Tensions between Australia and its biggest trading partner, China, drastically deteriorated in 2020 when Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. Australia provides many of the commodities on which China’s industry relies. The main item is iron ore, which fuels China’s insatiable need for steel to fuel its construction boom. The rest is mainly coal, gas, and agricultural products.
An incensed Beijing quickly denounced Canberra’s call as an affront and political witch hunt. Chinese ambassador to Australia, Chen Jingye, threatened consumer boycotts of several products in response to Australia’s call for the investigation. Then, in May 2020, China applied massive anti-dumping duties on Australian barley, pricing a $1 billion industry out of its principal export market overnight.
Australia had been increasingly concerned by China’s increasingly belligerent behavior in the Indo-Pacific. The Australian government has raised concerns about China’s increased incursions into Taiwan’s air defense zone and warned against “the threat or use of force”. Recently, Australia and the US flagged plans “to strengthen ties with Taiwan”, which they described as “a leading democracy and a critical partner for both countries”.
China’s recent military parade starkly illustrated the evolving strategic threat facing Western nations. New ballistic missiles, hypersonic weapons and stealth drones were all on display. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute warned that the new hardware was a “wake-up call”, and the ADF must prioritise how it responded to the increased range, speed and striking power of Chinese air, naval and missile capabilities. “Australia is within range of China’s conventional warhead-equipped DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile.”
Senator Reynolds warned that cyber warfare, hypersonic weapons and autonomous vehicles must be factored into Defence thinking, while technologies such as rail guns are another potentially “game changing” technology. She will also emphasize the importance of network warfare, declaring that the fleet of the future will need to be seamlessly connected with all other ADF platforms, and able to share information with allies and partners.
In May 2021, Australian naval forces completed various war game exercises with the US, France and Japan in the East China Sea for the first-ever training drill between the nations. The exercises included amphibious assaults, urban warfare, and anti-aircraft defence. However, amid growing tensions between China and Australia, Beijing lashed out at Canberra’s involvement in the exercise and issued a terrifying warning.
An article in the Global Times, a Chinese-state media platform, said: “The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) doesn’t need to make pointed responses to the joint drill since it’s insignificant militarily. “Australia’s military is too weak to be a worthy opponent of China, and if it dares to interfere in a military conflict for example in the Taiwan Straits, its forces will be among the first to be hit. “Australia must not think it can hide from China if it provokes.
Australia has signed an agreement with the US and UK that formalises the exchange of sensitive and classified naval nuclear submarine information. This Exchange of Naval Nuclear Propulsion Information Agreement is part of the three-way arrangement under the AUKUS defence and security partnership that took effect in September 2021. Earlier Australia announced that it was ditching its A$90bn (£48.5bn) contract to purchase 12 diesel-powered submarines from France, and was instead buying eight nuclear-propelled submarines from the US and Britain.
The AUKUS collaboration will encourage deeper security and integration of defence-related science, technology, industrial bases, and supply chains. It seeks to better protect and defend the shared interests of the three countries in the Indo-Pacific region, as well as strengthen the Integrated Review commitment.
Defense White Paper 2016
Australia in its Defense White Paper 2016 on February 25, planned to spend 195 billion Australian dollars on defense force and equipment and increase the troops to 62,400 people through 2021-2022. The white paper said Australia feels particularly concerned about the high speed and large scale of China’ island reclamation, and warned that the territorial disputes over the East China Sea and South China Sea have “created uncertainty and tension” in the region.
As Australia’s strategic environment becomes more complex it is important to further develop our international partnerships including with our allies the United States and New Zealand, and with Japan, Indonesia, India, Singapore, the Republic of Korea, China and other key partners.
Central to the development of this Defence White Paper has been the Government’s direction to align defence strategy, capability and resources. The Australian government has pledged to increase the defense budget to 2 percent of GDP by 2020-2021, increasing it by just short of 30 billion AUD. This added spending will, according to the white paper, add an impressive array of new capabilities to the Australian Defense Force (ADF).
“China is seriously concerned about the contents in the white paper that touches upon the issue of South China Sea and is firmly opposed to the accusations against China ” said Wu Qian, spokesperson for China’s Ministry of National Defense (MND), at a press conference on February 25, adding that the South China Sea issue isn’t one between China and Australia, and the freedom of navigation in that region has never been and will never be affected for all countries, including Australia.
The 2016 Defense White Paper looked out to 2035 to identify where and what sorts of security challenges are likely to arise and what capabilities Defence – the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and the Department of Defence – will need to meet them. The 2016 Defence White Paper listed six key drivers that will shape the development of Australia’s security environment to 2035:
1. The roles of the United States and China and the relationship between them, which is likely to be characterized by a mix of cooperation and competition
2. Challenges to the stability of the rules-based global order, including competition between countries and major powers trying to promote their interests outside of the established rules
3. The enduring threat of terrorism, including threats emanating from ungoverned parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Australians will continue to be threatened by terrorism at home and abroad. The spread of extremism and violence is likely to be worsened by foreign terrorist fighters returning from conflicts to Australia and other countries in our region
4. State fragility, including within our immediate neighborhood, caused by uneven economic growth, crime, social, environmental and governance challenges and climate change
5. The pace of military modernisation and the development of more capable regional military forces, including more capable ballistic missile forces
6. The emergence of new complex, non-geographic threats, including cyber threats to the security of information and communications systems.
The report recognizes that “United States will remain the pre-eminent global military power over the next two decades,”, “levels of security and stability we seek in the Indo-Pacific would not be achievable without the United States” and “While Australia is the world’s twelfth largest economy and has sophisticated and growing military capabilities, Australia does not have the capacity to unilaterally protect and further our global security interests.”
“The United States will continue to be the centerpiece of our defence policy, the most important strategic partner through our long-standing alliance” and “Australia will continue to work with the United States under the Australia, New Zealand and United States (ANZUS) Treaty to support the United States’ strategy of focusing resources and attention towards the Indo-Pacific through its strategic rebalance.”
Simultaneously the growth of China’s national power, including its military modernisation, means China’s policies and actions will have a major impact on the stability of the Indo-Pacific to 2035. Therefore the Government will seek to deepen and broaden its important defence relationship with China while recognising that our strategic interests may differ in relation to some regional and global security issues.
The differences mentioned are, “Australia does not take sides on competing territorial claims in the South China Sea but we are concerned that land reclamation and construction activity by claimants raises tensions in the region. Australia opposes the use of artificial structures in the South China Sea for military purposes.”
The new strategic framework is set out that explains why Australia’s Strategic Defence Interests are of fundamental significance for Defence planning, what they mean for strategic defence planning – Strategic Defence Objectives – and how they will be reflected in the future Defence force structure.
In support of a secure, resilient Australia, the three strategic objectives are
1. Deter, deny and defeat attacks on or threats to Australia and its national interests, northern approaches and proximate sea lines of communication
2. Make effective military contributions to support the security of maritime South East Asia and support the governments of Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and of Pacific Island Countries to build and strengthen their security.
3. Contribute military capabilities to coalition operations that support Australia’s interests in a rules-based global order.
The Government has directed Defence to use all three Strategic Defence Objectives to guide force structure and force posture decision making. “To be able to achieve the Strategic Defence Objectives, Defence will need to be more agile and adaptable with a broader set of capabilities from which to draw so that it is able to conduct the full range of tasks which might be required by Government.”
The Government will strengthen Defence capability in six capability streams, some of the highlights of the programs are:
1. The Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, Space, Electronic Warfare and Cyber capabilities that ensure our forces have superior situational awareness.
a. This includes upgrading current air defence network (including the Vigilaire air surveillance system and the Jindalee Operational Radar Network)
b. Eight P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance and response aircraft will be introduced in the early 2020s, with seven additional aircraft to be acquired in two tranches to bring the total to 15 aircraft by the late 2020s. Complement the surveillance capabilities of the Poseidon, the Government will acquire seven high altitude MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft from the early 2020s.
c. Strengthening space surveillance and situational awareness capabilities with establishment of the space surveillance C-band radar operated jointly by Australia and the United States, and the relocation of a United States optical space surveillance telescope to Australia.
d. Support a joint approach to electronic defence and attack, introduction of new long range
e. Electronic Warfare support aircraft based on a long-range commercial business jet in the early 2020s and the fleet of 12 E/A-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft to enter service from 2018.
f. Strengthen Defence’s cyber capabilities to protect itself and other critical Australian government systems from malicious cyber intrusion and disruption
2. The Maritime and Anti-Submarine Warfare capabilities that will enable our forces to operate in more challenging maritime threat environments over the next 20 to 30 years. . “Modernising our maritime capabilities will be a key focus for Defence.” Defence’s ability to contribute to border protection will be enhanced with the introduction of larger, more capable offshore patrol vessels with greater range, endurance and improved carrying capacity and a new large-hulled multi-purpose patrol vessel, the Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Protector.
a. The centerpiece of the ADF’s naval modernization program is the SEA-1000 program, the replacement program for Australia’s six Collins-class submarines. The 12 future submarines represent the largest defense investment in Australian history.
b. Other important naval acquisitions include three Hobart-class Aegis frigates, nine new future frigates optimised for anti-submarine warfare will be introduced into service from the late 2020s to replace the existing fleet of eight Anzac Class frigates, with construction to start in 2020, and 12 patrol boats.
3. The Strike and Air Combat capabilities that will provide our forces with greater flexibility in responding to threats independently or as part of coalition operations. In addition to 12 EA-18G Growler Electronic Attack aircraft which will enter service from 2018, 72 F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters will begin to enter operational service from 2020 to replace the Classic Hornets.
4. The Land Combat and Amphibious Warfare capabilities that will provide our forces with greater capacity to conduct both combat and non-combat operations. The Government will enhance Army’s firepower with a new long-range rocket system in the mid-2020s to complement Army’s existing artillery capability. Amphibious capability will be centered on the two Canberra Class large amphibious ships, HMAS Canberra and HMAS Adelaide.
5. The Key Enablers essential to supporting the operation and sustainment of Defence. To support the new types of equipment and weapons systems being acquired, our simulators, training ranges and testing facilities will be upgraded.
6. The Air and Sea Lift capabilities that will help overcome the huge distances over which the ADF is deployed and has to be supplied. The ADF’s air lift capability will comprise eight heavy lift C-17A Globemasters with additional heavy lift aircraft to be acquired later, 12 upgraded C-130J Hercules, 10 C-27J Spartans, and 10 CH-47F Chinook helicopters (involving the acquisition of an additional three Chinooks in the near term) which will complement the Army’s MRH-90 battlefield lift capability. The future acquisition of two additional KC-30A air-to-air refuellers, for a total of nine, will provide substantial additional air lift support. HMAS Choules and the two Canberra Class amphibious ships will offer flexible options to conduct sea lift and support amphibious operations.
There will be more emphasis placed on the joint force – bringing together different land, air, sea, intelligence, electronic warfare, cyber and space capabilities so the ADF can apply more force more rapidly and more effectively when called on to do so. A new permanent future force design function in Defence will strengthen Defence’s capacity to deliver joint and integrated capabilities.
Key to the successful delivery and sustainment of our enhanced defence capabilities will be a new level of collaboration with Australian defence industry and science and technology research organisations .A strong, viable, and sustainable Australian naval shipbuilding industry is a vital element of Australia’s defence capability to manage Australia’s strategic challenges to 2035.
The reviews will prompt fresh debate over Defence’s ability to meet new strategic threats without additional funding, while locking in the purchase of major new platforms such as the $50bn Future Submarines and the $35bn Future Frigates. Under normal circumstances, a new defence white paper would not be due until 2021 at the earliest, and more likely in 2023.
New Strategy in 2020
To meet the China challenge, a new strategy is being embraced that envisages significantly deepening engagement with states in Australia’s immediate region, defined as running from the north-eastern Indian Ocean, across South East Asia and into the South West Pacific. Within this region, the ADF has been set three strategic objectives: to shape the strategic environment, to deter states from taking actions hostile to Australian interests by threatening to impose high costs for doing so, and to be ready to respond with credible military force.
In the near term, the ADF will markedly expand its regional defence diplomacy, cooperative defence activities and capacity building. The operational focus will switch to the region, away from the greater Middle East, and with a declared reduced enthusiasm for distant US-led coalition operations. Indeed, the Strategic Update says little about the US, with Australian agency stressed instead.
Importantly, the ADF will now become involved in countering greyzone activities, those antagonistic actions conducted below the threshold of armed conflict. Recent Australian naval operations in the South China Sea in support of Malaysia suggest this has already begun, and has been noticed by China. For this, the update foreshadows enhancements to special forces, cyber warfare, information operations, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.
An assessed increased likelihood of near-term conflict means greater attention to force preparedness. Guided weapon and munition stockholdings will grow in type and size, local munitions manufacturing will be expanded, additional fuel storage will be built, and domestic industry boosted to improve supply chain security and ADF self-reliance.
Thrust on High Speed or Hypersonic Weapons
In 2020, as part of the nation’s Force Structure Plan it was committing up to $9.3bn in the development of high-speed weapons (HSWs) and up to $23.7bn to build a capability to defend against ballistics and HSWs.
For more than 15 years Australia has been developing and testing HSW technology in collaboration with its allies, with industry and with the scientific community. Together the work has involved prototyping, flight testing and the exploration of advanced engineering and manufacturing techniques, writes Brad Yelland is chief technology officer of BAE Systems Australia.
For a start, we have a history in hypersonics, notably the University of Queensland’s hypersonics programs, which have been world-leading since the early 1980s and have enjoyed the partnership and support of BAE Systems Australia. Second, Australia has an expertise in missile engineering, specifically in the Nulka active missile decoy and the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile, which are deployed by many navies around the world.
We also have an existing defence industry ecosystem of more than 3000 companies, many of which supply to global supply chains and operate at world-best benchmarks for technology, engineering and manufacturing. Australia has a smart materials capability, thanks
to our universities; we have an advanced engineering and manufacturing capability to deliver complex systems; we have wind tunnels and proving grounds; and we have a hi-tech military that has already achieved or is moving into the advanced systems required to deploy and defend against HSWs.
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