially Australia, Japan and the Korean peninsula.
“The Beijing leadership is still carefully considering whether its commission will affect regional balance, especially as regional tensions have been escalating over the Covid-19 pandemic,” another source said. (Source: defense-aerospace.com/South China Morning Post)
01 May 20. US Air Force bombers conduct sorties over South China Sea. US Indo-Pacific Command has confirmed that two airforce bombers have conducted a 32- hour round-trip sortie over the South China Sea.
The operation included two US Air Force B-1B Lancers from the 28th Bomb Wing, Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota.
The sortie was undertaken as part of a joint US Indo-Pacific Command and US Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) Bomber Task Force (BTF) mission, to reaffirm US Air Force presence in this contested region and reassure its allies.
In a statement, US Indo-Pacific Command said: “This operation demonstrates the US Air Force’s dynamic force employment model in line with the National Defense Strategy’s objectives of strategic predictability with persistent bomber presence, assuring allies and partners.”
The latest sortie follows a similar operation conducted a week ago when a B-1 participated with six US Air Force F-16s and 15 Japan Air Self-Defense Force F-15s for CONUS-based bomber bilateral training near Japan.
Since 2014, USSTRATCOM has conducted several BTF missions, previously called Bomber Assurance and Deterrence missions, to demonstrate US commitment to collective security.
The first mission included B-52H Stratofortresses and B-2 Spirits aircraft travelling from the continental US to Joint Base Pearl-Harbor Hickam in April 2014.
Meanwhile, the US Air Force has stepped up efforts to support Covid-19 response efforts in the country.
Recently, the military unit signed three contracts with a combined value of $133m to accelerate N95 mask production.
The contract companies, 3M, Honeywell and O&M Halyard, are expected to collectively produce 39 million masks in the next 90 days. (Source: airforce-technology.com)
01 May 20. Russian Arms Production Slowed by Coronavirus, Analysts Find. A report drawing on anonymized phone data, and other open-source information belies Vladimir Putin’s everything’s-under-control message.
Many Russian arms factories are slowing their production amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report from geospatial analytics company Orbital Insight, obtained exclusively by Defense One. The revelations further undermine Moscow’s attempts to project an image of a government in control of the coronavirus outbreak in its country.
The analysts applied machine learning and data science to anonymous phone data obtained from a variety of partners. Such data can allow researchers to track large-scale human movement trends in close to real-time, which can “inform policymakers as to the effect of a particular restriction — or the impact/consequence of a breach of the same,” said Robert Cardillo, an Orbital Insight advisor who once ran the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
Researchers use the data to establish a baseline of activity, then to look for aberrations and disruptions, Cardillo told Defense One in an email.
“In the intelligence profession, job one is to understand normal so one can have any chance of detecting abnormal. [Orbital Insight] senses global activity — or lack thereof — in a way that enables an understanding of the baseline pattern of life. That foundational understanding enables not just the fact of a change in that pattern but to — more importantly — infer meaning,” he wrote.
The report offers detail about slowdowns beyond what Russian media has already revealed, said Michael Kofman, a senior research scientist at CNA, a nonprofit research and analysis organization in Arlington, Virginia. Kofman said he was surprised at the company’s ability to obtain Russian cell phone data, which is required by law to be stored on servers in Russia.
“The fact that this company is able to aggregate anonymous cell use data is a real boon for those interested in the level of productivity and output in Russia’s military-industrial complex,” he said.
Overall, Kofman said, he expects “a significant drop off in production for at least two months in the Russia defense industry as a result of COVID-19 measures, but it will be highly uneven depending on the region and assembly plant/shipyard.”
The Russian government has tried to project an image of a country little affected by the coronavirus. In March and the beginning of April, the government flew protective equipment and medical supplies to Italy and to the United States in what many call a propaganda ploy. But government officials now acknowledge that they are experiencing a shortage of protective equipment, The country has confirmed that it has more than 100,000 confirmed cases.
Babel Street, a data analytics company that specializes in natural language and sentiment data, says the government’s initial steps were popular with Russians. But analysis of Russian-language social media posts on platforms like VK and local blogs suggest that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s image has been slipping.
“There was a ton of positive sentiment early on. People were buying the government line that Russia was here to help the world. I think that things really began to sour when they saw friends and neighbors coming down with this disease,” said McDaniel Wicker, Babel Street’s vice president of business development.
Russians are growing increasingly anxious with lockdown conditions, Wicker said. An April 20 street protest in Vladikavkaz could be a sign of civil unrest to come. “We are able to get a lot of insights from some of our data sources showing social unrest popping up in some of those areas…before it began to pop up in the English language press,” he said.
“There’s a narrative in Western media that Putin is all-powerful,” he said. “This shows that to be a misconception. The state does not have infinite means, information, or even control over its population. Given the right circumstances, there could be significant change in Russia.” (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Defense One)
04 May 20. Again?! The price has exploded, again?! Future sub price grows by $10bn. It is starting to sound like a bad joke, but unfortunately, it isn’t. Australia’s most-complex defence procurement project ever, the Attack Class submarines, has seen yet another price increase, this time amounting to $10bn in just a matter of five months, which raises the question – could we have gotten a better deal somewhere else?
It is the gift that keeps on giving, Australia’s multibillion-dollar SEA 1000 program continues to stir debate among Australia’s strategic policy, defence and industry communities and even the public as the government and Defence seek to avoid the troubles of the Collins Class program.
Despite repeated rebuffs by senior Defence uniformed personnel, bureaucrats and successive ministers of defence and defence industry, concerns released recently by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) in the report titled Future Submarine – Transition to design, combined with political concerns, all serve as powerful fuel to question the program.
When first announced, the Attack Class was promised 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.
Further complicating matters is the constantly fluctuating price associated with the program, with figures ranging from the original $80bn as stated by former defence industry and defence minister Christopher Pyne, however, even that figure now appears to be in dispute, as the costs appear to have blown out by an additional $10bn in five months. Yes, five months.
It is important to recognise that this figure doesn’t take into account the now estimated $145bn, ‘whole-of-life, turned out cost’ as revealed by Future Submarine Program manager Rear Admiral Greg Sammut during Senate estimates.
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.
Finally, 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.
While each of these individual challenges will impact the recapitalisation of the Royal Australian Navy’s submarine fleet, the growing program delays and estimated cost overruns will have dramatic impacts on the long-term modernisation and recapitalisation of the Royal Australian Navy in the middle of the 21st century.
Ben Packham, writing for The Australian, has shed light on the mounting cost overruns, the slipped delivery schedules, each of which are compounded by the mounting challenges of a rapidly disrupted Indo-Pacific, which raises the question – could we have gotten a better deal somewhere else?
Could we get a better deal? Should we consider it?
The fever pitch of robust, public discourse gathered further steam in recent weeks following the release and launch of a report by Submarines for Australia, conducted by Insight Economics, on the troubled program and the challenges facing cost, delivery and the potential for capability gaps – with Australian strategist Hugh White launching the report at the National Press Club.
Gary Johnston of Submarines for Australia, who commissioned the report earlier in the year, said not only are we heading for an inevitable capability gap, but there was a “high risk” the project will fail.
The report, which was prepared by Insight Economics supported by an expert reference group that includes four retired admirals, said that the budget jumped by 60 per cent in two years and that already two project milestones have been missed.
Also, after initially promising 90 per cent local content, the French government-owned company, Naval Group, has shown an “extremely low level of commitment” to Australian industry participation in the project.
Johnston said at the time, “The government’s own advisory body, including three American admirals, even recommended the government should consider walking away from the project.”
To get the project back on track with no further delays to the process, the report proposes a low-cost risk mitigation strategy – a ‘plan B’ – to inject competition into the process.
Under plan B, the government would commission Saab Kockums, designers of the Navy’s existing submarines, to develop a preliminary design study (PDS) for an evolved version of the Collins Class submarine.
In 2022-23, both Naval Group and Saab would present a PDS for their respective designs together with a fixed price tender for building the first batch of three submarines in Adelaide. The selection between the two designs would then be based on capability, delivery and local content, as well as price.
A second and more fundamental area of concern, however, is whether the submarines will even be fit for purpose in the 2030s and beyond. To address this, the review of submarine technologies flagged in the last Defence White Paper should be brought forward to the present.
Johnston said with China seeking to deny access to the South China Sea by investing heavily in advanced ships, aircraft and satellites, the finding in the report that caused him the greatest worry is that by the 2030s our submarines’ effectiveness and survivability in a high-intensity theatre will be threatened.
“If the government wants to continue deploying submarines to this theatre alongside the US Navy, the nation’s duty of care to the dedicated men and women of the ADF means we will need to begin the long and difficult process of acquiring nuclear-powered submarines,” he said.
Adding further fuel to the fire, White in a recent piece for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, titled ‘Australia’s Attack-class submarines need competition’, has called for greater consideration of Australia’s rapidly evolving strategic circumstances to best inform the program moving forward.
“Australia’s strategic circumstances over the next few decades will mean we cannot afford to be without a submarine capability. But that’s an area in which we are terribly vulnerable. Serious concerns have been raised over both the ability of the future submarine program to produce the Attack Class boats and the time it will take to comprehensively upgrade the Royal Australian Navy’s Collins Class submarines so that we avoid a capability gap,” White establishes.
The alternate options? Leveraging hunter-killer, cruise missile subs and unmanned systems
Drawing on advances in unmanned underwater systems like the Boeing Orca system, combined with a fleet of complementary, highly capable hunter-killer and cruise missile submarines designed to modified off-the-shelf solutions, further serves as a capability aggregator for the RAN.
The increasing proliferation of conventionally powered submarines incorporating vertical launch modules for accommodating advanced cruise missile systems, provides an important capability for Australian consideration, particularly when paired with unmanned underwater and aerial systems providing ISR capabilities enhancing the nation’s deterrence capabilities.
Developing mutually complementary submarine fleets of approximately nine dedicated hunter-killer submarines for critical maritime interdiction, task force escort and anti-submarine operations, combined with a fleet of approximately nine dedicated cruise missile submarines, enables the development of a complementary and highly capable submarine fleet.
When using the costs for the sixth Soryu Class submarine of approximately US$540m ($803.5m), a fleet of 18 such submarines could cost Australia approximately between US$10 bn ($14.8bn) and US$15bn ($22.3bn), while delivering the pound-for-pound most lethal conventional submarine force in the world.
By contrast, the Saab/Kockums A-26 Oceanic ER is estimated to have a unit price worth approximately US$945m ($1.46bn) compared to the multibillion-dollar unit costs associated with the Attack Class submarines depending on the figures chosen, be it the $50bn, the $80bn or larger figures associated with turned out costs.
Finally, establishing and maintaining a dedicated fleet of hunter-killer submarines designed to a common standard as the fleet of cruise missile submarines serves to lower costs, crewing requirements and long-term sustainment and operational costs despite acquiring a larger fleet of submarines than outlined in the 2016 Defence White Paper. (Source: Defence Connect)
04 May 20. Op-Ed: Why we need a broad ranging inquiry into Australia’s relationship with China. It is sometimes said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Some political observers might think me a bit insane then to propose, yet again, that the Senate establish a wide-ranging inquiry into Australia’s future relationship with China, explains South Australian Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick.
After all, on five previous occasions over 18 months the Coalition government and Labor opposition have combined forces to block my proposals to refer such an inquiry to the Senate foreign affairs, defence and trade committee.
Each time I’ve been concerned that various events and issues – from the Victorian government’s surprise engagement with China’s Belt and Road Initiative, China’s growing influence in Australia’s immediate sphere of strategic interest, Chinese investments and acquisitions in key sectors of the Australian economy, to serious allegations of Chinese government interference in Australian politics – demonstrated the need for the Australian Parliament to take a deep dive into the dynamics of Australia-China relations.
It has been my strong view that only by pursuing a wide-ranging inquiry, drawing on the full range of available expertise, can we determine the best strategies for moving forward with what is an enormously important but increasingly fraught international relationship; and do so in a way most likely to enjoy broad support across the Australian political scene.
Yet on each occasion the initiative has been blocked by the Coalition and Labor. Neither has ever offered a satisfactory explanation for their obstruction, but it has always been clear they feared Beijing’s reaction. Self-censorship has been the order of the day in the Parliament when it came to relations with China.
A few Coalition and Labor backbenchers have found it in their personal political interest to agitate about China. However, both the government and opposition have repeatedly failed to explicitly call out Chinese government political interference in Australia and China’s increasing resort to strong-arm tactics internationally and in their bilateral dealings with Australia.
The contrast with some other countries has been striking. While the US, Canada, the UK and even the small Czech Republic have been open about the threats of Chinese espionage and political interference, Australian political leaders have bitten their tongues and pulled their punches.
In March this year, Canada’s National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians published a major report that called out “significant and sustained” Chinese espionage and political interference as “a significant risk to the rights and freedoms of Canadians and to the country’s sovereignty … a clear threat to the security of Canada”.
The Australian Parliament’s joint committee on intelligence and security, with only Coalition and Labor members, has never managed such an explicit statement about the extent and threat of Chinese government espionage and interference in Australia.
Of course a great deal has happened since the last time, 3 December 2019, the Coalition and Labor vetoed my attempt to establish a Senate committee inquiry.
Within a month the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan was beginning to spread across China and internationally. Since January we have not only seen the spread of a pandemic, but also a rolling global economic crisis, the result of what has been called “the Great Lockdown”, with geopolitical consequences that are still emerging and will be felt for years and decades to come.
In some ways, however, we are seeing the acceleration of trends that were already evident, and this is certainly true in Australia’s relations with China
Chinese ambassador Cheng Jingye’s explicit threat this week of a Chinese boycott of Australian services and products revealed China’s true position on this relationship confirming concerns about China’s preference for control and coercion rather than partnership.
The Chinese government’s response to Australian support for a COVID-19 inquiry, amplified by the belligerent trumpeting of their state-controlled media, shows the increasingly fraught nature of Australia-China relations and makes it all the more important that Australia carefully consider our future approach to dealings with Beijing.
A substantial reset of Australia’s relations with China is unquestionably required.
Of course, had the government and opposition not repeatedly self-censored, we would already have a Senate committee working on a wide-ranging inquiry and would be able to draw on expertise within government, business, universities and non-government organisations to advise on our links with Beijing in a post-coronavirus crisis world such that we would approach the reset better informed.
So, while it might meet that definition of insanity, I will give the Coalition and Labor another opportunity to act in Australia’s national interest and vote for a broad Senate inquiry when the Parliament resumes sitting in May.
Issues that could be examined by a Senate inquiry include China’s strategic ambitions in the South China Sea, south-east Asia, the Pacific and the Indian Ocean; Australia-China trade relations including the full extent of Australian dependence on Chinese markets; Chinese investment in Australia including in resources, telecommunications and critical infrastructure; the role of the Chinese government in restricting access to its own markets to facilitate takeover bids for Australian exporters; China and Australia’s interest in international health issues including the COVID-19 pandemic; Chinese government influence on Australian university campuses, and Chinese government interference in Australian federal and state level politics.
There is, of course, nothing unusual in the Senate foreign affairs, defence and trade references committee conducting inquiries into Australia’s relationship with various different countries.
The Senate committee has done this before without controversy. For example, it did an inquiry in relation to China in 2005 and 2006. It did one into Papua New Guinea in 2010, the Indian Ocean region in 2013 and Mexico in 2015.
Other parliamentary committees have also reviewed many aspects of Australia’s relationship with China. In August 2012, for example, the joint standing committee on foreign affairs, defence and trade tabled a report on Australia’s human rights dialogue with China.
Australia is at a strategic, diplomatic and economic turning point in our relations with China. With the government and opposition now finding it politically expedient to call for an international inquiry into China’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, they should support a rigorous parliamentary examination of Australia’s relations with China.
Only then will we start to build a new national consensus on shaping and managing this important relationship in what are difficult times. Australia’s national interest demands nothing less. (Source: Defence Connect)
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