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Last Updated: Mon Jan 27 11:18:09 UTC 2014

  Defence 2001 Policy Analysis

Dr Carlo Kopp, MAIAA, MIEEE
Unpublished Draft October 2001

'Qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum.'

De Re Militari, Flavius Vegetius Renatus, Fourth Century A.D.

The recent federal election has been unique in recent times, framed against the backdrop of the War or Terrorism and the largest ADF operational deployment for many decades. Despite the acrimonious pre-election political debate, it was good to see both major parties maintain a robust bipartisan position on Australia's contribution to the OEF campaign.

The events of the 11th September, 2001, have turned many aspects of the world's wider political and strategic situation inside out. The US call to arms, and US effort to form a coalition to defeat terrorist groups and nations sponsoring them, has seen some important strategic realignments.

This month's analysis will explore both regional and broader strategic developments over the year, and relate these to policy and force structure commitments made in the Defence 2000 White Paper.

Post White Paper Regional Developments

The Defence 2000 White Paper was an important milestone in Australia's defence policy and stated strategic position. Of key importance was the adoption of a two-pronged fundamental strategy, whereby the core role of the ADF was focussed upon defending the continent and its approaches, and a strategic model of regional denial was adopted. The ADF would be used to deter or destroy any hostile air, naval or basing assets in the region which might threaten Australia's interests or Australia directly.

An important change in the Defence 2000 White Paper was the acknowledgement that large strategic changes in the region are happening, with both China and India's strategic military capabilities growing to the point where both could project air and naval power to distances of concern to Australia. The fire sale of advanced Russian hardware was also identified as a key destabilising influence in the wider region.

The Defence 2000 White Paper made a ten year budgetary commitment to fund ADF capabilities, infrastructure and personnel. While the commitment is without doubt a welcome change from the precarious budgetary uncertainties of the last few years, it is not without its warts. Careful analysis of the key items in capability plan suggests that it largely constitutes an implementation of capability needs defined against the strategic model of the preceding White Paper rather than the forward looking strategic model of the Defence 2000 White Paper. This should not come as a surprise, given that the definition of capabilities for any large change in national strategy is not a task which could be credibly performed in the compressed timescale under which Defence 2000 was compiled.

This dichotomy is most apparent in the area of aerial refuelling capabilities, where the tanker fleet buy was capped at five aircraft, but also reflected in the firm commitment to only 4 Wedgetail AEW&C aircraft, with 3 options, rather than the 6 + 1 sought by Defence.

While this year has seen the September 11 terrorist attacks resulting in the Enduring Freedom campaign, it has also brought no relief from the ongoing Asian arms race. Indeed it has seen some further deterioration in the relationship between the US and China.

Key events can be summarised thus:

  • India finalised the pending arrangement to lease four Tu-22M-3 Backfire strategic bombers, and several crews were sent to Russia for training.

  • Indian press reports indicate that the Raduga Kh-22 Burya (AS-4 Kitchen) Mach 2.8 cruise missile will be deployed with the Backfire force.

  • Work continued on the redevelopment of the dual use airfield at Port Blair in the Andaman Islands, with reports of the completion of the 3,500 metre runway capable of supporting widebody transports and thus also the Backfire force.

  • The contracts with Russia for the Gorshkov carrier buy ran into difficulties, and Su-30MKI Flanker production plan continues on track, with the first locally built aircraft planned for 2004 delivery.

  • India finally closed a long running deal with Uzbekistan, and will acquire six Ilyushin Il-78 Midas aerial refuelling tankers. Indian analysts identify a need for at least 12 tankers.

  • Indian reports indicate that a deal has been closed for the supply of three Beriev A-50E variant AWACS aircraft, to be fitted with an Israeli communications package and to use an Indian devloped mission software package. Delivery is planned for 2005.

  • US reports cite the cooperative development of an Indian air launched version of the Russian Mach 2.6 Yakhont cruise missile, with anti-ship and land attack variants planned.

  • China closed a deal for several Russian Beriev A-50E AWACS aircraft, with delivery also expected around the middle of this decade.

  • Numerous reports surfaced of China acquiring from Kazakhstan 40 examples of the Russian VA-111 Shkval (squall) rocket propelled 200 KT supercavitating torpedo. Allegations surfaced that a Chinese officer was on board the Kursk submarine when it sank, possibly as a result of a Shkval exploding in one of its torpedo tubes.

  • A report claims that the PRC has now also acquired the Russian 3M-54 Alfa family of cruise missiles, currently being deployed by India.

  • Reports are beginning to surface of an indigenous PLA-N aircraft carrier design being built, based upon the reverse engineering of the HMAS Melbourne!

  • A bungled intercept by a PLA-N F-8 fighter resulted in a mid-air collision with a US Navy EP-3C Aries electronic reconnaissance aircraft. The aircraft recovered to a PLA-N base in Hainan-Do, and a heated dispute developed between the US and Beijing over the return of the crew and the aircraft.

  • In retaliation for Beijing's conduct over the EP-3, the US committed to supply a large arms package to Taiwan, including the four Kidd class AAW cruisers previously offered to the RAN.

  • The new Bush administration unveiled its plans to abandon the 1970s Anti-ballistic Missile treaty and pursue the development and later deployment of a National Missile Defence system, designed to stop attacks by small numbers of ICBMs, SLBMs and IRBMs against deployed US forces and the CONUS. Beijing reacted in a very hostile manner, arguably since the US missile defence proposal nullifies many of the strategic gains realised by China's program of exporting ballistic missiles to countries such as Iran and nuclear capable Pakistan, both at odds with the US.

  • Ethnic divisions, violence and instability continued in Indonesia, with no visible symptoms of an impending improvement in the ongoing crisis. The War on Terorism has seen increasingly vocal and confrontational behaviour by Indonesia's fundamentalist minority.

  • Reports from Malaysia indicate that the RMAF will be acquiring the Malaysianised Su-30MKM variant from Sukhoi, putting the RMAF in the peculiar position of perating small numbers of three modern fighter types.

  • Russian radar manufacturer Phazotron-NIIR have announced the development of an active phased array radar, planned for flight testing in 2002. A 0.98 metre aperture variant for the Su-27/30 is planned for 2003, providing radar range competitive against the latest USAF F-15C APG-63V(2) active array, and achieving this technology milestone 3 years ahead of Western analysts' predictions.

The strategic situation in the Far East is complex, since we are seeing interactions between China and US, China and India, China and Taiwan, with Russia continuing its ongoing arms dumping campaign in the region, and Islamic fundamentalists conducting a vocal and visible campaign to damage broader Western interests in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Phillipines, moreso since the 11th September.

The common nexus of most of these interactions is Beijing. An interesting analysis, unfortunately not well supported by references, by the Director of the US Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, Yossef Bodansky, outlines a long running strategy by the PRC to control access to the vital Strait of Malacca between the Malayan Peninsula and Sumatra.

Bodansky identifies two key elements in this strategy. The first is the evolution of the SLORC run Myanmar (Burma) into a defacto proxy state of the PRC. The second is the sponsorship, through proxies such as Pakistan and Iran, of radical Muslim terrorist groups operating in the Phillipines and other South East Asian nations.

China's involvment in Burma is well documented. Key aspects of the PRC's activities in Burma include major upgrades of the Meiktila and Lashio air bases to a capability well in excess of what the Myanmar air force can ever utilise, improvements to port facilities in Sittwe/Akyab, Kyaukpyu, Megui and Bassein, and the development of a major new naval base at Haingyyi/Bassein in the Irrawady delta region. The PRC has also leased Great Coco island and Small Coco Island to build radar stations and communications intelligence gathering facilities. Bodansky also identifies St Matthew's Island (Zadetkyi Kyun), a mere 125 NMI North of Phuket in Thailand, as having been made available to the PLA.

China has also been actively rebuilding Myanmar's road and rail infrastructure, to provide a land bridge from the Chinese Yunnan province down to the Bay of Bengal. This would provide a substantial capacity to rapidly deploy PLA ground forces into Burma and replenish naval bases and airfields in a crisis situation.

The Bodansky paper contains a very detailed discussion of radical Islamic movement activities in the Phillipines, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, all directly sponsored by Iran or groups in Pakistan, with some Afghan involvement. The key aspect in this alliance of convenience is the PRC's supply of military equipment, especially fighter aircraft, guided missiles and ballistic missiles to Iran and Pakistan. While Pakistan has been heavied into the US led coalition, there can be no doubt that the PRC's previous support has contributed to Pakistan's current predicament.

The paper cites a wide range of PRC military publications which outline a long term aim, perhaps a little optimistic, for the PLA-N to become the worlds largest navy' and to control the Strait of Malacca. This is to be done by a combination of geographical encirclement and destabilisation of adjacent South East Asian nations, facilitated by radical Muslim movements which are opposed to the West.

Control of the Strait of Malacca, and the Strait of Sunda, is the strategic key to controlling the flow of Middle Eastern petroleum products into the energy deficient Far East. Whoever controls these two straits can throttle the flow of energy to China, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore, forcing tanker traffic to take a much longer route south of Australia and through the Tasman. Suffice to say that control of these two straits will provide the controlling party with a decisive strategic edge over all other players in Asia.

Sumatra, by virtue of its geographical position straddling the straits, becomes a key target for any such strategy of regional dominance. Sumatra is being destabilised by an ongoing conflict between Aceh separatists and Jakarta.

A strategy of destabilising nations which are adjacent to key maritime choke points is neither new nor unique. It is a replay of the Soviet Gorshkov Strategy, whereby the USSR actively sponsored communist revolutionaries in Asian, African, Central/South American and Middle Eastern nations during the Cold War. The aim was to deny the West control of these choke points. The Gorshkov Strategy was frustrated by US covert action and overt US military intervention during this period. For the PRC to pursue a repeat of this strategy in Asia is not surprising, since it fits their propensity to adopt Soviet strategic and doctrinal models where these meet the PRC's needs.

The extremely hostile political response by Beijing to the US NMD proposal has been attributed to its effect in reducing China's ability to deter a nuclear attack. This is a curious argument, given the parameters of the proposed NMD system.

A stronger argument is that the NMD system devalues the PRC's principal means of buying influence with Iran and Pakistan - the supply of coveted ballistic missile technology. If the modest numbers of theatre range and strategic weapons which could be deployed by these nations are rendered ineffective, their value as an item of political currency is dramatically devalued. In turn, this reduces the incentive for Iran and Pakistan to sponsor radical Islamic movements in South East Asia, moreso since it might invite direct military action by the US, for whom ballistic missile defences will render any deterrent measures by Iran or Pakistan wholly ineffective. Both nations would be exposed to devastating Western air attack in any escalated dispute.

Beijing has made much mileage out of complaints about US attempts to encircle China with hostile states. Yet it is patently apparent that the PRC has done exactly this to India, with Pakistan approaching proxy status and Myanmar firmly in the proxy category. India's arms buying spree can be largely attributed to Chinese involvement with Pakistan, Myanmar and its military build up in Tibet.

Where does this leave Australia? It is clear that it is not in Australia's interest for the PRC to control the straits between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The PRC would be in the position to exert very significant pressure on Australia's key economic export markets in the Far East, and also block air routes from Australia via Asia. Needless to say the environmental risks arising from a large part of the world's supertanker traffic being routed around our southern and eastern coasts, during any crisis where the risk of torpedo and mining attack is heightened, should not be understated. Equally so, it is not in Australia's interest to see further destabilation of South East Asia, especially Indonesia. Even if Australia chooses to ignore the strategic risks associated with the PRC gaining a foothold in Sumatra and Java, humanitarian considerations for regional civilian populations and the risk of being flooded with traumatised refugees are pragmatic enough reasons why Australia should support any US strategy to keep China out of the inner arc region, and to contain or eliminate the fundamentalist elements in South East Asia.

What inevitably follows is that the strategic model in the Defence 2000 White Paper should be vigorously pursued and properly funded. While Australia cannot alone prevent a full scale regional penetration effort by the PRC, it can develop the capabilities needed to frustrate any future PLA-N and PLA-AF operations which might be mounted to Australia's detriment in the region. That is clearly within our national means, if budgets are used carefully and poor choices avoided.

The key strategic capabilities Australia will require were articulated in last year's series of papers dealing with the developing strategic environment and White Paper. Controlling the airspace and oceans to our north and north west are as vital as having the ability to strike military targets out to 2,500 NMI from our northern coastline. All can be readily accommodated by a suitable ADF force structure.

The key capabilities can be summarised thus:

  1. Proceed with the Wedgetail and field a full fleet size of at least 6 aircraft.

  2. Extend the size of the tanker fleet to around 12 heavy tankers. The best candidates are the KC-33 (747) and KDC-10/KMD-11 series.

  3. Strategic reconnaissance, surveillance and targeting capabilities, such as that provided by the RQ-4A Global Hawk or RQ-1 Predator B, and supporting satellite bandwidth.

  4. Provide more than one runway in the north-west with the load bearing capacity and fuel replenishment capability to sustain high intensity air operations. Learmonth and Karratha, both in the Pilbara would be excellent candidates for upgrades.

  5. The Hornet replacement should be a large fighter with the diversion range to operate effectively over the Indian Ocean.

Given timelines for the Hornet replacement and ongoing upgrades to the air defence capabilities of wider regional nations, a good case also be made for the following near term measures:

  1. A radar upgrade to the F-111C/G to provide a BVR missile capability, and a supplementary high resolution radar mapping capability, together with MIDS/JTIDS datalinks to Wedgetail.

  2. A useful number of EF-111A Raven electronic combat aircraft to neutralise the strategic gains in Asia resulting from the A-50 AWACS and naval/land based SAM and radar upgrades. In principle this could be performed within the framework of budgeted F-111 electronic warfare upgrades.

  3. Twenty four or more additional F-111F/G airframes to be mothballed as a strategic reserve would be prudent.

These capabilities, and supplementary near term measures, are within the scope of the existing Defence 2000 White Paper, or represent incremental extensions to the Defence 2000 White Paper model.

The War on Terrorism has added further complexities to the regional strategic environment. Perhaps the most important gain seen by the West has been a firm realignment of India into the Western camp, and a remarkably strong pro-Western response by Russia. It is not inconceivable that recent events may see a permanent and healthy strategic by both India and Russia into the orbit of the Western Alliance. While this simplifies Australia's strategic position by placing India outside the context of nations with an possible interest in interfering in the nearer region, it is likely to see the PRC become further alienated to the West over the longer term.

At the time of writing Australia had just committed its initial force elements to the Enduring Freedom task force, including a pair of P-3C signals intelligence aircraft, the RAAF's less capable equivalent to the RC-135 Rivet Joint and EP-3 Aries, a pair of Boeing 707-320C tankers and curiously, four F/A-18A Hornets.

Key issues will be the evolving scope of the campaign, and the ADF's ability to sustain those force elements committed to the campaign.

The War on Terrorism

At the time of writing the US had effectively broken the back of the Taleban force structure and defensive infrastructure in Afghanistan. The opening phase of the Enduring Freedom campaign followed the well established doctrinal formula. The USAF and USN systematically destroyed the Taleban's meagre air defence assets over the first two nights, using a mix of USN F/A-18C Hornets and F-14B/D Bombcats, jointly with USAF B-52G, B-1B and B-2A bombers, and supplemented by BGM-109 Tomahawk strikes from naval vessels including an RN attack submarine. One B-2 strike flown from Whiteman AFB in Missouri clocked up 44 hours airborne, an all time record for an operational bomber sortie.

The campaign has seen the large scale use of the GPS guided GBU-31/32 JDAM, both with Mk.84, Mk.83, BLU-109/B and BLU-110/B warheads, as well as the 4,700 lb GBU-37/BLU-113/B heavy bunker buster. Air power, as is the case in most modern campaigns, has to date played a decisive role.

The big question for the ADF in the context of a possibly long running series of campaigns is the issue of sustainability, or the capacity to maintain combat forces in the field. Technical proficiency and combat readiness of key assets in the ADF has generally been very good, but these do not confer sustainability in wartime. The latter comes from having sufficient personnel and equipment to keep an operational combat force in the theatre, maintain the required training effort for replacement rotations of personnel, and support equipment in combat and training with depot level maintenance.

A rule of thumb is that one third of the force goes to war, one third covers training and one third is in the depot for equipment overhauls. While modern technology can yield a better ratio of combat/training output to maintenance downtime, the reality remains that at best less than half of a defence force will be available for long duration sustained combat operations in theatre.

The simplest remedy is of course to bump the defence budget up from 1.9% GDP to 3.5-4% GDP, at the expense of all other government services - a defacto political impossibility. Are there cheaper alternatives?

The current US/UK effort in Afghanistan maps out the likely needs in future expeditionary campaigns: precision bombers supported by aerial refuelling, to crush enemy resistance, and special forces, to surgically excise the terrorists and their sponsors. Australia is already contributing in two of these key areas, with Boeing 707 aerial refuelling tankers and SAS earmarked for the campaign.

It is not a difficult conclusion that the areas where the ADF can best contribute, and where sustainability will be most vital, are bomber aircraft, aerial refuelling aircraft and special forces. An incremental increase in the planned Defence budget, focussed into these areas, would provide a viable compromise. The existing Capability Plan would be extended in key areas, but other commitments retained as planned for.

Current White Paper planning is centred on replacing the RAAF's four elderly 707 aerial tankers with five new replacements, with many in Defence favouring economy medium twin engine tankers, despite their obvious and important operational limitations. A top level policy change toward more capable three or four engined heavy tankers such as the MD-11 or 747 aircraft, and numbers closer to 10 aircraft would make all the difference. An ADF contribution of 6 heavy tankers, against the US Air Force's fleet of around sixty heavy tankers, is clearly robust more so given that few USAF tankers have hose/drogue pods to support USN assets. With a soon to come glut of used 747-400 aircraft in the airline market, there will be very good bargains to be had, arguably good enough bargains to credibly offset any near term cost differences.

In terms of bombers, the RAAF's F-111 is a high value asset. The F-111 can lift between 47% to 94% of the dumb bomb load of a US B-52H, yet it can also deliver a wide range of PGMs. In the 1991 bombing of Iraq, a mere 44 US Air Force F-111Fs killed almost 1,000 tanks, while delivering more PGMs than any other type. The RAAF currently owns 35 F-111s, a mix of F-111Cs and F-111Gs, the latter still not equipped with avionics for PGM guidance. To sustain a deployment of 16 to 20 aircraft, while maintaining training effort and depot work such as overhauls and planned upgrades, the RAAF would need closer to fifty PGM capable aircraft.

Extending and upgrading the F-111 fleet is hardly a budget buster. With cca 250 mothballed F-111s in the US, additional aircraft cost a very small fraction of what new fighters would. Most of the expense would lie in refurbishing and upgrading the whole fleet to a common post-AUP Block C-4/5 avionic configuration. This means extending the scope of the BUP upgrades planned for the F-111C to cover current and additional G-models, and adapting the proven AUP avionic system to the F-111G, mostly a packaging task. As the infrastructure required already exists at RAAF Amberley this is mostly an incremental cost. With Australia's aerospace industry facing bleak times ahead, several hundred highly skilled industry jobs could be saved from the effects of the conflict.

Australia's ongoing involvement in the War on Terrorism is inevitable. Both sides of politics might consider how Australia can provide a credible and sustainable contribution, without wrecking existing funding plans or making promises which cannot be kept. Some extra funding into aerial refuelling aircraft and F-111s makes an affordable, sustainable and credible contribution.

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