Introducing Sea State: a weekly maritime security update
2 Feb 2015|

Ahead of ASPI’s Australia’s Future Surface Fleet Conference (30 March to 1 April, here in Canberra) we’ll be bringing you a new feature: a weekly update on maritime strategy and security issues, from here in Australia and internationally.

First, it’s worth noting the recent visit by Australia’s new Defence Minister, Kevin Andrews, to Australia’s Government-owned ship builder the Australian Submarine Corporation. He agreed to meet with South Australian State Defence Industries Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith, after initially declining the meeting. The South Australia government and Hamilton-Smith have been vocal supporters of local shipbuilding. Here’s the press release and the transcript of the Minister’s remarks from the visit, during which he said:

The Australian Government has not yet decided on a particular submarine design and more work is required before such a decision is made. Decisions about this next generation of submarines need to be made on the basis of what is best for our Armed Forces and our national security.

The visit had a particular resonance following then-Defence Minister David Johnston’s remarks in November last year that he ‘wouldn’t trust [the ASC] to build a canoe’—a statement the Senator later said he regretted.

For those interested in a bit more reading, ASPI has a long-standing interest in this issue, and there’s recent work here and here on the topic, as well as a lot of material on The Strategist here.

Further north, Taiwan’s Navy is bulking-up. It took delivery recently of a 20,000-tonne fast combat-support ship, the Panshih. That comes on the heels of the December 2014 delivery of the prototype of a stealthy catamaran (Tuo Jiang class), which will be only 500 tonnes, but will carry eight supersonic anti-ship Hsuing Feng III missiles.

North again, the South Korean Navy received its third Incheon class guided-missile frigate earlier in January, which is to be commissioned in May.

And turning to the US, an operational concept by any other name… AirSea Battle has had a makeover, and is now called the Joint Concept for Access and Manoeuvre in the Global Commons (JAM-GC). The name change was announced in a memo from the Pentagon’s Joint Staff Director. The concept formerly known as AirSea Battle will now be run from the Pentagon’s Joint Staff J-7 directorate, which looks after joint force development.

The USN’s focus on the western Pacific continues, with the announcement that it will forward-deploy a Ticonderoga class guided-missile cruiser to Japan this year. That’ll be the first ship deployed to the region that uses the newest version of the Aegis System, designed to provide both air and missile defence at the same time.

China inducted its newest frigate, another Type 054A, into the East Sea Fleet earlier in January. The ‘A’ variant has upgraded anti-air defences compared to the baseline Type 054.

Finally this week—of interest to strategists on both sides of the Pacific, and to anybody considering the purchase of new submarines—the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington has a new paper, The Emerging Era in Undersea Warfare:

Today, many American leaders assume quiet U.S. submarines can access almost any ocean area, even those defended by enemy A2/AD systems. New ASW technologies and improvements to non-nuclear undersea platforms, however, will likely enable adversaries to complement their surface and air A2/AD networks with undersea surveillance and attack systems. These may not have the reach of anti-ship ballistic missiles or modern surface-to-air missiles, but they have the potential to make the undersea littorals of a potential adversary an increasingly denied zone. Consequently, unless U.S. forces adapt to and lead the new competition, the era of unrivalled U.S. undersea dominance could draw to a surprisingly abrupt close.

ASPI’s Andrew Davies flagged some of those themes last year at our conference on the submarine choice.

Harry White is an analyst at ASPI. Image courtesy of Flickr user enki22.