Tag Archives: Australia

Uncertainty and Australian Force Structure Planning

By Peter Layton

When talking about current defence and security matters there seems strong agreement on at least one characteristic: the future is uncertain. Of course that’s true, and many things could potentially happen but, even so, what does this uncertainty mean for Defence?

Eggs in one basket2Defence could choose a single future scenario, press on with it, and hope for the best. A fundamental problem in basing force development on a particular anticipated future is that if those specific circumstances don’t materialize, the force acquired might prove quite ineffective. This happened to Australia in the grim days of 1942. The inter-war emphasis on acquiring warships to be based in Singapore for coalition naval operations (PDF) proved completely inappropriate to the actual circumstances that arose. Precious time and resources were squandered preparing for an eventuality that didn’t happen, while consuming resources that could have created the force structure actually needed.

This force structure dilemma, being ill-prepared for the future that actually occurs, is evident in the varying advice given about the implications of the rise of China. Some recommend building a bigger defence force ‘just in case,’ others opt for going amphibious (and in Japan as well), others say to engage while creating a force structure around hedging, yet others don’t see the need for worrying over a military response at all. These alternative courses reflect real uncertainty amongst professional analysts, defence staffs, foreign affairs specialists, and commentators over whether China’s rise will be peaceful or not—and what the appropriate response is if not. It seems that realists fear that war’s inevitable while liberal thinkers see much value in deep economic integration with the People’s Republic. The real answer is that no one yet knows; there are many possible futures, depending on the choices that China and the rest of us make.

One way of thinking about this is to accept this uncertainty and survey the space of possibilities (with credit to LTG Noboru Yamaguchi for pointing this out). To take extreme positions, China will become either a peaceful great power cooperating with all or a revisionist great power aggressively remaking Asia. In either circumstance the role of the United States will be highly influential in determining what Australia and many others will do. America could remain deeply engaged in the Asian region and be strongly intent on shaping the regional order. Conversely, it might retire from the field of play and focus its efforts elsewhere. What do these four alternative futures look like for us? Maybe like this (click to enlarge):

Seen this way, most futures seem OK. Three range from the really good ‘Nirvana’ to the ‘we’ve done this before and survived’ Cold War Redux. The Home Alone future is, however, a really bad one. Should we then accept this worst-case analysis and structure our defence force for it? If we did, then surely the worst that could happen is that Australia will be unnecessarily poorer than it should be? Not quite. The danger of going that route is that others might follow—they might think we know something they don’t or that we harbour aggressive intentions ourselves. For example, developing a nuclear capability would certainly draw attention.

How about force structuring around the competition-heavy Cold War Redux possibility? Such a force would be in case an aggressive China arose and the U.S. embraced a new containment strategy that we’d become a part of. If we really thought such a future was likely, then extensive trade with the ‘enemy’ would be most unwise as this would simply be supporting a hostile military build-up—a notion that might have historical resonance as well. Sharply constraining trade though would inflict some real economic damage on us as we missed out on much of the financial gains from China’s rise. Worse, it might also set off a security dilemma in which China sees the west bulking up its power projection and containment capabilities and talks itself into a major arms expansion. We need to be careful that we don’t inadvertently create the future we fear.


Should we then hope for the best and force structure for the better alternatives? This though runs significant risks if the future turns dark, as it did with the Japanese attacks in late 1942.

A potential answer lies in adopting a robust force-development strategy that aims to meet the different challenges of the four possible worlds, identified with all their differences, albeit set against the constraints of limited resources. Such a strategy doesn’t presuppose an ability to identify the most, or indeed the least, likely outcomes. Instead, it seeks to build a force structure that resembles a market, with a range of capabilities that covers a broad array of possibilities and evolves over time, with some succeeding and some failing. In this approach, a robust strategy isn’t an ‘optimum’ strategy, this being inherently impossible in an uncertain environment (except in retrospect). Instead, it tries to meet strategic needs within a limited resource base by being designed to evolve over time as strategic circumstances change.

How many eggs in how many baskets? There are of course some problems with this approach. It needs some real intellectual thought—always a scarce commodity—and it isn’t ‘set and forget’. The external environment needs continuous monitoring so that the force structure can be steadily tweaked as the actual future progressively arrives.

The value of the approach lies in realising that the future could be good or downright terrible, but that we might be able to tilt the probabilities towards the better futures. In using our instruments of national power and in building a force structure we can act to nudge the future in the direction we prefer. With an understanding of what might happen, we’re better able to work towards achieving such an outcome.

With such an optimistic thought comes a word of warning. While this focus has been on China, security even in the Nirvana future might well include dealing with tyrannical regimes, failing states, transnational terrorism and civil wars. There’ll be a need for effective and efficient armed forces in whichever alternative future arrives, it’s just their shape that will differ—and whether we’re prepared or not.

Peter Layton is undertaking a research PhD in grand strategy at UNSW, and has been an associate professor of national security strategy at the US National Defense University.

This post first appeared at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (APSI)’s blog The Strategist.

Amphibious Operations: More Than Meets the Eye

By Andrew Davies

20121002ran8098578_006In the last few weeks, we’ve seen some impressive photographs and the naming ceremony of the first of the 27,000 tonne Canberra-class landing helicopter docks (LHDs) coming together in the BAE shipyards in Williamstown, Australia. These vessels will do much more than replace the Manoora and Kinimbla amphibious ships retired precipitously in 2011. They’ll greatly expand the capability of the Australian Defense Force (ADF) to deliver people and equipment around Australian or onto foreign shores.

In turn, this new capability will provide future governments with a wider range of military options during times of crisis—although perhaps not as substantial a boost as might be expected. The problem with amphibious operations is that they become much more demanding when there’s any significant opposition.

If we look at the recent Defence white paper, we can get some insight into current defence thinking. The notion of amphibious operations in support of combat activities is still there from the 2009 paper:

The ADF would seek to undertake operations against an adversary’s bases and forces in transit, as far from Australia as possible. This might involve using strike capabilities and the sustained projection of power by joint task forces, including amphibious operations in some circumstances.

The aim, we’re told is to eventually produce an amphibious capability suitable for employment across the spectrum of operational activities—i.e. from humanitarian and disaster relief missions through to power projection operations. That’s a huge range of activities, and the upper end would require considerable support from the ADF’s most capable combat platforms—air defence from fast jets overhead and air warfare destroyers; sea control from surface combatants and submarines; and extensive intelligence support. In short, most of the ADF’s capability would have to be mobilised to support opposed amphibious operations.

But there’s a considerable geographic limitation that needs to be factored in. As our map last week showed, air cover from Australian bases won’t cover many of the land masses in the archipelago to the north or elsewhere in the ADF’s primary area of operations. Even with air-to-air refuelling it wouldn’t take long for the RAAF to struggle to provide standing air cover much beyond 1,000 km range.

If defence planners are serious about conducting amphibious assault operations using these vessels, they’d be looking seriously at the option of a naval task group taking along its own air power. Opposed operations without air cover aren’t a recipe for success. The Falkland Islands War, for example, would have been a resounding defeat for the British without the Harriers embarked on their aircraft carriers.

The Navy takes pains to remind us that these will be the largest ships they’ve ever operated (video), even bigger than the aircraft carriers HMAS Melbourne and Sydney. The Melbourne was retired in 1982, and the ADF hasn’t had the ability to take its own air power along on naval operations since. The large flight decks of the LHDs are getting a few naval stalwarts excited about getting fixed wing aviation back into the fleet, and there were a few murmurs around Russell Hill when the 2009 white paper was being developed (and when money wasn’t so tight).

The combination of the Canberra-class and the short take-off vertical landing (STOVL) version of the Joint Strike Fighter seems to be a credible option for getting back into the fixed wing naval aviation business. The Australian ships are built to the specs of the Juan Carlos-class amphibious assault ship operated by the Spanish Navy. The Spanish vessels embark Matador (Harrier) short take-off vertical landing (STOVL) jet operations. In fact, the model LHD in the DMO foyer had half a dozen jets below decks at first, although they discretely disappeared at some stage.

But the two ships the ADF are getting won’t be configured for fixed wing operations, lacking as they do the radar and air control systems necessary. Nor is there any plan to acquire those systems or the STOVL aircraft required. And budget pressure will mean that it’s not likely to happen in the foreseeable future.

That’s likely one reason for the 2013 Defence white paper placing much more emphasis than its predecessor on security, stabilisation, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. Also on the agenda are cooperation and engagement activities in the South Pacific and Timor-Leste, including bilateral and multilateral exercises with regional security forces.

In fact, the South Pacific countries can expect regular visits from the Canberra class. We’re told that the ADF will establish an ‘enduring joint amphibious presence in the South Pacific through regular deployments’. That’s a long way from amphibious assault far from home, but much more attuned to the scenarios that the ADF is actually likely to be tasked to respond to.

At most, two LHDs could land a couple of thousand Australians on a beach at the end of a vulnerable supply chain—and it’s hard to find problems that have that as the solution. But even non-warlike missions can require an across-the-beach force to seize entry points. That’s consistent with the announcement that Army’s approach to amphibious forces will be initially modest, with a single battalion (2RAR) to be trained as an Amphibious Ready Element, with options to expand later if required.

These are all sensible and achievable developments. It will take time to get the ADF used to operating and deploying from the new ships, and a gradual approach will allow practice and doctrine development that can be built on later. It’s also not going to bleed Army’s training resources dry at the expense of all of the other tasks they are required to prepare for.

Above all, it means that reality has intervened in the development of an amphibious capability. Our land forces have the capability and capacity to do many things that will add to the security of the region and help in times of dire need. But they won’t have the scale, firepower or air cover for decisive amphibious combat operations in any serious conflict. Thankfully, that seems to be off the table for now.

This post first appeared at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (APSI), and is an expanded version of a piece ‘Real Amphibious Operations Aren’t Easy’ in the defence supplement in The Australian, 25–26 May.

Andrew Davies is a senior analyst for defence capability at ASPI and executive editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

MFP 9: Final Predictions For The Future

Any final predictions?

This is the ninth and final regular post in our Maritime Futures Project.  For more information on the contributors, click here.  Note: The opinions and views expressed in these posts are those of the authors alone and are presented in their personal capacity.  They do not necessarily represent the views of their parent institution U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, any other agency, or any other foreign government.

LT Drew Hamblen, USN:
Navy’s experiments with biofuels will fizzle out as an abundance of natural gas and crude oil prices it out of the market.

Felix Seidler, seidlers-sicherheitspolitik.net, Germany:

La Marinha do Brasil
La Marinha do Brasil

The international maritime security debate is dominated by U.S. future capabilities, European decline, and the Asian arms race – in particular China. Yet beyond that Brazil will be an interesting player. The country seems to pursue an ambitious fleet-building agenda. Moreover, Brazil trained China’s carrier pilots. With a mid- to long-term perspective, a Brazilian blue-water navy might go on expeditionary tours – not to win wars per se, but to take part in international operations or underline Brazil’s new geopolitical status. Why shouldn’t Brazilian and Chinese carriers visit each other’s countries to deepen political ties between both governments?

Bryan McGrath, Director, Delex Consulting, Studies and Analysis:
Most of my predictions will be wrong.

Sebastian Bruns, Fellow, Institute for Security, University of Kiel, Germany:
“A ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships are built for”
Attributed to Benazir Bhutto

CDR Chuck Hill, USCG (Ret.):
In the most likely conflicts, large numbers of vessels will be needed to perform blockade and marine policing to prevent use of the use of the seas for transport of weapons, supplies, and personnel. We will never have “enough.” The U.S. Coast Guard will be needed to supply some of them.

Biometrics, the ability to positively identify individuals, is already in use in counter-piracy operations and may become important in tracking down terrorists and agents in unconventional asymmetric conflicts.

States led by China will attempt to reinterpret the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to apply the restrictions and requirements of Innocent Passage to the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as well as the Territorial Sea. Most important is Article 58 Section 3 of UNCLOS: “In exercising their rights and performing their duties under this Convention in the EEZ, States shall have due regard to the rights and duties of the coastal State and shall comply with the laws and regulations adopted by the coastal State in accordance with the provisions of this Convention and other rules of international law in so far as they are not incompatible with this Part.” China will interpret this to mean that anything other than expeditious transit including “spying,” “hovering,” flight ops, and submerged operations might be considered illegal.

LCDR Mark Munson, USN:

I see your EEZ is as big as mine.
                                                                            I see your EEZ is as big as mine.

The notion of an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is not new (the formal definition of it extending out 200 nautical miles dates to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), but it seems to increasingly be at the heart of the various maritime disputes. China’s differences with its neighbors in the South and East China Seas revolve around the desire to secure control of underwater resources by maximizing its EEZ. In addition, China has advocated a state’s right to control or regulate the military activities of other states occurring in its EEZ. If accepted by the rest of the world (which most countries currently do not), such a notion would significantly impact the ability of states like the U.S. to operate forward at sea like it traditionally has. In addition, it is the realization of the negative impacts of a state’s inability to enforce activity in its EEZ (such as piracy in Somalia, maritime banditry and oil theft in the Gulf of Guinea) that has led many states to realize that capable maritime security forces are important, although they may not be able to afford them.

YN2(SW) Michael George, USN:
The U.S. Navy is a vital force in our nation’s defense and will continue to be vital to providing secure waterways around the world. But the fact that it is a national navy and not an international one will cause leaders in other countries to make greater efforts to become more self-reliant.

LT Jake Bebber, USN:
Few in the U.S. want war with China, and few in China want war with the U.S. That being said, the wisdom of the ancients suggests that we are on a collision course. 2,500 years ago, Thucydides wrote “The growth of the power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Lacedaemon, made war inevitable.” Fear, power and interest, often involving third parties (see Corcyra in 440 B.C. or Japan today), drive nations to war, and human behavior remains largely unchanged over the last 5,000 years of recorded history, despite our fallacious belief in “progress.” War will come when it is most inconvenient, unexpected, dangerous, and costly – not when we are prepared.

LT Alan Tweedie, USNR:
DDG 1000 will cost even more than we expect and none of the three we are building will ever see 20 years of service life. Neither this ship nor anything else like it will be a part of our Navy’s future.

LT Scott Cheney-Peters, USNR:
These are a little further out in left field, and focus a bit more on geopolitics than the predictions made to earlier questions, so I fully expect them to make me look a bit ridiculous in the years ahead:

While much has been written about Brazil’s burgeoning economic power – slowing of late – and the nation’s drive to reinvigorate its naval capabilities, it will be Columbia and Mexico that surprise the Western Hemisphere’s observers with their growing naval clout. The focus of these nations’ fleets will also shift from the traditional hemispheric concerns to protecting trade ties to Africa and Asia. This is of course predicated on both countries’ ability to keep a lid on domestic discontent and violence while extending their economic booms. Other South American armadas – such as those of Peru, Uruguay, and Chile – will endeavor to maintain their small but professional capabilities, and undertake a similar drive (underway in many cases) to boost ties across the Pacific and Atlantic.

The leaders of both Cuba and Venezuela have not long to live, yet neither change at the top will mean much in terms of naval policy. Both nations may seek to defrost relations with the U.S. and strengthen integration in cooperative regional maritime efforts – although again, little change from now.

The professionalization of Africa’s maritime forces will continue apace in those nations enjoying peaceful transitions of government. Cooperative regional efforts will combat the threats of piracy, maritime robberies, and drug-running – but the dangers will continue at modest levels and readily flourish in any coastal power vacuum. Counter-drug ops will prove the hardest to due to pervasive levels of corruption in states such as Guinea-Bissau.

The Persian/Arabian Gulf will remain a tinderbox – not due to a looming confrontation with Iran, but because the Arab Spring has yet to fully play out on (or off the coast of) the Arabian Peninsula. I don’t presume to know the outcome or timeline, but escalating repression of the Shia majority in Bahrain could lead to untenable situation for the U.S. Fifth Fleet HQ, and/or a change of government.

Lastly, in Asia, the oft-overlooked Indonesia has the potential to develop into a naval power in its own right. The nation’s leadership has aspirations of becoming a key player in South Asia, and it will likely attempt to play the role of a non-aligned honest broker in any regional stand-off. If you’re looking for good coverage of Indonesia (and its ties with Australia), check out the sites Security Scholar and ASPI.

Of course, we could always just end up with this:

Simon Williams, U.K.:
Something this writer believes policy makers and the military should be mindful of in the coming decades will be the increasing significance of the maritime realm in dictating the machinations and dynamic of international relations. Not only are burgeoning economic powers in the Far East developing credible naval forces to guard their interests, but, having suffered a bloody nose in a protracted counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan, Britain and the United States will find it difficult to conjure up the public support for any ground operations in the near future.

LCDR Joe Baggett, USN:
No predictions – Just observations:
– In my opinion, the United States and its partners find themselves competing for global influence in an era in which they are unlikely to be fully at war or fully at peace.
– The security, prosperity, and vital interests of the United States are increasingly coupled to those of other nations.
– We must be as equally committed to preventing wars as we are to winning them.
– As ADM Locklear once said “I value surface forces that are:
1) Sufficient in number: you have to be there in order to make a difference
2) Capable, both offensively and defensively: our lethality must be compelling, and our presence re-assuring to our allies
3) Ready, both in proficiency to the full range of potential missions and in proximity to where they’re needed
4) Relevant: the right mix of the above factors to achieve the broad missions sets assigned.”

More Than Words: Australia-Indonesia Strategic Relations

Australia-Indonesia Joint Patrol

By Natalie Sambhi

Australia’s leaders from both sides of politics have been paying greater attention to Indonesia; there’s been more official engagement, as well as new diplomatic and defence initiatives in the past year. And we’ve been describing Indonesia, as our Defence Minister has during his Jakarta visit last week, in more important terms like ‘strategic partner’.

But it looks like that there’s some way to go before ‘strategic partner’ becomes more than just a term of endearment. If we look at the 2009 Defence White Paper (for the time being still the government’s defence strategic policy), we find a curious ambivalence towards Indonesia. According to the White Paper, we have a ‘fundamental interest in controlling the air and sea approaches to our continent’ (paragraph 5.5). But in reference to a secure immediate neighbourhood, it says we should prevent or mitigate ‘nearby states [from] develop[ing] the capacity to undertake sustained military operations within our approaches’ (paragraph 5.8). There’s a contradiction there; as Hugh White notes in his Security Challenges essay (PDF), it may very well be those same capabilities Indonesia requires to ensure its own security in its northern approaches that could be instrumental in both Indonesia and Australia securing their strategic interests.

In short, the language of the 2009 Defence White Paper simply doesn’t match our statements of Indonesia as a strategic partner. And although there are asymmetries in our capabilities, a strategic partnership means allowing and encouraging Indonesia to grow in a way that complements our strengths and compensates for our weaknesses so that we can work together; if Indonesia is to play an important role in our strategic future, then actively mitigating or preventing particular capacities isn’t the way to go.

This position might have been justifiable in white papers released after Konfrontasi (during which Australia and Indonesia found themselves on opposing sides of the conflict) or shortly after the 1999 East Timor intervention, during which relations with Indonesia were more fractious and the military (TNI) was only just exiting Indonesian politics. But times have changed.

On the domestic front, Indonesia is a much more stable, democratic state. In economic terms Indonesia is now starting to flex its muscle. Its GDP grew by an annualised 6.4% in the second quarter of 2012, its economy is now larger than Australia’s in purchasing power parity terms, and its middle class is larger than Australia’s population. TNI no longer exerts the same level of direct influence on politics and there’s a greater commitment to crack down on corruption. In regional terms, Indonesia enjoys greater clout and has attracted the attention of international partners such as the United States, the United Kingdom and China. Recent participation in RAAF-hosted Exercise Pitch Black 2012 (see image) shows Indonesia’s willingness to engage with partners such as Australia by sending their newest aircraft to build person-to-person ties and to dispel doubt as to their military intentions.

Barring a significant change in Indonesia’s trajectory of growth and domestic transformation, this is likely to become an enduring externality for Australian policy. Nonetheless, it’s worth thinking through the factors that could cause problems for Indonesia down the track: these include slowed growth, a change of leadership to one that is more internally focused, and deteriorating domestic stability. The question is whether these eventualities would adversely affect the Indonesia–Australia relationship in the long-term or would merely slow the engagement temporarily. That said, the relationship between Indonesia and Australia seems to be on an unstoppable path of growth. A nationalist President of Indonesia would be a concern but wouldn’t necessarily require a radical rewrite of Indonesia’s place in our strategic interests. In any case, as one RSIS commentator notes (PDF), nationalism at present is not a call for concern.

Likewise, Australia can cause ructions over livestock, people smuggling or the incarcerations of Australians, but the fundamental shared interests should ultimately prevail. In terms of shifting regional geopolitics, Australia and Indonesia might have more in common in the future Asia as we both navigate China’s rise and the US rebalance. A Defence Cooperation Agreement signed recently between Australia and Indonesia provides a framework for practical cooperation on common security matters, but it’s time to work together as well on bigger, long-term strategic questions about the region.

Indonesia demands different handling in the next Defence White Paper, which is as much an opportunity as the Asian Century White Paper to correctly recognise Indonesia’s place. Language matters, because it sends a strong signal to both the Australian and Indonesian people about how we see each country’s place in the region. And while the majority of everyday people in each country may not delve into the pages of the White Paper, setting the tone for political interaction as well as doing away with ambiguous language remains important. Hopefully the 2013 White Paper will articulate Indonesia’s importance and elevate it to partner status rather than a subordinate. That sort of constructive language would remove the disparity between language of the 2009 White Paper and the increasing importance of close defence relations and alignment of strategic interests between the two nations.

The White Paper might start by recognising the complementarity across our capabilities, strengths and weaknesses. Or it could, as Hugh White suggests, create a heading for Indonesia separate from the rest of ‘our neighbourhood’ to recognise the important role it plays in our strategic environment. While there’s no prospect of an alliance between our countries in the foreseeable future, it would provide a more robust basis in our national policy to give a broader context to initiatives such as the recently signed Defence Cooperation Agreement.

Defence Minister Smith assures us that he is ‘committed to regular, open and transparent discussions with Indonesia on the development of Australia’s 2013 Defence White Paper’. Let’s hope the final cut pays them the same due respect.

Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, editor of The Strategist and co-editor of Security Scholar. She is also a Hedley Bull Scholar and graduate of the Australian National University.

This article appeared in its original form and was cross-posted by permission from The Security Scholar.