An Australian view of nuclear deterrence

No Australian minister has made a full-blooded speech on nuclear deterrence for many a long year—not since the early 1990s, I suspect. In truth, that’s not surprising: it’s been proliferation that’s grabbed all the attention since then. Moreover, talking about nuclear weapons requires the speaker to perform a delicate balancing act between upholding the current reliance upon nuclear weapons and endorsing a longer-term post-nuclear vision. Because nuclear weapons are—by their nature—scary, the speech has to contain core elements of reassurance and moderation. And there are no votes in it.

True, a succession of governments over the last couple of decades have nailed their colours to the mast on deterrence as part of formal declaratory defence policy. Those wanting to trace the issue through a succession of Defence White Papers (DWPs) since the end of the Cold War should have a look at paragraph 9.7 in the 1994 DWP, paragraph 5.15 in the 2000 DWP, paragraph 6.34 in the 2009 DWP, and paragraph 3.41 in the 2013 DWP. Echoes from those DWPs can subsequently be heard in other ministerial comments—in Stephen Smith’s response to the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament report of late 2009, for example.

But none of the White Papers unpacks government thinking about nuclear deterrence and, in particular, extended nuclear deterrence, in detail. Indeed, most governments seem to have convinced themselves that—on that topic at least—the less said the better. The Rudd government went so far as to say that if extended nuclear deterrence ceased to be effective, ‘significant and expensive defence options’ would come onto the Australian strategic policy agenda—a statement which implies that nuclear deterrence isn’t merely long-lived, but important for Australian security. The Gillard government thought that a bridge too far. Its DWP endorsed extended nuclear deterrence in much the same manner as its predecessors, but the comment about significant and expensive options disappeared.

So what should a more long-winded statement actually say? First, that the government retains its commitment to a Menzian vision of nuclear weapons. Menzians—as opposed to Gortonians and disarmers—are ‘middle-of-the-road’ thinkers. They believe that nuclear weapons can play a stabilising role in international order, so long as they’re held by great powers sensible enough to be self-deterred in their use. They believe that nuclear deterrence works, and that arms control has a distinct role to play both in moderating the tensions between the nuclear powers and in preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons to a less exclusive set of owners. Finally, they believe that US extended nuclear deterrence to its allies, including Australia, works well enough that Australia has no need of its own arsenal (though in just about every protégé state there’s a debate over what ‘well enough’ means).

Second, a statement would say that the government believes a post-nuclear world is possible but not close—indeed, it might be drifting further away. What’s close is strategic transformation in Asia, and nuclear weapons’ role as an order-stabiliser might well have a part to play before that transformation’s complete. Because of that, Australia accepts that its ally, the US, will soon embark upon a wave of nuclear-weapon modernisation, and that nuclear weapons might come to have a more important role in US alliances in Asia than hitherto. Such developments are likely because nuclear deterrence will retain its role as an important gravitational shaper of international relations, and a cap on major-power war.

Third—following on from the second point—that Australia supports the US deploying a nuclear arsenal of the size and shape needed to support nuclear deterrence in general and to extend nuclear deterrence to allies and partners. The Australian government believes that a failure of US extended nuclear deterrence—currently offered as an assurance to nearly forty countries—would not simply be a serious problem for Australia but would likely precipitate a wave of nuclear proliferation that would be destabilising for global and regional order.

Fourth, that the idea of sole purpose that’s underpinned most official Australian commentary about nuclear weapons should be read merely as an empirical statement about Australian strategic conditions in a non-transformational Asia—not as an ideological position denying the utility of nuclear weapons in countering large-scale conventional force. Geography and distance, plus US conventional force superiority, have previously provided Australia with the luxury of thinking about nuclear deterrence only within specific scenarios—such as a nuclear attack upon the Australian continent—but it’s uncertain whether that luxury will endure.

Fifth, that Australia remains a strong advocate of nuclear non-proliferation, arms control and eventual disarmament. A world in which many fingers rest on many triggers would be an unhealthy and dangerous one. But nuclear disarmament can’t be sensibly discussed except in the context of other moves to stabilise and enhance international security.

Between them, those points say the following: Australian policymakers have a sensible, ‘centrist’ approach to nuclear weapons; they believe that nuclear weapons still have a positive role to play in global and regional security; they accept that the US has to field an arsenal that supports its doctrine and obligations; they don’t accept the doctrinal shibboleth of sole purpose; and they favour non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament. And that’s a position we should be willing to put on record.

Rod Lyon is a fellow at ASPI and executive editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of Flickr user Marc Wathieu.

Learning from experience: the lessons of Collins

KockumsLate last year Benjamin Schreer speculated on what 2015 might hold for the Australia–Japan security relationship. One of the issues he identified as being important in its development was that of potential cooperation on Australia’s future submarine program, observing in passing that any negotiations at the working level were likely to be ‘cumbersome and frustrating for both sides’.

It should be neither surprising nor exceptional if he’s proved right. Acquisition of defence materiel is nearly always challenging and complex. The degree of complexity tends to increase with acquisition from foreign countries with which Australian government instrumentalities have had little ongoing interaction.

Acquiring a major defence platform from Japan would be unique in the experience of Australia as a purchaser and Japan as a supplier. If adopted, this option would mirror the selection of the Swedish-designed Collins class as the RAN’s submarine choice as, at the time, Sweden was considered an unlikely source of major ADF materiel.

Swedish participation in what was to become the Collins class was seen as problematic, in part because Sweden’s policy of armed neutrality placed that country outside the scope of Australia’s security arrangements. That raised questions about safeguarding technological data and how the program’s development might complicate relations with Australia’s security partners. A particular problem was thought to be the attitude of the US to the incorporation of American technology into a Swedish design.

In the event, those concerns had little substance. In the normal course of the Collins program, protocols were developed to isolate country-specific data to appropriate subcontractors. Furthermore, for decades before there had been extensive Soviet underwater naval incursions into Swedish waters. Mutual interest spurred the development of what became standing biannual meetings between the senior management of Kockums, the Swedish submarine designer and builder, and the USN submarine community. At times when the arrangements for managing the flow of technological data became stressed, the relationship between the submarine designer and the owner and/or sponsor of much of the technology, the US Navy, served to facilitate a solution.

Australia had imported Swedish defence materiel before the Collins program but it’d been a less than happy experience, after Sweden embargoed the delivery of ammunition for the Carl Gustav infantry assault weapon once Australian forces deployed it in Vietnam. Over subsequent years, Swedish politics had to grapple with a growing dilemma at the heart of its national security policy. The Swedish tradition of armed neutrality was becoming prohibitively expensive; some of its costs could be defrayed by selling Swedish designed military equipment but how far should the Swedish interpretation of ‘neutrality’ be relaxed to gain the confidence of potential purchasers?

Australia was an agent in this debate, seeking a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the supply of defence materiel as early as 1980. The matter was still in process when the RAN sought to establish a framework to allow investigation of a possible Swedish source for its next submarine capability. The result was an agreement in November 1981 to safeguard information exchanges between nations, with further talks on its extension to Kockums. The comprehensive agreement including Kockums was signed in November 1983.

Such procedures needed to be expanded through the various stages of the Collins program. With Kockums one of the two companies involved in the Project Definition Study, an agreement negotiated between it and the RAN to cover the specifics of engineering and technical data was ratified by the Swedish government in August 1985.

Again, after the Kockums proposal was selected for the submarine program, agreements had to be developed to cover its design and production phases. That was achieved with the signature of an MoU in March 1988, several months after contracts between the Commonwealth and other involved parties were signed in June 1987.

Unfortunately, no procedures for the orderly acquisition of defence materiel can be future-proofed. When technical issues emerged as the Collins class entered service there were some areas where the 1988 MoU was of little use. By the time that the Collins Hedemora diesels were exhibiting problems the Swedish Navy (and, as their design house, Kockums) had switched to MTU engines. The tiny Hedemora company was in no position to assist the RAN by itself. Even Kockums, with its wealth of design experience, was unable to correct the cavitation problems of the Collins propellers. The RAN found adequate technical solutions only with the US Navy.

Yet it was another unexpected development that impacted significantly on the program. In September 1999 Kockums was sold to its German rival HDW. Kockums was at the time a part-owner and management partner in the Australian Submarine Corporation, which prompted the Australian government to take full control of ASC the following year.

When the designer was part of the Australian shipbuilding team the Commonwealth had seen only a limited requirement for Australian ownership of Collins intellectual property. The change of ownership required the design authority for Collins to be transferred from Kockums to the Commonwealth. Substantial litigation, conferences and negotiations between the two from 2001 to 2003 saw the Commonwealth increasingly asserting its rights to intellectual property, leading to a settlement that gave Defence and ASC full access to the intellectual property involved in maintaining, supporting and upgrading the submarines for the remainder of their service lives.

The circumstances at the turn of the millennium were never envisaged when source acquisition decisions in the early days of the Collins program were made. Sustaining defence materiel programs sometimes requires a capability to adjust to real-world changes beyond the limits of agreed procedures. The history of the Collins class is a reminder that managing the unexpected may not be so unusual over the two- to three-decade span of a major acquisition program.

Derek Woolner is co-author, with Peter Yule, of The Collins Class Submarines Story: steel, spies and spin. Image courtesy of Flickr user Lars Lundqvist.

ASIO (3): Giving up the secrets

‘The whole idea of publishing a detailed history of an intelligence organisation based on its classified files seems counterintuitive. Intelligence organisations trade in secrecy. If they reveal their sources, the sources will dry up. If they reveal their techniques their opponents will counter them. If the identities of officers are revealed they will no longer be able to operate with the freedom necessary to achieve their tasks.’

With that opening paragraph, David Horner launches his official history, using the secret files to tell the secrets of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation in its fight against spies, terrorists, sabotage and subversion.

Horner writes that the book is based on ‘full and unfettered’ access to ASIO’s records. Part of the aim, he says, is to deal with myths or half-truths about ASIO that have survived for half a century:

These myths damaged the Organisation’s standing in the Australian community, and this is unfortunate because ASIO does not exist for itself. Rather, ASIO exists to serve the nation; as a government instrumentality it ultimately needs to justify its existence to the people of Australia and both sides of Parliament, and to retain their confidence.

In commissioning the three-volume history by academics from the Australian National University, ASIO is offering an accounting that seeks to slay myths, reveal some secrets and justify its existence. Launching Horner’s volume, the Attorney-General, George Brandis, congratulated both ASIO and the Oz polity:

Security agencies present a paradox for democratic governance. By their nature they are required to operate covertly. Yet parliamentary democracy depends upon accountability and transparency. Reconciling those two imperatives is by no means easy. Yet, after 65 years, the very high level of public confidence which Australians have in ASIO is the strongest testament there could be to the fact that we have, on the whole, resolved that paradox successfully. The fact that we have done so is a tribute to the maturity of our political and governmental institutions.

For a sharper insight into the tensions and tradeoffs involved in confronting that paradox, consult Gareth Evans’ diary. As Labor’s Attorney-General, Evans records this on 21 October 1984:

The main achievement of the day was to work through a dozen or so outstanding ASIO warrant applications, writing appropriately rude or sceptical things on several of them, and worrying—as usual—just how much of it all is objectively justified, and how much is part of the ongoing spook mystique. My general working principle is not to take too many chances at all with the anti-terrorism warrant applications, to be a bit more sceptical about the counterespionage, and to be quite profoundly sceptical about everything else.

ASIO has been playing this game for a long time. The struggle with a sceptical Attorney-General can be conducted with various degrees of roughness. The diary, ten days later, reports a discussion that Evans thinks would have pleased ‘spook-averse’ Labor Party colleagues:

My office day primarily involves a very prickly exchange with ASIO’s [head] Harvey Barnett, with him expressing wounded indignation about the access I have given to some junior officers with industrial relations grumbles, and me making it clear that I am not entirely besotted with the Organisation at the moment on several other fronts – not least with some recent leaks which seemed to be attributable to a combination of foot soldiers and senior ideologues unhappy with the winding back of activity on the subversion front.

An annual report at the official end and a bit of leaking in the unofficial shadows can do only so much to tell ASIO’s story. And as for the political masters…well! An official history helps with much more than myth-busting.

The third ASPI interview with David Horner looks at ASIO giving up its secrets, the moral dilemma of the vast number of files created on average Australians who were no threat to society, and the ‘massive waste of time and resources’ in surveillance of intellectuals, writers and artists.

Graeme Dobell is the ASPI journalist fellow. Video produced by Luke Wilson.

It’s Australia Day! (we’ll be back tomorrow …)

Happy Australia Day!Today we’re celebrating Australia Day with a public holiday, a BBQ and some fireworks, but we’ll be back tomorrow with our usual considered analysis and stats. Until then, you might like to check out ASPI Suggests for our pick of good reads and podcasts or catch up on this week’s posts including Graeme Dobell on ASIO, Peter Briggs on submarines and our new feature, a weekly round-up of law enforcement issues called The Beat by Clare Murphy.

Edited image courtesy of Flickr user mags.

ASPI suggests: Australia Day edition

Breaking BadIt’s a long weekend with Aussies preparing to celebrate their national day, Australia Day, on Monday 26 January, so here’s our pick of articles, podcasts and events for your defence fix.

No doubt many readers have seen or plan to see the movie American Sniper that looks at the life of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle. Alex Horton looks at why the the Clint Eastwood film might be distorting civilians’ understanding of combat duty. As a supplement, he recommends the book Redeployment by Phil Klay and writing workshops like Words After War which brings civilians and vets together to dispel misconceptions of ‘heroism’. Also worth reading is Alex’s older piece on what the TV show Breaking Bad teaches us about ‘moral injury’ which he explains is a state of mind often experienced by veterans where one’s internalised moral code is turned on its head.

With the death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Adbul Aziz on Friday, his half brother, the 79-year-old Crown Prince Salman, has now taken over the country’s leadership. But this still leaves questions open as to whether the next generation of princes will take over. The WaPo looks at the challenges of succession including a useful graphic showing the reigns of the Saudi monarchs, while Michael Herb writing for the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre wrote back in August about succession and Saudi Arabia’s stability. Read more

Let’s turn now to Sri Lanka: while we don’t often focus on that Indo-Pacific state, Carnegie Endowment’s Frederic Grare writes the country’s upcoming presidential election has important implications not only for domestic policy, but foreign relations with China and India. He advocates for Western countries to strike while the iron is hot to ensure Sri Lanka’s commitment to combating corruption and fostering postwar reconciliation are kept on track.

Sticking with the region, the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict has a new report out on support for Islamic State in Indonesian prisons. It’s an important issue given the high number of inmates convicted of terrorism offences in Indonesia, including the prominent figures from groups like JAT, and the risks of radicalisation while incarcerated.

To this day, Winston Churchill remains a controversial figure. For the history and strategy wonks, BBC Magazine has rounded up the ten greatest debates surrounding his legacy.

While the Cold War ended decades ago, this week marked the end of another era: Russia formally ended its cooperation with the US on reducing its nuclear stockpiles. While it was expected (Russia gave a heads up back in November), American officials still described the development as ‘dismaying’. Both sides will continue cooperation on securing industrial sources of nuclear material (to prevent ‘dirty bombs’) and inspections on each other’s active nuclear arsenals as part of arms control treaties. For more on this issue, two nuclear scientists from Stanford University have an op-ed on why the US shouldn’t end nuclear security cooperation with Russia.

Also related to the Cold War, Andrew Metrick looks at one of its legacies: the decline of stealth. Metrick writes, ‘the threats to stealth technology are shifting, as well—at a rate that is exceeding the pace of stealth technology development’ but keep reading here to find out why stealth isn’t dead.

How does history influence Chinese thought and behaviour today? Michael D. Swaine has a piece reposted on The Diplomat that provides nuance to how schools of thought in China respond to ideas of international order and hegemony.

Ebola no longer dominates global headlines but its continues to ravage parts of Africa with 21 689 reported cases and 8 641 deaths (as of 18 January). What Africa really needs to fight Ebola and other emerging diseases isn’t just reactive emergency health teams and plastic suits, but sustained anti-corruption efforts that begin well before the onset of a disease, writes Princeton’s Laura Kahn. Keep reading here for her policy recommendations. Another sobering (non-security) fact about Ebola: it has wiped out one third of the great apes since the 1990s, with a mortality rate among gorillas of 95% and 77% for chimpanzees, compared to just 50% for humans.

Turning to capability matters, US defence acquisition is in desperate need of reform, writes Alex Ward over on War on the Rocks. Ward looks at why, despite the dream team of Ash Carter, Robert Work, Frank Kendall, John McCain, and Mac Thornberry, world events and the final term agendas of key figures like McCain will throw obstacles in their way.

Each year the University of Pennsylvania ranks the world’s think tanks in a variety of fields as part of the Global Go To Think Tank Index. This year, we’re pleased to announce ASPI ranked 27th in Top Foreign Policy and International Affairs Think Tanks as well as getting other honourable mentions including for Mark Thomson’s The Cost of Defence and for social media. To see how the world’s wonks went, including strong performances from other Aussie outfits like the Lowy Institute, the Strategic Defence Studies Centre and the Australian Institute of International Affairs, check out the full report here.


The team at Loopcast interview Mia Bloom, author of Bombshell: women and terrorism, on the role of women and children in the Islamic State (44mins).


Canberra: ANU’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre are hosting a special book launch and workshop Power and International Relations: essays in honour of Coral Bell, edited by Des Ball and Sheryn Lee. The launch is Tuesday 3 February at 12.15pm, with the workshop commencing at 1pm, followed by a cocktail reception at the Hedley Bull Building. Details and registration here.

Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr Peter Varghese, will be discussing Australia’s foreign policy challenges, hosted by the AIIA ACT at its Deakin offices on Wednesday 4 February at 6pm. Registration here.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and managing editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of Flickr user jaroh. 

Introducing ASPI’s 2015 International Conference: Australia’s future surface fleet

PASSEX with HMAS Perth and INS Sahyadri  Along with the submarine replacement program, the size and scope of Army’s future fleet of protected vehicles under Project LAND 400 and the future of the surface fleet are the other big capability choices for the Abbott government. That’s why ASPI will be taking a hard look at both subjects this year, and will run major conferences on both topics. The first, from 30 March to 1 April, will discuss Australia’s future surface fleet (PDF). Registration will open in mid-February. In May, ASPI will run a separate event on the future structure of Army and the LAND 400 program.

The future of the Navy’s surface fleet isn’t simply about choosing the vessels. There has been much political, public and media attention on the impact of program decisions on Australia’s naval shipbuilding sector. While the factors determining Navy’s future surface fleet are (or at least should be) shaped by strategic considerations, unavoidably they’ve become entangled with questions of construction. Over the coming weeks, the Strategist will run a series of posts related to the strategic, operational, international and industrial factors involved in decisions about the future surface fleet. Read more

Strategically, the RAN’s surface fleet has been the key asset in implementing Australia’s maritime strategy. Australia’s economic prosperity depends significantly on freedom of navigation. For more than a decade, surface ships have experienced a high tempo of operations being deployed on a wide range of missions, including counter-piracy and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR). Overall, the threat environment was relatively benign, but that’s likely to change. Other countries in the Asia–Pacific region, most notably China, are increasing the number of their major surface combatants. They’re also investing in increasingly sophisticated anti-ship missiles and submarines. Consequently, establishing ‘sea control’ in anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) environments could become more challenging, particularly for Australia’s capable but relatively small fleet of surface combatants. This isn’t to echo the argument (made, for instance, here) that the RAN’s major surface fleet might become obsolete as a result of modern anti-ship weaponry. Rather, what’s needed is an informed and comprehensive debate on how the surface fleet might need to be optimised to operate under those conditions, and what that implies for numbers, design, armaments, sensors and the like—and potentially whether the underlying strategy and doctrine needs to be rethought.

The US Navy’s (USN) new surface warfare strategy is worth looking at in terms of its potential to inform RAN thinking. Senior USN officers used the 2015 Surface Navy Association National Symposium and other outlets to promote the new concept of ‘distributed lethality’. The key idea is that, in order to enable sea control in A2/AD environments, the surface fleet needs to be arrayed more widely across the operational theatre and equipped with more sophisticated sensors and defensive and offensive weapon systems. Through dispersed operations and increased unit lethality, adversaries would face significant planning and targeting problems. Future platforms won’t only feature enhanced defensive capabilities against cruise and ballistic missiles, and (potentially) a new long-range anti-submarine weapon. They’ll also be equipped with new, offensive long-range anti-surface weapons. That includes smaller surface combatants such as the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) which recently test-fired a Norwegian Naval Strike Missile (NSM); even support vessels might become more lethal.

The USN’s new approach reflects a recent study by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment (CSBA), which also advocated a shift of surface combatants from reactive defence against adversaries’ offensive weapons towards a mix of enhanced offensive armaments and increased inner-layer defences. It also sends an important message to Asia–Pacific allies (including Australia), partners and potential adversaries (e.g. China) that the USN will be able and willing to operate in denied maritime environments.

While the RAN can’t compare with the size and ambition of the USN, its future surface fleet is likely to face a similar threat environment, not least since the Australian Defence Force (ADF) is moving towards ever closer cooperation with our US ally. As well, Australia’s currently acquiring a significantly heavier surface fleet, comprising three new Air Warfare Destroyers, two amphibious assault ships (LHDs) and a yet to be specified number of frigates, likely to be larger and more capable than the ANZAC class vessels they’ll replace. What’s lacking, however, is a political and public debate on how those new platforms will be combined to enhance the ADF’s maritime power-projection capability.

ASPI’s 2015 Conference will put a spotlight on the key questions: What does the future operating environment for Australia’s future surface fleet look like? What are allies’ and partners’ expectations? Does the RAN need a more capable surface fleet, and what are the implications for personnel, resources and other Defence priorities? How should the surface fleet be organised and equipped to deal with the A2/AD challenges? What is the RAN’s equivalent to the USN’s ‘distributed lethality’ concept? And what emerging-technology options might transform Navy capability into the future?

Benjamin Schreer is a senior analyst at ASPI. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

Symbolism and strategy on 26 January

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India travel by motorcade en-route to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Sept. 30, 2014.

Mention 26 January and the thoughts of Australians jump quickly to barbeques, beaches and cricket. But this post isn’t about Australia Day. Many Australians will be aware that Indians celebrate their Republic Day on 26 January. This year, the 66th since the Indian constitution entered into force in 1950, will be no different. Festivities in New Delhi will centre around the Republic Day Parade, a showcase of the country’s defence capabilities—‘the glories and follies old and new of the Indian armed forces, from camel regiments to tanks to ballistic missiles’—alongside the lush diversity of Indian culture. Moreover, Barack Obama is set to attend this year’s parade as the invited chief guest, the first time a US president has received the honour. Obama’s attendance represents a diplomatic coup for Indian PM Narendra Modi. It’s yet another sign that relations between India and the US are being reinvigorated, and serves as a reminder of the foreign policy dynamism Modi has displayed since his election last May.

The Republic Day parade will be rich in symbolism for both leaders. The imagery of an American president watching on as India flexes its military muscle won’t escape the attention of India’s neighbours. That Obama’s trip marks the first time a US president has visited India twice while in office (he visited in 2010) will bring additional diplomatic cachet. The chief guest role will offer simple yet important sponsorship of the ‘rebalance’; it’ll similarly illustrate Modi’s support for a continuing American role in Asia. Read more

Obama’s trip to India comes just four months after Modi was in the US—a sign of the momentum in the bilateral relationship. The joint statement that came out of Modi’s September visit illustrated steady progress on a range of security issues. The decision was taken to renew for another 10 years the 2005 Framework for the US–India Defense Relationship, and pledges were made to enhance counter-terrorism cooperation, to deepen military-to-military contact, and to ‘upgrade’ the Malabar naval exercise. The statement reiterated support for India’s phased entry to the key non-proliferation regimes and established a contact group to push forward on civil nuclear cooperation. That Ashton Carter, Obama’s SECDEF nominee, has long championed US–India relations and seems a popular pick in India is unlikely to do the relationship any harm. Still, real challenges to closer US–India relations remain: distraction and competing priorities for Obama, and an historical commitment to strategic autonomy for Modi.

Modi’s decision to invite Obama recalls the symbolism and strategy of former Indian PM Manmohan Singh’s hosting of Japanese PM Shinzō Abe as chief guest last year. High expectations were attached to Abe’s 2014 visit, given his long-standing admiration of India and belief in the great potential of the bilateral relationship. (In his 2006 book, Abe wrote, ‘it would not surprise me if in another decade Japan–India relations overtake US–Japan and Japan–China ties.’)

The Japan–India embrace has tightened considerably since last May; the Abe­–Modi bonhomie runs deep beyond bearhugs. Both are nationalistic, conservative leaders; both were elected with mandates to restart their economies and reclaim lost pride; and both are playing for a greater role in underwriting peace and stability in the Asia–Pacific. Both PMs are apprehensive about China’s rise—historical tensions and territorial disputes abound—on the back of which they’ve sought to engage more with the US, regional partners and multilateral security architectures. The upgraded ‘Special Strategic and Global Partnership’ that resulted from Modi’s 5-day visit to Tokyo last September bore witness to growing affinity and shared ambition; so too did last week’s strategic dialogue between foreign ministers, brought back into play after two years on the bench. As Abe increases military spending for a third consecutive year (following 11 years of decline), the steady development of a balancing arc between Tokyo and New Delhi, across China, is an indication of the ‘proactive contribution’ to regional peace and stability that both leaders seek to make.

While the US has been drawn to various global flash points, the rebalance has quietly trundled along. It has become a standard administration line to encourage allies and partners in the Asia–Pacific to deepen and broaden cooperation. So the Asian elements of the one-time Quad—Japan, India and Australia—are holding the line in this respect. Australia should continue to aver strong support for the more active role that both Japan and India, separately and together, seek to play in the region. And with a freshly minted Framework for Security Cooperation with India and a ‘quasi-alliance’ with Japan, Australia should look for and jump at opportunities to foster cooperation. What happens in and from those relationships will serve as important support for a US rebalance that’s materially underway but politically underpowered.

David Lang is an analyst at ASPI and an editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of The White House.

Why Australia should build its own submarines (2)

Audacious Under ConstructionIn my post yesterday I highlighted the stand-out attributes of submarines, Australia’s need for a greater range/endurance than is available off the shelf, the difficulties of increasing the payload and mobility of an existing design and some of the issues of an overseas build, in particular Option J.

How long do we need? Using the Collins program as an indicator, we have time to do it properly. The Collins contract was signed in 1987 and the first submarine was delivered in 1996. While there were issues to resolve, that was a nine-year design and build program for the first of class from a greenfield site. Today, we’re in a much better position with submarine engineering and shipyard facilities than we were in 1987. The first FSM should fit into the Collins availability cycle, replacing the Collins that would have come out of Full Cycle Docking in 2028. Allowing for an extended first of class sea trials and fix period it should start sea trials in 2025. Read more

The complexity and critical national importance of the submarine capability demands dedicated, specialised management. I recommend the establishment of a Submarine Construction Authority, with appropriate industry and Defence expertise and authoritative leadership. Such an approach could build on the experience and lessons of Collins, avoid the mistakes of the air warfare destroyer alliance structure and repeat the success of the Anzac frigate and Huon minehunter projects.

An Australian design environment would aim to achieve and sustain ownership of the design for future development. That would not mean that we would design the vessel. Rather, we would select a submarine designer to do so while we develop Australian expertise and specialist manpower in parallel. The goal would be to transfer the skills and intellectual property needed to perform the in-service design authority role.

An objective look at the Collins program provides both valuable lessons and encouragement that the future submarine can be successfully built in Australia. The project was completed with an average schedule delay of about 26 months and within 3–4% of the original contract price, after allowing for inflation. The project’s aim to expend at least 70% of funds in Australia was comfortably exceeded. Today, over 90% by value of in-service work is Australian. And construction standards, demonstrated by weld rejection rates and hull circularity, were excellent, exceeding international norms.

Of course, there were a significant number of design and system defects requiring rectification in the newly built submarines. That work was done successfully by ASC, supported by the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, the US Navy and industry.

The submarine availability problems that have caused such poor ongoing public perception of the Collins arose from failures in in-service support arrangements rather than problems with the design and build. Moreover, the final report of the Coles review found a major improvement in Collins availability as a consequence of its recommendations being implemented.

What about a hybrid approach? It’s been suggested in the Japanese media that we should take a ‘hybrid’ approach, constructing the hull modules for the future submarine in Japan and assembling them in Australia. But doing so would entail all the complications of an overseas build, while precluding the optimal use of modern modular assembly, in which all major systems are installed and set to work on their shock- and noise-absorbing deck sections before those sections are slid into the open hull section, like oven trays. A hybrid construction approach would also complicate accountability for any problems injected into the build and deny Australian shipyards in Victoria and New South Wales the platform and module construction work that they performed so well for Collins.

Moreover, we have an example of why an overseas build of modules is not a good idea: our experience with the bow and escape sections of the first Collins, which were built in Sweden. Both had a large number of weld defects, which took months of additional work in Australia and over $20 million to rectify. A hybrid build would likely increase, rather than reduce, cost and risk.

By contrast, there’d be substantial benefits from building the next generation of RAN submarines in Australia. Indeed, local construction is especially beneficial for submarines compared with surface ships, given the submarine’s unique design and strategic importance. The benefits would include the following:

  • The project would be under the full operational, legal and security control of the Australian Government.
  • It’d be no more expensive. None of the prospective foreign suppliers is a cheap shipbuilder.
  • Building in Australia would support broader investment in shipbuilding that could be repaid many times over across a continuous-build program.
  • The quality of construction is likely to be better and, in any case, would be under Australian control.
  • An Australian build would transfer design, construction and commissioning knowledge and technology to Australia—all vital steps to support the through-life evolution of what will be a uniquely Australian design.

Submarines are a critical strategic capability for the uncertain times ahead. Australia’s requirements and geography demand at least 12 large submarines. Trying to stretch an existing design is a high-risk proposal with limited capability to grow to meet future changes. An integrated design process based on a designer experienced in producing for foreign customers, working with the Australian builders and the ‘in-service’ industries, is the low-risk path. The current focus on a Japanese-built solution is misdirected and a distraction.

Click here to read the Strategic Insights report: Why Australia should build its own submarines.

Peter Briggs is a retired RAN submarine specialist, submarine commanding officer and past president of the Submarine Institute of Australia. Peter has no affiliations with any of the potential suppliers to the RAN’s SEA 1000 project. Image courtesy of Flickr user UK Ministry of Defence.

The Beat

Specialist entryWelcome to ‘The Beat’, a regular update that we’ll be publishing from ASPI’s Strategic Policing and Law Enforcement program. Like other ASPI updates, it’ll provide commentary on a select range of topical issues and links to different documents, reports and other items of interest to those involved in the law enforcement field, and its contribution to national security.

Looking ahead

Our first edition focuses on what might lie ahead for 2015 in the broad security space. In this short paper, Rohan Gunaratna shares his views on the terrorist threat, with a focus on daish (Islamic State). A much longer report by CSIS Washington covers what the US can do in the Middle East, and is noteworthy for its commentary on counterterrorism strategy and interagency cooperation. And lastly, the comprehensive forecasts by private intelligence firms Stratfor and G4S are also worth a read. Read more

Interesting to note that none of those forecasts sees any prospect for the early demise of daish, but Stratfor seems less concerned about its activities outside Iraq and Syria (but also perhaps with an expansion into Lebanon) than others. G4S sees the potential for some of daish‘s 2014 gains to be rolled back.

UK inquiry report into the murder of Fusilier Rigby

Last November, the UK parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee released its report into the performance of the security services in relation to the 2013 murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby. The report states that the security services couldn’t have prevented the attack, but makes some interesting findings concerning the high threshold for intrusive investigations, the importance of engagement between street-level police and the community to gather intelligence, and the low priority Britain gives to counter-radicalisation.

From the bookshelf

One worthy read comes from American criminology professor, Louise I. Shelly, whose book  Dirty Entanglements explains the links between terrorism, crime and corruption. She also shows how most of the major terrorist attacks of the past decade required support from corrupt officials and more common criminals. While Australia doesn’t get much of a mention, it’s still a must-read for the evidence supporting Shelly’s case and for those who seek to understand how this unholy trinity interact to jeopardise our interests.

Perhaps of growing interest?

While Australia’s still only talking about legalising marijuana for medicinal purposes, it’s interesting to watch how US states are approaching the issue. Those interested in the debate might like to follow the Brookings Institution’s research thread, including posts like this about the prospects for further marijuana legalisation in the US  and its implications for international treaties.

Coming up….

Clare Murphy is an intern working within ASPI’s Strategic Policing and Law Enforcement Program. Image courtesy of Flickr user Andrew Becraft.

ASIO (2): the spooks and Oz politics

For decades, the Australian Labor Party hated the spooks with a passion. Indeed, many Australians still maintain that deep distrust of their domestic security service.

For Labor, though, the hatred of ASIO—the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation—coincided with the barren years of opposition. In his official history of ASIO, David Horner writes that Labor’s approach to ASIO was poisoned:

In Australian political history, it’s unlikely that any other Commonwealth department has had to endure such concerted, vociferous and bitter criticism from the Opposition—over the two decades from 1951.

Read more

The legacy of scorn and scepticism is reflected in the words of the former Labor Leader, Kim Beazley, now ambassador to the US, who writes that ASIO

exercised its task in a democratic environment where many would challenge its relevance, its techniques and whether, in principle, it should exist. It has been impossible to view its role objectively in the public debate or see the organisation in its complete and complex history.

So, questions of relevance, technique and even whether ASIO should exist. The angst and the anger have several layers. Deepest secrecy surrounded the signals intelligence that had revealed the work of Soviet spies in Canberra in the 1940s (leading to ASIO’s creation) and that veil was not cast off until the 1990s.

The long anger-burn and many of the questions flowed from ASIO’s great public coup—‘the most important episode in ASIO’s first two decades,’ Horner writes—the defection of the Soviet diplomat and intelligence agent, Vladimir Petrov.

The Petrov Royal Commission that followed was a political disaster for the Labor Leader, H.V. Evatt, and fed the Labor belief that ASIO connived with the Menzies Government to commit political sabotage. Horner comments that Labor ran a ‘misguided campaign’ against the service, ‘based on completely false assumptions that were impossible to disprove without divulging highly sensitive intelligence sources on the Soviet Union’.

In a fine review of Horner’s book, The Canberra Times’ editor-at-large, Jack Waterford, notes that Evatt’s charges were ‘fantastic and silly’ but, stung by Labor slurs, ASIO officers ‘began to do some of the partisan things Labor critics were alleging they had always done’.

Horner’s official history shows that ASIO didn’t just gather intelligence, but conducted spoiling operations that were an ‘extravagant interpretation’ of its remit. And he comments: ‘The major consequence of the Cold War was that ASIO pursued its campaign against communists with an almost religious fervour’. Fervour saw ASIO become overzealous: ‘ASIO officers came to believe that any political movement or societal group that challenged a conservative view of society was potentially subversive’.

Here is David Horner in the second of his four ASPI interviews:

Graeme Dobell is the ASPI journalist fellow. Video produced by Luke Wilson.

Cyber wrap

F-35A Lightning IIThe 2007 theft of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter plans was this week officially linked to  China by German newspaper Der Spiegel. The classified US document, given to the paper by Edward Snowden, detailed the loss of ‘many terabytes of data’ relating to the development of the fifth-generation fighter. That China was behind the attack was one of the US Defense community’s more poorly kept secrets. But the release of the information is interesting given Edward Snowden’s previous reluctance to disclose information implicating countries such as China or Russia in online espionage.

China has claimed that it wasn’t behind the 2007 attacks, questioning the findings in the Snowden document, and reminding us that attribution is quite difficult due to the ‘complex nature’ of cyber-attacks.

The US and the UK recently announced a joint taskforce aimed at countering online threats. The ‘joint cell’—co-locating experts from GCHQ, MI5, the NSA and FBI across both countries—will facilitate the real-time sharing of threat data. The taskforce is also set to carry out cyber wargaming later in the year with scenarios built around attacks on the financial sector. Read more

The New York Times has an interesting article explaining how early NSA groundwork facilitated the quicker-than-usual attribution (to North Korea) following the Sony Hack. The NSA program, developed as an ‘early warning radar’, allowed for the monitoring of North Korean hackers. The program, developed over the past five years, placed malware on several machines within North Korea’s offensive hacking unit, Bureau 121. While North Korea’s attempts to penetrate Sony’s networks looked fairly half-hearted and innocuous at the time, it wasn’t until after the attack that the NSA realised the scale of the breach.

ICPC international fellow James A Lewis told the Times, ‘Attributing where attacks come from is incredibly difficult and slow…The speed and certainty with which the United States made its determinations about North Korea told you that something was different here—that they had some kind of inside view.’

Closer to home, Japan’s impressive international cyber engagement agenda marches on, with Shinzo Abe this week pledging to deepen cooperation with Israel. Abe and his counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu have pledged to work together to counter online attacks and promote exchanges between defence officials. The dialogue is another win for Japan as the state pursues a program of high-level international cyber engagement.

The Economist has a nice article explaining some of the difficulties encountered when attempting to put a figure on the cost of cybercrime. Issues faced by analysts include which future losses to include and exclude in calculations, how to deal with companies who are unaware of what information they have actually lost and how to treat businesses that are aware but are unwilling to disclose details.

Finally our Governing the Net series explores the tall task ahead of ICANN as it tries to build a consensus on an IANA stewardship transition plan amongst the international multistakeholder community, enhance its internal accountability, and tiptoe around Washington politics. Also check out our handy Internet governance timeline to keep up to date in what promises to be a busy 2015 in this cyber space

Jessica Woodall is an analyst in ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre. Image courtesy of Flickr user Airman Magazine.

Why Australia should build its own submarines (1)

SubmarineThe case for building the next generation of RAN submarines in Australia begins with the stand-out attributes that make submarines so important for us: they must be able to operate in areas a long way from home, without air or sea control, to watch, listen, evaluate and act when necessary. Australia’s future submarine will be a unique platform, giving early warning of an adversary’s intentions and providing an excellent antisubmarine and anti-surface ship capability.

As discussed in an earlier post, these capabilities are based on the submarine’s key attribute—stealth—which enables access to sensitive or critical areas denied to other vehicles and surveillance systems.

In simple terms, a submarine has to have sufficient buoyancy to support its payload when it’s underwater (that is, to be neutrally buoyant). If you add more fuel (or any other payload), you have to either take out an equivalent weight or increase the vessel’s volume. Simply lengthening an existing design by adding hull sections to increase volume works only so far. As the ratio of the vessel’s length to its diameter grows, it becomes noisier, less agile and less efficient. Read more

At some point, increasing the volume of a submarine requires an increased hull diameter. But once that threshold is crossed, you’re no longer dealing with the same design. It’s safer to put all the parameters on the table and design a submarine with the volume to carry the payloads required for the desired capability.

The recent discussion in the press on the possible acquisition of Japanese submarines by Australia (dubbed ‘Option J’) raises a number of issues. Despite what’s been surmised based on the relatively large submerged displacement of the Soryu class, the current Japanese submarine appears to have less payload, endurance and mobility than the Collins. That isn’t surprising—Japan’s requirements are different from ours.

So any Japanese boat is likely to require modification to meet Australia’s requirements, particularly for long-ocean transits and patrols. Australia’s also certain to want to install a US combat system, communications fit-out and weapons suite. Those changes will carry cost, performance and schedule risks that are best handled as a developmental project rather than as an off-the-shelf acquisition.

Quite apart from the suitability of the design, a Japanese purchase would entail particular risks. The prospects for difficulties arising from cultural differences with Japan are significant. Accessing all the relevant technologies during the course of an overseas build of a complex vessel and understanding the design intent (critical to supporting the submarine) would be extraordinarily ambitious and inherently risky. And Japan has no experience with foreign customers for military exports.

The lure of having submarines built overseas rests upon the assumption that it’d be more expensive to build them here. But design and construction are only one-third of the cost of ownership. The balance arises when the boat is in service.

It’s worth looking at how other countries approach the problem of maintaining a cost-effective submarine force. Germany, France, Japan, Sweden, the UK and the US all have national designers and builders for their submarine programs. Common characteristics of their approaches include the following:

  • New designs are undertaken as developmental projects in a seamless process, avoiding traditional step-by-step design, which can lead to delays, design changes and cost escalation.
  • The cost of ownership is considered front and centre at the design and construction phases so that it can be minimised.
  • The builder and in-service support industries inject their knowledge into the design, thereby minimising the requirement for costly re-work or extra maintenance.

To optimise a submarine design from a whole-of-life perspective requires the designers, builders and maintainers to work closely together during the design and build phases. That’s best achieved if they’re co-located, as they tend to be in the countries mentioned.

There’s an important lesson here for Australia:  coordination will be much easier if the build occurs in Australia, where the design will be supported throughout its life, rather than at an overseas shipyard with different standards and practices and a language barrier.

Whatever the design source, Australia’s future submarine will have substantial differences from the overseas navy’s design. As it was for Collins, Australia will be the parent navy for the future submarine. The Coles review highlighted the vital importance of establishing through-life logistic support arrangements in Australia during the construction phase. It’s critical that Australia has full access to the technologies and intellectual property underpinning the future submarine; otherwise, the effectiveness of the new boat will rely on the relationship with the overseas parent navy and its industry base.

In addition to the challenge of establishing cost-effective through-life support, building Australia’s future submarines offshore would entail a number of additional costs:

  • Transferring Australian engineers, construction personnel, submarine crews and their families to stand by for two- to four-year periods in an overseas shipyard across the 28 or so years needed to build 12 submarines would be neither cheap nor practical.
  • The land-based test sites and maritime test ranges used to reduce risks during construction and for acceptance testing are also required in-service, which imposes additional costs for using overseas facilities in addition to building our own facilities.

Australia’s use of US-sourced weapons and combat systems also poses sensitive problems for acceptance testing on a foreign test range.

In my next post I’ll consider the lessons from Collins, the possibility of a hybrid build and sum up the case for building in Australia.

Peter Briggs is a retired RAN submarine specialist, submarine commanding officer and past president of the Submarine Institute of Australia. Peter has no affiliations with any of the potential suppliers to the RAN’s SEA 1000 project. Image courtesy of Flickr user JD Hancock.