Australia needs to stop buying vulnerable, expensive and obsolete military assets designed to fight wars elsewhere. Smaller, smarter and more effective “off the shelf” assets need be selected to defend Australia.
Our plan to defend Australia for $100 billion less
- Long-range stealth aircraft instead of vulnerable & expensive frigates and destroyers
- Advanced diesel-electric submarines that can stay submerged for weeks instead of nuclear submarines in the 2040’s
- Anti-ship missiles instead of more tanks
The defence policies of the major parties use vulnerable surface ships, overpriced submarines and expeditionary forces to fight wars far from our shores.
This plan aggregates advice from various defence experts into an affordable, coherent and practical new defence plan to counter the only real threats Australia now faces.
The threat landscape
Proliferation of precision guided weapons and sensors
The lethality and affordability of precision guided weapons continue to increase rapidly with multiple nations now fielding hypersonic and ballistic missiles. Surface ships will not survive for long in any serious conflict. Land-based targets are exposed to ‘surprise’ attacks from submarine-launched as well as ballistic missiles.
Networked sensor systems spread through space, the atmosphere and the sea mean large naval assets can be tracked and targeted from launch till destruction.
The ALP and LNP have failed to adapt to this and continue to purchase hugely expensive platforms such as the Hunter Class frigate and the now nuclear submarines.
Many ADF assets remain highly concentrated at a few bases such as RAAF Base Tindal and HMAS Stirling that would be destroyed at the outset of a major war.
Equipment for the wrong wars
Most ADF assets are still purchased to assist the USA with wars in the middle east and would be of little value defending Australia. For example the F35A is too short range and is unable to effectively carry anti-ship missiles.
Our many armoured vehicles will be of little value in preventing an adversary reaching the shore.
The ALP and LNP continue in this mode. Purchase decisions seem to be more about jobs in marginal seats than defence.
Relative decline of traditional allies
The numerical and technical superiority that the United States, Japan and our other allies once enjoyed has been in steady decline for 20 years. Due to internal divisions the traditional allies are less able to defend Australia than they once were.
The abandonment of Afghanistan to the Taliban by the USA and NATO increases doubts as to whether the USA would support Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and other allies including Australia if they came under attack. Increasingly these countries must fend for themselves.
Terrorism and other threats
The Taliban’s defeat of the USA is likely to encourage jihadist activity against around the world as they can see that they can win. Neo-fascist elements in Australia will be encouraged to attack minority groups they perceive as being a threat.
For the most part these threats can continue to be managed by police forces, the ADF need only assist where military weapons are used by offenders.
Defence assets Australia should not buy
No more surface combatants
With the sky full of satellites and the sea full of sensors, large slow-moving surface combatants and their crews would be quickly killed in any serious conflict.
Warships have small arsenals that would quickly be exhausted by salvos of incoming missiles.
The Hobart class only has subsonic missiles with a range of about 120 km, far less than the competition. Assuming defensive weapons are 80% effective and incoming missiles arrive one-at-a-time, the cumulative chances of survival for a warship are as per the below ASPI analysis:
|Probability of survival||80%||64%||51%||41%||33%||26%||21%||17%||13%||11%|
The above is highly optimistic as it is unclear how any hypersonic missile could be defeated.
As warships have to concentrate more on trying to defend themselves they are limited in what offensive roles they can take, making them an expensive liability in a major conflict. Fundamentally the Australian Democrats do not want Australia to try and project power – so warships are not required even if they could stay afloat.
Australia should not proceed with the nine planned Hunter Class Frigates or any other crewed surface combatants. Existing surface combatants should be used for maritime policing, humanitarian operations or be sold.
None of Australia’s existing surface combatants should be deployed to any significant conflicts, in particular they should not be deployed anywhere near Taiwan or in the Persian Gulf.
No nuclear submarines
We have major issues with the latest direction or Australia’s fumbled submarine program – nuclear submarines.
- It is likely these eight nuclear submarines (SSN) now proposed will cost well over $140 billion if built here.
- Such large submarines are likely to be detectable and hence unviable by 2040, especially in shallow waters such as the Persian Gulf, the South China Sea or the Taiwan Straight.
- Smaller modern conventional submarines (SSK) with fuel cells and/or advanced batteries can remain submerged for weeks and are harder to detect than nuclear submarines (SSN), especially in the shallow waters around Australia. These SSK submarines cost under $1 billion each.
- The SSN reactor could be a ‘black box’ that the Australian Defence Force has no access to – or else we will need a nuclear industry here to maintain the reactors.
- Over the 30-year life of the submarine a future US president (such as Donald Trump) could threaten to effectively turn off the submarines to force changes to Australian laws to suit their ideology – such as laws related to Medicare or abortion.
- The target of these submarines is China, but we cannot out-build China. They produce a new submarine every year or so.
- The first of these submarines will not go in to service before 2038 at the earliest if we build them here. We have a serious capability problem now.
- Threatening China and other countries with submarines we don’t have yet is dangerous and will fuel the arms race neutralising any military benefit from the submarines.
- These large submarines are unsuitable for shallow waters such as the Timor and Arafura Seas – or much of the South China Sea.
- At end-of-life (about 3 decades) Australia will need to dispose of the nuclear cores.
- The SSN reactors (S9G?) will use weapons grade Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) fuel presenting additional security and pollution risks in the event of accidents or destruction during warfare.
- The Democrats also oppose use of fission nuclear power for domestic energy production within Australia.
Collins Class LOTE
The Collins Class submarine Life of Type Extension (LOTE) program should only go ahead if the cost per boat is significantly less than buying a new “off the shelf” boat.
No more tanks
Australia has 200+“Boxer” armoured fighting vehicles on order already but is poised now to buy 450 Lynx or Redback Infantry Fighting Vehicles to replace the Vietnam-war era M113 armoured personnel carriers. The Lynx/Redback will cost $18 to $27 billion . 47 tonne Self Propelled Howitzers with a range of ~50 km are also planned which will have little strategic value compared to 1,000 km range missiles.
Given that Australia is unlikely to be invaded by land and the Lynx and Howitzers can probably not be usefully deployed in our region they should not be purchased. The primary value of tank-like vehicles is for fighting wars with the USA in places such as Iraq and Iran which should not be a priority.
Note that the ADF already has 1,000+ Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicles and has 1,100 Hawkei Protected Mobility Vehicles on order with 100+ delivered. All these will struggle to survive combat against cheap drones as seen in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Australia is also spending $2.5 billion replacing its 75 M1A1 Abrams tanks with the newer M1A2. At 70 tonne these vehicles are extremely hard to deploy and will break most roads and bridges in our region.
No more F-35 “Lightning”
Australia’s F-35 lacks the range, speed and payload to be either an air-superiority fighter or an effective maritime strike aircraft. Tanker aircraft can expand the combat radius somewhat but the tankers themselves are highly vulnerable. The F-35 can carry the new Long Range Anti Ship Missiles (LRASM), but only externally and not very far as weapons carried externally increase drag and reduce the stealthiness of the aircraft. No more F-35 should be purchased.
No more F/A-18 Super Hornets
These 24 planes can carry the new LRASM but are not stealthy or competitive with modern Chinese or Russian fighter planes. (The older ‘Classic’ F/A-18 Hornets are even more obsolete, some have already been sold to Canada.)
Australia should continue to abide by international agreements on indiscriminate weapons such as landmines, cluster munitions and chemical agents. Australia should not acquire nuclear weapons.
Our self-defence plan
The ADF should focus on defending Australia with weapons platforms that have a good chance of survival in a serious conflict.
Spending many billions on large vulnerable assets should be avoided.
Nine B-21 Raiders instead of nine frigates – saving $36 Billion
B-21 can range over 5,000 km to deliver 10+ long range anti-ship missiles per mission with much lower risk to the platform than if a warship was used. Unlike a warship the B-21 can run repeated sorties day after day to provide extensive sea denial. Stealth and survivability is the big advantage over our existing Boeing P-8A Poseidon.
The B-21 can launch maritime strikes from distributed bases in central Australia to beyond Indonesia, PNG and New Zealand. Basing them in central Australia keeps them well away from “surprise” submarine-launched attacks which you would expect on any bases near the coast.
In July 2019, the USAF Vice Chief of Staff indicated that the new B-21 will make its maiden flight sometime in December 2021. Production of Hunter class frigates is scheduled to start in 2022.
The US Secretary of Commerce has said the US would “look favourably” on an Australian request to participate in the B-21 Raider program. Allied involvement would cut costs for the USAF.
Neighbouring ASEAN countries should be invited to be closely involved with Australian B-21 operations and could provide co-pilots. This will help these countries see the B-21’s as more of a free asset that enhances their security rather than a threat. The main role for the B-21’s and its ordnance stockpile should be seen to be for maritime strike and air-to-air defence, not attacking land targets.
If the B-21 was not suitable other options could include drones such as Boeing Loyal Wingman (or similar) or land based missiles. Other medium-range aircraft capable of carrying anti-ship missiles should also be examined.
20 Advanced conventional submarines saving $80 billion
20 advanced conventional submarines with fuel cell Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) would provide excellent defence for Australia
With B-21’s providing area denial via maritime strike, there is no need to build nuclear submarines (SSN) to attempt attacks on heavily fortified and nuclear armed superpowers.
There are multiple conventional submarines with AIP that would be entirely adequate for operation near Australia if they were distributed around the coast. Any of these can operate fully submerged for weeks and have enough range to lap New Zealand from Sydney. All can be obtained for under $1 billion each in a few years compared to over $8 billion each for the bespoke nuclear submarines in 18 years.
Unlike the SSN proposed in September 2021, these submarines would be an entirely Australian-controlled capability. Adding an extra fuel-cell AIP module to these submarines would presumably give them the ability to operate submerged for six weeks.
These submarines should be assembled in Adelaide with components sourced from around Australia and internationally to control cost and avoid delays. We note Virginia Class SSN’s are built in about two years so would not expect conventional submarines to take any longer.
Nine Scorpène have already been completed by Frances Naval Group greatly reducing the risks associated with building these in South Australia. Only 32 crew are needed, about a third of the number needed for the Astute SSN.
With a 12,000 km range and 70 day endurance (with one FC2G module) the Scorpène can reinforce sea denial in our region if they are distributed to ports around Australia. The Scorpène’s ability to operate fully submerged for over two weeks gives it similar capability to SSN’s near Australia.
Naval Group’s “Fuel Cell 2nd Generation” (FC2G) is a major game-changer for their conventional submarines. The stated underwater range of 18 days with one FC2G module would enable the Scorpène to travel from Australia to New Zealand without surfacing.
The fuel cell modules generate hydrogen as needed from standard diesel fuel to use in the fuel cell with oxygen so is safe and easy to maintain.
This German submarine was the subject of an earlier post and is another good candidate for Australia. It also has excellent Air Independent Propulsion.
The Japanese Sōryū Class submarine from Mitsubishi / Kawasaki was considered by Tony Abbott earlier in the great submarine saga. It would be another good candidate for Australia. It has Stirling engines and lithium iron batteries to provide extended Air Independent Propulsion.
Land-Based Anti-Ship Missiles instead of tanks
Locally produced land-based anti-ship missiles with a range of 500 to 1,500 km would be a cost-effective way to provide further sea denial around Australia.
An example of an existing land-based anti-ship missile is the Russian “Kalibr” or “Club” missile range which can be mounted in a standard 40-foot shipping container. Variants of this missile have ranges up to 2,500 km – more than Sydney to Auckland. The People’s Republic of China also has a large number of land-based anti-ship missiles such as the DF-17 which pose an existential threat to any surface ships within 2,000 km of China.
Something like this but manufactured locally has the great advantage of being very hard for an enemy to target and pre-emptively destroy even with agents on the ground looking for them. Having a hundred hidden land-based anti-ship missiles is far more likely to deter an adversary from coming near Australia than similar spending on tanks, armoured vehicles or a few short range helicopters.
In August 2021 the ADF announced it was interested in the Lockheed Martin Precision Strike Missile which is exactly the sort of capability Australia needs. However, we believe it would be better to hide the missiles in conventional-looking trucks rather than obviously military vehicles such as the M142 HIMARS.
Overseas engagements approved by Parliament
All deployments of the ADF overseas should be approved by Parliament or in the event of an emergency (hostage rescue for example) by both the government and opposition leadership. Monthly reviews of the deployment should be held by Parliament.
Consideration should be given to dividing countries in the case of protracted civil war between divided communities. If the parties or the international community is unwilling to accept such division then continued participation of the ADF may be futile.
Like any organisation the ADF needs independent oversight and auditing of operations. With the ADF this is needed to prevent human rights violations or other problematic behaviours from arising – especially on long and arduous overseas deployments. Media oversight of operations should also be permitted.
Inevitably some information must be redacted for security reasons but this should be kept to the bare minimum.
The AD recognises the non-binding ANZUS treaty and would continue to respect that text as it stands. Full text the treaty is here (AustralianPolitics.com).
Allowing the USA to operate bases such as at Pine Gap on Australian territory should be the major part of our contribution to that treaty. Assisting the USA with other conflicts needs to be considered on a case-by-case basis but is not required by the text of this treaty.
It is noted that while the text of the treaty may encourage the USA to come to Australia’s aid in some way in a conflict it does not guarantee Australia’s safety.
Australia is highly vulnerable to being blockaded especially with regard to fuel supplies with only a few weeks reserves held locally. In the short term fuel reserves should be quickly increased. Incentives to improve the uptake of electric vehicles and encourage moving freight by rail need to be stepped up.
While military platforms may be better purchased overseas, ordinance and consumables should be manufactured here or held in large quantities.
Careful consideration needs to be given to other imports that if blocked would quickly lead to serious consequences. This includes semiconductors which are mostly made in Taiwan and many medical supplies.
Cyber security is another huge issue with multiple criminal and state actors exploiting any weakness. The government needs to mandate strong levels of encryption and other counter measures across the country.
A pathway to world peace
Defensive military systems such as anti-ship missiles, anti-tank missiles, short-range submarines are much cheaper and more effective than offensive defence assets such as a blue-water navy, aircraft carriers, amphibious landing craft, tanks, long-range aircraft and the like.
For this reason a “Defensive Assets Only” treaty that limits offensive military assets while allowing defensive systems is conceivable and would advantage signatory nations economically and militarily. In the long term spending on defensive systems would become pointless if all countries signed-on to the treaty, although that’s a very long way away from where we are now.
Australian war crimes investigations
After four years of inquiry the Brereton inquiry concluded that up to 39 Afghan prisoners and civilians had been executed unlawfully by Australian forces during the 20-year Afghan war.
This was based on significant evidence including confessions from Australian soldiers who in hindsight have realised their conduct was unacceptable.
As the Age reports, in the 9 months since that inquiry, there has been a persistent undermining of its findings and the head of the inquiry, Major-General Paul Brereton. Defence Minister Peter Dutton led the charge assuring veterans they would get their medals regardless and shock jocks and the Murdoch happily tapped in to the ugly vein of populism that is whitewashing these crimes.
No one would deny the brutalising effect of this 20-year war but the damage done to Australia’s reputation is immeasurable.
Those involved in war crimes should face appropriate legal action and the ADF should continue to implement identified reform measures. Any sentences for individuals should consider the circumstances of these events and the situation these soldiers have been placed in by their political masters.
Australia’s navy is undergunned for denying long-range attackers Malcolm Davis (ASPI)
Latest costs for the Attack Submarines and Hunter Class Frigates The Age, 14th Oct 2020)
What’s the strategy for the Australian Army’s new vehicles? Marcus Hellyer (ASPI)
LAND 400: Is a knight in shining armour really what we need? Marcus Hellyer (ASPI)
Cheap drones versus expensive tanks: a battlefield game-changer? Malcolm Davis (ASPI)
Land 400 combat vehicles: another disastrously wasteful defence purchase? Nicholas Stuart (SMH)
Australia’s F-35s: Lessons from a problematic purchase Peter Layton (Lowy Institute)
Projecting power with the F-35 (part 2): going further Marcus Hellyer (ASPI)
US seemingly confirms potential for Aussie B-21 participation Stephen Kuper (Defence Connect)
Sea Control with “off the shelf” AIP-equipped submarines near Australia. Stephen Kuper (Defence Connect)
Naval Group Achieves Breakthrough With Its FC2G AIP System Xavier Vavasseur (Naval News)
Time to start thinking about land-based anti-ship missiles Jan K. Gleiman and Harry White (ASPI)
Running on empty – Australia has three weeks of liquid fuel. NZ has 3 months. David Samuel (The Spectator)
Hypersonic weapons are coming—whether we’re ready or not Andrew Davies (ASPI)
“Mind-boggling” waste revealed in the record rise in weapons spending (Brian Toohey, November 2020)
Australia to build its own missiles with $1bn guided weapons facility David Crowe (The Age, Mar 2021)
Today’s F-35As Not Worth Including In High-End War Games Joseph Trevithick (The War Zone, April 2021)
Defence’s acquisition plan risks leaving ADF with stranded assets (Marcus Hellyer, ASPI, May 2021)
Why large, expensive crewed platforms like frigates and armoured vehicles will become stranded assets (Marcus Hellyer, ASPI, May 2021)
B-21 bomber could be Australia’s best long-range strike option (Marcus Hellyer, ASPI, May 2021)
Australia wasting $2.1 billion on unsurvivable propeller-driven drones (Bradley Perrett, ASPI, May 2021)
Australia considers German Type 214 submarine option (ABC News, May 2021. See also this post. )
Why is Australia still investing in a “balanced” defence force? (Hans J. Ohff and Jon Stanford, ASPI, July 2021)
Managing risk in the submarine transition: the latest on the Collins life-of-type extension (Marcus Hellyer, ASPI, July 2021)
America’s recent military history points to strategic shortcomings – Australia ultimately can rely only on itself. (Peter Hartcher, The Age, July 2021)
America’s withdrawal of choice – and the likely consequences (Richard N. Haas, ASPI, August 2021)
China takes US withdrawal from Afghanistan as an opportunity for some sabre-rattling in Taiwan (Bill Birtles, ABC, August 2021)
As the Taliban controls Afghanistan, ‘the idea you can win’ is reverberating around terrorist cells (Emily Clark, ABC, August 2021)
The big lesson from Afghanistan – time not our friend, things change quickly. (Michael Shoebridge, ASPI, September 2021)
Benefits of small, quiet conventional subs over nuclear (ASPI, Hans J. Ohff, July 2017)
The Feasibility of Ending Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) Fuel Use in the U.S. Navy (Arms Control Organisation, November 2016)
How to buy a submarine (2021 edition) (Andrew Davies, ASPI, September 2021)
Australia’s nuclear submarine decision leaves more questions than answers (Marcus Hellyer, ASPI, September 2021)
Will all submarines, even nuclear ones, be obsolete and ‘visible’ by 2040? (Guardian, October 2021)
Decades before nuclear submarines in the water (ABC, October 2021)
Sea mines: the asymmetrical weapon Australia must have (Greg Mapson, ASPI, October 2021)