Home > Economics - General > What do destroyers destroy? What do frigates … ?

What do destroyers destroy? What do frigates … ?

August 25th, 2015

The Abbott government is copping plenty of flak (metaphor used advisedly) over its obvious politicking with respect to the construction of a new class of guided-missile frigate for the Royal Australian Navy. The project with total costs touted at $90 billion is promised to create lots of jobs in South Australia, perhaps replacing those when the same government, in its free-market incarnation, welcome the death of the car industry.

Rather than pile on, I’ll ask a question which, from past experience, I know is bound to annoy many. What are these things supposed to do?

As far as I can tell, guided-missile frigates are supposed to shoot down aircraft and missiles, but this seems, on the face of things, to be an absurd proposition. Pitting an effectively stationary boat, costing the better part of a billion dollars, against missiles (fired from land or from aircraft), travelling at the speed of sound or more, and costing a million dollars apiece, seems like a hopelessly lopsided contest.

Of course, it’s just about impossible to test this proposition. AFAIK, the only conflict in which surface ships have actually engaged in combat with aircraft using missiles was the Falklands, more than thirty years ago. That didn’t appear decisive: the Royal Navy managed a win against the air force of a Third World country, but took some heavy losses in the process. But technology has advanced a long way since then, and there’s no way of testing which side of such conflicts it now favours. So, naval advocates can make up whatever claims they like about the capabilities of the ships we keep on buying.

Of course, the fact that there has been so little naval warfare in the last 70 years or so seems to me to be a very strong argument for spending less on money on warships.

Readers will be aware that I think war is almost always disastrous for both sides, that most military spending is wasteful and harmful, but that I know this to be a minority view. Even given that, the case against spending money on navies (and particularly surface fleets) seems so overwhelming to me that I’m amazed to find hardly anyone in agreement.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:
  1. Ken_L
    August 25th, 2015 at 13:40 | #1

    Blue water vessels are necessary to enable us to participate in any distant conflict in which our Great and Powerful Friends might tell us our presence is required. And of course to reassure frightened old Liberals that Vaucluse will never again be shelled by enemy submarines.

  2. David Allen
    August 25th, 2015 at 13:49 | #2

    Haha, exactly. I thought the same about the 2nd hand Abrams tanks that are too heavy for most bridges, the F35 “Camel” that will never be useful, more submarines than we have crews to sail them, etc.

    As per KenL, the frigates are penis extensions to make us feel important.

    Now, if they bought a fleet of ships/aircraft/vehicles suited to help in natural disasters and other useful roles then good, otherwise, waste of money.

  3. David Irving (no relation)
    August 25th, 2015 at 13:57 | #3

    Your headline reminds me of an old song, about frigging in the rigging …

    More seriously, we probably do need a navy of some sort (and not just for terrorizing reffos), but we’d probably get our best value-for-money from submarines. The problem, of course, is manning them. Submariners are hard to find, to the point that a lot of the reason we never had more than three Collins class subs operational at any time was a shortage of crews. I don’t know how the Navy plans on finding enough crews for a dozen of the things.

  4. David Irving (no relation)
    August 25th, 2015 at 13:59 | #4

    @David Allen
    We also didn’t have anything that was capable of moving them around at the time we bought them.

  5. August 25th, 2015 at 14:00 | #5

    John, some very pertinent questions. I would add that by the time we get the submarines built, they could very well be obsolete. There are or will be drones that can find any submarine and fire missiles at them. We could lose the whole fleet of subs in one morning of warfare. I am sure there is a plan somewhere for precisely this to happen. We lost the opportunity to invest in schools while this was going on.

    I agree with you that war is inherently a wasteful and mutually destructive activity that it is folly to undertake it. I would go further and point out that it is economic folly for any state in Australia to invest too heavily in building weapons systems, just as it was folly to invest in building fuel-inefficient cars instead of public transport. The additional folly of tooling-up to build tanks, field guns or naval ships is particularly risky as these products cannot be re-purposed into anything we could call socially useful.

    Recently, Geraldine Doogue was on ABC RN gushing about the exciting economic prospects of Darwin. She called it a great leap forward. mentioned an LNG export loader (which will be vulnerable to world commodity prices – and did not have a proper environmental assessment) and, importantly, defence constituted 10% of the economy. This is not where I would bet money. http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/saturdayextra/darwin/6695082

    I thought I heard the Coalition boasting soon after the 2013 election that defence would be raised to 2% of the Commonwealth Budget. It would seem that decisions have been made (without any reference to the people of Australia) that Darwin would be massively over-represented. Someone is gaming the system by loading up the NT investment portfolio in an unproductive, heavily-subsidised ‘industry’. What a disaster for Darwin if there was no war, or conversely if there was a war. No win!

    Regards
    Willy Bach

  6. Gerard
    August 25th, 2015 at 14:25 | #6

    All good points, and I agree that we need to go back to basics and ask the question of what role our military should actually be playing going forward.

    The reality is that if a larger country wants to pick a fight, we have to rely on our allies to help us win. Which would suggest that being a good global citizen is likely to be in our interest.

    Absolutely need to have military like capacity to support “policing actions” and assist in disaster relief efforts. Some border awareness is a good thing, but we really don’t need to be able to blow us fishing boats, because it would be cheaper to manage the issue through other mechanisms. When there are larger scale conflicts, it is very useful to be able to contribute forces to show that we are good global citizens and to encourage others to help us should we have issues in future.

    The idea I have promulgated for some time, is that we need to have a military with some global scale capability, but we should become a niche provider. So rather than provide all aspects of military capability, we should pick a few. That way when other countries want us to help out, we can, but we don’t have to support such a huge and expensive bunch of equipment.

    So what would that look like. no need for subs or capital ships. Some literal ship capability, transport and landing vessels to support disaster relief efforts. I like the idea of having world class hospital ships that could be deployed to support foreign aid programs or military action on a global scale. Would give us a reputation globally for helping out, at a more manageable cost. Ditch most of the fast jets, focus on logistics, long range detection, etc. Maintain our army recon capacity, commandos, SAS and engineers, but remove armour and artillery. We don’t need either and if we are deploying overseas we can work with other countries.

    A more specialised solution would save us heaps and still meet our objectives.

    Sell ourselves to the world

  7. wilful
    August 25th, 2015 at 14:30 | #7

    Without claiming to be anything more than an armchair admiral, I know that a lot of senior war type people not-so-secretly agree with you, that surface vessels in a modern high-tech conflict are basically stuffed and obsolete. Hypersonic ship killing missiles such as (but not limited to) the DF-21 and the Sunburn would very quickly turn any Australian or US fleet into a smouldering wreck.

    If we are to have large ships, “to project power” or whatever, it should be soft power and we would have reasons to have a big amphibious ship or three (just like what we’re getting), for humanitarian missions or peacekeeping etc, with a hospital and lots of helipads and stores and the ability to transport ground troops/peacekeepers. But if it got nasty, they would need to be somewhere safe like Melbourne.

  8. August 25th, 2015 at 15:50 | #8

    Surface ships have no defence against ballistic missiles. If you are sitting in a three billion dollar frigate and someone fires a ballistic missile at you, you are basically dead. Your survival will depend upon there being a software error or physical malfunction in the missile itself, which is not a good position to be in.

    The US is supposedly developing laser and other defences that may possibly be able to stop current ballistic anti-ship missiles, but they are little more than science fiction at the moment. And one should no more build a ship that will get everyone on board killed unless a future defence is developed any more than one’s plan should be to attack a Roman legion while naked in the hope that in the meantime Getafix the Druid will come up with a magic potion to make you invulnerable.

    In fact, given the very broad use the word terrorism gets put to these days, politicians and defence force members who conspire to place hundred of Australian naval personal in a situation where their survival depends entirely on an enemy deciding not to attack them, may be guilty of it. And I suggest they be arrested and prosecuted to the full unclear extent of our nebulous anti-terrorism laws.

    Currently one estimate is that it costs $5,000 in aid to save one human life, so instead of a three billion dollar frigate Australia could save 600,000 lives. I think that 600,000 firm friends might actually be of better use in a future conflict than 200 dead Australians in a frigate at the bottom of the sea.

  9. Ikonoclast
    August 25th, 2015 at 15:53 | #9

    If you are going to field a defence force at all then you cannot afford to ignore a medium in your region. This means land, air and sea for Australia. The important question is what you field in each medium. If you can’t afford the serious capital ships to field a carrier strike group, and Australia can’t, then one can only assume the navy’s role is largely;

    (a) defensive in the home region; and/or
    (b) to support very small landings in the home region (south west Pacific); and/or
    (c) to support US naval operations anywhere.

    (I am not endorsing all these roles, just describing them.)

    So, is the mix of ships correct for these roles? Basically, the answer is yes for now I think. However, the advent and improvement of missiles, drones and multiple light or mini-assault platforms could radically change this assessment. The day could arrive when clouds of mini-drones could do all sorts of mischief.

    Being perforce required, by sort of “precautionary exigency” to buy potentially soon-to-be obsolete ships is bad enough. But doubling down to build them for ridiculous prioce-tags is downright stupid.

    To totally vacate a medium (sea in this case) could invite trouble and is not doctrinally or logically consistent in any way. It could only make sense if one was actually advocating complete disarmament IF that in turn was logical and sensible.

    However, using naval ship construction as a job creation exercise in Australia is really stupid. We don’t get many jobs for the money and we don’t get very many (any?) good ships for the money either.

    Footnote:

    The serious modern capital ships are;

    (a) the nuclear powered supercarrier with an air wing of 80 to 90 or more aircraft;
    (b) the nuclear powered attack submarine; and
    (c) the nuclear powered strategic submarine with submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs);

    A U.S. Navy carrier strike group typically includes:

    (1) A supercarrier;
    (2) The carrier air wing;
    (3) One or two Aegis guided missile cruisers (CG);
    (4) A destroyer squadron;
    (5) Up to two attack submarines.
    (6) A combined ammunition, oiler and supply ship.

  10. Ikonoclast
    August 25th, 2015 at 16:07 | #10

    @Ronald Brak

    These fancy weapons you describe are not fielded by the Fijian navy, refugee boats or any other tinpot force or non-force we are likely to go up against locally. Obviously, Indonesia is not tinpot. But so far as I know, only Russia, China, Iran and the USA have anti-ship ballistic missiles.

    Most commentators here seem to be considering only tactics and not strategy. Iran could possibly hit and destroy a US supercarrier with an anti-ship ballistic missile. Tell me, do you think this would be a good strategic move? I think one could pretty much guarantee that Iran would shortly thereafter cease to exist as anything that could be called a functioning nation state. I am not endorsing this likely US riposte, just pointing out its strategic near certainty.

  11. Ernestine Gross
    August 25th, 2015 at 16:26 | #11

    “Readers will be aware that I think war is almost always disastrous for both sides, that most military spending is wasteful and harmful, but that I know this to be a minority view.”

    The difficulty, as I see it, is that each person in the world doesn’t really know the views of each of the n-1 other persons (older than say 10 years) in the world and, even if they would know and find out it is the great majority who share your views (say GE 75%) they wouldn’t know how to coordinate themselves in this so-called ‘global economy’ to implement their preferences. Finally, unless 100% share your view, the possibility cannot be excluded that the (100-x) % > 0 form at least 2 coalitions who want destruction.

    I am also in two minds about the benefit of political history (which, as far as I know, is the branch of history that deals with wars). On the one hand it is important to know what happened in the past and the associated hypothesis as to why it did happen. On the other hand, it is this knowledge which may make it difficult to stop learning the lesson that peace is not the natural state of humanity. But without the imagination of the future being different from the past, how can things change for the better? And where will this leave ‘evidence based decision making’?

  12. Chris O’Neill
    August 25th, 2015 at 17:14 | #12

    the fact that there has been so little naval warfare in the last 70 years or so seems

    Even before 70 years ago, one of the most abjectly useless of Naval forces was that stationed at Singapore. They had the excuse of being on the wrong side of the causeway from the side that the Japanese mounted their invasion but they could have mounted a bit more defensive action in that area.

  13. Brett
    August 25th, 2015 at 17:20 | #13

    Destroyers are anti-submarine and escort ships. Given that the Chinese like using subs, I’d say they’re pretty useful as an insurance policy to keep your waters open if you don’t want to rely entirely on the US to do so in a dispute or conflict.

    Ships are certainly not obsolete because of missiles. They move around in the advent of a conflict, and there are existing anti missile defense systems like Aegis.

  14. August 25th, 2015 at 17:47 | #14

    Ikonoclast, surely you are not suggesting that it is a good idea to build ships that have no defence against being destroyed by an enemy because we are unlikely to get into a fight with an enemy? Because if so, that makes about as much sense as saying we should buy glass cars that shatter when they hit a pot hole because we are unlikely to drive them.

    You wrote, “But so far as I know, only Russia, China, Iran and the USA have anti-ship ballistic missiles.” The INS destroyer Eilat (formally HNS Zealous) was sunk by an Egyptian anti-ship ballistic missile in 1967. Things have not gotten better since then. In fact, we can go back to the sinking of the Repulse and Prince of Wales in 1941 to see how vulnerable large ships are to things that drop from the sky. A modern missile frigate has little defence against being destroyed by a swarm of Cessnas dropping world war two bombs. Bombs that could be self guiding these days with technology found in a typical smart phone and the addtion of movable fins.

    You wrote, “Iran could possibly hit and destroy a US supercarrier with an anti-ship ballistic missile.” That is not correct. If an anti-ship ballistic missile is targeted at a US carrier, then unless the missile malfunctions, the US carrier will be sunk or at least severely damaged. Surface ships have no defence against ballistic missiles.

    Surface ships also have no defence against submarines.

    Surface ships also have limited defence against a swarm of bomb carrying speed boats piloted by people who’ve had family members killed by drone or cruise missile attacks. (Something to keep in mind if we ever end up aiding an ally that has killed people with drone or cruise missile attacks.)

    Surface ships also have no real defence against mines in congested waters or dropped by Cessnas or speed boats in their likely path.

    Surface ships have no real defence against explosive dingy attacks such as the one carried out on the USS Cole in any port they don’t have complete control over.

    So I don’t really see the point of spending billions of dollars on something that is useless at dealing with “rogue Fijian elements” while also being useless at its stated purpose of being useful in a war. In fact, missile frigates are worse than useless as they are basically very expensive death traps that will waste the lives of naval personnel. It would be far better to spend a few million dollars on anti-ship ballistic missiles instead.

  15. August 25th, 2015 at 17:59 | #15

    Brett, the Aegis missile defence system doesn’t work againt anti-ship ballistic missiles. It can only potentially stop missiles that follow a ballistic course from launch, such as a scud. Anti-ship ballistic missiles fly close to the surface remaining under the ship’s horizon for most of their flight before popping up as they approach and taking a ballistic course. The Aegis missile defence cannot react in time.

  16. August 25th, 2015 at 18:17 | #16

    Ikonoclast, I described the anti-ship missile that sank the Eilat as being ballistic. That is not correct. Looking it up I see the missiles followed non-ballistic trajectories against which defences can work. The Israeli destroyer used its defences, they didn’t work, it sank.

  17. Tim Macknay
    August 25th, 2015 at 18:44 | #17

    @Ronald Brak

    You wrote, “Iran could possibly hit and destroy a US supercarrier with an anti-ship ballistic missile.” That is not correct. If an anti-ship ballistic missile is targeted at a US carrier, then unless the missile malfunctions, the US carrier will be sunk or at least severely damaged. Surface ships have no defence against ballistic missiles.

    Seems like you were in heated agreement to me.

  18. Newtownian
    August 25th, 2015 at 19:15 | #18

    @Ronald Brak
    I know you mean well Ronald but most/many of your assertions are in error or very selective. You really need to have a look at the Wiki guide to Boys Toys which I find I admit fascinating. On the surface the current weaponry looks similar to the old armoured cruiser which serves as a Monopoly board toke but really there is little comparison.

    Donning my Commodore’s hat e.g.:
    – You corrected the Eilat mistake which is good but your putting it up in the first place indicates you need to do a bit more reading.
    – In response to cruise missiles you should have added there are now items such as Phalanx gattling guns which are normal fair now and designed to deal with these kinds of missiles.
    – Most antiship missiles have a limited range of about 200-300 km at most so you need to consider that its easy to hit a ship 500 m away but 200 km is another matter altogether.
    – Regarding no protection against submarines surely you have heard of the dinky di Ikara system. Most destroyers and frigates also have helicopters equipped with homing torpedoes.
    – Basic ballistic missiles arent that well suited to hitting moving targets unless they have nuclear warheads. Modern ships can travel a km a minute so unless your ballistic missile is launched from nearby and has very sophisticated guidance its not necessarily sufficient.
    – Small speedboats are an issue in constrained waters and where there are concerns about civilians. But this doesnt describe the Australian litoral waters.

    If you are going to analyse any engagement probably the only good example is the 30 year old Malvinas affair which illustrates how things happen at long distances at which serious national forces are likely to engage. And even this conflict is a problematic model when you consider the changes in technology between then and now – think of the difference between 1950 and 1982 to get an idea.

    As to where things will be in 10 or 30 years time who can say given the technology is moving so fast. And returning to the frigates and destroyers, though most recent use has been for close to short activities they seem to be designed not for a rerun of Jutland or even the Pacific War battles you see celebrated at the War Memorial but as mobile hard to track bases hundreds of km from the locations of action.

    Its of interesting to prognosticate on this subject but truth be told on the technical aspects none of us really has a clue about the full set of pros and cons.

    As to the final question of are these ships a waste? In respect to alternative uses of resources of course they are. But then who said our society is efficient – the fleets of 4WDs illustrate that us civilians are just as prone to fetish as the military.

  19. J-D
    August 25th, 2015 at 19:18 | #19

    @Brett

    When I read the first line of John Quiggin’s title (‘What do destroyers destroy?’) the thought that came into my head was ‘Didn’t they get that name from their role as destroyers of submarines?’ When I looked it up, however, I found that the first ships to be designated ‘destroyers’ were in fact known more fully as ‘torpedo boat destroyers’, and the role in anti-submarine operations was a subsequent development.

    I guess if you’re expecting people with submarines (or torpedo boats?) to use them to attack your ships (or ships transporting your cargoes, or cargoes for you), then it’s probably worth having some destroyers for protection. But should we–I mean Australians–expect that? What are the chances that the Chinese, or anybody else, will start trying to sink ships on their way to or from Australia (using submarines, or torpedo boats, or anything else)? Maybe the chance of anything like that happening is so exiguous that for practical purposes it can be ignored, and if that is the case then the argument in favour of Australia having destroyers pretty much collapses.

  20. Sancho
    August 25th, 2015 at 19:21 | #20

    Not having any special knowledge here, I find Brett’s comment compelling. We should at least have the capacity to find and destroy subs in Australia’s waters.

    The ASEAN states won’t be too happy with China floating around either, so to what extent is our navy planning for cooperation with them?

  21. Donald Oats
    August 25th, 2015 at 19:23 | #21

    @Ronald Brak
    Isn’t there a system called Phalanx which is used for defending against low altitude incoming missiles? I’ve seen footage of it firing and it is a blizzard of metal, from the missile’s perspective. I’m no expert though, so I’ve no idea if this system has been beaten by technological improvements in missile flight measures, or something.

    To wage war against another nation, first you must get within range to use your weapons. While ICBMs can theoretically reach any other nation, to be effective they would need to be nuclear, and would inevitably have large collateral casualties upon strike. To use the more sophisticated, and perhaps more discreet, weapons, the range gap must be closed, so that implies use of something to carry the weapons into range of the enemy. There is an entire logistical chain which is essential to keep intact if a war is to be waged for more than a few hours. There is no way around that. The logistical requirement therefore implies carriers, and protection for the carriers, whether the carriers are planes, trucks, or carrier ships of some sort. Ships are the one mobile carrier which can shift geographical position while retaining a huge magazine “warehouse” and fuel and food, medical supplies, etc. So even though ships are slow moving on an individual basis, they are a rapid mover of large supply points from one spot to another.

    If two fairly large modern nations of similar size go to war, it would be very tempting to use nukes to cut down the navy’s logistics, and to disrupt civilian and military infrastructure on a massive scale. If there is a land corridor between them, perhaps nukes would be less attractive; on the other hand, if you feel that you are beginning to lose the conventional war…

  22. J-D
    August 25th, 2015 at 19:24 | #22

    @Ernestine Gross
    The conclusion suggested to me by what I know of history is that both peace and war are compatible with human nature. Human nature is more flexible than people often suppose.

  23. Ikonoclast
    August 25th, 2015 at 20:32 | #23

    @Ronald Brak

    I think my comments stand. Newtonian has outlined why.

    From an article in National Interest titled “Should America Fear China’s “Carrier-Killer” Missile?”

    “The USN is very concerned about the DF-21D, which is one reason it’s working so hard on ship-borne anti-ballistic missile (ABM) technology. The USN is also working on other countermeasures, including strikes on DF-21 launch sites at the onset of war (potentially delivered from nuclear cruise missile submarines (SSGNs), and electronic warfare.

    This is why it’s so important to emphasize the importance of the ancillary ISR and communication system that make the DF-21D possible. The US doesn’t need to destroy every launcher, or shoot down every missile in flight. Both of those represent important capabilities, but the key task is to disrupt the system that supports the missile, making it hard for China to identify, target, and strike US carrier groups.

    No one knows what would happen if the Second Artillery launched a salvo of DF-21Ds at a US carrier battle group. Some percentage (depending on reliability) would invariably go astray without US help. US escorts would shoot down some percentage with ship-board ABM systems. Electronic disruption would cause some to plunge harmlessly into the ocean. And finally, some might hit a carrier, or hit carrier escorts. A successful hit will almost certainly result in at least a “mission kill,” disabling a US carrier for the remainder of the conflict.”

    All of this illustrates that if conflict ever escalated to this level, it’s not going to be any kind of isolated “one ballistic missile versus one ship” scenario. It’s one entire military system versus another entire military system. There will be measures and counter-measures at system wide levels. At that level of alert, carrier strike forces don’t just blunder into range (about 1,000 miles) which is another assumption you seem to make.

    However, an unprovoked attack without warning by say Iran with a Chinese equivalent missile on a US supercarrier near the Gulf could possibly get through. Who knows what the probability is? I doubt it is 100% as you assume. Let’s assume it’s 50% which are still nasty odds for such a dire event. As I said before, commentators here are thinking only at the tactical level and not at the strategic level. What strategic sense would it make for Iran to launch such an attack? The reply attack would pretty much destroy Iran as a viable nation state. The ability for massive retaliation is a defence measure in its own right.

    None of this is to say I support the Australian Navy’s current force structure or projected acquisitions. I don’t know enough to comment on that. However, I don’t support using naval ship building in Australia as a job creation program. That will just give us expensive, poor ships and a poor job creation program.

    However, J.Q. needs to stump up and propose his alternative defence policy for Australia. Does it involve;

    (1) Unilateral disarmament? or
    (2) Simply no navy? or
    (3) Some radical re-structure of our navy?

    Any kind of simplistic military theory that “Big assets can be hit therefore we must have no big assets” or “the cost of a weapon strike is less than the cost of a military asset therefore we must have no military assets” is really not going to stand up to scrutiny in military theory (though it is probably very good economic theory). You have to understand the roles of big military assets and of small distributed, numerous military assets and how they work together before you can start making judgments or even developing theories about this. This is unless you are prepared to take the outright unilateral disarmament path.

  24. August 25th, 2015 at 20:33 | #24

    Following Ikonoclast, the reason for buying a guided missile destroyer or cruiser is to protect your aircraft carrier, which Australia has 0 of. I don’t know whether a USN carrier group can protect itself against current and future anti-ship missiles, but it clearly has a lot of options. It can fly look-down AWACs planes to warn of launches, take out the launch platforms with airstrikes, and in future fire powerful anti-missile lasers from the carrier. None of this holds for an isolated destroyer or cruiser.

  25. Ikonoclast
    August 25th, 2015 at 20:58 | #25

    @Ernestine Gross

    This sounds like a corollary of the “offensive realism” theories of John Mearsheimer.

    (1) All states possess some offensive military capability.
    (2) States can never be certain of the intentions of other states.
    (3) States have survival as their primary goal.
    (4) States are rational actors capable of coming up with strategies which they believe will maximize their prospects for survival.
    (5) Great powers are the main actors in world politics and the international system is anarchical.
    (6) Great powers are power-maximising innovators seeking final hegemony in preference to balancing strategies.

    Note: “anarchical” in this context means there is no power above the competing great powers.

  26. J-D
    August 25th, 2015 at 21:15 | #26

    @Ikonoclast

    John Quiggin wrote ‘the case against spending money on navies … seems … overwhelming to me’. Subject to anything further he may have to say on the subject, I think that’s sufficient evidence to justify concluding that one element of his alternative defence strategy for Australia is ‘have no navy’.

    So what’s wrong with that? What would happen if Australia decided on a complete decommissioning of its navy? If we adopted that policy, one thing we would no longer have to worry about is an enemy sinking our naval vessels, because we wouldn’t have any to be sunk. What else would happen? Would submarines start sinking merchant shipping in Australian waters? Nobody has any advantage to gain from that, or any other reason to attempt it. So what else?

    Maybe what would happen would be that Australian Prime Ministers and Defence Ministers would feel small when they’re hanging around with leaders and defence ministers from other countries. You know what? I think we could live with that.

  27. Ikonoclast
    August 25th, 2015 at 21:36 | #27

    @James Wimberley

    That is very true for a major power and that is what I was driving at. However, secondary powers like Australia might have other valid reasons. I said “might”. One reason might be to supplement your ally’s carrier group or at least operate under its umbrella. Another reason might be that if you don’t have the offensive power of a supercarrier, you might at least need the offensive ship to ship and ship to shore power of frigates for example (mainly via missiles). Or you might need their defensive power to cover an amphibious ship. Clearly, this could only apply to operations in your own immediate region.

    Without a carrier group of its own, a nation’s navy is going to have to operate under the air cover of an ally’s carrier group and under its own land based air cover. Again this points to us having a merely regional navy when it is operating on its own.

    All I am saying is that it is not an open and shut case that we should have no frigates and no submarines. We don’t appear to have any active destroyers that I can see in fleet lists.

    Our frigates have anti-submarine and anti-aircraft capabilities and some have guided-missile capabilities. Missiles and aircraft with missiles can hit them but again a well operated navy just does not range out blindly into enemy aircraft and missile range if there is a state of war or high alert. There seem to be all sorts of assumptions above that various matters like missile ranges, air cover, strategy, tactics, force coordination, measures and counter-measures simply don’t exist. There’s apparently just a single helpless, defenceless ship facing an in-range anti-ship missile (got in range by magic maybe?) in an operational void?

    Mind you, one can make all these arguments and one successful enemy missile strike can make one look very stupid. One cannot discount that we are at an inflection point of some kind when it comes to missile, drones and mini-drones etc. But there are the matters of range, duration, projection and platforms. The enemy missile needs a platform too.

  28. J-D
    August 25th, 2015 at 21:42 | #28

    @Ikonoclast

    Without a carrier group of its own, a nation’s navy is going to have to operate under the air cover of an ally’s carrier group and under its own land based air cover.

    No; not if it has no navy.

  29. Ikonoclast
    August 25th, 2015 at 22:01 | #29

    @J-D

    It’s a long argument. I don’t think ignoring a medium (air, land or sea) is viable for the military of even a second rate power like Australia. I’ve made some of the arguments above. The idea that a significant island nation or island continent should have no navy is certainly… unique in the annals.

    Whether we should have a military at all is another question. However, since I adopt the position that the theory of offensive realism (summarised in my post 25 above) is descriptively correct (describes the international order as it actually is) then I am not in favour of unilaterally disarming.

    From a military standpoint, an a mere armchair general, I would say Australia should adopt a wholly defensive posture. We have an admirable, indeed an almost a perfect defensive position geostrategically… or at least as good as it gets on this planet. We have a relatively small economy and population. It’s plenty for defence but vastly inadequate for offence and power projection in this world. There is absolutely nothing whatsoever for us to gain from overseas “adventures”.

  30. Ikonoclast
    August 25th, 2015 at 22:13 | #30

    Here’s an interesting and odd point of view. I am not saying I endorse it. Indeed, I would say I find the article illogical. What in heck is the writer saying about Carrier power and its relevance to India? Is he saying it’s worth having just for the prestige? If that’s his argument it’s a damned silly one.

    http://thediplomat.com/2013/12/ins-vikramaditya-and-the-aircraft-carrier-debate/

  31. August 25th, 2015 at 22:18 | #31

    I’ll make a few points in general:

    First, I am certainly not up to date on all the details of military technology, but I am sure if the basic problem that extremely expensive capital ships with large crews can be sunk or damaged at low cost and low risk by an attacker had been solved, someone would have mentioned it to me.

    The Phalanx is not effective against ballistic missiles. That is ones that come in from above. It can only be elevated to 70%. And even if it could be elevated 90 degrees it may not be able to stop ballistic missiles or ballistic missile pieces which may possibly be travelling at mach 10 and quite capable of passing through the deck of a frigate. Falling Phalanx rounds would also be a danger, although exploding ammunition could be used to reduce that problem.

    There is no real defence against submarines. There are a wide range of anti-submarine weapons and they are all deterrents, not defences. They may destroy a submarine after it has given away it position by attacking but there is no reliable way of defending against a submarine’s initial attack.

    Automated systems that can guide ballistic missiles to targets are now quite cheap. Or at least cheap compared to the cost of a three billion dollar frigate. Not every missile will hit, it’s quite common for military equipment not to work as advertised, but Australia’s Popeye missiles were one million each, so what are we looking at these days? Two million a missile? If one in three hit that’s $6 million to sink or badly damage a $3 billion dollar frigate.

    I am not aware of any defence that can reliably protect a frigate or a carrier from a modern anti-ship ballistic missile once it has been launched and has detected its target. The time between when it starts its pop up manoeuvre and hitting its target is apparently too short fo the current Aegis missile shield system to respond. And other systems such as the Phalanx are apparently ineffective. Now nothing is certain, and maybe the ship will get lucky, but that’s not a very good defence.

    And maybe our frigates will be built with some top secret totes works for realz defence against ballistic anti-ship missiles, but if that is the case I am unware of it. Or unwilling to admit that I am.

  32. Chris O’Neill
    August 26th, 2015 at 00:22 | #32

    The basic Wikpedia article seems relevant here.

    For example, some warships, such as the U.S. Navy’s Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruisers, the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers, and the Royal Navy’s Type 45 guided missile destroyer, use a combination of powerful and agile radar systems, integrated computer fire-control systems, and agile surface-to-air missiles to simultaneously track, engage, and destroy several incoming antiship missiles and/or hostile warplanes at a time.

    And:

    Recent years have seen a growing amount of attention being paid to the possibility of ballistic missiles being re-purposed or designed for an anti-ship role. Speculation has focused on the development of such missiles for use by China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy. Such an anti-ship ballistic missile would approach its target extremely rapidly, making it very difficult to intercept.[5]

    Clearly, being on a ship being shot at by anti-ship missiles is not for the faint-hearted.

  33. Megan
    August 26th, 2015 at 00:54 | #33

    This is all bogus.

    We are run by stooges and puppets of the US empire. “We” only buy, build or otherwise get what the US military industrial security surveillance financial complex either wants, or allows, us to get. And we pay dearly for whatever rubbish we end up with. It has nothing to do with “defence” of Australia and everything to do with US militarism and propping up a failing empire that is way past its “legitimacy date”.

    On Friday our brave leader told us the Pentagon had rung him on the hotline desperately pleading for proud, brave, dead, Aussie-Digger assistance to save the world from the streeemists in Syria.

    Turns out, unsurprisingly – and as many of us suspected at the time, that he made the whole thing up. It was Abbott who begged the US to “ask” Australia for “help”.

    Nicky Hager (NZ investigative journalist and author) wrote about precisely the same tactic employed by NZ forces to get themselves in good with uncle sam, at great expense to NZ taxpayers and for absolutely no value whatsoever.

  34. TerjeP
    August 26th, 2015 at 01:38 | #34

    Readers will be aware that I think war is almost always disastrous for both sides, that most military spending is wasteful and harmful, but that I know this to be a minority view. Even given that, the case against spending money on navies (and particularly surface fleets) seems so overwhelming to me that I’m amazed to find hardly anyone in agreement.

    The defence policy of the Liberal Democrats essentially says most of those things. Specifically it envisages the surface navy being scrapped with the exception of some assets to be transferred to a coast guard service.

    See here: http://www.ldp.org.au/index.php/policies/1218-policy-on-defence

    16. Most of the navy’s surface fleet would be sold to help fund new acquisitions. Some patrol boats and frigates may be kept to establish a coast guard while hospital, supply and amphibious capability may be retained for humanitarian disaster relief.

    The policy trims the military in a number of other ways and introduces new constraints on how it could be used and how it’s use can be authorised.

  35. Brett
    August 26th, 2015 at 06:12 | #35

    @Ronald Brak

    Are you talking about that Chinese missile? It’s hard to say what that thing can do anyways, given the limitation of knowledge about it. But in any case, I’m not convinced yet that the problems with using them have gotten any easier. The big problem is the system of finding and targeting a rapidly moving carrier group with said anti-ship ballistic missiles fast enough so that the carrier group hasn’t significantly moved by the time the missile gets there. I’m not convinced the Chinese have that for ballistic missiles with conventional warheads (it’s not as much a problem with nuclear warheads instead, but . . .nuclear weapons).

    And of course, in the advent of a conflict where the Chinese are shooting DF-21Ds at US carrier groups, we’ll be in an all-out war anyways. I assume in that situation the US will be shooting at Chinese forces and missile sites.

  36. J-D
    August 26th, 2015 at 08:19 | #36

    @Ikonoclast

    No, it’s not a long argument. It boils down to two possibilities:

    A. bad things are likely to happen as a result if Australia has no navy
    B. no bad things are likely to happen as a result if Australia has no navy

    If it’s A, then somebody should be able to produce some examples of what those bad things might be: even one would be a start.

    If it’s B, then there’s no case in favour of Australia having a navy.

  37. Ikonoclast
    August 26th, 2015 at 08:37 | #37

    @Ronald Brak

    Where do these missiles come from? You seem to be assuming that the opposition can launch these missiles with no platform. You seem to be assuming our weapons platforms (ships in this case) have high vulnerability to missiles (which might well be true) but that the enemy has weapons platforms without vulnerability or that their missiles need no platform and appear and are launched from nowhere.

    Given that you accept the effectiveness of submarines, you seem to be arguing for a submarine force for Australia. Are you going to operate Collins diesel-electric subs (that’s all we have) without oil and supply ships? Can oil and supply ships operate without other surface support ships or will you tie the subs down to their defence so that the subs cannot operate forward in surveillance, screening and attack operations? Can this surface fleet operate without anti-air capacity. Australia can’t run land-based air patrols everywhere. Aircraft have range and duration limits.

    With all respect, you don’t understand the first thing about force composition and combined operations. I know precious little about that field either. At least I know the field exists.

  38. Ikonoclast
    August 26th, 2015 at 08:55 | #38

    @J-D

    Then logically you must make a case for the unilateral disarmament of Australia and so must J.Q. if his views are as you ascribe them. My case against unilateral disarmament follows the theory of offensive realism mentioned in my post 25.

    Offensive realism does not in any way presuppose an offensive stance. Indeed, for Australia a defensive stance without military adventurism makes far more sense and would be far cheaper. This might and probably would involve a smaller navy. I very much doubt it would mean nothing bigger than a patrol boat. I would say people arguing such things understand nothing about combined arms nor about combined operations. Other than that they are fine armchair generals.

  39. Ken_L
    August 26th, 2015 at 08:57 | #39

    @Ikonoclast

    German U-boats did pretty well in the Atlantic 1939-45 without the benefit of oil and supply ships. Collins class subs have an operating range of 20,000 km and endurance of 70 days. If they are used in a defence role, that is ample without the need for supporting surface vessels.

  40. Ken_L
    August 26th, 2015 at 09:05 | #40

    @Brett

    I sincerely hope that in “a conflict where the Chinese are shooting DF-21Ds at US carrier groups”, Australia will not necessarily be a participant. Even the Liberals will be leery of following the US blindly into a war with our biggest trading partner over some trivial dispute about territorial waters. Of course it’s highly unlikely America would ever start such a conflict either, but with lunatics like Marco Rubio and Scott Walker running for president, one can never be sure.

  41. Ikonoclast
    August 26th, 2015 at 09:07 | #41

    @Megan

    Correctly speaking, you meant this is all morally bogus. However, it is materially real. No amount of moral outrage can change realpolitik or the fundamental dynamics of offensive realism in this system (capitalism). No great power is ever going to become benign under the current system. In it, every great power becomes aggressive and oppressive in proportion to its greatness. Previous systems (before capitalism) found no answer to the problems of offensive realism either. Whether there is some new and radically different system which could be developed to address these issues is another debate.

  42. Ikonoclast
    August 26th, 2015 at 09:08 | #42

    @Ken_L

    Good points. I stand corrected on that issue.

  43. Peter Chapman
    August 26th, 2015 at 09:09 | #43

    Australia has acquired two amphibious helicopter carriers, hulls built in Spain and fitting-out completed here. These will be our largest surface combatants, with a capacity to carry and deliver heavy vehicles, troops and helicopters. In a humanitarian relief role (say, following a cyclone disaster affecting our South Pacific island nation neighbours), these vessels would be invaluable. One could ask whether they would be even better in such a role if they were purpose-built as humanitarian aid vessels, though the frequency of their use for such a role would be low. The likelihood of their being required for an actual military role is also low. One could also ask whether the money spent on equipping our Navy for humanitarian work would be better spent in assisting our poorer neighbours with better infrastructure and disaster responses of their own.
    Our new amphibious vessels are lightly armed and various types of destroyers and frigates would, in a shooting war, be given the role of protecting and supporting them.
    Meanwhile, given the extent of Australia’s coastline, and the limitations of much of our transport infrastructure, naval amphibious capability is essential just to move our Army around (assuming we are to retain an Army).
    Other points:
    (1) The Chinese are themselves building aircraft carriers (or refurbishing discarded Russian ones). So the desire to build prestigious and expensive targets of dubious military value is not confined to Australia.
    (2) The US Navy’s super-carrier task forces retain some military value because of their ability to stay far out to sea, at least in the Pacific. They are less elusive in confined waters such as the Mediterranean and the South China Sea.
    (3) While we continue with current policies of ‘border protection’ (which seem to have so-called ‘bipartisan endorsement’), it seems we need a navy that has a large fleet of long-range patrol vessels. These keep getting bigger, in successive acquisitions and building programs, because they need to stay long periods far from any base.
    (4) Mr Abbott’s decisions about naval construction in South Australia appear to give bipartisan support to the previous Labor rationale for establishing shipbuilding capacity there: naval construction is about needing ships (rightly or wrongly), but also about needing to provide investment, skilled jobs and employment in strategic locations (by ‘strategic’ here I refer to employment and investment policy, rather than military strategies). This is an element of the establishment of our own ‘military industrial complex’, comparable to the United States version in which military interests, state investment, employment and electoral outcomes are inter-twined.

  44. Ikonoclast
    August 26th, 2015 at 09:31 | #44

    @Peter Chapman

    “The US Navy’s super-carrier task forces retain some military value because of their ability to stay far out to sea, at least in the Pacific. They are less elusive in confined waters such as the Mediterranean and the South China Sea.”

    Agreed. Is it not also the case that USA’s capacity for massive retaliation up to and including tactical and strategic nukes is another form of protection for its carrier groups? A nation like Iran could possibly hit a supercarrier tactically but it would be strategic suicide. They could not contemplate it.

  45. August 26th, 2015 at 10:33 | #45

    Here’s a map showing our spending relative to the region. At a first approximation, we spend more on warfare-related items than everyone else in Oceania and southeast Asia (as far as India) put together.
    http://www.vox.com/2015/8/23/9189153/us-defense-spending-international-comparison
    That is, we spend vastly more than would suffice to warn off a small adversary and not nearly enough to deter a large one.

  46. Brett
    August 26th, 2015 at 10:49 | #46

    @Ken_L

    Like I said, it’s ultimately about how much you trust the US to come to your aid if something did go down, be it as simple as Chinese submarines trespassing in Australian territorial waters to a bigger conflict. I think it would be a good idea for Australia to have at least some capable to stop submarines and attempts to interdict shipping in a potential conflict, at least as a “tripwire” beyond which the conflict has escalated to the point that the US gets involved.

    @Ikonoclast

    Do you really think the US would respond with nuclear weapons to a conventional Iranian attack on a US carrier group? I don’t, although the conventional response would be harsh.

  47. Ikonoclast
    August 26th, 2015 at 11:01 | #47

    Sorry to link to Oz. This article says a little bit. I don’t endorse or dis-endorse its views. I don’t know enough to do either.

    http://specialreports.theaustralian.com.au/120807/frigate_plan_not_the_answer/

    What kind of navy? This is a good question. No navy?! This is a ridiculous position to take unless you are advocating unilateral complete disarmament in which case it is at least consistent (though in conflict with the observed “laws” of the offensive realism phenomenon). The no navy position indicates no awareness of the existence and exigencies of combined arms and combined operations.

    J-D claims J.Q. supports the no navy position but J.Q. has not re-entered the debate to clarify his position. On the face of it, J.Q.’s position is simply a no frigates, no destroyers position.

  48. Ken_L
    August 26th, 2015 at 11:10 | #48

    @Ikonoclast

    Australia used to have two aircraft carriers. Almost bought another one from Britain but the Falklands War saved us. Making the decision to go without any was widely condemned as unthinkable madness at the time. But here we are, and nobody sane is suggesting we buy a new carrier.

  49. Ikonoclast
    August 26th, 2015 at 11:16 | #49

    @Brett

    “Do you really think the US would respond with nuclear weapons to a conventional Iranian attack on a US carrier group? I don’t, although the conventional response would be harsh.” – Brett.

    Honestly, I don’t know. I do know the Americans are highly militaristic and that blowing up two buildings was enough to send them plumb loco and destroy two countries. I am almost certain they value a supercarrier far more than two buildings (whatever the relative economic costs). They could not NOT react to the destruction or even temporary disabling of a carrier and the likely attendant casualties in the hundreds or thousands. There would be massive retaliation with a strategic level of destruction whether or not tactical nukes were used. I don’t suggest they would use strategic nukes.

  50. Ikonoclast
    August 26th, 2015 at 11:18 | #50

    @Ken_L

    Where have I suggested we acquire a carrier?

  51. Ken_L
    August 26th, 2015 at 11:22 | #51

    @Ikonoclast

    I didn’t suggest you had. I was responding to your “what kind of navy?” question by noting that many people will tend to believe we can’t possibly do without the kind of ships we have now, when in fact we can.

  52. Simon Fowler
    August 26th, 2015 at 11:51 | #52

    Historically destroyers were support vessels that were intended to operate with capital ships of the day (at their inception, battleships and cruisers, and later carriers), to provide some measure of defensive capabilities against smaller and faster vessels (the “torpedo boats” of the original name) and submarines, as well as a ranged capability – they could be detached from their close support position to do stuff that would otherwise put the capital ships at additional risk.

    In the modern world destroyers are still assumed to be support-capable (a lot of the AEGIS system is built around the idea of destroyers acting as an anti-missile screen supporting a carrier), but they’re also assumed to be stand-alone or capable of operating in a non-support role. Modern destroyers are /much/ bigger than the ships that shared the designation in earlier eras – the Type 45 destroyers the British are building right now are about the same displacement as the WWII era HMAS Sydney, which was a light cruiser. In all but the largest navies they’re the most capable surface vessels, in terms of their combat capabilities, their support capabilities, search and rescue, operations in hostile conditions (i.e. a quick jaunt off to Antarctica to rescue a stranded yachtsman or similar). If a navy wants to be able to operate in the open ocean, and conduct any kind of real-world surface naval combat they’ll need to have modern destroyers, and if they want to have the ability to do /anything/ outside a certain distance from their home ports they’ll need something similar (though probably not something as expensive and complicated as the RAN is planning for – that’s only necessary to take part in joint operations with the US and similar).

    Frigates are a step down in size from destroyers, and due to that they’re even more relegated to support roles – radar picket ships in a carrier fleet, or a secondary role with a destroyer. Because of their smaller size they have less ability to provider disaster relief, search and rescue, and so forth. That said, modern frigates are generally significantly bigger than earlier counterparts, and are a lot closer to the largest destroyers of the WWII era in the role they’re intended for: a mix of independent operations and support operations with larger vessels.

    If Australia wants to have the ability to do a whole host of maritime operations ranging from search and rescue through to disaster relief, then we need at least frigate-style vessels and possibly destroyer sized vessels. There’s really no other way to support those kinds of things in the kinds of conditions that we’d have an interest in dealing with (long ranges, all-weather operations, and sophisticated support systems including multiple large helicopters and the like). The US can afford to build frigate-style vessels for its coast guard service, but there’s no way that any Australian government would consider that option, so the only realistic way for Australia to support that kind of thing is by piggy-backing it on top of our military “needs”.

    If we weren’t tied firmly to the coat-tails of the US we could build surface ships that actually met /our/ needs, rather than being built on the assumption that any real combat operations would be done as part of a US fleet. Exactly what they would look like I can’t say, but they’d certainly cost a hell of a lot less and would have a lot fewer extremely expensive and likely totally wasted missile defence systems – if /any/ vessel operating on its own was targeted seriously it most likely couldn’t do much about it, and the RAN just doesn’t have enough ships to do anything /but/ operate them independently.

    Unlike submarines a surface fleet has lots of potential use outside of combat operations. Whether you consider those uses worth spending large sums of money on is a matter of judgement, but they really are useful to have sometimes. Of course, if you /do/ want to conduct combat operations the only thing worth considering is a good submarine, particularly if you’re in the geographic situation that Australia is, and maybe that’s a better use of $40 billion or $80 billion or whatever it ends up totalling. Or maybe we should have bought slightly more useful aircraft for the RAAF, for around the same money . . .

  53. J-D
    August 26th, 2015 at 12:30 | #53

    @Ikonoclast

    No, there is no logical requirement for me to make a case in favour of anything. For one thing, until now I have not expressed a position on the question of Australia’s disarmament; for another thing, as it happens, I am not in favour of Australia’s total disarmament. There’s no logical requirement for me to make a case in favour of something when I have never expressed support for it and, even more so, there’s no logical requirement for me to make a case in favour of something that I’m not in favour of.

    John Quiggin’s remarks do suggest a line of argument to me, and whether I’m correct in thinking it to be his argument or not, once it had been suggested to me it seemed worth considering. It goes like this:

    There is no significant likelihood of bad consequences for Australia as a result of not having a navy; therefore, there is no good reason for Australia to have a navy.

    Whether that is a good argument depends on the answer to a straightforward question:
    Is there any significant likelihood of bad consequences for Australia as a result of not having a navy?

    If the answer to that question is Yes, then the argument collapses; but if the answer is No, then the argument is close to indefeasible.

    Now, I know nothing about who you are and I never will. As far as my knowledge goes, you might be the greatest living expert on combined arms and combined operations, or you might be no more than a fine armchair general/admiral (or even less well-informed than that). I can’t evaluate your comments on the basis of a background and experience unknown to me; I can only evaluate them on the basis of content. And what I notice about the content of your comments is the complete absence of any reference to the likelihood of bad consequences for Australia as a result of not having a navy.

    So that’s my question for you: what are some examples (or just one to begin with) of bad consequences for Australia that have a significant likelihood of resulting from the absence of an Australian navy?

    There’s no requirement, logical or otherwise, for you (or anybody else) to answer my question, but I can tell you the consequences.

    If you (or somebody else) gives some convincing examples (or at least one) of bad consequences for Australia that have a significant likelihood of resulting from the absence of an Australian navy, then I will revise downwards my estimate of the strength of the argument under discussion (the one that I thought was John Quiggin’s but possibly isn’t, not that it makes any difference).

    On the other hand, if neither you nor anybody else gives any convincing examples, I will revise upwards my estimate of the strength of that argument.

  54. August 26th, 2015 at 13:40 | #54

    Ikonoclast, with the knowledge of force composition and combined operations that you have, do you think that Australia currently does not have the ability to mount combined operations because it doesn’t currently have the new three billion dollar frigates?

    Or do you think Australia currently does has the ability to mount combined operations, but this ability would be greatly improved by the addition of new three billion dollar each frigates? Or at least that the ability to mount combined operations would be increased by more than if the money was spent on other alternatives?

  55. John Quiggin
    August 26th, 2015 at 14:05 | #55

    If Australia wants to have the ability to do a whole host of maritime operations ranging from search and rescue through to disaster relief, then we need at least frigate-style vessels and possibly destroyer sized vessels.

    Say what?

    Exactly how does a sophisticated anti-missile system, armour and a large battery of armaments contribute to search and rescue or disaster relief? For the cost of one frigate we could build 100 patrol boats, or a large number of transports. The crewing requirements are about 10 to 1.

    The frequency with which naval fans come up with this kind of argument only confirms my belief that these ships are a waste of money.

  56. Aardvark
    August 26th, 2015 at 14:20 | #56

    The defence white paper does refer to ‘future’ frigate suggesting military doesn’t really know what they want and for what purpose. It would seem that there is a substantial non-combat need but in reality the combat aspects of the vessel are required to pull our weight in terms of contribution to the relevant military alliances. As noted were not big enough to fend off a large force and I suspect our reliance on an ally with a large force comes with conditions.

  57. John Thompson
    August 26th, 2015 at 14:22 | #57

    Yes, this has been a mystery to me. Abbott has now promised billions of dollars on submarines, billions on joint strike fighters, and billions on frigates. We will be awash with hardware and, I suspect, desperately short of the people to crew them and maintain them – and funds to operate them. However, I’m reasonably sanguine about these promises because our less than trustworthy PM has an unfortunate record for delivering on promises.
    Having said that, I would have thought South Australia would have been much better served in terms of pork barrelling if it had sought major resources to develop the weapons of not just the future, but of today. These would be the IT skills to engage in cyber warfare and unmanned weapons, the high tech skills and resources to build and operate these drones and remotely deployed weapons, the communications infrastructure that OUR country can depend on for surveillance and defence, and so on. Think what we could do with a couple of billion dollars in this field.
    A contribution like this to SA would be much more advantageous to the state’s (and Australia’s) future.

  58. J-D
    August 26th, 2015 at 15:42 | #58

    @Ikonoclast

    Knowing whether Australia is going to continue to have a navy would not tell us whether Australia should continue to have a navy, and knowing whether Australia should continue to have a navy would not tell us whether is going to continue to have a navy. These are two distinct questions with independent answers.

    I think you, I, John Quiggin, and Megan all know that the answer to the question ‘Is Australia going to continue to have a navy?’ is ‘Yes’. That question hardly seems worth discussing, and it’s not the question John Quiggin was originally discussing; the original question was ‘Should Australia continue to have a navy?’ I’m not sure, but it looks to me as if both John Quiggin and Megan would probably answer ‘No’ to that one; I’m less clear about you.

    (There are still more questions, distinct from both of the above, that could be discussed: for example, ‘Why is Australia going to continue to have a navy?’ and the closely related but not, I think, synonymous ‘What makes people think Australia should continue to have a navy?’)

  59. Donald Oats
    August 26th, 2015 at 16:09 | #59

    It would be interesting to know if the powers-that-be have run a series of scenarios to establish what kind of navy assets make sense and which we should be working towards having, and to see those scenarios. Not that they’d tell us.

    If we were to end up in a squabble with a major power, and if it required a navy platform for Australia to be able to defend itself, I’m not sure where frigates or destroyers sit in that picture. As others have pointed out, anti-ship missiles are pretty impressive pieces of relatively cheap technology capable of shredding a ship. Unless the ship has good defence against such devices, the cost of the ship seems difficult to justify.

    If we were fighting against a major power, there is little to prevent nukes being used when ships do have good defences: the bigger the nuke, the further away it can be effective upon detonation. A nuke can detonate one or two kilometres away and still be lethal to ships and people. That means the defensive measures need to work at distances of more than a couple of kilometres away from the ship itself, assuming nukes are a possible hazard.

    Ultimately, if we get some frigates/destroyers/clippers/row boats for the navy, I dare say they would be useful only as part of a larger coalition of forces, such as with the USA. Otherwise, the assets seem to be liabilities more than assets. Must be fun to not have debt and deficit to worry about…

  60. Simon Fowler
    August 26th, 2015 at 16:12 | #60

    @John Quiggin

    John Quiggin :

    If Australia wants to have the ability to do a whole host of maritime operations ranging from search and rescue through to disaster relief, then we need at least frigate-style vessels and possibly destroyer sized vessels.

    Say what?
    Exactly how does a sophisticated anti-missile system, armour and a large battery of armaments contribute to search and rescue or disaster relief? For the cost of one frigate we could build 100 patrol boats, or a large number of transports. The crewing requirements are about 10 to 1.
    The frequency with which naval fans come up with this kind of argument only confirms my belief that these ships are a waste of money.

    My apologies for not being more clear.

    Patrol boats and other smaller vessels can’t operate far out in open ocean, particularly in hostile conditions like those experienced in the southern ocean – they won’t have the range to get there or the seakeeping capabilities to do anything very useful. To be able to do that kind of thing ships need to be a reasonable size – the ANZAC frigates are quite capable of doing that, for example. You don’t need a warship, you need something with some minimum capabilities and size. In fact, the Ocean Protector that Customs leased for a while is a perfect example, and is similar in size to the ANZAC class (and is, as you say, a fraction of the cost).

    If we’re going to have warships we might as well use them for peaceful purposes, too, but if we want to be able to do things like search and rescue in the southern ocean then we need to have something bigger and more capable than a patrol boat, regardless of whether we use them at other times for flag-waving military purposes.

    You wanted some ideas about why we have the ships we have, and why we might have a need or use for ships along those lines (specifically size, range, general capabilities, not the combat capabilities) – I was trying to explain why for the most part the existing options other than the frigates and destroyers weren’t sufficient. I certainly won’t argue that we need the current RAN surface fleet, unless we want to get involved in a US Navy shooting match with . . . well, there isn’t really anyone at the moment they /could/ do that with.

    I’ll happily go out on a limb here and agree with you in calling the current RAN surface fleet a waste of money.

  61. August 26th, 2015 at 16:39 | #61

    With regard to John Quiggin’s original question of, “What are these things supposed to do?” Well, as far as I can tell, a missile frigate is able to travel a long way and when it gets to where it is going, it can murder people there with missiles. So if we wanted to, we could send a missile frigate to New Zealand and use it to murder people in Christchurch. But I don’t see why we would want to murder anyone anywhere. Even if they were New Zealanders.

    Technically we could try to use a missile frigate to stop people who were coming to murder us by using it to murder them first, but it is really really bad at this job because the people on board have no reliable way to stop being murdured themselves by modern anti-ship missiles. And by modern I mean the highly technologically advanced ones that didn’t become available until about 40 years ago in the 1970s.

    Now to avoid misunderstanding, I’ll point out that before the 1970s frigates still had no reliable defence against anti-ship missiles. It’s just their odds were better because the missiles were worse.

    I believe that New Zealand has Harpoon missiles and these are an advanced sort that were developed in the 1970s and can come down on a ballistic path against which frigates have no defence. And if these were air dropped rather than launched from an ANZAC frigate, the Australian frigate wouldn’t even have a chance to anti-ship missile the anti-ship missile carrying ship. So using a missile frigate to murder people in Christchurch, which isn’t even a good idea to begin with, could well result in the people on the frigate being pro-emptively murdered in return.

    Now as James Wimberley has pointed out, other countries use missile frigates to protect aircraft carriers, of which Australia has none. Now I suppose, if we asked nicely, India or some other country might let us use them to protect their aircraft carrier or carriers, but I don’t see how that helps us. Especially since missile frigates don’t just protect carriers by shooting down planes and missiles that are targeting the carrier, they also act as decoys. The powerful radars missile frigates carry to target planes and missiles also allow frigates to be targeted and homed in on.

    So to sum up, a missile frigate is good for murdering people a long way away (ANZAC frigates can travel 11,000 kilometers), but only if the people being murdered don’t have anti-ship missiles. So we could use a missile frigate to murder people in Suva, but not Christchurch. A missile frigate could also be used to protect another country’s aircraft carrier by unavoidably making itself a target and increasing the chance of the Australians on board being murdured. Since we don’t want to murder people, and since we don’t want Australians to be murdered, and since they can be sunk or damaged at little risk or cost to an attackerwhich makes them very bad at stopping people murdering us; missile frigates probably aren’t very useful. In fact, they would seem to be something that is worse than useless, because at least spending three billion dollars carving Tony Abbott’s face into Uluru isn’t likely to kill anyone. (Well obviously, some people will die from shock, but the total may be less than the crew complement of a missile frigate.)

  62. John Quiggin
    August 26th, 2015 at 17:15 | #62

    @Simon Fowler

    If you want size, how about the Maersk Triple-E Maersk container ship, displacing 165 000 tonnes. Compared to a frigate, it’s a steal at $190 million.

    Of course, that’s way too big to be practical for most purposes. The point is, we could use purposed-designed civilian vessels to do these jobs at a tiny fraction of the cost of a warship.

    Of course, our warships have never (in living memory) performed any of the tasks they are designed for, so we may as well use them for something. But that doesn’t make them cost-justified.

  63. Ikonoclast
    August 26th, 2015 at 17:24 | #63

    “Ikonoclast, with the knowledge of force composition and combined operations that you have, do you think that Australia currently does not have the ability to mount combined operations because it doesn’t currently have the new three billion dollar frigates?” – Ronald Brak.

    My frank answer is “No.” We certainly do not need the new frigates at the current planned ridiculous cost. Whether we need them (militarily) at a better cost I don’t know. I was clear that I had little knowledge of force composition, combined arms and combined operations. But I did note that the concepts existed and that they referred to real matters. Several commentators have shown no sign of being aware of this.

    This discussion isn’t about frigates or destroyers. This discussion is really about whether people are anti-military, pro-military or realists. I place myself in the third group meaning both the theories of realpolitik and offensive realism. Not that I support these theories as prescriptions (indeed I would deplore them as prescriptions) but rather I hold them to be realistic descriptions of the benighted world we live in.

  64. MH
    August 26th, 2015 at 17:45 | #64

    JQ the ships concerned are in all aspects a waste of money.

    Blue water naval warships became a waste of money about the time when the first aeroplane dropped a bomb down the funnel of a warship or launched a torpedo at a warship and sank it and submarines did the same. The Americans came up with a novel solution floating airfields that could travel the world, i.e. aircraft carriers, any carrier group has untold number of surface ships all there to protect the carrier from other ship borne attacks including numerous submarines as well. You need to have an American sized defence budget to make this happen, Australia does not and never will. The Navy would be better of buying the large wave piercing catamarans build by Austral and others for their hack work in support of armies but the days of naval flotillas and naval encounters changing the outcome in armed conflicts was history at the end of world war one just as strategic bombing or bombers were useless in ending wars or achieving strategic outcomes as the British and Americans they threw a third of their defence budget at Germany in WWII via Bombers and it made the Germans give up not one iota. End of story.

    Naval ships and bombing ISIS all the same problem, military establishments wedded to past century systems and structures and unable to deploy new technology in replacement. Take the RAAF for example as well, since when after WWII has any RAAF Fighter aircraft actually been used in that role or at all? Tells you a lot about fighters v missiles, they learnt that lesson in Vietnman but failed to consider it, no you buy more sophisticated defence systems to add to the equipment to save it from destruction. Total waste of money. NZ has no problems living without all this stuff.

  65. MH
    August 26th, 2015 at 17:51 | #65

    Then I should have said the Australian Navy has an enviable record of spending eye watering amounts of money for no result or militarily useful kit whatsoever at the end, think helicopters, think submarines, think aircraft carriers and any number of untold useless bits of shipping they have used over the years but have never been able to seriously support the deployment, supplying or transport of Australian land forces tells you everything about the Australian Navy, clueless and trapped in the past.

    The use of modern technology was demonstrated by General Guederin from the German Army in WWWII, while the British and others were still using horses etc, the Germans put everyone in a truck and dragged the guns and supplies behind in trailers and put their artillery in tanks. They called it Blitzkrieg a novel use of modern technolgy to overcome those still wedded to past ideas.

  66. Simon Fowler
    August 26th, 2015 at 17:58 | #66

    @John Quiggin
    Part of my argument was that it’s easier to get the capability actually built and maintained if it’s justified as part of the Much More Important(tm) military capability that we seem to feel we need than if we made a sensible argument based on rational requirements – i.e. it might end up being a choice between buying overpriced and mostly wasted warships or not having /any/ of the peaceful capabilities we need. I’m not sure that’s a sound argument – after all, we /did/ have the Ocean Protector on hand to run the initial MH370 search, even if it was only leased for six years. Chalk that one up to our xenophobia, though, since we’d never have had it if we weren’t busy trying to keep the brown people off our northern doorstep.

    I’m not sure you can reasonably argue that maintaining a defence capability is unjustified because of an extended period of peace – not unless you’re willing to argue that it’s not justified even in the event of armed conflict. It’s not as if we can build ourselves a navy when the shooting starts, after all – if it’s not worth keeping around even in peacetime it’s not worth having at all. Having the right one on hand is the challenge, and I’m pretty sure it’s a challenge we’re failing miserably at the moment.

    Cost-justified is also a hard thing to define when it comes to defence, since it’s one of those things that when you need it you /really/ need it. Even if what you have at the time isn’t ideal it may get you through that challenge successfully – does that retroactively justify the spending? By the same token, if it never ends up being required does that mean the expense wasn’t justified?

    All told, “Defence Requirements” are so ill defined and so hard to judge by any useful metric that there’s no way to justify it sensibly. We either need the capability, self-evidently, or it’s nothing but wasted money, time, and lives.

  67. August 26th, 2015 at 17:59 | #67

    Ikonoclast, the discussion I am having, perhaps just with myself, is about frigates. They’re not very good.

    Since realism was brought up, I’ll mention that one major thing Australia could do to improve its defence situation is reduce or eliminate our reliance on imported oil. Australia is now down to producing around 300,000 barrels a day while we consume over one million a day. And Australia is almost the only developed country without any fuel efficiency standards for vehicles. For the Abbott government to suggest we build missile frigates that are basically useless and which will cost billions of dollars before introducing fuel efficiency standards that would save Australians money and save Australian lives from pollution, is nuttier than a lumpy chocolate bar.

  68. James
    August 26th, 2015 at 18:44 | #68

    There’s been a quite a bit of late in the media about the dire straits of the Canadian Navy, the renting of a supply ship from Chile, the limited capability to project off their southern coast, and almost zero ability to project off their northern coast, where they face increasing competition over disputed economic zone extent.

    While frigates/destroyers may be technologically redundant, there is probably a good case for some naval capability (with adequate protection) to enable projection of forces to protect national interest. For example, how would Australia evacuate nationals from the South China Sea (if the case so arose) without calling on the help of friendly neighbors?

  69. John Quiggin
    August 26th, 2015 at 19:25 | #69

    For example, how would Australia evacuate nationals from the South China Sea (if the case so arose) without calling on the help of friendly neighbors?

    How many Australians are in the South China Sea at any given time? I imagine there must be a fair number in countries bordering the Sea, but
    (a) we have dealt with this kind of problem many times without losing any citizens (AFAIK)
    (b) it’s not as if sending a fleet is going to help

  70. John Quiggin
    August 26th, 2015 at 19:29 | #70

    All told, “Defence Requirements” are so ill defined and so hard to judge by any useful metric that there’s no way to justify it sensibly

    As in my previous post, let’s do the metric in terms of lives we could have saved with domestic spending (on health, for example). At $3 billion, and with a life-saving cost of $6 million (these are my best estimates), every frigate we build costs 500 Australian lives. Assuming the navy costs 0.8 per cent of GDP (about $12 billion a year), keeping it at its current level costs around 2000 lives a year. I think that costs needs more than a handwaving reference to obscurely defined needs.

  71. Ikonoclast
    August 26th, 2015 at 19:44 | #71

    @John Quiggin

    “Of course, our warships have never (in living memory) performed any of the tasks they are designed for…” – John Quiggin.

    Now whether you politically or morally agree or disagree with the following actions, they did occur and our warships did perform tasks they were designed for and all actions are within living memory.

    (1) WW2
    (2) Korean War.
    (3) Malayan Emergency
    (4) Indonesia-Malaya Confrontation
    (5) Vietnam War
    (6) The Gulf Wars 1 & 2.
    (7) East Timor
    (8) Solomon Islands
    (9) Fiji

    I am not saying they were all live actions. I am not saying the navy covered itself in credit in all these diverse operations. Yet even being on station can contribute to deterrence, sea control, maritime security etc.

    Your idea of tasks seem to be limited to hot wars… oh no, wait a minute several of these were hot wars and very big ones at that. So I am not sure what your idea of naval tasks is.

    The idea that we don’t currently need destroyers or frigates is arguable though still context dependent. The idea that we don’t need a navy is nonsense. I guess that’s why you have resiled from the no navy position. (“Who needs a navy?” (rewritten) by John Quiggin on October 4, 2012 – Crooked Timber.)

  72. Megan
    August 26th, 2015 at 20:21 | #72

    @Ikonoclast

    The idea that we don’t need a navy is nonsense.

    Why is it nonsense?

    I’m thinking particularly of the “we” and “need” parts. If the Empire is “demanding” that we have one, that would be different from needing one. I’m all for telling them to go get stuffed.

    For all its military might, history of using WMDs and relish for murdering my fellow humans in the tens of millions for its imperial wars of aggression – the US keeps losing every fight it starts. The reason for that has never been because their navy let them down.

  73. August 26th, 2015 at 20:28 | #73

    Ikonoclast:

    (1) The Australian navy was meant to operate as an arm, or perhaps finger, of the British Navy prior to World War II. That didn’t work out for us as the UK turned out to be a bit preoccupied, and the sinking of the Repulse and the Prince of Wales in the first days of what we consider to be the Pacific War demonstrated that Australia’s ships could not accomplish the tasks they were designed for without air cover which was mostly provided by the United States of America.

    (2) The Australian Navy was never designed to participate in a land war in Asia. And I consider this to be a feature and not a bug.

    (3) Again, the Malayan Emergency was not the tasks the Australian navy was designed for.

    (4) Yeah, same thing.

    (5) Land war in Asia.

    (6) In Desert Storm, Australia was quite intelligent to notice the Desert part of the name of that operation and immediately volunteered the use of its navy. A smart move, but still not the task it was designed for.

    (7) Yeah, it wasn’t designed for that either.

    (8) No, not designed for that. I think there’s a pattern emerging here.

    (9) And not designed for that either.

    Now unless you want to get very pendantic and claim that individual vessels performed tasks they were designed for, such as float, I don’t see how you can claim that Australia’s warships as a whole performed the tasks they were designed for in any of those situations.

  74. Ikonoclast
    August 26th, 2015 at 20:54 | #74

    @Megan

    I am saying if we have a Defence Force at all then a navy is a logical and useful operational part of that Defence force. The actual composition of that navy is a whole other argument.

    If you are want to argue for unilateral disarmament then argue it. You would have a lot of moral sympathy from me. However, you would rightly regard this moral sympathy as hypocritical or inoperative on my part as I would then argue “realpolitik” yadda, yadda, “offensive realism” yadda yadda and so on.

  75. J-D
    August 26th, 2015 at 21:02 | #75

    In one episode of Yes Prime Minister, Jim Hacker, newly appointed Prime Minister, meets for the first time with the Chief Scientific Adviser, who suggests to him that the UK might as well keep the nuclear missiles it already has, but that there’s no point in going through with the planned purchase of new ones. During the course of the episode at least three possible reasons for buying the new missiles are discussed. At one point Humphrey Appleby tries to convince Hacker in this dialogue:

    Sir Humphrey Appleby: Don’t you believe that Great Britain should have the best?
    Jim Hacker: Yes, of course.
    Sir Humphrey Appleby: Very well, if you walked into a nuclear missile showroom you would buy Trident – it’s lovely, it’s elegant, it’s beautiful. It is quite simply the best. And Britain should have the best. In the world of the nuclear missile it is the Saville Row suit, the Rolls Royce Corniche, the Château Lafitte 1945. It is the nuclear missile Harrods would sell you. What more can I say?
    Jim Hacker: Only that it costs £15 billion and we don’t need it.
    Sir Humphrey Appleby: Well, you can say that about anything at Harrods.

    Appleby has more success trying to influence Hacker in a different way. He mentions that the possibility has arisen of a change of arrangements for Hacker’s planned first visit to the US as PM: instead of being met by the President, he will be met by the Vice-President. Hacker is appalled. Everybody gets met by the President, he says; even the President of Botswana got met by the President. Appleby points out that Botswana had not just cancelled a major purchase of defence equipment from the US.

    A third argument is one that Appleby doesn’t try on Hacker but does offer privately to Bernard Woolley:

    Sir Humphrey Appleby: Bernard what is the purpose of our defence policy?
    Bernard Woolley: To defend Britain.
    Sir Humphrey Appleby: No Bernard. It is to make people believe Britain is defended.
    Bernard Woolley: The Russians?
    Sir Humphrey Appleby: Not the Russians the British! The Russians know it’s not.

    So there are three reasons why expensive defence equipment gets bought, and they seem just as likely to apply to the latest naval technology as to the latest nuclear technology:
    1. conspicuous consumption: buying and owning anything fancy feeds people’s egos;
    2. feeding egos in a slightly different way: fancy defence equipment sets up opportunities for ministers to posture and preen themselves on a global stage;
    3. some people like seeing the government buy fancy defence equipment because it makes them feel more protected (independently of whether they are actually any safer).

  76. MH
    August 26th, 2015 at 21:07 | #76

    JQ raised a valid question about Commonwealth financial spending decisions vis a vis Australian Navy purchases of small ships with lots of electronics and missiles and not much else. All the above miss this point, the Navy has not been involved in a naval battle with anybody since the against the Japanese in WWII. It continues to purchase and operate highly armed small vessels (destroyers-frigates). It has reconstituted itself several times from hand maidens to the British Admiralty and now to the US Navy. The only vessels useful for any defence work by the navy are the submarines, the rest are unable to support anything else but a fight with another navy. The issue becomes one of costing risk? Is the risk insurable? what is the opportunity cost of this type of spending. Well if you buying something obviously useless then the answer is self evident. Why they cannot consider different vessels with different purposes and armed as required I have no idea, given they cannot support anything above a battalion on an immediate or short term basis and can provide no real or useful spacial coverage of the huge continental ocean boundaries that Australia has.

  77. Megan
    August 26th, 2015 at 21:15 | #77

    @Ikonoclast

    Going on the Wikipedia description of “realpolitik” as:

    politics or diplomacy based primarily on power and on practical and material factors and considerations, rather than explicit ideological notions or moral or ethical premises

    it may be that the idea of “power” is totally misunderstood (wilfully perhaps) by the people who run the US empire.

    And they seem to have lost all sight of the meaning of the terms “practical” and “material”.

  78. Simon Fowler
    August 26th, 2015 at 21:20 | #78

    John Quiggin :

    All told, “Defence Requirements” are so ill defined and so hard to judge by any useful metric that there’s no way to justify it sensibly

    As in my previous post, let’s do the metric in terms of lives we could have saved with domestic spending (on health, for example). At $3 billion, and with a life-saving cost of $6 million (these are my best estimates), every frigate we build costs 500 Australian lives. Assuming the navy costs 0.8 per cent of GDP (about $12 billion a year), keeping it at its current level costs around 2000 lives a year. I think that costs needs more than a handwaving reference to obscurely defined needs.

    And what if we get into a conflict that includes naval engagements, a situation where the sophisticated and expensive weapons systems you talked about might well make the difference between winning and losing, with all the strategic implications?

    It sounds like you’re arguing that we don’t need a navy at all, given the significant costs and the limited returns. But once we go down that path we lose the capacity to rebuild a navy, maybe not literally but in practise. No western democracy would accept the idea of suddenly saying we need to spend many tens of billions of dollars to build something that will take ten years even to /start/ doing what it’s intended to do, let alone the twenty years at least it’d take to rebuild the institutional knowledge that would make it a truly effective navy. If we ended up needing that capability quickly we’d be screwed, and the costs would be impossible to estimate.

    That implies that the cost of giving up on the navy altogether and then finding that we actually need it is unknowable but almost certainly much larger than the cost of keeping it around, even if we’re wasting money on it the whole time.

    That’s why I said this is by nature ill-defined – you can run the numbers and figure that it costs 2000 lives a year to maintain the navy as it stands, but can you weigh that against the results of a future conflict? Or even a conflict avoided because of an existing capability?

    Comparative metrics are hard when one side is both large and very uncertain. It’s not helped when both sides are pretty rubbery (how confident are you about your numbers?).

  79. Ikonoclast
    August 26th, 2015 at 21:22 | #79

    @Ronald Brak

    Let’s look for ways we can agree. I think Sth Australia should build solar panels, wind turbines, electric cars and electric mass transit passenger trains and cars instead of navy frigates and subs. The federal money should go into factories for these purposes.

  80. August 26th, 2015 at 21:38 | #80

    Ikonoclast, I certainly agree that would be a better use of resources than building frigates.

  81. Chris O’Neill
    August 26th, 2015 at 21:53 | #81

    @Brett

    The big problem is the system of finding and targeting a rapidly moving carrier group with said anti-ship ballistic missiles fast enough so that the carrier group hasn’t significantly moved by the time the missile gets there.

    That problem (anticipation aim at a moving target) was solved in the 1950s with the “proportional pursuit” algorithm in the Sidewinder missile. Should be a snap to put such control in a ballistic missile by now. No wonder the US is worried by what China could do if they wanted to.

    Interesting personal anecdote: I got to play around with the French competitor to the Sidewinder, the Matra, in the 1960s when my father was in the maintenance section for the Matra (meddling boy). The RAAF dumped their surface-to-air missiles at that time and I guess that might have had something to do with them acquiring the air-to-air Matra missile.

  82. Chris O’Neill
    August 26th, 2015 at 22:18 | #82

    @Brett

    The big problem is the system of finding and targeting a rapidly moving carrier group with said anti-ship ballistic missiles fast enough so that the carrier group hasn’t significantly moved by the time the missile gets there.

    That problem (anticipation aim at a moving target) was solved in the 1950s with the “proportional pursuit” algorithm in the Sidewinder missile. Should be a snap to put such control in a ballistic missile by now. No wonder the US is worried by what China could do if they wanted to.

    Interesting personal anecdote: I got to play around with the French competitor to the Sidewinder, the Matra, in the 1960s when my father was in the maintenance section for the Matra (meddling boy). The RAAF dumped their surface-to-air missiles at that time and I guess that might have had something to do with them acquiring the air-to-air Matra missile.

    (The moderation filter is annoying, BTW.)

  83. J-D
    August 27th, 2015 at 07:24 | #83

    @Simon Fowler

    How would a country that has no navy get involved in a naval engagement? It’s not an event of low probability; it’s not an event of incalculable probability; it’s an event of zero probability.

  84. Fran Barlow
    August 27th, 2015 at 07:44 | #84

    @Ikonoclast

    I’d agree too. I also don’t imagine it would be hard to draw up a completely different list of program expenditures 50-long and still stand better than spending $90bn on major capital procurement in defence.

    I’m all for Australia having a coast guard that can rescue folk at sea and police illegal fishing, dumping and other undesirable activity in our bailiwick. Beyond that, we should make clear that we are never going to be part of any threat to our neighbours.

    We use the resources we have instead to make our region are happier place for all who live here.

  85. Ikonoclast
    August 27th, 2015 at 08:22 | #85

    @Fran Barlow

    Being late to the thread you probably didn’t notice my earlier “reactionary” or “conservative” support for having a navy. My honesty compels me to note you probably wouldn’t be happy with my position on that. I base my position on the general facts (as I hold them to be) of realpolitik and the theory of offensive realism (Mearsheimer).

    But I don’t agree with the government trying to use a naval shipbuilding exercise as a job creation exercise. This is neither a cost effective way to get ships nor a cost effective way to get jobs created.

    As for “other undesirable activity in our bailiwick” I suppose we could have used our frigates to stop whaling in the Southern Ocean, if we had had any gumption.

    Philosophically and doctrinally (if I can put it like that) I am in favour of a purely defensive posture for Australia. We could save a lot of money and lives by not getting involved in the USA’s overseas “adventures”. Realistically we would have to remain an ally of US and NATO. We could do this whilst becoming less servile and not involved in the USA’s wars which are largely not our wars.

  86. Aardvark
    August 27th, 2015 at 08:56 | #86

    Much of this discussion is about the capability of the frigates themselves as opposed to their broader role in navy and defence strategy. The point is made very clearly in numerous defence whitepapers

    Recent, ongoing, and future (Force 2030) ADF capability developments will dramatically enhance the potential for Australian maritime forces to contribute to U.S.-led coalitions in future contingencies. The air warfare destroyers and, especially the new frigates – with their LACMs, SM-6 missiles, CEC, possibly theatreballistic- missile defence, and advanced antisubmarine warfare systems – would add measurably to any US Navy-led maritime force…The white paper proposes a robust future defence force with a very strong maritime emphasis, including a sea-based strike capacity and the ability to deploy, protect, and sustain a substantial land force.

    As I stated earlier the cost of reliance on the force and capabiity of a large military alliance is to contribute to that alliance.

  87. Simon Fowler
    August 27th, 2015 at 09:20 | #87

    J-D :
    @Simon Fowler
    How would a country that has no navy get involved in a naval engagement? It’s not an event of low probability; it’s not an event of incalculable probability; it’s an event of zero probability.

    Naval engagements don’t necessarily /start/ with warships on both sides. Consider, for example, if Indonesia decided that blockading the trade routes that we use through their waters was in their interests – on our side there wouldn’t be any naval commitment initially, but it would still be very definitely a naval matter, and depending on the overall situation one possible option would be for Australian naval ships to escort merchant ships through the contested area.

    That’s a pretty contrived situation, but it does give an existence proof and demonstrates that lack of a navy doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no possibility for naval conflicts to arise.

    I’m not arguing that we can’t possibly do without a navy, but anyone arguing that it’s a no-loss situation is wilfully ignoring a whole range of possible risks that are mitigated by having a navy. What’s more, a lot of those risks are the kind that are extremely hard to deal with quantitatively, particularly when compared with things like Prof. Quiggin’s cost per life metric.

    That’s a different matter to comparing one set of naval spending options with another, but so far I don’t think anyone’s taken the discussion in that direction. All the arguments have been no navy versus navy, or the same hidden behind arguments about how much money is wasted by having a navy.

  88. August 27th, 2015 at 09:27 | #88

    @MH
    As Freiser says, “the image of the fully motorized blitzkreig army is a figment of propaganda imagination”. The German army was much more reliant on horses than were the French or British. They just used the motorised armour they had much, much better.

  89. J-D
    August 27th, 2015 at 10:02 | #89

    @Ikonoclast

    The idea that the concern of the state is with maintaining its security and power is an ideological principle and part of an ethical system. The idea of Realpolitik as something non-ideological and free of ethical assumptions (in supposed contrast to its opponents) is a fraud.

  90. August 27th, 2015 at 11:04 | #90

    Aardvark, a “sea-based strike capacity and the ability to deploy, protect, and sustain a substantial land force.” is only useful for invading another country. And Australia is not part of any alliance that requires us to help another country invade another country. So why would we need the ability to invade to rely on the, “force and capability of a large military alliance?” It makes me wonder, do you think we should we end our defence ties with New Zealand because they lack the abiltity to invade?

  91. J-D
    August 27th, 2015 at 11:08 | #91

    @Aardvark

    Is being part of that alliance worth what it costs us? in other words, what do we get out of it, or what would we lose if we weren’t part of it?

  92. Ikonoclast
    August 27th, 2015 at 11:11 | #92

    @J-D

    Yes, I can see your point. Speaking strictly in absolutes it could be correct. It would depend I guess on one’s precise definition of realpolitik. Does one define realpolitik as something that entirely supplants ideological principle and ethical systems or as something that modifies these? I would support the latter definition. Realpolitik considerations modify one’s adherence to pure ideological or ethical principles. Understood at that level, it is really just the acceptance that empirical reality must be permitted to modify our ideal theories.

    My pure ethical principles would see me argue for unilateral disarmament for Australia. My awareness of certain empirical realities, including the lessons of history and politics, lead me to modify this stance and compromise my ethical principles. I try to salvage my “ethical image” in my own eyes and maybe even socially and politically by advocating an economical and morally “least objectionable” stance of minimalist defence. At the same time I try be realistic rather than advocate foolish and unrealistic idealism.

    My stance is a set of linked arguments to maintain;

    (1) a purely defensive posture;
    (2) a sufficient standing force to have some deterrent value against initial attack;
    (3) a sufficient standing force to have some real effect against initial attack;
    (4) a sufficient, balanced and combined arms force to form the basis for maintaining force-wide training and operational knowledge and to form the basis for a full mobilisation if such need should ever occur.

    As opposed to this integrated understanding of history, politics, ideology and ethics in both civil and military matters, some other commentators here are offering up very piecemeal reasoning that just doesn’t wash in a real, complex, messy world. It’s naive stuff. Sorry, but that’s how I see it.

  93. J-D
    August 27th, 2015 at 11:25 | #93

    @Ikonoclast

    Somebody who says ‘Before we decide about disarmament, we should consider the risk of being attacked if we disarm’ is taking a realistic position.

    Somebody who says ‘Nobody should ever disarm because they might be attacked’ is taking a doctrinaire ideological position.

    An absolute prerequisite of any realistic implementation of the second and third elements of your stance (‘a sufficient standing force to have some deterrent value against initial attack’ and ‘a sufficient standing force to have some real effect against initial attack’) is a realistic estimate of what sort of risk we face of what sort of initial attack. If we have no idea what sort of initial attack we might face, we cannot have any realistic idea of what standing force would be sufficient to have some deterrent value or some real effect against it. Likewise, an absolute prerequisite of any realistic implementation of the fourth element of your stance is a realistic estimate of what sort of need for what sort of full mobilisation might occur. If we have no idea what kind of full mobilisation we might need or what we might need it for, we cannot have any realistic idea of what force would be sufficient for that purpose.

  94. Ikonoclast
    August 27th, 2015 at 13:14 | #94

    @J-D

    For sure, these are very big dilemmas. I don’t disagree with any point or issue you have raised here except maybe the one in the second sentence.

    The whole issue is a general case of very imperfect knowledge about future possibilities and the relative sizes, costs and/or benefits of various risks and “insurance policies”.

    How would you go about approaching these dilemmas if you don’t agree with my approach?

  95. August 27th, 2015 at 13:22 | #95

    If a conflict arises with North Korea, Australia may be called on to help defend US and South Korean transports. Assuming China stands back and doesn’t get involved, and Japan can’t for geopolitical reasons (invading Korea is not really a good look!) then Australian support will be needed, and not just naval.

    If conflict arises with North Korea it will likely be started by an imploding North Korean government raining hell on Seoul, and for at least a short period of time it will be likely that NK will make significant military gains. At that point naval warfare will be necessary. If China gets even marginally involved then everyone in the Pacific is going to be taking sides.

    If conflict arises with North Korea, the chance that Australia won’t get sucked in is very low.

    Once the NK situation is resolved and tensions over gas resources disappear due to AGW, then I think the Pacific will be the most peaceful place on the planet and no one will need an army or a navy. Until then, we need a navy and the most likely use for it will be as support for a US carrier group or amphibious landing force.

    I’m surprised that we aren’t already seeing aircraft carriers that deploy only drones. I wonder how long till that becomes a reality?

  96. Donald Oats
    August 27th, 2015 at 13:36 | #96

    I think a big part of these purchases is simply about having a Navy force full stop: the people and the training, and the overall strategic thinking that goes into operating a naval force under hostile conditions isn’t easy to acquire, and so I suppose the powers-that-be would wish to retain that strength (as they see it) of an operational naval force.

    As far as I can see, in the modern defence force the lines of demarcation of navy, army, and air-force are increasingly blurred, and technological changes like drones mean that there are entirely new kinds of defence force capability (including the logistics, the defence personnel, etc) being created, and they arc across all of the older arms of a defence force.

  97. J-D
    August 27th, 2015 at 15:13 | #97

    @Ikonoclast

    I’ve already told you that. I would put the following question to the people who say ‘We should spend money on a navy’:

    ‘What for? what do you think may happen if we don’t?’

    If they can give no answer, I would conclude that there’s no good reason to spend money on a navy.

    I feel as if I’ve explained that more than once already, which is making me wonder what might be wrong with the way I’m explaining.

  98. J-D
    August 27th, 2015 at 15:21 | #98

    @faustusnotes

    If a conflict arises between North Korea and South Korea, and if transport ships are being attacked as part of that conflict, then it’s possible that Australia will be asked to help defend those transport ships, but only if Australia has naval forces capable of contributing to that defence. In the scenario (a strictly hypothetical one — I know this is not going to happen) where Australia has entirely decommissioned/disbanded its navy, Australia will (obviously) not be asked to help defend transport ships, since it will be unable to do so.

    If you go on to argue that Australia needs to be able to defend transport ships from attack by North Korea, what I want to know is what negative consequences you think might follow if Australia were unable to defend transport ships from (a hypothetical) attack by North Korea.

    Similarly, if you argue that Australia needs to have a navy in order to be able to provide support for a US carrier group or amphibious landing force, what I want to know is what negative consequences you think might follow if Australia were unable to provide support for a US carrier group or amphibious landing force.

  99. August 27th, 2015 at 16:19 | #99

    J-D I don’t think there would necessarily be negative consequences for Australia of not joining in, but the longer such a conflict lasted the worse it would be for Koreans. It’s likely that any future war with North Korea is going to look a lot like a humanitarian mission (rescuing North Koreans from a war they had no say in, and protecting South Koreans from a huge and desperate army), and if Australia’s contribution to the war were to make any practical difference to its length, then the consequences of our not joining could be counted in dead Koreans.

    Similarly if there is a breakdown of order or a civil conflict on a Pacific island, or instability in south east Asia as climate-related conflicts intensify.

    It’s worth bearing in mind that the world is heading into a period of climate craziness that is going to create instability and conflict, and part of that conflict will be caused by the mass movement of vulnerable peoples, some at least of whom will be in our backyard. The chaos and confusion that will cause may lead to local conflicts and lawlessness our navy may play a role in confronting. It doesn’t seem like a great time to be giving up our navy.

  100. Megan
    August 27th, 2015 at 16:43 | #100

    @faustusnotes

    Conversely, if the US empire had not been able to corral together such military giants as Palau and the Marshall Islands into the “coalition of the willing” – along with other enablers including us – then the destruction of Iraq (including dead Iraqis in the millions) by their illegal war of aggression would not have been politically possible and probably would not have happened.

    So less military involvement can work to save lives. In fact it would seem axiomatic that the less military action there is the more lives are saved.

    The answer to the other scenarios (e.g. climate chaos) should be peacefully rendered generous assistance, not military prevention of the mass movement of displaced and desperate people.

Comment pages
1 2 13403
Comments are closed.