Australia’s 2009 Defence White Paper

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(click to download) Defense was an issue in the 2007 Australian election. The center-left Labor Party attacked the center-right Liberal Party by citing mismanaged projects, and accusing the Howard government of making poor choices on key defense platforms like the F/A-18F Super Hornet and F-35A Joint Strike fighters. That sniping continued even after Labor won […]

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Defense was an issue in the 2007 Australian election. The center-left Labor Party attacked the center-right Liberal Party by citing mismanaged projects, and accusing the Howard government of making poor choices on key defense platforms like the F/A-18F Super Hornet and F-35A Joint Strike fighters. That sniping continued even after Labor won the election, and has been evident in more than a few Defence Ministry releases.

The new government made some program changes, such as canceling the SH-2G Seasprite contract. Yet it has been more notable for the programs it has not changed: problematic upgrades of Australia’s Oliver Hazard Perry frigates were continued, the late purchase of F/A-18F Super Hornets was ratified rather than canceled, and observers waited for the real shoe to drop: the government’s promised 2009 Defence White Paper, which would lay out Australia’s long-term strategic assessments, and procurement plans.

On May 2/09, Australia’s government released “Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century: Force 2030.” DID has reviewed that document, and the reaction to date including a new ASPI roundup of reactions from around Asia.

Fast Incoming


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Biggest surprise: Major climbdown in confirmation of the F-35 buy that Labor criticized harshly in opposition. The White Paper proposes an eventual all F-35 fleet of 100 planes as its final goal, instead of pushing for an initial F-22 buy as Minister Fitzgibbon had proposed.

Most significant announcement: Proposed 12 Air-Independent Propulsion diesel-electric submarines, with the ability to launch land attack cruise missiles, as the future Navy’s key platform.

Most challenging program: The submarines. Australia has 6 excellent Collins Class boats, but it has the manpower to operate just 2. The Boomer Echo generation will be gone by the time the new boats are ready to be manned, which ensures ongoing challenges, and the future force mix suggests a coming cultural shift in the RAN.

Most likely to evolve: Robotic assets are mentioned in several contexts: UAVs for land forces, a BAMS-like UAV program for the Navy, new frigates that will carry unmanned vehicles. Even this underestimates the extent of the coming shift, and the roles that will be played by land robots, and by naval UUVs and USVs.

Australia Flag

Most underrated feature: Fixed indexation of 2.5% for the defense budget from 2009/10 to 2030. If inflation returns, as several trends threaten, that one clause will shred every plan in the White Paper.

Biggest criticisms: Biggest outside criticism at the moment is neglect of the Army and “small wars” interventions, in favor of naval and air assets designed to reinforce and defend Australia’s strategic approaches. Budgeting is rising as an expressed concern, however.

Political Impact: None yet. Liberal Party opposition is not engaging on specific recommendations, many of which are continuations or extensions of previous Liberal government plans. Party focus to date has been “how do they propose to pay for this?”

Honorable mention: Shift to planning based on potential strategic threats and trends in Asia, and refined in wargaming scenarios, is a new feature and welcome. Includes assessments of the USA’s future strategic position, the future role of the Australian-American alliance, and a clear statement of Australia’s overriding goals in its immediate region. Flip side? Diplomacy prevents the White Paper from being more detailed, which can create a muddled message, and one of the few contingencies discussed directly (estimated very low odds of Pakistan’s collapse and/or Talibanization) is best described as a contested analysis.

The Highlight Reel


Collins Class SSK

Collins Class
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12 non-nuclear Air-Independent Propulsion submarines, capable of launching land attack cruise missiles, to be assembled in South Australia. Design to be determined. ASC is not guaranteed the contract, however, something Fitzgibbon had pledged during the election. The subs could be upgraded versions of the existing Collins class, or a foreign partnership around a sub like Spain’s S-80, which will already be designed to launch Tomahawk missiles.

A program is underway to fix Collins Class submarine staffing levels, which currently hover around 37%. The Collins class will also receive sonar and other upgrades during their lifetime.

Australia’s Hobart class Air Warfare Destroyers will be equipped with the new SM-6 medium range anti-air missile, currently in testing, and Cooperative Engagement Capability. This will give them wide anti-air warfare reach, and some latent ballistic missile defense capabilities – even though this government disavows national missile defense systems on policy grounds. A 4th destroyer is unlikely.

Cruise missiles capable of land attack roles will equip Australia’s future submarines, Hobart class destroyers, and future ASW frigates. The obvious contenders are Raytheon’s *GM-109 Tomahawk Block IV, and MBDA’s stealthy Scalp (derived from its Storm Shadow).

ANZAC+ concept

Upgraded ANZAC concept
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Reaffirms support for the ANZAC class air defense upgrade with Australian CEAFAR/CEAMOUNT active array radars, and for the 2 LHD Canberra Class amphibious assault ships it has ordered.

8 larger future frigates with an anti-submarine focus will replace current ships, including 8 ANZAC class frigates, and 4 upgraded Adelaide class ships that will serve until 2020. Construction is likely to be more than a decade away, but that hasn’t stopped the early maneuvering for a program whose most obvious options are either an indigenous design based on the same Navantia F100 that became the Hobart class, or the Franco-Italian FREMM-ASW.

1 Large “Strategic Sealift Ship,” 10,000t – 15,000t and based on a “proven design,” which can embark helicopters and land forces or supplies ashore without needing a port. Australian shipbuilding partner Navantia’s Galicia class LPDs fit that description, and BAE Australia could well counter with a variant of Britain’s new Bay class LSDs (In the end, UK budget cuts let Australia buy the nearly-new RFA Largs Bay at a deep discount).

6 heavy landing vessels that can make intra-theater trips on their own, to replace the RAN’s 6 aging Balikpapan Class LCH 316t ships.

The 18,000t oiler HMAS Success is to be replaced with a new supply ship, to enter service around 2017-2020.

Australia aims to replace its existing patrol boat, mine counter measures, hydrographic and oceanographic vessels with a single 2,000t modular, multi-role class of around 20 Offshore Combatant Vessels, using containerized modules just like Denmark’s Standard Flex 300 class and the USA’s frigate-sized Littoral Combat Ships. BAE (formerly Tenix) is currently building the slightly smaller Otago Class for New Zealand to perform some of these roles, but they would require heavy modification to fit this requirement.

Air Power

P-8 MMA, changed wing

P-8A Poseidon
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Reaffirms support for the 24 F/A-18Fs (“effective until at least 2020,” damns with faint praise) and potential EA-18 Electronic Warfare aircraft conversion, KC-30B (Airbus A330-MRTT) aerial tankers, and E-737 “Wedgetail” airborne early warning planes, which may be equipped with Cooperative Engagement Capability.

Australia will buy 72 F-35 Lightning II fighters to equip 3 squadrons, and aims to eventually field 100 as its sole fighter, after it phases out the F/A-18F in the 2020s. Long range aerial strike role is shifted to cruise missiles launched from ships and submarines. Wide-area defense against long range aerial threats is mentioned but elided.

Australia will pursue a naval missile for the F-35, while using AGM-84 Harpoon missiles on the Hornet family aircraft. It is already financing studies aimed at Kongsberg’s new Joint Strike Missile for this role.

Australia intends to buy 8 737-based P-8A Poseidon long range sea control aircraft, under project AIR 7000, phase 2.

The canceled SH-2G Super Seasprites and existing S-70 Seahawks will be replaced by 24 new naval helicopters. Most likely candidates are MH-60R Seahawks, and the NH90 NFH naval counterpart to Australia’s 46 ordered MRH90s. See the ASPI’s report on this issue. (The MH-60R won).

Australia pulled out of the RQ-4N BAMS development program (AIR 7000, phase 1), but they will field 7 long range naval surveillance UAVs. The RQ-4N could still win, but it will have to compete.

Australian C130J-30 Flares

RAAF C-130J-30, flares
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Air Transport will be beefed up by adding 2 C-130J tactical transports, bringing the fleet to 14, and by the already-submitted request to buy 7 CH-47F heavy-lift helicopters. (By 2012, the plan for 2 more C-130Js had been replaced with orders for 2 more C-17s).

The oft-deferred program to replace the excellent but terminal DHC-4 Caribou light tactical transport fleet is on again, with 10 aircraft specified. If this program isn’t canceled again, expect yet another global export competition between EADS-CASA’s C-295M and Alenia’s C-27J, whose commonalty with the C-130J may give it an edge.

Space and IT


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Shared space capabilities and technologies are seen as a key linchpin of Australia’s defense relationship with America, and Australia’s ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) capabilities in general will be closely coordinated with the USA, and the US Pacific Fleet.

Australia will buy a remote sensing satellite, probably based on a high-resolution, cloud-penetrating, synthetic aperture radar. The USA will be given access to the system’s imagery. Note that India, facing a similar need, bought and launched an IAI TECSAR satellite from Israel.

The Government will continue the Wideband Global SATCOM partnership with the USA, and will accelerate decision making around the Narrowband UHF satellite communications capabilities needed to support land operations. Options include commercial capabilities, partnership in American programs like MUOS, and cooperation with other countries.

Like the USA, Australia is waking up to the threat and reality of cyber-attacks. The White Paper promises stepped-up investment in this area, to include a Cyber Security Operations Centre.

On the flip side, Electronic Warfare against enemy ships, planes, and radars is seen as a strategic priority for Australia, who will be funding several projects in this area and establishing a Joint EW Centre to coordinate efforts across all branches of the ADF.

The proliferation of satellite killers and space junk alike have led Australia to seek a focus on “space situational awareness” as the basis of research, and add a career stream for space specialists.

Land Forces

ADF, Afghanistan

In Afghanistan
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Australia’s land forces will continue to be based on 3 combat brigades of around 4,000 troops, and the Army will be able combine its combat and combat support units to generate 10 battalion-sized ‘battlegroups’.

Australia’s very highly regarded SAS special forces will be maintained, and given new special operations vehicles (the Supacat Jackal/Nary); direct fire support weapons; digital networking gear; and enhanced chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear protective equipment. Australia’s DoD will enhance ‘stealthy’ methods of inserting forces, which is already partly covered by the proposed new submarine program.

Project Overlander will continue, to replace thousands of support vehicles with several different vehicle types.

Project LAND 17 will continue, and aims to field 2 batteries of 155mm self-propelled guns and 4 batteries of 155mm towed guns.

“Defence intends to acquire a new fleet of around 1,100 deployable protected vehicles. These new vehicles will replace existing [M113-AS4 and LAV] armoured personnel carriers, mobility vehicles and other combat vehicles which, in the past, have had limited or no protection.” That’s a very, very wide range of requirements. Time will tell, but note that Australia is participating in the USA’s JLTV program.

Skylark-I, ADF Iraq

Skylark-I, ADF in Iraq
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The government will buy more small UAVs. It currently uses Elbit Systems’ Skylark mini-UAVs in this role, and contracts for Boeing’s larger ScanEagle.

The ADF will launch programs to buy new mortars, shoulder-launched anti-armor missiles/rockets, automatic grenade launchers, and non-lethal weapons. No timeline mentioned, but more grenade launchers are arguably an urgent requirement, as the British have discovered.

The ADF will replace its RBS-70 man-portable anti-aircraft missiles “with more advanced systems that will also include a new counter rocket and mortar capability to protect land forces from artillery, rockets and mortar fire.” That could well be 2 different procurement buys. The capability studies have already begun, but actual investment is seen as coming after 2016.

The Government has decided to establish 5 Geospatial Imagery Analyst teams and associated training staff for its land forces, and it will also beef up field intelligence and “information operations” personnel.


Australian DoD decisions

Force structure decisions would be reviewed at regular intervals, and could be adjusted.

Defense procurement reform will be undertaken, based on the foundations of the recently-delivered Mortimer Review. So will other reforms, in order to find $20 billion in savings by 2030. This is necessary to fund the listed projects, assuming no overruns.

Australia’s reserves will become more “operational,” and integrated with the full-time military. As the American experience shows, this has both positive and negative aspects. Australia appears to be hedging against some of the potential negatives by establishing an intermediate category of “High Readiness Reserves.”

An “ICT Reform program” will standardize and consolidate IT systems in a staged process. ICT funding will become a single portfolio throughout the DoD. Major projects will include a single Defence desktop environment, an improved network to support higher-speed connectivity, and the consolidation of DoD data centers from 200 to less than 10.

Defense support services will be reformed by consolidating, centralizing and standardizing ‘like’ services, and delivering improved shared services such as garrison support, payroll, human resources and finance functions.

The DoD’s storage and distribution network will be rationalized, with 24 wholesale sites consolidated into 7, supported by 7 specialist logistics units. Inventory is targeted for slimming. A public-private partnership arrangement is a possibility, and the DoD will re-tender its base storage, distribution and maintenance function. Defence’s management and distribution of fuel will also be improved.

Australia will continue to pursue and refine its defense industrial policy, but details are sketchy as the Government “has decided not to publicly identify in detail the specific capabilities that are likely to attract PIC support” as a matter of protective secrecy from unfriendly nations, and commercial leverage. Some specific capabilities under consideration are mentioned in the White Paper.

Project cooperation and inter-operability with New Zealand remains important.

Its Defence Science and Technology Organization will be reformed along the lines suggested in The Mortimer Report, and will devote considerable focus to electronics: integrated ISR; cyber warfare and computer security), electronic warfare, and networked systems, plus underwater warfare.

Additional Readings & Assessments

Australian Government

* Australian DoD – 2009 Defence White Paper

Australian DoD – The Strategic Reform Program. Key part of how the government proposes to pay for the program, by finding billions of dollars in efficiencies from new ways of doing business.

* Australian DoD – Mortimer Review of Defence Procurement and Sustainment. See also its predecessor the Kinnaird Review [PDF], which was very influential in Australia.

* Australian DoD (July 19/11) – Paper Presented By Minister For Defence Stephen Smith MP To The Australian Strategic Policy Institute National Gallery, Canberra.

* Australian DoD (July 1/09) – Defence Capability Planning: The Way Forward for the Defence – Industry Partnership. By Senator the Hon John Faulkner Minister for Defence. He replaced Joel Fitzgibbon.

* Australian DoD (July 1/09) – Force 2030: Government and Industry Address to the Defence and Industry Conference, Adelaide. By The Hon. Greg Combet AM MP, Minister for Defence Personnel, Materiel and Science

* Australian DoD (May 12/09) – Budget 2009-10: Defence Budget Overview. Connected to the White Paper, begins to lay out funding. See also Defence Remediation re: capability gaps being filled | Defence Savings Initiatives.

* Australian DoD (May 7/09) – Discussion/Roundtable: Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston; Secretary of Defence Nick Warner.

Other Sources & Views

* DID FOCUS – Australia’s Next-Generation Submarines. Covers the emerging submarine program.

* DID – Australia’s Submarine Program in the Dock. Major mechanical issues raise new questions.

* DID – Ferry Dust: Australia’s Light Aerial Transport Replacement. Covers AIR 8000, Phase 2.

* The Australian (Oct 23/10) – BAE boss plots a new course. “Jim McDowell’s views on the current and future status of the domestic defence industry are worth consideration.”

* Australian Strategic Policy Institute (Oct 29/09) – Strategic Insights 48 – How to buy a submarine: Defining and building Australia’s future fleet. See also Full report [PDF]. ASPI projects an $A 36 billion cost to field 12 built-in-Australia diesel-electric submarines – a sum comparable to buying 12 of the USA’s most advanced SSN-774 Virginia class nuclear submarines.

* Australian Strategic Policy Institute (Sept 21/09) – Regional reactions to the Australian Defence White Paper 2009: Introduction | Dr. Zhang Chun, China’s Shanghai Institute of International Studies | Commodore Uday Bhaskar (ret.), India’s National Maritime Foundation | Teruhiko Fukushima, Japan’s National Defence Academy | Rizal Sukma, Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Indonesia | Lance Beath, Centre for Strategic Studies in New Zealand | See Seng Tan, Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore | Thomas-Durell Young, US Naval Postgraduate School.

* Australian Strategic Policy Institute (April 2009 Report) – Changing Asia, rising China, and Australia’s strategic choices

* Australian Strategic Policy Institute (March 2009 Report) – A view of China’s Defence White Paper. Australia isn’t the only country to have ’em.

* Australian Strategic Policy Institute (March 2009 Report) – Sea change: Advancing Australia’s ocean interests

* DID (April 1/09) – ADF: An “Aren’t Deployable” Force? Covers and links to a special feature report by The Australian.

* DID Spotlight – The Australian Debate: Abandon F-35, Buy F-22s? (updated). All sides or the debate represented. See esp. pre-government statements from Joel Fitzgibbon, the Minister for Defence who oversaw the White Paper.

* DID (May 14/09) – Asian Shift: $60b for Asian Navies Over Next 5 Years. That’s almost equal to the USA, and more than the rest of NATO, over the same period.

* Brisbane Times (May 5/09 op/ed) – A prudent approach on China

* Brisbane Times (May 5/09) – Defence white paper gives US a rocket. Refers to the white paper’s opposition to national missile programs, a stance described as “split with the United States – and effectively sided with China…”

* Reuters (May 5/09) – China rebuffs Australian worries over military

* The Australian (May 4/09 op/ed) – Muddled report leaves gaps in our defence. By Hugh White, professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University and a visiting fellow with the Lowy Institute.

* Australia Broadcasting Corp. Radio (May 4/09) – Australians need to get used to bigger Defence spend. Transcript of an interview with Hugh White. Key quote: “The risk is that as China’s power grows, as America’s primacy erodes, Asia will move from a very stable US-dominated era into something less stable, more contested and potentially more violent.”

* Sydney Morning Herald (May 4/09 op/ed) – In defence of sound military planning. By Kim Beazley is a former defence minister and opposition leader of the federal Labor Party, now professorial fellow, department of political science and international relations, University of Western Australia. Note the funding caution at the end.

* WA Today (May 4/09) – WA and the Defence white paper. Western Australia, which will assume more importance as Australia makes the Indian Ocean as important as the Pacific.

* The Australian (May 4/09) – ‘Too few boots on ground’

* Agence France Presse (May 3/09) – Australia sees dynamics behind military spend

* Sydney Morning Herald (May 3/09) – Rudd feels the heat over China syndrome

* Brisbane Times (May 3/09) – Defence funding – how will we pay? “Hugh White, professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University and a visiting fellow with the Lowy Institute… “To achieve those savings, Defence will have to be driven harder than it has ever been driven before,” he said. “There’s a lot of waste and inefficiency in Defence. [The savings] can be done but only by really fundamentally changing the way Defence operates.” “

* Liberal Party of Australia (May 2/09) – Releases from Leader of the Opposition Malcolm Turnbull, and Shadow Minister for Defence David Johnston.

* WA Today (May 2/09) – Defence plan holds financial ‘time bombs’: “But the entire plan rests on Defence finding $20 billion worth of savings [over the report’s lifetime] to reinvest, with any further shortfalls also to be found within Defence.”

* BBC Blog – Nick Bryant’s Australia (May 2/09) – Fortress Australia

* The Australian (May 2/09) – Japan bolsters forces amid Chinese military splurge

* Australian Broadcasting Corp. (May 3/09) – Budget to detail Defence spending spree. Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon: “This is very unusual to be doing a white paper on the eve of a Commonwealth Budget, and on Budget night, in a not much more than a week’s time, you’ll see far more detail about the funding proposals”…

* Australian Broadcasting Corp. (May 2/09) – Rudd defiant amid Defence spending criticism

* Australian Broadcasting Corp. (May 2/09) – Govt plans massive Defence boost to keep eye on region

* The Sydney Morning Herald (May 1/09) – Defence build-up alarms Beijing. That makes it mutual.

Tags: aussie2009, aus2009, 2009white

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