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Erik is a public policy professional and owner of the online training course in democracy and civic action: www.3ptraining.com.au The Blog …explores ways to create a sustainable and just community. Explores how that community can be best protected at all levels including social policy/economics/ military. The Book Erik’s autobiography is a humorous read about serious things. It concerns living in the bush, wilderness, home education, spirituality, and activism. Finding Home is available from Amazon, Barnes&Noble and all good e-book sellers.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Deterring Invasion – towards an evidence-based defence strategy for Australia

The previous four articles considered how Australia would fare in a war with Indonesia circa 2030 based on current trends. These articles found that Australia would be convincingly defeated in a high tempo conventional war based on known facts and reasonable projections. Further, the assumptions in the articles were weighted in Australia’s favour and did not allow for the likely proliferation of stealth fighters, cruise missiles and ISR capabilities across South East Asia.

This article considers what, in light of this, the ADF needs in order to deter regional aggression and to ensure victory in the event of open conflict with our northern neighbour.


PAK-FA deadlier than anything in the Western air inventory except the F-22. Arriving in our backyard soon.

Structural Change

After a decade of wasted opportunities and tragic bungles Defence is now demonstrably incapable of evidence based rational defence planning or acquisition. A recent list of debacles includes:

  • retiring the F-111 based on known untruths about its maintainability;
  • ordering the Joint Strike Fighter without reference to price, delivery schedule, capability, or reference threats;
  • ordering the Superhornet as a gap filler without reference to capability or reference threats;
  • repeating known untruths to Parliament;
  • repeating known untruths to the Minister;
  • failing to maintain the Collins submarines in a reasonable state of operational readiness;
  • failing to acknowledge the existence of Russian and Chinese stealth aircraft; and
  • ordering anti-submarine torpedoes from a European consortium but failing to check that the instruction manuals were in English.
While some of these decisions were ultimately made by government they were made based on advice from, and in some cases long running campaigns by, the Defence bureaucracy.

In the short term this institutionalised incompetence and intellectual vacuity can be turned around only if independent expert boards reporting to the Minister and to Parliament are established to critique Defence analysis, and provide alternative analysis, questions, and direction.

In the longer term the current leadership of Defence needs to be replaced with individuals with relevant technical qualifications and operational experience. There have been numerous reports into how to better structure Defence, a discussion of which is beyond the scope of this blog.


Depicted is a consequence of replacing analysis with supposition - the Fall of Singapore

Air Power

Ultimately choosing an air power platform is a matter for experts but some observations can be made here. The evolved Sukhoi is now the baseline for air power in the Asia Pacific. The only aircraft that can reliably shoot down a late model evolved Sukhoi is a late model evolved Sukhoi. In a rational universe the RAAF would be crying-out for large numbers of these affordable aircraft, and to be a follow on customer for the Indo/Russian PAK-FA stealth version of that aircraft. Indeed, in the ‘stealth on stealth’ multipolar world of coming decades only nations with stealth aircraft in the class of the PAK-FA, J-22 or F-22 can guarantee their security without a nuclear deterrence. The JSF has no relevance to this environment (see further here and here). Air Power Australia cites a loss exchange ratio of 50 'legacy' aircraft including the Superhornet for one PAK-FA. The loss exchange ratio against the JSF is quoted as exceeding 4:1 in favour of the PAK-FA. (Note that this analysis is now a little dated and the known deficiencies in the JSF program will push the exchange ratio higher in favour of the PAK-FA).

However it seems that for emotional and diplomatic reasons no one in the Defence community and no Australian government will ever buy military equipment from Russia.

The American F-22 Raptor is in many respects the superlative combat aircraft of our time enjoying all aspect stealth, thrust vectoring, and a respectable weapons load. Unfortunately production was stopped short of  200 units. Even if Australia were to acquire some, supportability would become an issue in the longer term unless the Americans were to re-start the assembly line and commence building significant numbers of these aircraft. Who knows whether this will happen, and time is running out to replace the RAAF’s legacy Hornets.

As noted previously, neither the Joint Strike Fighter nor the Superhornet are survivable in the air power environment of the Asia Pacific now, far less in 2030. For some recent 'Deep Throat' revelations on the Joint Strike Fighter that were published in Vanity Fair, see here.

That leaves Australia with a choice of the F-15 series which is still in production (Korea purchased the F-15K), and the Euro canards. The F-15 is not a match for the Sukhoi but is a twin engine Mach 2+ modern combat aircraft. In sufficient numbers it could make life difficult for Indonesian Sukhois, more so if recent difficulties with the standard USAF air-to-air missile (AIM-120 series) are fixed.

Of the Euro canards there are three. Of these one stands out for affordability, sustainability, and a growth path that includes supercruise (the capacity for sustained supersonic flight without the use of afterburners). That is the Swedish JAS Gripen which also has the distinction of being able to land and take-off on short strips of road, and maintain a high tempo of operation. One of the attractions of the Euro canards is the superiority of European air-to-air missiles over those carried by US aircraft. See further http://www.saabgroup.com/en/Air/Gripen-Fighter-System/

For countries with limited budgets mobile surface-to-air missile systems (SAMs) provide an affordable force multiplier to aircraft. When integrated with ground based radar, AEWACs and fighter planes, you have what is called an ‘integrated air defence system’ or ‘IADS’. This is the smartest and most affordable approach for defence of Australia’s military and economics assets across the north – far more so than investing in very expensive air warfare destroyers.

So on my reckoning an effective RAAF could field 72 JAS Gripen from hardened air fields and dispersed runways across northern Australia in addition to around 36 twin engine interceptors. Ideally these would be the PAK-FA or if circumstances allowed, the F-22. If neither of these is possible the next best option is the F-15. These would be supplemented by mobile SAM systems protecting land forces, military bases, airfields, and key industrial assets. This force is affordable, deployable, available, flexible and deadly.

What about the Superhornets and JSF? Australia is committed to the purchase of 14 JSF. Since that aircraft has no operational relevance, the best thing we could do is sell them back to the Americans at half the price and claw back some money. The Superhornets on the other hand could occupy niche roles. As a naval platform they are designed for naval strike and could be fielded in that role. They might also fill a role in tanker and AEWACs escort. As a second tier ‘second day of war’ plane they could usefully be tasked to the close air support role. This would help fill some gaps in the ADF force structure, namely lack of modern artillery, lack of land missiles, and lack of armour. They could conceivably come under command of the Australian Army.

Sea Power

The defence of Australia will occur on, over, and under the shallow waters to our north. That requires investment in 8-10 ‘off the shelf’ conventional European subs based in Northern Australia. If Australia wishes to obtain a capability to engage in military operations in the Northern hemisphere or to hold at risk sea lanes far afield for extended periods, an ‘off-the-shelf’ purchase of the US Virginia class nuclear attack submarine fills that niche with none of the expense and risk of a home built/modified machine. A combined force of conventional and nuclear subs allows Australia to operate each capability to its maximum advantage. Further, if one platform develops a problem the whole fleet is not lost. Investment in a capable submarine force and capable air force obviates the need for expensive surface combat vessels. The Air Warfare Destroyers should be sold off. Australia’s need in surface vessels is primarily for anti-submarine warfare and border protection which calls for modern frigates.

Land Power

To a large extent investment in a capable submarine force and capable air force means savings can be made to land forces as well, if it is assumed that invasion could be stopped short of Australian soil. However it is self-evident that ongoing support is needed to see the ADF land forces ‘hardened and networked’. Further investment in C3I capability will be needed to fully realise the potential of new and existing ADF platforms.

It would make good sense in light of planned acquisitions by the TNI to replace the oldest ASLAVs with a wheeled platform that carries either a tank killing artillery piece or capable anti-tank missiles. This would also add useful capabilities to counter insurgency operations.


Italian light tank – one of several tank killing platforms that would be relevant to Australia.

In addition to an integrated air defence system, it is time defence planners thought seriously about mobile air defence for deployed ADF land forces using a platform such as Pantsyr . The days of assumed air superiority and battlefield intelligence superiority are over.

Weapons of Mass Destruction

If defence acquisition continues as presently planned, or goes in the direction advocated by the Left, Australia will have no conventional means to stop coercive diplomacy or invasion. In that event our choices are few and unpleasant. Nations like Syria or Norway that cannot deter a more powerful aggressor through conventional means have two choices. One is an armed population organised around mass popular resistance supported by a small professional army that can imbed itself in the population. That is the option Norway has chosen. The other is to invest in WMD – biological, chemical, and nuclear agents in order to deter an aggressor. That is the path taken by Syria and Pakistan. I am not advocating either option. I am just pointing out that this is the only alternative for nations unwilling or unable to field a credible military capability. Australia is currently one of those nations.

The good news is that Australia can build a flexible and affordable force capable of safeguarding regional stability – but it can only do so if it considers the evidence.


As a middle ranking power Canada has similar defence challenges to Australia but the level of debate and public engagement is much higher. For a detailed analysis of comparative aircraft options see these well researched articles:

Those looking for Australian content will find more on this blog here:

and here

For further analysis on an alternative path for the ADF see the following sponsored links:

Tag line: Australian military strategy, Australian army, network and harden ADF, Land 117, JSF RAAF, Superhornet RAAF, Joint Strike Fighter Pacific, Defence force reform, TNI, ABRI, Indonesian military.



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