Governing the Net: pivotal actors go to NETmundial

A word cloud formed from the key words used in content contributions for NETmundial 2014

The United States, China and Russia have so far been the key players in the Internet governance debate. As we showed last week, while the multi-stakeholder and statist schools of thought have shaped the discussion, neither has gained a decisive upper-hand. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the future of Internet governance won’t be decided by the stalwarts of those opposing sides, but by the actors who occupy the middle ground. With an international consensus unlikely, it’ll be the building of like-minded coalitions that shifts the balance towards either end of the Internet governance spectrum. This week, we look to NETmundial in Brazil as the next big Internet governance forum where the positions taken by pivotal actors may determine how the debate progresses, and how our day-to-day Internet experiences might change.

NETmundial’s origins are inextricably bound to Edward Snowden’s disclosure of America’s NSA surveillance activities. At the UN General Assembly in September 2013, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff spoke strongly against the US and called for the UN to become involved in Internet governance. Two weeks later, ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé was in Brazil recognising that ‘trust in the global Internet has been punctured’, and that it was now ‘time to restore this trust through leadership and through institutions that can make that happen’. Rousseff accepted Chehadé’s invitation to host a global summit on multi-stakeholder Internet governance, and NETmundial was born. Brazil’s joy was short-lived; the US announcement that it was shifting the last of its internet management responsibilities to ICANN muted the significance of NETmundial and empowered ICANN as the premier forum for the debate. Nonetheless, NETmundial will be an important proving ground for ideas that’ll be taken to future ICANN meetings, so it’s useful to explore the positions of Brazil, India and the EU—all pivotal actors who can shape the debate. Read more

Brazil has been a peculiar actor in the debate so far. Historically, it has supported a more intergovernmental model of Internet governance, deferring to the UN and ITU as the decision-making bodies. So it was interesting that President Rousseff, while requesting UN intervention, also made clear overtures to multi-stakeholderism, calling for ‘open, multilateral and democratic governance, carried out with transparency by stimulating collective creativity and the participation of society, governments and the private sector’. Brazil will be riding into NETmundial on the back of its recent success pushing through the Marco Civil da Internet –a civil rights framework for Brazilian Internet users–and as more recently reported, its designs for global internet governance rules (to be released on 14 April). As a growing economic power and leader in the developing world, Brazil will do much to shape the future of the Internet governance debate.

India’s Internet governance debate, like Brazil’s, is in flux. For a time, India demonstrated that it was an inclusive, balanced actor committed to a free and open internet governed through multi-stakeholder processes. Then, in November 2013, they threw their support behind the multilateral Internet governance model after concerns about data storage and internet traffic management in a post-Snowden world. India highlighted its distaste for the multi-stakeholder process, characterising it as ‘something of a misnomer’ given US dominance in the system. The Indian government has since emerged as a reactionary in the Internet governance debate, attempting to elbow its way into a seat at the table. Itself a beneficiary of an open Internet, India should be encouraged to consider carefully the representations it’ll make at NETmundial as part of a long-term game, not a short-term one.

While the European community has been a strong proponent of an inclusive, bottom-up system, the US legacy role has remained a long-standing point of contention. After the Snowden revelations, European leaders lambasted the US and tabled policies that hinted at Internet Balkanisation, appeasing both sides of the debate, as well as domestic business interests. Fortunately America’s recent moves have largely placated its Europeanpartners. The European community is large and diverse, providing a solid foundation upon which to build a global consensus on Internet governance. But the transatlantic relationship brings its own baggage, limiting the North Atlantic’s potential to function as an incubator for internationally acceptable norms. Europe offers an important critical mass, but not one nearly large enough to solidify Internet governance norms and rules of the road.

The Snowden revelations caused Brazil, India, the EU and others to lose faith in America’s goodwill in the Net governance debate. It’s time to harness those pivotal actors into a coalition of likeminded states whose support can buttress multi-stakeholderism against further moves toward statist Internet governance. The time for talk is over: strong leadership is needed to ensure that the Internet governance debate is shepherded to a positive outcome firmly rooted in multi-stakeholderism. NETmundial holds the potential to drive the transformation of ICANN and boost moves to develop international norms on privacy and human rights online. Australia should not come empty handed to this critical forum, a topic we’ll delve into next week.

Klée Aiken is an analyst and David Lang is an intern in ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre. Image courtesy of NETmundial.


Two strategic competitions in Asia

Game of thrones?

The unfolding strategic environment in Asia is generating two strategic competitions: one horizontal and one vertical. The horizontal competition is highly visible: indeed, we see the evidence of it almost daily, as regional countries contest their respective territorial claims. But the vertical competition is less obvious:  it’s a contest over position, not of space. Rank and status matter in Asia. This is a region with a strong historical attachment to notions of hierarchy. We fret the consequences of a possible mishandling of the horizontal competition, but the vertical competition is probably the more serious one—because it’ll define the shape of the Asian security order in the 21st century. Why is that competition important? The main reason is that an era of relative Asian weakness is coming to an end, and Asian countries don’t share a unified vision of the hierarchy of 21st-century Asia. And that, in a nutshell, is what’s especially worrying about current security dynamics in Asia.

That’s not to say the horizontal strategic competition is irrelevant. It certainly isn’t. That contest has two core issues; the growth of Asian power projection capabilities, and the growing intensity of multi-player contests over small islands and rocks. The first of those issues is currently seen most clearly in the steady rise in China’s material power. ASPI analysts have talked before about the geographic expansion of Chinese military power as resembling a growing ‘bubble’, within which it’s becoming more challenging for adversaries to operate. That bubble is slowly expanding to cover more of the US’s principal allies and partners along the Asian rimlands, not to mention the US territories, bases and facilities to be found there. The growth of the bubble underpins Beijing’s ‘anti-access, area denial’ doctrine. Read more

Moreover, China’s recent push on its territorial claims in the South and East China Seas is a clear expression of Beijing’s objectives in the horizontal competition. China knows that it’s well-placed to wear down rival claimants one by one, and that it can do so without provoking a real crisis because the dominant strategic power in the region—the US—holds no position on who owns what. But China isn’t the only rising Asian power. Other Asian countries are generating their own somewhat smaller power bubbles as their economic and military strength expands. And they too are pushing back in relation to their own territorial claims, against China or another rising Asian player. Those various territorial competitions are perhaps best described as contests in low-intensity coercion. No-one wants the contests to escalate, but nor are any of the contestants willing to cede its claim.

One of the reasons why no-one’s pulling back from the horizontal competition is because of what such an action would imply in relation to the vertical competition. Abandoning a claim against a rival would be tantamount to deferring to another player. And such a pattern of accommodation would underpin the gradual emergence of a new strategic order in Asia. And that’s why the vertical competition’s important—because it’s a positional contest for places in the emerging 21st-century Asian hierarchy. Australia isn’t a direct player in the territorial contest, although it has direct interests in the ability of its major ally to operate in the Western Pacific. Our bigger choices are the ones related to the positional competition.

At the moment, we’re not competing with much vigour in the vertical competition. We occasionally send signals that we need to ‘weight up’ in Asia, but don’t show much understanding that the real competition is one of privilege and deference. We’re Westerners, after all. We cling to a notion that the region is moving towards a number of influential states playing alongside each other on an approximately level playing field. That’s a model built upon the basic equality of states, and appeals to our Westphalian understandings about sovereignty. In practice, of course, we accept that all countries aren’t equally influential, but nor do they have to be. But the Eastern notion of Asia is different. Over the past 2,000 years Asian countries have been drawn to models of hierarchy, not equality—to vertical distinctiveness, not to multipolar sameness.

Australia, as a Western country living in 21st-century Asia, has its own conception of an ideal Asian security hierarchy, and it’s one where the US remains the pre-eminent security actor. We seek to buttress that order by encouraging other regional states to support politically liberal, economically open, and socially inclusive values. That’s a noble order to aim for. But it might overlook the likelihood of a looming hierarchical competition as Asian great powers struggle for places on the regional ladder.

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

The politics of submarines and budgets

Blank (2)The Abbott government is hard at work burying the 2013 Defence White Paper as it prepares a new version to be released next year. Because of the way my mind works, I carried a copy of the Labor White Paper with me to the ASPI Submarine Choice conference. Listening to the defence minister (PDF) while writing the post that went up yesterday, I turned to the shortest chapter in that 2013 policy.

Chapter seven, ‘Defence Budget and Finances’, needs only one and a half pages to make the money statements in 17 terse paragraphs. The third and final page of the chapter has only three words—Page Intentionally Blank.

The beauty of the Intentionally Blank page—as joke or Delphic editorial comment—is that it allows the reader to insert almost any punch line. Overhauling the 2013 White Paper to produce a 2015 version, the Abbott government can scribble happily in that blank space. Read more

The truth of such policy documents is that however much they change and rearrange, a lot of the old finds its way into the new. And some of the language and mindset of the 2013 Paper will surge into the 2015 replacement. Nearly half of the 17 paragraphs in Labor’s budget chapter are devoted to how tough the task is: ‘fiscal discipline’ crops up a couple of times, along with phrases like ‘the sustainability of the budget’, ‘complex choices’, and ‘achieving greater efficiency and effectiveness’. This is the language of budget pain and hard choices which is building in volume and intensity towards Canberra’s annual budget crescendo on 13 May.

In discussing the politics of submarines (and, thus, the politics of defence spending) Australia hasn’t yet seen the identity of the Abbott government. We’ve been taking our entertainment and making premature judgements during the phony war.

Next month, the real stuff starts; the bell sounds and the true fight begins. The first budget is when choices are announced, policies set and priorities picked in all their polarising glory.

As Nikki Savva observes, this could be the most important budget in 20 years, revealing the government’s DNA: ‘Does it have the tough gene and the smart gene in equal parts in its make-up, or will the recessive, populist, weak-ticker gene, prove to be dominant?’

In warming up for the heavy lifting, the defence minister’s speech—announcing the decision to ‘re-examine’ the number of subs—was described on The Strategist as the government’s first big defence announcement.

The ‘re-examine’ pledge implies an answer that says six new subs, not 12; halving the number takes 40% out of the budget estimates, freeing up a big chunk of defence cash if 12 subs would have cost $40–50 billion.

Halving the number of subs in the shift from the 2013 to the 2015 white paper helps with a political and budget must—get a shopping list of defence kit which goes close to matching the cash on offer in the budget forward estimates. As Canberra’s annual May moment of fiscal theatre always makes manifest, the forward estimates reign and will always drive and define the politics.

Mentioning a political/budget imperative requires a reference to Mark Thomson’s wonderful post and accompanying essay (PDF) on the three musts of the submarine question: there must be a Collins replacement, it must be built in South Australia and it must have conventional (not nuclear) propulsion.

Other political musts feed into Mark’s model. The Abbott government was at the wheel when Australia gave up local car manufacturing; this isn’t going to be the government that also gives up local ship building.

During the South Australian election, Prime Minister Abbott was brave enough to say that defence wasn’t ‘some kind of job creation programme’. The cheering defenceniks should read the rest of the quote. Abbott’s tough love was trumped by a repeat of the golden promise:

For years now, we’ve been saying that work on the future generation of submarines would centre on the South Australian shipyards. So I want to make that crystal clear, just as we said before the election, so we will do after the election, we will ensure that work on the future submarines centres on the South Australian shipyards.

Defence budgets are torn by myriad forces, not least the tyranny of forward estimates, ever at war with the political musts.

Graeme Dobell is the ASPI journalism fellow. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

The perils of submarine operations

An RAAF AP 3C Orion snaps an allied submarine during an Anti Submarine Warfare evolution during RIMPAC 2010 off Hawaii. submarines suffer from severe command and control limitations, including the requirement to be close to the surface to make radio contact.

ASPI’s ‘Submarine Choice’ conference has highlighted much more than the central dilemma confronting Australia: what sort of submarines do we need and how should we acquire them? Various speakers have spoken of the broader consequences of submarine proliferation in the Indo-Pacific. Greater numbers of submarines are simply a fact of life for the region’s future. But in acquiring submarines for the first time or building up their submarine fleets, regional countries may be underestimating the risks of submarine operations. More submarines in the region pose challenges for maritime confidence building and ensuring submarine safety.

Submarines are inherently dangerous systems. Even a relatively minor accident onboard can have catastrophic consequences. Then there are the navigational risks associated with having more submarines operating in relatively confined waters with a high level of fishing activity and dense shipping traffic. Most seriously, more submarines in the region are potentially destabilising, particularly as they may be employed on covert surveillance and intelligence gathering missions in disputed waters.

Those problems can be accentuated because submarines suffer from severe command and control limitations. A submarine may be out of radio contact for extended periods of time. Radio waves don’t penetrate sea water to any extent, and a submarine has to put itself, or an antenna, close to the surface to make radio contact. In many operational circumstances, that may not be possible. Read more

Even the most proficient operators of submarines, including the US Navy and the Royal Navy, suffer submarine accidents with depressing regularity. Several incidents have occurred recently in both Japanese and United Kingdom waters when submerged submarines have caught the nets of fishing boats and dragged them under—in some cases with loss of life.

There are many prerequisites of safe submarine operations. Submariners are among the most highly trained of all naval professionals. Submarine commanding officers have a huge responsibility. Their training and experience levels must be commensurate with this responsibility. Navies must be confident that their submarine commanding officers have sufficient skills and experience to handle serious incidents, including ones that could escalate into conflict, on their own initiative and without guidance and direction from ashore.

By their very nature, submarines aren’t well suited to maritime confidence building measures, including incident at sea (INCSEA) type agreements. Countries are extremely secretive about submarine operations, which runs contrary to the desirable confidence-building principle of transparency.

Several measures might be considered to improve submarine safety in the region. Arrangements for water space management (WSM), and the prevention of mutual interference (PMI) with submarine operations might be possible. Western navies use a regional Submarine Operating Authority to ensure no overlap of submarine operations. Both the secretive nature of some submarine operations and a broader lack of trust mean regional countries are unlikely to subscribe to such an authority.

In the interests of submarine safety, Australia promulgates its entire EEZ (PDF) as a permanently established submarine exercise area. This isn’t a restriction on foreign submarines operating into the zone. But it means that foreign submarines wishing to operate there should either transit on the surface or advise of their movements if the risk of submarine collision is to be removed. Regional countries might consider a similar measure.

A regional submarine Movement Advisory Authority along the lines of the procedures currently followed by Western navies might be possible. That would mean that parties to the regime know the operating areas of other submarines. Again, that’ll be difficult in view of the essentially covert nature of submarine operations and the sensitivity of many regional countries to sovereignty issues. In the longer-term, the establishment of submarine exclusion zones or ‘no go’ areas might be achievable, particularly in areas where sovereignty over islands and reefs is disputed.

Meanwhile, a range of prospective measures for mitigating the adverse consequences of regional submarine developments should be considered. Those might include regional protocols for dealing with unidentified submarines detected in the territorial sea, including the procedures to be followed and the signals to be used. Such protocols might include an agreement that in normal circumstances, the submarine shouldn’t be attacked with potentially lethal force. Government to government ‘hot-lines’ between national submarine operating authorities to deal specifically with submarine incidents might also be considered.

Continued regional cooperation is required on submarine training and safety, including submarine escape exercises and the development of protocols for cooperation to deal with missing or sunk submarines. A regional submarine rescue organisation could be introduced in which China, as a major operator of submarines, might play a part.

Submarine crews must be highly proficient, but some in the region may fall short in this regard. There are major implications here for Australia’s submariners. Despite how well our own submariners are trained, submarine safety is like road safety: the avoidance of an accident also depends on the skill of the other driver and the quality of the road rules. And we’re going to have more drivers on regional undersea highways in the future without the necessary rules in place.

Sam Bateman is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

Submarines by the dozen?


The press has made much of a perceived backing down from a plan to build 12 submarines. We say ‘perceived’ because no-one has actually said that. But it’s true there’s been some very careful language choices around submarine numbers, including by the Defence Minister, here in his speech:

… my primary focus is not on numbers but on the capability and availability of boats required to meet the tasks set by government.

And here in a doorstop:

To [put] a number on submarines is a distraction. What we want is a long term capability that can be sustained as an enterprise, as an asset that can go long into the future building submarines.

Read more

It’s true that the focus ought to be on the delivery of defence capability that’s well-matched to strategy and to the budget. But talk at the conference, both from government and from the bureaucracy, has been about the need for an enduring industrial capability for submarines. While no-one has said so in as many words, an enduring submarine design and build capability all but mandates moving to a continuous build program—the case for which was laid out in detail in DMO’s Future Submarine Industry Skills Plan last year. Another criterion is avoiding any capability gap that might otherwise occur at the end of the Collins-class lifetime.

We think meeting both of those criteria is only really feasible if the fleet constitutes around 12 boats. We’ll explain why below, but first observe that France has 10 boats (and exports others), and still has management challenges in keeping its industrial capability intact. The UK’s fleet of 11 submarines (and no exports) has barely provided enough continuous work. By general consensus, Japan sustains its industrial submarine capacity pretty well through a rolling production model, but it has 16 in service and is expanding to over 20. Maybe we could come up with a model that works with fewer than 12 boats, but clearly we’d have our work cut out.

Other numbers here aren’t especially promising either. As we pointed out in our 2012 Mind the gap paper (PDF), a Collins life extension will take them out to 2030 (and beyond that for a few boats). By then they’ll be around 30 years old—not unusual for naval platforms.

The recent success in improving Collins sustainability has seen a move to a ’10 years on, 2 years in maintenance’ operating cycle (it was previously 8 + 2), allowing more efficient use of those expensive assets. Future boats could thus serve for 22 years as a minimum, and 34 if they do three cycles as the Collins class will come close to.

So if we had 12 submarines and kept them for the minimum 22 years, we’d need a new one every couple of years. If the number fell below 12, we’d have to slow down further, raising the question of what constitutes an efficient use of the investment required to sustain shipyard and design capacity. Such a slow production rate wouldn’t replace the six Collins boats in the right timeframe; we’d have to produce a batch of four to six fairly quickly and then slow down—but then it’d be hard to avoid having 10–12 boats at some stage.

Of course, 22 years is a remarkably short life-of-type for a submarine. So the question is whether the benefits of an ‘enduring capability’ justify the additional cost of replacing vessels more frequently?

A quick estimate isn’t encouraging; moving from a 34 to 22-year lifespan increases the capital cost of maintaining the fleet by more than 50%. Even with potentially higher productivity and potential savings from avoiding mid-life upgrades, it’s likely there’d be a substantial cost premium. Then there’d be the added costs of maintaining administrative and managerial overheads continuously, within both industry and Defence.

A continuous build program of ships and submarines would also lock the government into maintaining the size of the submarine and maybe surface fleets. Navy might see that as an added benefit; no need to make the case for the next generation at replacement time. But from a broader defence perspective it would fix the minimum size of a large and expensive part of the force structure. And from a public policy perspective it would lock in a substantial chunk of what was previously discretionary spending.

Call it what you want—an enduring capability or a continuous build program—it means that we’d be creating either a private or publicly-owned monopoly submarine production entity. As the bad old days of government-owned shipyards demonstrated, ensuring productivity from a monopoly supplier is a far from easy task.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the main rationale for an enduring capability is a desire to meet some ambitious and uniquely Australian requirements—the prime source of cost and schedule overruns in other defence equipment over the years.

Andrew Davies is senior analyst for defence capability and director of research at ASPI and Mark Thomson is senior analyst for defence economics at ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user sir chalky.

Is the Indian Ocean destined to become India’s Ocean?

The INS Vikramaditya, a modified Kiev-class carrier, entered into service with the Indian Navy in 2013.

There are many good reasons to believe that India could become the predominant power in the Indian Ocean region, at least in the long run. Geographically, it dominates the area. It has a massive population, a huge military, and  is on its way to becoming one of the world’s largest economies. Importantly, many in India’s elite see the domination of the Indian Ocean as part of India’s destiny:  they see it as natural that India should be the leading power in the ocean that bears its name.

But one should be careful about drawing straight-line projections from all of this. While India may in the future acquire the material capabilities to dominate the Indian Ocean, there are still real questions as to whether the ocean will become India’s Ocean. India will need to overcome many constraints, both internal and external, that limit its strategic role in the region.

For one thing, India will need to learn to work cooperatively with the United States. Although its defence resources are under strain, the US will likely have the capability to be the predominant Indian Ocean power for decades to come. The more important question, though, is how long will the US choose to commit the necessary resources to dominate the Indian Ocean? Washington seems willing to cede—and indeed encourage—a major security role for India in the Indian Ocean. But there’ll be limits to US support for India, particularly if Washington perceives New Delhi to be acting in a manner inconsistent with US interests. Read more

A further constraint is India’s weak relationships with the region’s middle powers of the region. New Delhi has successfully developed security relationships with several smaller countries, and indeed India’s National Security Advisor recently announced a maritime security ‘arrangement’ among India and the island states of Sri Lanka, the Maldives, the Seychelles and Mauritius. But India has been slow to develop cooperative relations with larger or more powerful regional players such as Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Australia. Several middle powers see benefits in developing strategic partnerships with India, but would expect such arrangements to give proper recognition to their own interests.

Nor does China accept that the Indian Ocean should become India’s Ocean. China is becoming a major economic player in the region and is tentatively demonstrating its naval reach. Unless India can mitigate the growing regional rivalry with China, this will become an increasingly important constraint on India’s role in the region.  

Another limitation arises from India’s aversion to security cooperation with other states. India’s devotion to the idea of strategic autonomy feeds fears that cooperation with the US—and even with lesser powers—will undermine India’s destiny to become a great power. Ironically, an insistence on strategic autonomy now acts as a significant constraint on India’s influence in the Indian Ocean. The provision of security on a unilateral basis is becoming increasingly untenable even for great powers such as the US, and India will be expected by others to demonstrate cooperative regional leadership.

There are also questions as to how India might exercise leadership in the Indian Ocean. Many in the Indian elite believe that India will achieve a dominant strategic role in the Indian Ocean through demonstrating benign and principled leadership as what New Delhi is now calling the region’s ‘main resident power.’  

But India’s dominant world view also places considerable emphasis on hierarchy. Indeed, to outsiders, India sometimes appears preoccupied with the recognition of its status as a great power. This includes the acquisition of major power status symbols such as aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines. Considerations of hierarchy also underlie India’s caution in engaging with middle powers such as Australia. And of course China’s refusal to recognise India’s leading status in the Indian Ocean is particularly incomprehensible and infuriating to New Delhi.

It’s India’s instinct to try to exclude extra-regional powers from the Indian Ocean, previously the US, and now China. But if India is to play a leadership role, it’ll need to come to terms with the fact that many Indian Ocean states may see the presence of such powers (primarily the US, but in the case of Pakistan, also China) as enhancing their security.

Although India’s position as an Indian Ocean power will almost inevitably grow in coming years, there’s no obvious path as to how its role will develop. As with other areas of Indian policy there’s a good chance that India will continue along at its own pace without any overarching or coordinated strategic plan, seeking to expand its power and influence here and there on an ad hoc basis as and when opportunities present themselves. That may seem a low risk approach for New Delhi, but a failure of India to properly come to terms with China’s interests in the Indian Ocean or to properly co-opt the middle powers of the region may restrict India from fully achieving its ambitions. There’s likely to be a new balance of power in the Indian Ocean in coming years, but the transition is unlikely to be a smooth or simple one for the region—or for India.

David Brewster is a former international corporate lawyer. He is currently a Fellow with the Australia India Institute and a Visiting Fellow with the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University. He is the author of India’s Ocean: the story of India’s bid for regional leadershipImage courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Reporting some good news

Chief of Navy complained at the conference today the press loves to write about ‘dud subs’ but isn’t as keen on good news. And there’s some good news to report today, in the form of the latest instalment of the Coles review into the availability of the Collins class boats.

This is the latest in a series of reports, which have been tracking the progress of work to turn what was a moribund fleet into the military capability it was originally designed to be. We’ve been tracking progress here on The Strategist as well, from the dark days of poor management and outcomes through the noticeably better but still qualified performance noted in the previous report.

And the dark days were dark indeed—the new report reveals that Australia’s submarine capability basically collapsed in the second half of 2009. There were no days on which three boats were even in principle available for operations, and two boats were available less than 10% of the time. That compares to Navy’s targets of:

two deployable submarines consistently available, with four submarines available to the Fleet Commander and of these four, three submarines consistently available for tasking with one in shorter term maintenance and two submarines in long term maintenance and upgrade.

Read more

But that was then and this is now. The figure below shows the fleet availability through to the end of last year, compared to the international benchmark. (The absolute figure isn’t given, but our previous estimates were about 1,200 annual days from the fleet of six boats.) Clearly things are on the mend. Other stats in the report show that maintenance times are coming down, and defects are less frequent than before. We’re not up to the benchmark yet, but are well above the lowest point, and even ahead of where we hoped to be.

Source: Collins Class Submarine Sustainment Study, Department of Defence, p. II

Source: Collins Class Submarine Sustainment Study, Department of Defence, p. II

But, just as before, this good news comes with some qualifications. Some obsolescence issues are still to be addressed, and the Collins life extension program that we’re now committed to will need to address those. And there’s a message in here for government as it contemplates DMO’s workforce. A shortage of qualified engineers in that organisation is identified as a potential threat to further progress. Coles observes that DMO doesn’t have the flexibility to manage its workforce appropriately, which suggests that some targeted reforms, as well as apparently imminent cuts, are needed in the acquisition organisation.

Andrew Davies is senior analyst for defence capability and director of research at ASPI.

Oz submarines: 12? 9? 6?

The answer is 6

The answer to the headline question is now six. To be clear, that’s my answer. The Defence Minister, David Johnston, says the cost of 12 subs ‘is just not achievable’. So six subs starts to look like the number to replace the existing six.

The promise of 12 new submarines in Labor’s two Defence white papers is submerging. In fact, consider it just about sunk.

The Abbott government is to ‘re-examine’ the number of submarines needed. That’s a line from the Defence Minister in what he described as his ‘carefully-written speech’ and is the first major defence announcement from the new government. Not a thought bubble, but something that edges beyond a signal towards an announcement. Read more

Here’s the key numbers quote from Senator Johnston (PDF):

There has been a lot of speculation about whether we need 12 boats. Let me make clear that my primary focus isn’t on numbers but on the capability and availability of boats required to meet the tasks set by government. As part of the white paper process we’ll re-examine the strategic objectives of the future submarine program, including the number of submarines required at sea and therefore the total number of submarines.

Let ASPI give you the dollars-and-sense context that’s driving the dollars-and-cents submarine calculation. Peter Jennings’ has written about the cost of 12 subs crowding out other defence aspirations, raising the danger of the Australian Defence Force becoming a ‘one trick pony’.

ASPI Chairman Stephen Loosley argues that the scale of the 12-submarine ambition is overshadowing and distorting all other areas of defence planning. His answer is to sink the 12-boat target and opt for six, with the option for perhaps three more, as the best answer to Australia’s need for a deterrent capability:

In fact, 12 boats has locked policy up. Moving to six boats with an option for three more, depending upon the technology that comes on–stream, would afford both more flexibility and more time to distil and refine options over the life of the program, from an evolved Collis design to the purchase of an existing European or Japanese model.

The dollars-and-sense context is laying down some firm rails for the number of subs that’ll surface in the Defence white paper the Abbott government will deliver next year. That was the message Senator Johnston kept coming back to in his doorstop with journalists after his speech: don’t focus on the number 12; focus on issues of capability and cost.

The Defence Minister kept insisting numbers were the wrong measure: ‘to put a number on the subs is a distraction’ and ‘successful players don’t just go on numbers’.

But the number that really sinks 12 subs on the dollars-and-sense measure is the dollars-and-cents cost estimate of $40 billion, heading north towards $50 billion. As Senator Johnston observed to the assembled hacks:

We have got to have something that fits into, and is cost effective, in the overall scheme of our fiscal management. You can’t just go out and say we are going to have this many submarines and then someone pops up and says, “Well, that’s $40 billion.” That’s just not achievable. Now, we need submarines. But we’ve got to do our homework, get it right. It’s got to be cost effective.

The Defence Minister said he’s still working on the two options bequeathed by Labor: a new submarine design or an evolved design ‘that enhances the capabilities of existing off-the-shelf designs, including the Collins Class’. On both the sense and cents measures, the evolved design is looking good while the new design asks for a huge leap of faith and funds.

This morning Senator Johnston repeated his view that Japan’s conventional sub is ‘extraordinarily impressive’ and is the closest design in the world to what Australia wants.

Where does all this point? This hack’s summation of where Australia seems to be heading in Peter Jennings’ ‘fog of policy’: An evolved Collins Mk II with a Japanese diesel-electric drive chain and an American weapons system. And six of them—at least to start with.

Graeme Dobell is the ASPI journalism fellow. Image courtesy of Flickr user Myxi.

Cyber confidence building in the Asia-Pacific: three big take-aways from the ARF

ASPI ICPC was pleased to assist in putting together the ASEAN Regional Forum cyber workshop, co-chaired by Australia and Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, 25-26 March

The ASPI International Cyber Policy Centre was fortunate enough to be part of the team that put together the second ASEAN Regional Forum workshop on cyber security (the first was held late last year in Beijing). The Kuala Lumpur based workshop drew together key individuals from government, think thanks, the private sector and academia across the region. Co-chaired by Australian and Malaysian government representatives, the meeting set out to be a practically orientated discussion rather than one trapped in the diplomatic quagmire of the internet governance debate. The sessions explored specific proposals for practical cyber confidence building measures (CBMs) within the Asia-Pacific. This type of discussion is vital to lowering the risks of miscalculation and misinterpretation in cyberspace, especially in a region that has become the focus of cyber-competition. Read more

The core aim of the ARF workshop was simple; to establish a network of contacts within ASEAN states that could be activated in times of cyber crisis. This may sound like a simple task, but is surprisingly difficult when so many states’ national mechanisms for cyber and lines of responsibility are opaque and often concealed. There was almost total agreement in the room that current technical and policing channels of communication were well established, particularly at a CERT-CERT level, and that this provided a solid foundation to build on. But it was abundantly clear that there was a lack of—and an urgent need for—a developed communications network between cyber policy makers and national security leaders. Even at a basic level there was strong appetite for discussion mechanisms between states—a refreshing change from the barrage of diplomatic finger-pointing that often occurs in these types of meetings. Critically, the workshop began to identify appropriate points of contact, where they existed, and was successful in underlining that this needed to be developed and maintained over the coming months and years.

The second big theme that arose during the discussions was that there’s a clear requirement for baselines of domestic cyber coordination and technical capabilities across ASEAN states. This was strongly evidenced during the practical ‘desktop exercise’ component of the workshop which used an escalating hypothetical cyberattack against the banking sector to test the ‘whole-of-government’ domestic and international responses to cyber events. Put simply there’s a complete imbalance in different nations’ responses:some are clear, concise and well organised, others are confusing and problematic to interface with as the structures have grown in a haphazard manner. Similarly, nations have different levels of technical capacity, expertise, and legislation which again becomes problematic when countries are attempting to de-escalate cyber incidents. It became obvious that to deal with these situations, clear lines of command are vital, as rapid decision making is demanded when responding to cyber threats.

The third big take-away for the meeting, and perhaps the most important for future iterations of the process, was two-fold. Firstly, the less formal discussions enabled by the desktop exercise led to friendly and frank exchanges between national representatives which were invaluable in relationship building and sharing of best practice. This assisted in building confidence between those assembled in a way in that would have been impossible in official government–to-government settings. Secondly, the multidisciplinary nature of the delegates assembled was important for creating the rich discussion had over the two days. The diverse spread of professionals from technical, national security, policy, and law enforcement backgrounds mixed with a dash of non-governmental expertise, from both developed and developing countries, was an excellent recipe.

As ASPI executive director Peter Jennings pointed out to the gathering, cyber security experts have their own distinct language. They speak of the latest DDos attack, UNGGE deliberations or ICANN developments. Such expertise and understanding is unique and transcends borders. As a next step we need to more actively engage the private sector in these discussions. Cyberspace is multi-stakeholder in nature, this should be reflected in its representation at the ARF.

The Australian Government did a great job putting together the workshop and its much needed active, practical cyber agenda. Engaging the region in this way presents a valuable opportunity for Australia to play a leadership role on those issues. As this process shows, involving a cross-sector and whole-of-government team in this process will harness diverse expertise, present more opportunities and build understanding across the ARF nations, boosting Australia’s regional image. Now’s the time to seize the opportunity to build on the excellent groundwork laid in Malaysia.

Tobias Feakin is a senior analyst at ASPI and director of ASPI’s International Cyber Policy Centre. Jessica Woodall is an analyst in the ICPC. Image (c) ASPI 2014.

Submarines: does Moore mean less?

Back when I were a lad, some 40 years ago, my family was just thinking about swapping our trusty old black and white TV for the technological marvel that was colour. The internet was yet to escape the US DoD’s clutches—not that anybody had a computer at home in any case—and the first live cricket telecasts from England were a big deal. Back then a high-tech car had seatbelts, not computers.

The reason I’m getting all nostalgic is because I’ve been putting together my thoughts for ASPI’s Submarine Choice conference. I was pondering the fact that, if past platform lifetimes are any guide, the future submarine will still be with us 40 years from now.

I’ve written before about the exponential growth trend in computer power known as Moore’s Law. The past 40 years has seen an increase in computing power of over a million times. And, unlike the cost of military hardware, costs have trended steeply downwards as performance has soared. The next 40 years will likely see the same increase in our ability to capture, process and move information around. Read more

If you say that fast, it seems comprehensible enough, but what we’re talking about isn’t the same increase as we’ve just experienced, it’s a million times that again. Computing power in 2054 will a trillion times what was available in 1974. A 4G smart phone with its data capture, storage, processing and access capabilities will be as quaint an antiquity in 2054 as it was unimaginable in 1974.

It’s important to try to understand what that means for a $40 billion project. We like submarines because they have a formidable power projection capability, and can venture into even highly contested spaces, where more visible platforms can’t. If that was significantly compromised, then we’d be either looking elsewhere with our investment dollars, or at the very least rethinking how we’d design and employ submarines.

Although the past few decades have seen submarines become more effective rather than less, I think there’s a good chance that they’ll lose that stealthy edge in the future. They’ve had it so good up to now due to advances in radiated noise management, coatings and hull designs to make detection by sonar more difficult. They’ve got ahead of the detector capabilities.

But ultimately there are physical limits to what can be achieved and we’re getting into diminishing returns. Further improvements are possible, but they’ll be smaller than past ones, and likely cost more. And on the detection side, Moore’s Law is going to bring hugely increased processing power so that sorting even weak signals from noise will become faster and more reliable and hiding that much harder.

Recent submarine classes exhibit relatively modest improvements in noise management compared to previous generations. (Source: US Office for Naval Intelligence data, via Wikimedia Commons)

Recent submarine classes exhibit relatively modest improvements in noise management compared to previous generations. (Source: US Office for Naval Intelligence data, via Wikimedia Commons)

The other relevant trend is the development of unmanned platforms: small and relatively uncomplicated drones could be used to collect information and forward it to a powerful central processing hub. If the cost can be kept down, there could be hundreds or thousands of airborne, surface or subsurface drone-based sensor systems deployed in the choke points and littorals where diesel electric submarines are most effective. In my conference paper, I sketch some ways that might work.

That combination is likely to make sneaking large platforms into contested spaces prohibitively difficult. And it complicates life for conventional submarines even more than for nuclear boats because the littorals will be more dangerous than blue water.

I’m not the only one making those observations. USN chief ADM Greenert observed:

The rapid expansion of computing power… ushers in new sensors and methods that will make stealth and its advantages increasingly difficult to maintain above and below the water.

But technological advances tend to cut both ways, and the battle is often to the side with the right combination of technical capability and imagination. Greenert went on to say:

US forces can take advantage of those developments by employing long-range sensor, weapon, and unmanned-vehicle payloads instead of using only stealth platforms and shorter-range systems to reach targets.

Submarines will have to stand off from high-stake situations and exert their influence from a distance by deploying their own long-range remote or autonomous sensors and weapon systems. Rosie Turner’s piece earlier today suggests some future evolutions in unmanned underwater systems.

Those criteria pretty much rule out an ‘evolved Collins’, which probably can’t stretch to those requirements. That leaves us with two broad options:

  1. Go all out with the design of a large, fast, long-range boat that can operate at the highest level in a much more challenging future, or
  2. Temper our ambitions and settle for a fleet that will deliver value for money capability in less than the most challenging situations.

In other words, we have a really big decision to make right up front, and the stakes are pretty high. It’s going to be an interesting ride.

Andrew Davies is senior analyst for defence capability and director of research at ASPI. The full text of the conference talk is available here.

The submarine choice

ASPI's executive director Peter Jennings opening ASPI International Conference 'The Submarine Choice'.

In the tight space of an ASPI blog post, I want to set out the approaches that I believe Government will need to apply to making the submarine choice. Think of them as Jennings’ ‘rules of thumb’— guide posts to help us get to the right decision.

The first rule of thumb is that Government’s consideration of the submarine choice should lead with strategy. We’re not living in the relatively benign world anticipated in the 2012 Asian Century White Paper. In Asia we see a worrying pattern of military strategic competition over disputed territories. North Korea is a continuing challenge. Regional security architecture is under-developed and defence spending across much of the region is climbing. Our wider region is by no means all down-side—indeed, opportunities for growth and cooperation remain strong. But this isn’t a time for retrenching significant defence capabilities. Read more

Speaking in Adelaide recently, just before the state election, the Prime Minister stressed that he saw defence not as ‘some kind of job creation program’ but as ‘a defence of the nation program’. That runs counter to much of the public debate on the submarine choice. But it’s absolutely the right starting point.

The second rule of thumb is that Government should look hard at what roles and missions it wants the submarines to perform. The 2009 White Paper tended to ascribe every possible role to the Collins replacement, including strategic strike, anti-ship and ASW missions, intelligence collection, support for our special forces, and the gathering of battlespace data in support of operations. That list sounds fantastic—because it is. I see no recourse to this other than to take a disciplined approach to thinking through what Australia really needs in terms of capabilities. It’s hard to buy an F-22 on a Cessna budget.

The third rule of thumb is that Government should think about broad capabilities, not just platforms. The future submarine will be part of a broader force, and a broader alliance structure. Success in military operations goes to those who can integrate capabilities into a fighting unit. So, how will the submarine fit into a broader Australian warfighting concept? How will it work with a range of other sub-surface, surface and airborne systems and how will those adapt to changing technological conditions over the life of the capability?

The fourth rule of thumb is: Look at alternatives to deliver capability outcomes. I’d suggest that one of the outcomes of the 2009 white paper has been to keep us focused on twelve platforms. Looking at alternative options to deliver capability is an essential task. For example, there’s a need to think about strike options for the ADF that go beyond the future submarine capability. Perhaps there are other ways to deliver a stand-off strike capability worth pursuing.

The fifth rule of thumb is to ask about the alliance and regional implications. My view is that the US alliance is becoming more, not less important to Australia. A closer alliance creates both risks and opportunities for us. One risk is that the US will increasingly look to its allies to share more of the security burden. But the opportunities for Australia are also great. Apart from the well-understood benefits of access to technology, intelligence and training, there’s a not-inconsiderable benefit of linking American interests much more directly to our own in terms of the stability and security of Southeast Asia.

Moreover, there are regional and global partnership implications, as the Prime Minister’s visit to Japan has made clear. There’s an obvious potential for Australia to strengthen relations with Japan and with a number of European players. There’s an industry core to this, but also a broader strategic point—Australia can use the submarine choice to strengthen key bilateral ties.

The sixth rule of thumb is that healthy scepticism is a virtue. Some years ago I worked for a respected Secretary of Defence and he advised me that a safe course of action was never to believe the first piece of advice offered in relation to any policy issue. I came to appreciate the wisdom of those words. That’s not to attribute fault—imperfect first advice is just a product of the enormous complexity of the issues under consideration, the absence of clear and definitive information, and the low risk-appetite of governments when it comes to projects. Healthy scepticism helps. Some questions that come to mind include: What’s the real basis for the number twelve? Is SLOC protection really a modern requirement? What do our allies really expect? All useful questions to ask.

My second last rule of thumb is that it’s important to remember there’s a wider Defence Force. The scale of the submarine choice is so large that it has the potential to crowd out other necessary acquisitions. Submarines can’t be allowed to turn the ADF into a one-trick pony. Here I want to avoid recourse to the ‘balanced force’ argument. A force can be unbalanced if it meets a country’s particular needs—that’s why the Swiss don’t have a Navy. But Australia can’t afford to under-invest in critical land and air systems or, for that matter, in the surface fleet. Further new investment areas, for example in space and cyber, are emerging. A sustainable submarine choice is one that allows the rest of the ADF to develop as well.

My final rule of thumb is that Industry outcomes should be sustainable, long term and believable. It reveals no secrets to say that industry has high expectations of an approach from government that enables them to make long terms plans and to stick with them. Just as for Defence, the least useful situation for industry is one where there are rapid fluctuations in plans, year-on-year changes to spending profiles, and rapid redesigns of capability requirements.

Peter Jennings is executive director at ASPI. Image (c) ASPI 2014.

The unmanned underwater future

The Distributed Agile Submarine Hunting (DASH) program

As Australia wrestles with the difficult choices surrounding its future submarine, there’s a major part of the story that hasn’t featured prominently in any public discussions. Unmanned land and air platforms have been big success stories in defence innovation over the past decade. Unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) like the Talon and PackBot played an important role in US operations in Iraq. And unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have enhanced surveillance and successfully carried out targeted strike missions around the world. But unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) remain less developed: UUVs haven’t been widely deployed and have a substantially smaller share of research and development (R&D) funds compared to UAVs. But that could be about to change.

As the strategic focus of the US (which remains the current world leader in unmanned platform R&D) shifts from the deserts of the Middle East to the oceans of the Indo-Pacific, UUVs are likely to become more relevant to the US military. Recent reports show that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DAPRA) has requested a doubling of its R&D budget for UUVs. The agency currently has three major UUV projects underway. And considering its track record in ground-breaking innovations (it was behind the early stages of the Internet, global positioning system (GPS) and stealth aircraft) this bodes well for the future of UUVs in defence forces. Read more

Indeed, UUVs might suit the Australian Defence Force (ADF) particularly well given our strategic context. With our vast maritime claim, long coastline to monitor and a vital interest in maintaining free and open sea lines of communication in our region, UUVs could foreseeably carry out key roles contributing to Australia’s strategic interests. UUVs won’t be replacing manned submarines anytime soon. But they’re being considered as key complementary elements to address several operational challenges navies currently face.

For example, UUVs have already been considered by the ADF for SEA 1180’s sea mine-countermeasure (MCM) tasks. It makes sense to keep manned platforms out of harm’s way and UUVs have proven capable of MCM. They’ve also already proven quietly valuable in commercial and academic sectors for a range of tasks from monitoring and laying underwater cables to providing persistent collection of hydrographic and oceanographic data for research.

DARPA’s research, along with reports from the US Defense Force (PDF) and US Navy (PDF) suggests that UUVs could have wide-ranging roles in the future beyond MCM such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), payload delivery and eventually anti-submarine warfare (ASW). A recent article by J. Randy Forbes and Elbridge Colby highlighted UUVs for their potential to penetrate A2/AD networks. Indeed, UUVs’ potential to offer greater range, endurance, persistence and stealth in underwater operations has started to catch the attention of defence forces. Decreasing the risks to blue-force personnel should increase the platform’s flexibility and make UUVs a more effective force multiplier.

DARPA’s Hydra program is a good example of how UUVs might be eventually deployed. Hydra is attempting to address the problem of an over-extended US navy through affordable and rapid force multiplication. The program seeks to create a multi-cell canister of UUVs—capable of both ISR and MCM missions—housed in a single transport container. The container will be delivered by ship, submarine or aircraft to littoral areas and left for weeks or months to perform the required tasks. DARPA also has plans for a large, highly autonomous UUV for ASW that could track the quiet diesel-electric submarines that have posed challenges for traditional tracking methods. This UUV could follow submarines over vast distances and for months at a time, effectively removing the stealth advantage.

Remembering that DARPA’s projects are far from operational reality for now deployment, so those concepts might still be as distant glimmer in the eye of the RAN. But UUVs have already proven capable of persistent oceanographic data collection. Often overlooked as an important mission for navies, oceanography contributes to situational awareness of the undersea environment, aiding information superiority and informed decision making. Oceanography will be vital to the safe use of Australia’s future submarines. So as we set about making a decision on this, we should also be considering technologies that can support and enhance the use of our high-value platforms.

Still, UUVs come with a disclaimer; the technology is in its infancy and lags behind unmanned land and air equivalents. Communication with submerged platforms is highly challenging and that problem is compounded when you remove the human from the platform. As such, UUVs require a high level of autonomy to navigate the oceans. Current designs still have trouble recognising and avoiding things as benign as fishing nets (PDF, p. 65), let alone anything that might be more hostile, stealthy and manoeuvrable. Additional issues with propulsion, energy use and payload capacity add to the complexity of developing UUVs for naval operations.

Despite those technological challenges, the unmanned underwater future looks promising. UUVs already offer valuable functions for naval operations and the current interest in the US suggests these systems could become a higher priority for investment. While Australia should focus on UUVs with proven capabilities in MCM and oceanography, we should also keep a keen eye on developments in ISR and ASW capabilities.

Rosalyn Turner is an intern at ASPI. Image courtesy of DARPA.