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19 Nov 20. Shipbuilding Underway Down Under. The Australian Marine Complex at Henderson in Western Australia. The yard does all the sustainment of the Collins-class submarines apart from Full Cycle Docking periods and supports the Anzac-class frigates. It is likely to be the next shipyard to get an upgrade.
Australia has ambitious plans for the construction of new anti-submarine warfare frigates and diesel-electric submarines that will modernise Royal Australian Navy (RAN) capabilities in the next decade. In order to deliver these platforms the government has devoted $680m (A$1bn) in its Naval Shipbuilding Plan to build two new shipyards at Osborne, South Australia.
These will give Australia a sovereign shipbuilding capability to produce both frigates and submarines in Australia. Australian Naval Infrastructure (ANI) is the organisation – created in 2017 – mandated to develop, own and operate new shipyards that will achieve this task.
The first shipyard at Osborne South has been completed and is to be handed over to prime contractor BAE Systems on 1 July. The company will run the shipyard under license to build the nine new Hunter-class frigates. The second shipyard at Osborne North is still under development and will eventually be used by Naval Group to build 12 new Attack-class submarines.
Andrew Seaton, CEO of ANI, told Asian Military Review that there are ‘different approaches’ to the construction of the North and South facilities.
He said that Osborne South was designed by Odense Maritime Technology as a ‘generic’ shipyard built by construction company LendLease. This means that it can not only build the Hunter-class but also future warships up to destroyer size with a maximum 170 metre length and 10,000 tonnes displacement. “BAE were told what shipyard they would be given, but around the edges like the pipe shop we have worked with BAE to make sure the flow of materials meets their requirements,” Seaton explained.
“The new yard is a standalone yard and will ultimately be integrated into the existing yard. The Hunter-class frigates and new Arafura-class offshore patrol vessels will coexist for a time in the existing yard until the OPVs are finished – maybe by the end of 2023 – and then Hunter will effectively license the whole of the yard from us,” Seaton explained.
“All the equipment is in there and is being set to work. It is really for BAE to come in and familiarise themselves with the facility and begin training so we will have the original equipment manufacturers come back and train the BAE workforce to begin prototyping in December this year,” he added.
The new yard is located next to the existing ASC Shipbuilding yard at Osborne South which built the RAN’s Hobart-class Air Warfare Destroyers (AWDs) that were completed in March. It is now building two of the 12 new Arafura-class OPVs. Seaton said that not all of the $363m (A$535m) for the Osborne South project was spent and the remainder would be used to modernise some facilities at ASC.
A BAE spokesperson told AMR that the existing construction halls, currently being utilised for the OPV programme, will be modernised in the next phase of the redevelopment project. “When combined with the five new buildings and associated infrastructure, this will create a seamless facility where design, manufacture, outfit, consolidation, and test and activation can take place,” they added.
Unlike the earlier AWD construction programme, which assembled ship blocks that were built around the country, the new shipyard is vertically integrated meaning ‘steel in, ships out’ with the capability to build all the ship blocks itself, assemble them and launch the vessel.
Seaton said the site at Osborne North is being built to a ‘bespoke design’ using a phased approach that is “progressing the design of the yard with the capability of the submarine itself.” The design is yet to be finalised but it involves Naval Group, ANI, Lockheed Martin, the Commonwealth and construction firm Laing O’Rourke under an integrated project team arrangement.
The final design of the new Osborne North shipyard will be depend on Naval Group’s construction methodology for the Attack-class submarines. Initial buildings under Phase 1 are under construction and will be followed by a second main phase.
“It is a staged construction schedule so as each part is completed the facilities are handed over to Lockheed Martin and Naval Group. Concurrently with what is happening [under Phase 1] the planning and design for Phase 2 is also underway. Phase 2 is the main production facility and the support systems for that, which is happening as the building of two buildings under Phase 1 are underway now,” Seaton explained.
A spokesperson from Naval Group told AMR that it is continuing to work with ANI on the design of the Submarine Construction Yard and the implementation of manufacturing systems. “The construction halls, blast and paint workshop, warehousing and other facilities for the Future Submarine Construction Yard in Osborne are expected to begin to take shape onsite from this year,” the spokesperson said.
The total amount identified by the Naval Shipbuilding Plan for the construction of both yards was $680 million but the final bill for the construction of the Osborne North yard has yet to be publicly announced.
As in the South, there is also an existing ASC shipyard at Osborne North which conducts Full Cycle Docking maintenance on the RAN’s six Collins-class submarines. A decision is yet to be taken by the government about whether the operations of this facility will move to Western Australia.
“At the moment everything we are designing and building will have flexibility awaiting that decision,” Seaton said. “If Collins’ sustainment stays in in Adelaide we will stay with ASC as a tenant here as well as Naval Group. If Collins sustainment moves to Perth then ASC will still have a presence here in some form or another but we will integrate the yards,” he explained.
Meanwhile the Australian Marine Complex in the Henderson Precinct south of Perth in WA could be set for an upgrade should ASC’s Collins Full Cycle Docking facility move there. Seaton said that ANI already owns some assets in Henderson and although it does not have sight of future plans just yet, if there is new shipyard capabilities required there “then the expectation is that ANI would become involved.” (Source: AMR)
19 Nov 20. Australia releases findings of Afghanistan Inquiry. A number of war crimes allegedly perpetrated by ADF personnel in Afghanistan have been deemed “credible” in an independent report released by Defence.
Chief of the Defence Force Angus Campbell has released findings from the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force’s (IGADF) Afghanistan Inquiry report, which relate to alleged misconduct by Australian Special Forces on operations in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016.
The inquiry has found there is “credible information” of 25 incidents in which one or more non-combatants or persons hors-de-combat were “unlawfully killed” or mistreated by or at the direction of members of the Special Operations Task Group.
These incidents have been reported to have involved:
- a total of 39 individuals killed, and a further two cruelly treated; and
- a total of 25 current or former Australian Defence Force personnel who were perpetrators, either as principals or accessories, some of them on a single occasion and a few on multiple occasions.
The report states that none of the incidents involved disputable decisions made under pressure or in the heat of battle.
“The cases in which it has been found that there is credible information of a war crime are ones in which it was or should have been plain that the person killed was a non-combatant, or hors-de-combat,” the reported noted.
“While a few of these are cases of Afghan local nationals encountered during an operation who were on no reasonable view participating in hostilities, the vast majority are cases where the persons were killed when hors-de-combat because they had been captured and were persons under control, and as such were protected under international law, breach of which was a crime.”
The inquiry also found that there is “credible information” that some members of the Special Operations Task Group planted “throwdowns” — foreign weapons or equipment — on the bodies of ‘enemy killed in action’ to portray the deceased as a legitimate target.
“This practice probably originated for the less egregious though still dishonest purpose of avoiding scrutiny where a person who was legitimately engaged turned out not to be armed. But it evolved to be used for the purpose of concealing deliberate unlawful killings,” the Inspector-General’s report stated.
Additionally, the inquiry found “credible information” that junior soldiers were required by their patrol commanders to shoot a prisoner, in order to achieve the soldier’s first kill, in a practice that was known as ‘blooding’.
“This would happen after the target compound had been secured, and local nationals had been secured as ‘persons under control’,” the report stated.
‘Throwdowns’ were also allegedly placed with the body, with a cover story created to “deflect scrutiny”.
“This was reinforced with a code of silence,” the report added.
In light of the findings, the inquiry has recommended that the Chief of the Defence Force refer 36 matters — relating to 23 incidents and involving a total of 19 individuals — to the Australian Federal Police for criminal investigation.
Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds acknowledged the findings, stressing that accountability would be the cornerstone of Defence’s response to the inquiry.
“This is crucial to maintaining the highest standards Australians expect of our military, reassuring confidence and trust, and learning from grave failings,” Minister Reynolds said.
Defence has established an Afghanistan Inquiry Implementation Oversight Panel, which will report directly and regularly to the Defence Minister to inform the response.
Minister Reynolds stressed that the findings of the report should not undermine the positive contributions of the majority of ADF personnel, particularly those who served in Afghanistan.
“I remain proud of the men and women of the ADF who have served our nation on operations at home and around the world, and have done so with distinction,” the minister said.
“The findings announced by the Chief of the Defence Force today should not cast a shadow on the vast majority whose contributions to the mission in Afghanistan were carried out to the highest standards demanded of them.”
Meanwhile, independent senator Rex Patrick has called for ADF commanders to take personal responsibility for the command failures, which he has claimed allowed war crimes to be committed by ADF personnel in Afghanistan.
The senator has also called on the Australian Parliament, which “endorsed and supported” Australia’s military engagement in Afghanistan, to make a formal apology to the people of Afghanistan.
“The report of the inquiry by Justice Paul Brereton into war crimes in Afghanistan tells a very disturbing and deeply shameful story,” Senator Patrick said.
“As a former member of the Australian Defence Force, I am absolutely appalled by the revelations of at least 39 unlawful killings by ADF personnel. This is a very grim day for the standing of the ADF.
“While Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghan, and Defence Force Chief General Angus Campbell today apologised on behalf of the ADF, the Australian Parliament should support a national apology to the people of Afghanistan. This is a grave matter that must be addressed at the centre of Australia’s democracy.
“The Parliament should also endorse efforts wherever possible to provide support to the families of the victims.”
He continued: “While the necessary legal processes relating to individuals must run their course, it is clear that ADF personnel have murdered captured enemy combatants and civilians. Our troops unlawfully killed the very people that they were sent to Afghanistan to help protect.
“The individuals responsible for these atrocities must be fully held to account. So too must those in the ADF chain of command who were responsible for the units and operations in question. There appears to have been a totally unacceptable breakdown of oversight, control and discipline.”
Senator Patrick called on past and present unit and taskforce commanders to “step up and take personal responsibility” for the actions of their personnel, adding that they should not await “potentially protracted disciplinary and administrative processes of further investigation”.
“They should fall on their swords,” he added.
The senator has also urged the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to drop the prosecution of whistleblower David McBride.
“If the CDDP fails to do so, in exercising his ultimate responsibility to the Parliament for Commonwealth prosecutions, the Attorney-General should order the discontinuance of the prosecution under powers afforded him by section 71(1) of the Judiciary Act,” he said.
Minister Reynolds has acknowledged that the investigative process could be challenging and distressing for many individuals and families impacted by the inquiry, adding that Defence would support those in need of assistance.
“This is the government’s highest priority,” Minister Reynolds said.
“I strongly encourage current and former serving ADF members and their families to reach out and seek the help they need.”
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel Darren Chester revealed that Witness Liaison Officers employed by the IGADF would be integrated into Defence to provide continuity of support to personnel.
“[I] encourage anyone affected by this inquiry to access the welfare and support services made available by both the Departments of Defence and Veterans’ Affairs,” Minister Chester said.
(Source: Defence Connect)
19 Nov 20. E3 statement on Iran to the IAEA Board of Governors, November 2020. Delivered remotely on 18 November 2020 on behalf of France, Germany and the United Kingdom.
Thank you Chair,
France, Germany, and the United Kingdom would like to thank the Director General for his latest report (GOV/2020/51) and the Deputy Director General for his Technical Briefing. We commend the Agency for its timely, independent and objective reporting.
As participants to the JCPoA, we reiterate our continued commitment to the preservation and full implementation of the nuclear agreement. We E3 have worked hard to preserve the agreement. We have been consistently clear that we regret the US withdrawal from the JCPoA and re-imposition of US sanctions. We have lifted sanctions as foreseen by the JCPoA and taken additional efforts to allow Iran to pursue legitimate trade, by developing the financial mechanism INSTEX.
However, despite these good faith efforts, Iran has engaged, for a year and a half now, in numerous, serious violations of its nuclear commitments. We continue to be extremely concerned by Iran’s actions, which are hollowing out the core nonproliferation benefits of the deal. Advancements on Research & Development have irreversible consequences.
We are concerned at Iran enriching uranium above the 3.67% JCPoA limit, and the continued growth of its low-enriched uranium stockpile, which is now 2443 kg. This is a dozen times the JCPOA limit. Contrary to the JCPoA, Iran is using advanced centrifuges for the production of low-enriched uranium (LEU). Contrary to the JCPoA, Iran is also enriching at Fordow: this facility has no credible civilian use.
Iran also continues to conduct research and development on several types of advanced centrifuges not permitted under the JCPoA and the JCPoA’s R&D Plan. This includes the operation of hundreds of IR-2m, IR-4 and IR-6 centrifuges. Iran has also introduced new types of centrifuges not authorized under the JCPoA. Iran must cease undertaking any research and development of advanced centrifuges contrary to the provisions of the JCPoA.
On top of this, Iran has announced that it intends to install advanced centrifuges at the Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz. The IAEA report confirms this process has already started: one full cascade of IR2m centrifuges is now installed at the FEP, as well as some IR4 centrifuges. The report also indicates that these cascades will continue to accumulate uranium. The IAEA reported on 17 November that the process of feeding the IR2m cascade with UF6 has now been initiated.
The JCPoA is clear that all centrifuge research and development should be undertaken at the PFEP. The JCPoA is also clear that only IR-1 centrifuges may be installed at the FEP for enrichment purposes and that their number is limited to no more than 5060. Iran’s latest decision to change the location of its research and development activities, which are already being conducted in ways that are inconsistent with the JCPoA, as well as increasing the overall number of centrifuges installed at the FEP, is a matter of deep concern. It makes it easier for Iran to expand its activities with advanced centrifuges in the future should it decide to do so. The FEP has space for thousands of additional centrifuges, therefore moving advanced centrifuges to a larger space raises serious concerns about Iranian intent. We urge Iran not to proceed with the installation of advanced centrifuges at the Fuel Enrichment Plant, and its plans to move its R&D facility to the FEP. These activities constitute a further violation of the JCPoA and send an unacceptable signal to the broader international community that has rallied in support of preserving the JCPoA.
It is now critical that Iran immediately reverses its steps and returns to full compliance with the JCPoA without further delay. We remain committed to working with all JCPoA participants to find a diplomatic way forward and we intend to pursue these discussions within the framework of the JCPoA.
We commend the Agency for its continued and intense efforts to engage Iran in a substantial dialogue to evaluate Iran’s declarations under its Additional Protocol.
We take note of Iran’s implementation of its legal obligations under the Additional Protocol to its Safeguards Agreement by providing the IAEA with complementary access to sites and locations in Iran, including access to two locations which were the subject of this Board’s attention recently. We expect Iran to fully cooperate with the IAEA in accordance with its nuclear obligations, including by answering all questions that the Agency may have in the coming months once the proper evaluation of the samples taken at these undeclared locations is completed.
Paragraphs 33-35 of the Director General’s report clearly state that Iran’s responses to questions on the presence of uranium particles of anthropogenic origin detected at an undeclared site, which were provided by Iran after very significant delays, were ‘not technically credible’. These delays and unsatisfactory responses are unacceptable. We welcome the DG’s clear reporting on this matter and his efforts to follow up the issue with Iran.
In June, this Board, in a Resolution adopted by a large majority, called on Iran to comply with its safeguards obligations and to cooperate fully and without delay with the Agency. We recall Iran’s legally binding safeguards obligations. In order to alleviate concerns over possible undeclared and unaccounted for nuclear material and activities, it is of critical importance that Iran should promptly provide a full and accurate explanation to the Agency on this issue, as well as on other safeguards-related issues being currently investigated by the Agency. We would welcome further updates, as appropriate, to the next Board of Governors, as the investigation progresses.
We once again thank the IAEA for its latest quarterly report on Iran and express our full confidence in its capacity to engage its mandate in a rigorous and impartial manner.
We call on the Agency to continue to provide further detailed technical updates, as appropriate, and would welcome a decision to make its latest quarterly report public. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
18 Nov 20. Australian minister denies cost blowout cover-up for Future Subs program. Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has rejected claims that the public has been misled regarding the cost of its Future Submarines program, after the Labor opposition’s decision to request an investigation into the government’s alleged ‘failures’.
In an address to the Submarines Institute of Australia (SIA), shadow minister for defence Richard Marles announced that the opposition has requested that the Auditor-General investigate the Morrison government’s alleged “mismanagement” of the Future Submarines program — expected to deliver 12 Attack Class submarines by 2054.
The shadow minister has accused the government of deliberately misleading the public about the cost of the program, which he claimed has blown out from $50bn in 2016 to $80bn.
Marles has also alleged that the government has concealed an estimated $10bn cost increase in the Future Frigates program for approximately 18 months.
“Being upfront and honest with the Australian public about how their money is being spent is not optional,” Marles said.
“Hiding massive cost increases from taxpayers is unacceptable.
“This is precisely the kind of behaviour that destroys public trust and eats away at the public’s confidence in those elected to represent them.”
However, Defence has denied the opposition’s claims, suggesting that reports of a supposed blowout have not accounted for inflation.
In her keynote address to the SIA, Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds assured stakeholders that Naval Group’s delivery of the Attack Class fleet would be on time and within budget.
“The most effective way to measure the cost performance of any decades-long project is through constant dollars,” she said
“In the 2016 Defence White Paper, it had an estimated acquisition cost of the equivalent of $50bn in 2016 constant dollars.
“After the Competitive Evaluation Process the estimated cost was still $50bn in 2016 constant dollars. And today, with the program now well underway, the estimated cost is still $50bn in 2016 constant dollars.”
Minister Reynolds added: “Let me be very clear, [the] Attack Class submarine program is being driven to this budget [and] Naval Group has assured me they are on track to enter systems functional review milestone in January next year.”
But Marles was unconvinced by Minister Reynolds’ assessment, adding: “The minister’s assertion that the public know to adjust the government’s figure to factor in four decades of inflation is patently absurd.”
Despite rejecting claims of a cost blow-out, Minister Reynolds acknowledged risks associated with the design and construction of the Attack Class submarines.
“Submarines push the boundaries of engineering excellence, there is no doubt about that and it requires the smartest minds a nation can muster,” Minister Reynolds said.
“Of course, there are risks, there are great risks, to any program as sophisticated as building submarines.
“My focus is squarely on how we manage those risks. This is a key lesson learnt from both the Collins Class and Air Warfare Destroyer programs.” (Source: Defence Connect)
17 Nov 20. Reciprocal Access Agreement. Australia and Japan have reached in principle agreement on a landmark defence treaty that will further deepen the countries’ strategic and security relationship.
The Reciprocal Access Agreement represents a pivotal moment in the history of Japan-Australia ties.
We share a Special Strategic Partnership and are deeply committed to working together in support of a free, open, inclusive and stable Indo-Pacific.
Our partnership is built on shared values and interests, and enduring trust and respect.
This agreement paves the way for a new chapter of advanced defence cooperation between our two countries.
The only other such agreement that Japan has struck with another country is with the United States 60 years ago.
It will facilitate greater and more complex practical engagement between the Australian Defence Force and the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, and enhance our inter-operability and cooperation. This will also support our joint involvement in broader multilateral exercises.
It means Australia and Japan will have a clear framework for how our defence forces operate in each other’s countries.
From joint military training exercises through to natural disaster and humanitarian support, the RAA establishes streamlined arrangements to support the deployment of defence forces more quickly and with less administration.
The Australian and Japanese militaries have in recent years increased cooperation and exercise activities. These have enhanced our ability to work together towards our common security objectives in the Indo Pacific region and our military interoperability. In principle agreement on the RAA will only see that grow.
The significance of the RAA cannot be understated.
It will form a key plank of Australia’s and Japan’s response to an increasingly challenging security environment in our region amid more uncertain strategic circumstances.
As we finalise the RAA I thank the work done by my predecessors as well as by former Japanese Prime Minister Abe across six years of negotiations. (Source: Defence Connect)
17 Nov 20. Iran threatens ‘crushing’ response to any US military strike. Tension rises after Trump reportedly asked advisers about taking action against nuclear site. Iran has threatened a “crushing” response to any US military strike on the country’s nuclear facilities, following reports that Donald Trump had asked advisers about options for taking action against its main atomic site. “We have said it before, and repeat it now, that any action against Iranian people will face a crushing response,” Ali Rabiei, Iran’s government spokesman, told journalists on Tuesday. The New York Times reported on Tuesday that President Donald Trump asked his senior advisers on Thursday for military strike options that he could take in the coming weeks against Iran’s principal nuclear site. The Natanz facility is the country’s top uranium enrichment facility, located 250km south of Tehran. The advisers warned the outgoing US president against any such move on the grounds that it could lead to a bigger conflict before Mr Trump leaves office on January 20, officials were reported as saying. Mr Trump lost the November 3 US presidential election to Democratic challenger Joe Biden, although he has yet to concede defeat. The move came after the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog, reported last week that Iran’s stockpile of nuclear material had increased. Iran played poker before the US election pretty well.
If they are wise, they will continue the same approach until President Trump leaves Senior western diplomat in Tehran The rise reflects Tehran’s policy, launched last year, of phased breaches of the 2015 nuclear accord signed with world powers, in retaliation for the US decision in 2018 to pull out of the deal and impose tough economic sanctions. Mr Biden, the US president-elect, has promised to rejoin the agreement if Iran returns to compliance with its terms. But European officials are alarmed at the talk of possible US military action, which has underscored their fears about what a defeated Trump administration might do in the weeks before Mr Biden’s inauguration. Some diplomats in Washington also fear Mr Trump may be seeking to goad Tehran into escalating, to make it impossible for Mr Biden to initiate a thaw. European officials do not see the recent IAEA report on Iran’s activities as revealing any unexpected information or any data to justify a severe escalation by Washington. Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, has hinted at disagreements with France over Iran after a private meeting in Paris on Monday with French president Emmanuel Macron and Jean-Yves Le Drian, France’s foreign minister. “We’ve made sure that they [Iran’s leaders] have as few dollars and resources as possible to build their nuclear programme,” Mr Pompeo said in an interview with Le Figaro, the French daily newspaper. “We continue to push. In the coming weeks, there is more work to do to reduce their ability to torment the Middle East.”
Iran’s Natanz nuclear site. Donald Trump asked advisers for military strike options against the facility, US media reported © Maxar Technologies/Reuters Asked whether the French president agreed with him on the best way to ensure Iranian compliance with curbs on its nuclear industry, Mr Pompeo said only that Mr Macron had agreed that the situation had changed in the five years since the nuclear deal was reached. The Elysée said Monday’s meeting was merely a courtesy visit and declined to comment on the talks. Mr Le Drian, in a joint column with German foreign minister Heiko Maas published in the Le Monde newspaper on Tuesday, urged the US to return to “a common approach in dealing with Iran” to ensure the nuclear programme was used only for peaceful purposes. Foreign diplomats in Tehran say they have advised the Islamic republic to keep its head down as, they said, it did in the months before the US presidential poll, to avoid giving the Trump administration any pretext to put further pressure on the country. Recommended David Gardner Biden is likely to rethink much of Trump’s Middle East policy “Iran played poker before the US election pretty well,” said a senior western diplomat in Tehran.
“If they are wise, they will continue the same approach until President Trump leaves. We are more concerned about Iran’s hardliners now than the Trump administration.” Iran’s radicals have vowed to take revenge on Mr Trump before he leaves office over the murder of Qassem Soleimani, a top commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards who was killed in Iraq in January in a targeted US drone strike. Brigadier-general Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Guards’ air forces, said on Monday that the plan to take revenge on the US was “definite”. While the Islamic republic is believed to have enough control over radical elements in the country to prevent them taking any damaging action, there are concerns about the potential for miscalculation by both sides. “It has always been one of our fears that during the transition time . . . that one party could do something stupid,” said a foreign official based in Washington. (Source: FT.com)
16 Nov 20. PM prepares to boost Australia-Japan strategic partnership. Prime Minister Scott Morrison will make his way to Tokyo for his first official meeting with new Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to strengthen the strategic partnership between the two nations, with key force multipliers and capability aggregation on the agenda.
Australia is a nation set apart from many of its regional neighbours, long struggling to balance the paradigms of strategic independence and strategic dependence, torn between competing economic and security relationships, while being limited by a comparatively small population and industrial base.
Typically, this policy and doctrine pendulum always swung more heavily towards a paradigm of dependence, both in the economic and strategic sense, however the changing nature of domestic and global affairs requires renewed consideration.
This is particularly relevent as at the end of the Cold War, Australia like much of the victorious, US-led “free world” bought into two comforting myths, first the victory of the US meant the “end of history” and the era of great power competition had forever been relegated to the pages of antiquity, and, as China continues to grow, it would shake off authoritarianism and become more liberal.
Japan, unlike Australia however, has a long, storied history as a great power, only surrendering that position in the aftermath of the Second World War, which saw the nation conquered by the US-led allies and forcied to embrace a pacifist strategic doctrine, dependent upon the US for security, while still leveraging its economic and political clout as a great power.
However, far from Francis Fukuyama’s promise of the “end of history”, the US-led liberal-democratic and capitalist economic, political and strategic order is under siege, driven by mounting waves of civil unrest, the impact of sustained economic stagnation across the West, concerns about climate change and the increasing geostrategic competition between the world’s great powers.
Adding further fuel to the fire is the global and more localised impacts of COVID-19, which range from recognising the impact of vulnerable, global supply chains upon national security as many leading nations, long advocates of ‘closer collaboration and economic integration’, grasp at the lifeboats of the nation-state to secure their national interests.
Despite its relative isolation, Australia’s position as a global trading nation, entrenched in the maintenance and expansion of the post-Second World War order, has left the nation at a unique and troubling crossroads, particularly as its two largest and most influential “great and powerful” friends – the US and the UK – appear to be floundering against the tide of history.
Furthermore, the fragility of these two, ‘linchpin’ nations has prompted many global dictators to take advantage of the absence – as the old saying states, “When the cat is away, the mice will play”, leaving Australia and many other allies, including Taiwan, Japan and South Korea, exposed to the whims of nations dedicated to the end of post-war order.
Japan in particular, under former prime minister Shinzo Abe and now new Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, has sought to re-establish Japan as a traditional great power and, critically, enhance its strategic collaboration and engagement with ‘like-minded’ regional partners, with Australia front and centre of this push.
Embracing this opportunity, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed an official visit to the region’s other great power, to enhance the post-COVID economic and strategic collaboration efforts between the two nations, with an emphasis on capability aggregation and sharing in the Indo-Pacific.
Prime Minister Morrison said in an official statement, “This will be my first meeting with the new Prime Minister of Japan, His Excellency Mr Suga Yoshihide. I’m honoured to be the first foreign leader to visit Japan to meet with Prime Minister Suga following his appointment.
“Our relationship with Japan over the past few years has gone from strength to strength. We are Special Strategic Partners, and we work closely together on trade, security, defence and technology issues. I look forward to continuing to deepen that partnership.
“Japan will play an important role in our economic recovery from COVID-19. I hope we can chart a course for the re-opening of travel, and discuss ways to deepen our trade ties worth $86bn, including under the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement.”
Building on the positioning of Abe?
For many Japan followers, Prime Minister Suga is former prime minister Abe’s natural successor, as a devout follower of Abe’s approach to economic reform, national security and multi-lateral relationship building and engagement.
This recognition of Prime Minister Suga’s status a continuation of the Abe-era is promising for Australia’s leaders, as the two nations seek to navigate the post-COVID realities and challenges of an increasingly contested Indo-Pacific in the face of a distracted and, despite much commentary and reassurances of a return to normality under a potential Biden administration, distracted US.
David Lang, writing for The Australian, details the impact of Abe on this renewed strategic relationship: “It’s also worth remembering that Morrison was first cab off the rank back then too, being the first head of state to speak with Suga upon his elevation.
“That abridged history gives some sense of how eager both Prime Ministers are to kickstart their personal relationship and get down to business. It also speaks to the energy and enthusiasm bound up in the Australia-Japan relationship today, a result of dutiful nurturing on the part of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and the five Australian leaders with whom he worked during his second stay in the Kantei.
“Suga was Abe’s chief cabinet secretary and right-hand man. A true Abe acolyte, he was always in the room and has pledged to advance his former boss’s activist international agenda – policy continuity Australia would welcome.
“There is a lot to discuss, starting with a veritable laundry list related to the COVID-19 response, be it setting up a travel bubble, vaccine diplomacy in south-east Asia and the Pacific, or responding to the foundering global economic environment.
“The Australia-Japan defence and security relationship will be a key agenda item, with the two leaders sharing regional assessments and identifying new seams of co-operation that meet the moment.
“They should also discuss new ways to partner with other countries, such as the US and India, on areas of common concern and interest, particularly where we might have a hope of reinforcing the important rules and norms Beijing rails against.
“Should leaders finally sign a reciprocal defence access agreement — in the works since Tony Abbott was in The Lodge — it would serve as yet another milestone for our bilateral co-operation, which has been steadily deepening for more than a decade.”
Building on this, Simon Benson and Olivia Caisley, also writing for The Australian, detail the growing strategic collaboration between the two nations, explaining, “Australia and Japan will ramp up joint military operations, including patrols near disputed islands in the South and East China Sea, under a new defence pact to be progressed by Scott Morrison and his Japanese counterpart Yoshihide Suga this week.
“An in-principle reciprocal access agreement to streamline each nation’s use of the other’s military bases will be a key outcome of the Prime Minister’s trip to Tokyo on Tuesday and Wednesday, in a development likely to escalate tensions with Beijing.
“The agreement will enable Australian ships and aircraft to operate further north with greater regularity, and follows a commitment last month for Japan’s Self-Defence Forces to use force to protect Australian military assets. It will set out a legal framework for defence co-operation including the use of the other country’s bases, conduct during joint exercises, and the sharing of resources such as fuel.”
Enhancing allied capability aggregation
Recognising the increasing confluence of challenges facing enduring US tactical and strategic primacy upon which both Australia and Japan are dependent, 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, making 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.
This, is further detailed again by Benson and Caisley who detail and raise important questions about the US and it’s positioning in the Indo-Pacific, saying, “The leaders are expected to set out their high-level support for the agreement, making way for detailed legal negotiations on the final wording of the agreement.
“The proposed RAA has been under negotiation since 2014, amid concerns over the legal status of Australian Defence Force personnel who might be implicated in crimes while in Japan, which retains the death penalty for the most serious offences.
“Australia’s regional partners, particularly Japan, are awaiting signs of how a new Biden administration will prioritise the region in its global diplomatic and security strategy after four years of ‘America First’ under Donald Trump.
“With leadership changes in both the US and Japan, Mr Morrison is keen to focus attention of like-minded nations on the contested two-ocean region, in which China is increasingly asserting its economic and military authority.
“In his first post-election conversation with Joe Biden, Mr Morrison invited the president-elect to Australia next year to mark the 70th anniversary of the ANZUS treaty. His visit to Tokyo is also significant, as he will be the first foreign leader to meet with Mr Suga on Japanese soil since he succeeded Shinzo Abe as prime minister.” (Source: Defence Connect)
16 Nov 20. With an international arms embargo lifted, Iran is likely to start buying armed drones, air defense systems, fighter jets and tanks, according to one expert, with another analyst linking the passage of Chinese defense export legislation on Oct. 28 with the embargo’s expiration.
Iran previously showed interest in Russia’s Su-30 and Yak-130 jets, T-90 tank, S-400 air defense system, but was prevented from purchasing such items under a multinational nuclear deal.
“Iran’s priority is to increase the efficiency of its short- and medium-range missile capabilities; the Russian 9K720 Iskander missile will be at the top of that list,” Abdullah Al Junaid, a Bahraini strategic expert and political researcher, told Defense News. “Despite its need for an air force competitive with its neighbors, Iran realizes that the introduction of air combat systems such as the Chinese J-10 will not close the required qualitative gap with its neighborhood — Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates — not to mention the air and naval forces of the United States in the region.”
Al Junaid predicts Iran will try to buy missile guidance system technology for civil and military applications, sensors and space monitoring systems, digital communication systems, and cybersecurity technology. “As for developing its naval power capabilities, Iran has high ambitions in this regard, but submarines will be its priority,” he added.
On Oct. 18, a 13-year conventional arms embargo on Iran ended, with its foreign affairs minister, Javad Zarif, praising the “normalization of Iran’s defense cooperation with the world” as “a win for the cause of multilateralism and peace and security in our region.”
But where will this cooperation come from?
Turning to Moscow
“Chinese and Russians are going to look at Iran as a market they want to pursue. In terms of conventional systems, both the Islamic Revolutionary Guard and the regular military, particularly in the Air Force but not limited to it, have aging systems that were delivered in 1970s and 1990s,” said Douglas Barrie, a senior fellow focused on military aerospace at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
“Iran will seek defensive capabilities in terms of defending against the airstrikes and air attacks, so more capable surface-to-air missiles, combat aircraft (obviously expensive), longer-range air-to-surface weapons, and anti-ship weapons — the kind of weapons that would make a potential improvement,” Barrie told Defense News.
Added Mohamed al-Kenany, a military affairs researcher and defense analyst at the Cairo-based Arab Forum for Analyzing Iranian Policies: “Iran is mainly interested in the Russian Su-30 fighters, especially the latest version S-30SME, advanced training and light attack aircraft Yak-130, and may request medium tactical fighters such as the MiG-35, along with the T-90MS main battle tanks and long-range S-400 air defense systems and Bastion-P coastal defense systems, armed with Yakhont hypersonic anti-ship missiles.”
In 2016, Russia announced it will to provide Tehran with the capacity to license and manufacture the T-90 MBT when the embargo ended.
“Iranian Minister of Defense Brig. Gen. Amir Hatami visited Moscow in late August this year to attend the state-organized ‘Army 2020’ defense exhibition and hold talks with Russian defense officials,” Barrie said, noting that this signals Iran is turning to Russia to recapitalize equipment.
With limited financial resources, Iran might try to upgrade its existing systems by improving weapons performance to fill short-term gaps, “but in the medium term it will have to start thinking about replacing a lot of the platforms themselves,” Barrie explained.
Meanwhile, China would have to tread carefully if it decides to supply Iran with major defense capabilities, Al Junaid said.
“China realizes that its interests may be at risk if it loses the ability to maintain balance in its relationship with Iran and its regional trading partners — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates — as well. Through [China’s] announcement of the new arms control legislation, it sent [a message] to the United States that it realizes its international responsibility and that the strategic agreement with Iran will not harm international security,” Al Junaid explained..
In early July 2020, Iran’s foreign affairs minister announced that his country was nearing completion of a long-term strategic partnership agreement with China. Then in August, a leaked document between the two nations suggested they were entering a 25-year security and economic partnership. And on Oct. 28, 10 days after the arms embargo on Iran was lifted, China enacted the Export Control Law to strengthen the regulation of military exports.
“From the Russian and Chinese perspectives, Iran represents the biggest factor of weariness for the United States in the Middle East — political, military and moral attrition,” Al Junaid explained. “This alliance also provides a tool for Chinese-Russian pressure on the United States.”
Iran’s interest in procuring loitering munitions (otherwise known as kamikaze drones), UAVs and armed unmanned boats means China will likely supply modern technologies to help the Middle Eastern country develop unmanned naval vessels and aerial drones, al-Kenany said.
An arms race in the Gulf
Gulf states are also keeping an eye on Iran’s defense capabilities, but not because of industrial opportunities. A regional arms race is ongoing, Al Junaid said, arguing that Iran is building up its military strength for expansionist purposes while neighboring countries are bolstering capabilities to prevent future conflict.
“Even if Iran possesses some qualitative capabilities in all its sectors, its access to operational field efficiency and human capacity will require more than two decades,” he added.
Ask about the possibility of reviving the Middle East Strategic Alliance, nicknamed the Arab NATO, Kenany didn’t refute the move completely.
to revive the Arab NATO, but it will be subject to many regional and international circumstances and political considerations for each country, and there is already [the Peninsula Shield Force — a joint military venture under the Gulf Cooperation Council] — for the Arab Gulf states, which began some time ago to enhance their military capabilities, especially in the field of missile defense, air and sea forces, and command-and-control systems with the United States, France, Italy and others,” Kenany said.
However, Barrie doubts a revival of the alliance because of multilateral disagreements.
“I think the reaction will be on a national level rather than in a collaborative level in the region.”
Made in Iran
The expiration of the arms embargo also provides Iran the opportunity to export defense systems.
“Iran’s exports in this aspect might be drones, surface-to-surface missile systems, anti-ship missiles, anti-tank missiles, and short- [and] medium-range air defense systems,” Kenany predicted.
Asked about Iran’s stance on the recent Azeri-Armenian conflict, Kenany said it’s “unlikely that it will export any weapons systems to Armenia” to avoid upsetting Azeri ally Turkey and the balance of power. Furthermore, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has Azeri origins, the analyst noted. (Source: Defense News)
14 Nov 20. Russian military transport Aircraft continue to transfer units to participate in the Peacekeeping Operation in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone. Russian MoD Press Release, 12 November 2020: [auto-translated] Aircraft of the Russian military aviation transport continue to carry out the transfer of units to participate in the Peacekeeping Operation in the zone of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation continues the transfer of Russian peacekeepers to the area where missions are performed in the zone of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Another two Il-76 aircraft of the military transport aviation of the Aerospace Forces of Russia flew from the Ulyanovsk-Vostochny airfield to Armenia. On board the aircraft are armoured personnel carriers, materiel and personnel of the peacekeeping unit.
Since November 10, the Il-76 and An-124 planes have delivered to Armenia more than 750 military personnel, as well as more than 110 pieces of equipment – armoured personnel carriers, off-road trucks and logistical support.
In order to carry out peacekeeping tasks, prevent possible incidents and ensure the security of Russian military personnel, continuous interaction with the General Staffs of the armed forces of Azerbaijan and Armenia has been organised. Direct communication channels have been established.
For reference: To control the ceasefire and hostilities, a peacekeeping contingent of the Russian Federation is deployed in the zone of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the amount of 1960 military personnel, 90 armoured personnel carriers, 380 units of automobiles and special equipment. The core of the Russian contingent will be subdivisions of the 15th Independent Motorised Rifle Brigade (peacekeeping) of the Central Military District. (Source: joint-forces.com/Dept of Information and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation MoD
13 Nov 20. Sudan to host Russian military base. Russia will establish a naval logistic center and repair yard in Sudan under a new agreement signed by Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin on Nov. 6 but just made public this week.
According to the agreement’s text, the naval logistics center will host up to 300 people. This figure includes both naval service members and civilian personnel. The base can host up to four naval vessels, including nuclear-powered ones.
The Sudanese government will provide Russia with the necessary port infrastructure and a piece of land free of charge.
Russia will be allowed to transfer “any kind of military equipment or munition, equipment or material” through Sudanese ports that are required for the center, the agreement read.
The center will function under Russia’s jurisdiction, and the agreement will last for 25 years, with the option to renew it for another 10-year period.
The naval logistics center in Sudan will be Russia’s first military base in Africa since the collapse of the Soviet Union. During that time, the country had a permanent naval base in Somalia.
A few years ago, Russia began looking for ways to establish a permanent base in Djibouti, which already hosts Chinese and American naval bases. But negotiations failed, a Defense News source familiar with the matter previously told Defense News.
It’s unclear how much the center will cost. According to estimates provided by Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily, Russia plans to spend up to 3.2bn roubles (U.S. $41.5m) annually to develop its base in Tartus, Syria. The Soviet-era naval logistics center in the Mediterranean was transformed into a permanent base soon after Russia intervened in the Syrian civil war.
The opening of the Sudanese center shows that “Russia is returning to the World Ocean,” defense columnist Dmitry Litovkin wrote in a column for Russian state news agency Tass. Russia’s nuclear-powered cruisers can use the center as a resting place for its crew members, Litovkin noted.
“The sailors of the Northern and Baltic fleets will not have to make exhausting transitions in order to spend several months in the Indian Ocean,” he wrote.
Talks to open a logistics center in Sudan accelerated after Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir visited Russia in 2017. Despite a 2019 coup that removed al-Bashir from power, the talks continued with the de facto head of the country Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman al-Burhan.
In 2019, the Kremlin hosted a Russia-Africa summit attended by more than 40 African leaders. “The president is highly interested in African issues,” a senior Russian parliament member who deals with African affairs told Defense News. (Source: Defense News)
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