The primary focus of any nation-state's military force is to ensure the nation's sovereignty and independence from external martial coercion. This requirement demands that a military force be able to project force over the geographic approaches to the nation state. As Australia is an island-continent, this requires the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to be able to project over the air-sea gap that exists between Australia and Indonesia. Australia also contains economic assets of oil and fisheries on the continental shelf that may need to be defended as well. Consequently the defence of Australian sovereignty from outside martial force demands weaponry that is capable of projecting across and defending that air-sea gap.
Australia does not invest heavily in force multipliers and back-end support equipment such as logistical support. Certainly not to the level that the United States (US) military does. For this reason, Australian strike weaponry needs to be largely autonomous. While force multipliers such as the Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) system are a necessity in modern projection, other force multipliers such as tankers are in relative short supply in the ADF. Australia has few enough tankers that the loss of even a couple will have a great bearing in the Air Force's capability and operational tempo. This risk is potentially large enough that the Air Force will not be able to project across the air-sea gap and leave Australia poorly defended.
The General Dynamics F111 which is still in service with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), is an example of an autonomous strike weapon. The F111 is capable of ranging nearly six thousand kilometres out into the Indian Ocean, across the Timor Sea and up through Java. The F111 carries a large payload of precision weaponry that can be used against multiple targets in the one long operational mission. The F111 is a powerful statement in strike projection. The F111 is nearing the end of its operational life span and there is no replacement to the F111 in the world's armoury.
The Joint Strike Fighter
Australia has recently chosen to join the development phase of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. Signifying an almost certain procurement of the JSF for the Australian air force. The JSF will be a sophisticated piece of weaponry, but it is designed to solve the strategic needs of the United States and the United Kingdom. Both are nations that desire global projection and have the supporting infrastructure to achieve that role for the JSF. Australia does not have the same infrastructure behind the JSF and will ultimately become reliant on the US to supply that capability in any medium or high intensity conflict.
The JSF has a two thousand kilometre range without supporting tankers. This is an improvement over the F18's one thousand kilometre range but far short of the F111's six thousand. The JSF is being chosen by Australia to replace both the F18 and F111, so it requires the capability to be able to take over the roles that these aircraft fulfilled. For the JSF to be able to perform the capability that the F111 currently satisfies, the JSF requires force multipliers, and most notably tankers to achieve this. The tankers are something that the Australian Air Force has in short supply. There is no governmental discussion of future expansion of this important component of the Australian air force. Consequently the JSF procurement places added pressure on the already in demand and small Australian tanker force.
The tankers come with other issues, since the JSF will use the tankers with greater rapidity than the F111's, this will require the tankers to be placed in positions of greater risk. Consequently, the tankers themselves will be required to be defended by JSF formations. Tieing up strike resources away from strike projection. The Joint Strike Fighter is a global projection weapon that was designed with the understanding that it would be operated by an Air Force that has a complete set of force multipliers such as tankers, and the means to defend those force multipliers. Australia does not require global projection, and does not have the back-end forces to support such a heavily integrated and dependent weapon system as the JSF.
Australian Strategic Needs
Australia's strategic requirement to defend and project across an air-sea gap is not being met by the world defence manufacturers. The United States and Britain are making global projection platforms whose effectiveness is predicated on a large and voluminous support infrastructure of force multipliers. Europe is still making point to point weaponry that is more suitable to western European cold-war conflicts. There is nothing in the world armoury to replace the F111 or to completely fill the requirements that Australia's air-sea gap strategy demands. However - Australia is not alone with these needs.
Several other island and peninsula nations have air-sea gaps to defend. Most notably Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. These nations face similar predicaments to Australia when choosing from the current defence systems that are on the world market. Their requirements for defending across an air-sea gap are not being met either. There is considerable common ground here for Australia to explore - most notably in developing, manufacturing and deploying an Austral-Asian strike weapon as a co-ordinated effort between Australia, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
All four nations are Australian trading partners, with democratic forms of government and well established, powerful, technologically based economies. These nations have defence requirements that have left them disenfranchised by the world's defence manufacturers. The partnership to develop a strike platform would have regional economic, defence, security and stability benefits as well as ensuring the nations that have air-sea gaps to defend armed their military with the hardware that matched their needs.
Benefits of an Austral-Asian Strike Fighter
- Strike weaponry that matches Australia's defence requirements exactly
- Increase indigenous aerospace capability
- Genuine technology sharing
- Lesser dependence on US defence manufacturers
- Lesser dependence on US military infrastructure
- Development cost sharing
- Increased regional political focus
- Increased regional focus on security and stability
- Increased potential for disruptive technology
Indigenous Aerospace Industry
The Australian Air Force in the 1930's was faced with the possibility of being cut off from the Europe and the United States with no local aerospace manufacturing capability. Air Marshal Richard Williams recognised this weakness and embarked Lawrence Wackett to head the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation. This company produced Wacketts, Wirraways and Boomerangs for Australia in the second World War. Even designing innovative prototypes such as the Kangaroo and Woomera.
This indigenous capability was slowly lost as Australian industry became less and less involved in the aircraft Australia purchased. In 2003, Australia signed on to be involved in the development work of the Joint Strike Fighter. A far cry from the involvement Australian industry had in the 1940's and 50's. More importantly, the Joint Strike Fighter program does not allow for much in the way of technology sharing with Australian industry. Australia has become a locked-in vendor to the Pentagon and American defence industries.
Australian applied scientists and engineers are more than the equal of any other nations. The Collins class Submarines and ANZAC Frigates have shown how well Australian industry can design, develop and manufacture world class systems. It is time the aerospace industry received the same confidence and oppurtunities from the Australian government and people as the maritime industries have. Australian aerospace companies, applied scientists and engineers will produce an aircraft that is dominant in its field, economic to develop and maintain; as well as innovative technologically.
Genuine Technology Sharing
Of the weapon systems currently being developed or procured by the Australian Defence Force, there is only one system that includes genuine technology sharing. For most weapon systems, especially US developed weapon systems, Australia is not much more than a licensee of vendor equipment. When Australian defence companies are developing the weapon systems that the ADF uses then Australia will have complete access to the technology. This is important for a the creation of a sustainable and self-reliant defence force.
The increasing capitalisation costs of the defence industry have led to the US government putting fewer contracts out to bid for system development. This has led to the consolidation of the US defence industries into a few monstrous behemoths including Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, McDonnell-Douglas and Raytheon. The downside of this consolidation is that these companies are large enough and sufficiently devoted to their main client, the Pentagon, that they can ignore many requests from a small purchaser like Australia. Requests like the need for Australia to have the source code for the systems being purchased. This further entrenches the reliance of the Australian military on outside vendors and places greater restraint on the ability for the ADF to be self-reliant.
Lesser Dependence on US Defence Industries
With the consolidation of the American defence industries into a few extremely large companies, Australia's bartering position with these companies has been weakened. Australia is not a large enough procurer of their weapons and systems to warrant special attention as a large procurer and investor like the United States government is. In the 1990's Australia has faced more and more issues in getting simple things such as the source code for the systems purchased. Without the source code, Australia is largely placed at the mercy of international governments and vendors. Argentina was placed in a similar position during the Falklands War when it was unable to replenish its inventory of Exocet missiles.
Australian companies that integrate the weapon systems on many of the Australian land, naval and air assets often find themselves doing little more than integrating in existing American technologies from the large American defence companies. Australia requires a sustainable and independent force. The powerful place that American defence companies have on Australian weapon systems is not in the ADF's long term interests. Expanding Australia's indigenous defence industries alleviates this reliance.
Lesser Dependence on US Defence Infrastructure
Australian procurement in the last several years was heavily based upon the Australian ability to take advantage of the American support and logistical infrastructure. The purchase of the second-hand Abrams tanks were an example of the Federal Government expecting the ADF to transparently slide into the US military in an operation. This was the same methodology that the Australian Navy was procured with in the 1930's. This was disastrous. It left Australia without an independent Navy in 1942 with little blue water command and control capability. The same policies in the 21st century will produce the same results from 1942 for the ADF, should Australia become involved in a medium or high intensity conflict.
The other lesson from the 1930's was that Britain was quickly and easily over-extended. The US is currently embroiled in a regional conflict in Iraq, the possibility for the US to become over-extended is real should another medium-intensity conflict arise. The policy of relying heavily on the US military infrastructure for Australian capability and operational tempo is a naive, reckless and potentially disastrous policy. The Australian Defence Force should be independent and sustainable. One that is not reliant on an outside military for any capability.
Development Cost Sharing
One of the largest costs for a new weapons platform is the development cost. The development cost for the F/A-22 was nineteen billion USD over twelve years, for the JSF it is expected to be over twenty-five billion USD with nations other than the US contributing four and half billion. Australia currently maintains a defence budget of over sixteen billion AUD. This covers salaries, maintaining existing platforms as well as new platform development and procurement. The Australian defence budget is approximately 1.9% GDP which is on the low side compared to the British 2.5% and American 3.5%.
There is room for increased Research and Development in the Australian Defence Budget. Even so, the cost for a new weapons platform is high. With a partnership of other nations, the cost of development for a new platform is defrayed. This will make the task and the cost more acceptable to the Australian treasury and the Australian people.
If Australia was to develop a strike platform the cost could be expected to add approximately three billion AUD to the Australian defence budget each year. If Australia was an equal partner in developing a new strike platform, this cost would drop to approximately an extra one and half billion each year. This money would be going directly to Australian industry. By comparison, the cost of purchasing one hundred JSF aircraft is expected to be eighty billion AUD with most of the money heading off-shore.
Increased Regional Political Focus
Japan, the US, China and South Korea are Australia's top trading partners. Of Australia's top seven export markets, five are regional including Japan, China, New Zealand, South Korea and Taiwan. These are the realities of the modern Australian economy. Australian foreign and defence policy has been far more focused on the United States - to the point of imbalance. A regional partnership between democratic nations such as Australia, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan to develop defence platforms will enhance the the political focus of the Asia-Pacific to regional issues.
While the development of an Austral-Asian strike fighter is intended to overcome deficiencies in the JSF and its lack of bearing on Australia's strategic requirements, there will be added benefits in the recognition of common strategic interests by Australia and its regional partners.
Increased Regional Focus on Security and Stability
A regional partnership for a Strike Fighter will focus more public, media and political attention on the common goal of regional security and stability. China has shown remarkable growth in moving to a market economy and Indonesia will ultimately do the same. As these nations come to economic and political maturity, it is important that their growth to maturity is not hampered or destroyed by regional stability concerns. Increased globalization of capital and trade has made the Pacific-rim economies interdependent. It is only in a stable and secure regional environment that economic growth and its benefits can be sustained.
Increased Potential for Disruptive Technologies
The high-tech boom of the 1990's came through the disruptive technology of the internet. This created demand in new fields such as software that education institutions could not match demand for. The labour markets were expanded as new positions were created, that allowed those who showed endeavour to achieve. The internet came from government investment, by the US military in DARPA and by applied science investment from Europe in CERN. These investments in applied science and engineering led to the high tech boom.
Private companies are unwilling to spend large amounts of high risk capital on research and development in the applied science and engineering fields. It is a risky long term investment and private industry is focused on short term returns for shareholders. Unfortunately, it is the long term investment from research and development that produces disruptive technologies such as the internet. Disruptive technologies also fuel as a by-product labour market expansion and economic expansion. Defence Research and Development spending serves as stable, long-term funding in the applied sciences and engineering. It is from this long term funding that disruptive technologies appear.
The Australian Defence Force is a defending an air-sea gap and must do so without Australia making large investments in back-end support platforms such as tankers. Consequently the strike platforms the ADF requires must be largely autonomous. Australia is not alone in its strategic needs, other democratic nations such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are also having their requirements ignored. It would benefit Australia and the region to create a partnership between these nations to develop, manufacture and deploy a strike platform that fits the needs of the respective defence forces. The benefits of undertaking the task of an Austral-Asian Strike Fighter are many.