Home > Oz Politics, Tax and public expenditure > Refighting World War II

Refighting World War II

February 26th, 2016

In keeping with his commitment to do exactly what Tony Abbott would have done, but with more style, Malcolm Turnbull has just announced that we are to spend a trillion dollars on fighter plans and submarines. Apparently, there are lots of problems with the hugely expensive F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which Australia has on order. Rather than look at the details, it’s worth asking we are, yet again, arming ourselves to refight World War II.

World War II was fought on land, sea and air. Submarines and fighter planes played a crucial role. But since 1945, things have changed. The 70 years since 1945 have been marked by near-continuous land warfare in various parts of the world [1]. On the other hand, there has been essentially no naval warfare, in the sense of battles between ships or carrier based aircraft, with the exception of the absurd and unnecessary Falklands conflict. Air combat between fighter planes lasted a bit longer after 1945, playing a big role in the Korean War, but has been pretty much non-existent since the 1980s. All warplanes, these days, are effectively bombers, usually hitting targets that have previously been rendered defenceless by missile attack. Yet the problems of the F-35 stem, in large measure, from its capacity to engage in hypothetical dogfights.

Fighter planes and their pilots still attract most of the attention, and nearly all the glory, in air warfare. But the real work is increasingly done by drone operators, commuting from the suburbs to undertake their task of destruction in air conditioned offices: since they see exactly what they have done, the job is apparently much more stressful than that of a fighter pilot. So far, only the US is using military drones on a large scale, but it’s obvious that this is the way of future wars. The specific problems of the F-35 are irrelevant in this context: it will in any case be obsolete by the time it’s delivered.

As for submarines, Wikipedia gives a list of submarine actions since 1945. There have been six of them, three involving the sinking of surface ships, and three involving the firing of cruise missiles, something that can be done from craft as small as corvettes.

Submarines have been much more notable for sinking themselves. Wikipedia lists four US submarines sunk at sea since 1945, two with all hands. The Russians have done far worse, losing 18 subs, most notably the Kursk, lost with all hands in 2000.

Submarines aren’t obsolete in all their possible uses. If the world ends in a nuclear holocaust, the final missiles will probably be fired from nuclear-armed submarines. But the revival of old-style submarine warfare, using our subs to sink (say) Chinese naval vessels seems remote: the increasing power and range land based anti-ship missiles will soon make naval power obsolete. Even more remote (thankfully) is the use of submarines to attack merchant ships without warning, as was done in both World Wars.

Of course, no one can be certain that seemingly obsolete modes of warfare won’t be revived: For example, there was a cavalry charge during the Afghan war. But spending a trillion dollars on weapons systems that haven’t been used anywhere in the world for decades does not seem like a sensible use of public money.

Having posted this, I’m fully prepared to get a hammering from military buffs who will point out that I have got this or that detail of air and naval warfare wrong. But the idea that detailed knowledge of tech specs or the minor points of military history constitutes expertise is, in this context, quite wrong. In the absence of any significant air or naval warfare within living memory, supposed expertise is about as useful as Scott Morrison’s knowledge of unicorns. The only important thing to know is that, like nearly all military expenditure and nearly all wars, these proposed purchases haven’t been subject to a cost-benefit test and would fail it if they were.

fn1. There’s a case that land warfare has become less frequent, or at least less bloody over time. But it’s hard to tell.

  1. Troy Prideaux
    February 26th, 2016 at 12:59 | #1

    I’m no expert but I agree with most of it. I think subs are probably more useful than what you’re characterizing them as being. Maybe not for us so much, but for superpowers all too willing to engage in warfare like the US, they’re a useful mobile missile platform.
    I’m guessing the potential reluctance to go 100% drones could be the potential for the enemy to hack into their controls which is not an unprecedented event but the F35 solution sounds like one expensive dud.
    To me, the worst part of this whole exercise is most of this money is going offshore into the American defence industry. An awful lot of money in “cool factor” with not much return.

  2. paul walter
    February 26th, 2016 at 13:19 | #2

    Again and again and again, this weird defence spending lunacy is raised by experts and yet the public is oblivious as usual and msm remains deafeningly silent as to analysis.

    If there is not corruption or even extortion on a monumental scale involved, I’m Elmer Fudd.

  3. Troy Prideaux
    February 26th, 2016 at 13:36 | #3

    Troy Prideaux :
    Iโ€™m no expert but I agree with most of it…

    I should have actually phrased that “…I agree with most of what you’ve said”

  4. Magma
    February 26th, 2016 at 13:41 | #4

    All warplanes, these days, are effectively bombers, usually hitting targets that have previously been rendered defenceless by missile attack.

    You make that sound so ignoble and unsporting. (Good for you.)

    My favourite line from the warmongers is when they drag out the old saw: “If you want peace, prepare for war.” Of course since “If you want war, prepare for war” also holds, their point really boils down to stoking the machine for fear and profit.

  5. Peter Smith
    February 26th, 2016 at 13:48 | #5

    My take is that they are becoming worried that if they keep being Abbottly stupid, they will be in danger of a coup. Therefore, many toys for the boys!

  6. Jim Birch
    February 26th, 2016 at 14:04 | #6

    Drone strikes present a practical instance of the trolley problem. The killing of large numbers of random/unidentified people by conventional warfare seems to create less angst than the targeted executions by drone.

    I guess the big advantage of drone warfare is less death (and destruction.) Maybe we should be developing our own drone capabilities, especially if it is less likely to be used.

  7. Happy Heyoka
    February 26th, 2016 at 14:18 | #7

    Submarines are apparently useful for deployment of special forces. As far as I know, we only have anti-shipping missiles on the Collins but the replacements are meant to be able to fire cruise missiles (ie: land based targets).

    As for the F35, someone should have a harsh word with Andrew Peacock … didn’t he trouser a commission on that deal?

    Personally, with my hawk hat on, I think ICBMs, hypersonic cruise missiles and anti-missile batteries up the wazoo. And, yes, I do mean the kind of ICBM that earns you a permanent seat on the security council…

    If we’re going to acquire it, it should be as scary as possible and we should try and build as much of it as possible here… if there are going to be snouts in the trough they should be dinkum aussie snouts ๐Ÿ˜‰ If push comes to shove, and belligerent parties include the Chinese – who make pretty much everything you lay hands on these days, then we’re screwed unless we can build it here. I personally don’t expect the Americans to come riding in to our rescue.

    Alternatively, we could look into weaponising Kevin Andrews and Barnaby Joyce but I suspect that would be against the Geneva Conventions…

  8. Paul D’Agostino
    February 26th, 2016 at 14:22 | #8

    You are quite correct. The focus is on the deterrence of a high end capability when most of the conflict is low end land force capability. But – submarines are also a covert peacetime SIGINT platform as are the maritime patrol aircraft. But a converted fishing boat could do those functions – other countries aren’t even subtle about that. Cargo aircraft and amphibious warfare vessels can be important assets in disaster relief – maybe we can restore the foreign aid budget with defence assets and services that are useful in maintaining a peace and preventing war? Call me a hippy.

  9. Troy Prideaux
    February 26th, 2016 at 14:30 | #9

    @Happy Heyoka
    Oh, I LIKE it!!! Invest the money in multi nuke warhead ICBMs – like you said – that’s the real deterrent, you get taken seriously and when Uncle Sam comes-a-call’n for more participation in some middle eastern invasion, they can see you don’t have the (US made) hardware for any meaningful air contribution so they don’t even have to ask ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. sunshine
    February 26th, 2016 at 14:43 | #10

    I am disappointed that the decision to join the S E Asian arms race, and to join it on the American side, has been made in secret presumably with bi-partisan support and far from any democratic input. All the while we are being told that we cant afford to care for the less fortunate amongst us. We are suddenly concerned with maritime boundaries and protocols where China is concerned but we flout the law with respect to East Timor.

  11. Tim Macknay
    February 26th, 2016 at 14:51 | #11

    @Paul Dโ€™Agostino

    But a converted fishing boat could do those functions โ€“ other countries arenโ€™t even subtle about that.

    No kidding. There was a Chinese ship in Fremantle port a few weeks ago with dish antennae sprouting all over it like fungi fruiting bodies. Officially it was in the area as part of the search for MH370, but I’m a little skeptical about the utility of a forest of skyward-pointing antennae for scanning the sea floor.

  12. Tim Macknay
    February 26th, 2016 at 14:54 | #12

    @Happy Heyoka

    Alternatively, we could look into weaponising Kevin Andrews and Barnaby Joyce but I suspect that would be against the Geneva Conventions.

    I don’t think there’s a prohibition yet on weapons that cause the enemy to laugh themselves to death (but there probably should be).

  13. J-D
    February 26th, 2016 at 15:01 | #13

    @Magma

    The late Mogens Glistrup suggested that Denmark replace its entire defence force with a recorded message saying ‘we surrender’ in Russian.

    That’s also a way of preparing for war.

  14. derrida derider
    February 26th, 2016 at 15:03 | #14

    Seriously, Troy hints at a really important point. The defencoid establishment is forever arguing we have to buy high-end Yank stuff for “interoperability” reasons – that is, so we have to go to war alongside the Yanks. But that interoperability is a huge DISadvantage when we are pushed into helping the yanks on their foreign adventures – it makes it far harder to say no. Plus it means we continue to pay top dollar because the Yanks know they have no competition for the sale.

    Think how much better it would be if the heads of defence had had to tell Mr Abbott “no we can’t bomb ISIS in Syria just so you can look tough because our Swedish J39s can’t use American logistic support. In any case we’ve got hardly any planes since we put the money into more useful light infantry and those bargain-basement secondhand Russian missiles”.

  15. paul walter
    February 26th, 2016 at 15:26 | #15

    What does it all come down to?

    Kickbacks and pressure from TNC’s to buy defective junk via means acquried through covert intelligence?

    Fortunately DD again succeeded in moving the thing back to the only alternative, the lazy or timid assumptions of public servants unwilling to rock doctrinal boats or think independently and the consequent shepherding through of proposals based on apparent whim rather than than evidence.

    Nobody tell me that a couple of hundred $ billions is irrelevant, most of all at the time when Austerity is still being peddled. But, you suppose, education, health science etc can always be binned to pay for mere existance… what an Orwellian dud deal for the masses.

  16. Donald Oats
    February 26th, 2016 at 16:15 | #16

    The CSIRO risk assessments for Australia put climate change as a significant agent as time goes by, and the ADF have formed a similar view; meanwhile, we are gutting the very science groups that provide the evidence and facts by which a proper risk assessment can be made. Where is the blooming sense in that?

    As for the Lord of War: Drones are definitely going to play a critical role in future wars. Airborne drones are far more manoeuvrable than an equivalent manned jet or plane, for they are not constrained by the need for a manoeuvre to be survivable by a human. They can undertake accelerations and decelerations that would render a human unconscious at the very least. So, an unmanned fighter jet has several significant advantages over a manned one. No doubt similar drone capability is being developed for submarine operations, although the difficulties with maintaining communications with such submarine drones is a much more complex issue than in the case of airborne drones. Even so, drones could still be deployed on search and destroy missions, even autonomously. Again, given the absence of a crew, submarine drones have great potential.

    No doubt it is essential to maintain at least some land, sea, and air vehicles for the usual deployment demands we seem to get ourselves into, but for a defensive war against an incursion, I’d expect drones to feature as a critical piece of kit. If not, then the question is why the hell not?

    The big thing though is that we have stamped down hard and said what our national priorities are. They are religion in schools, excessive immigration combined with a jackbooted defence of our maritime borders, an utter contempt for science and scientists, and the development of a belligerent offensive capability for Twentieth Century Warfare. Pity we are well into the second decade of the first century of the third millenium CE.

    Meanwhile, the new head of the APS squawked loudly about public servants taking too many sickies—you know, having a long weekend, or a day at the beach—only to find out in the report he ordered that a very small percentage (around 2%) of public servants take the bulk of sick leave: cancer sufferers, severe mental illness, on the job trauma/accident/misadventure. All legitimate reasons for extended sick leave. So, once again a Liberal leaning boss gives a big rant about how bad and awful his staff are behaving (did you know that 40% of sick leave falls on a Monday or a Friday?), only to find out that they are in fact behaving very well, on the whole. He doesn’t seem so compelled to rant about that, no surprises there.

    I am trying so very hard not to sink into expletive-laden language with respect to the current government…so very hard…

  17. J-D
    February 26th, 2016 at 16:29 | #17

    @Happy Heyoka

    ‘Submarines are apparently useful for deployment of special forces.’

    And how is the deployment of special forces useful? specifically, how has it been useful to Australia?

  18. J-D
    February 26th, 2016 at 16:34 | #18

    @derrida derider

    Seems like good sense to me.

  19. Donald Oats
    February 26th, 2016 at 17:01 | #19

    If we are serious about our defence, clearly we need to go all nukes: they have pretty mushroom clouds that form above all the burning bodies. Much cheaper to nuke first, ask questions later. Imagine how scary bad our border force would be if they could nuke those boats striving to reach our happy shores, instead of having to pick ’em up and put them on an island somewhere. After the first couple of nukes, I seriously doubt we’d have a boat problem any more.

    And nukes don’t need big ships and stuff, just a neat little bunker and an itchy trigger finger. Cool as. And think of the local uranium mining and processing industry: an economic boom just waiting to happen.

    Sigh.

  20. February 26th, 2016 at 17:27 | #20

    @Happy Heyoka
    There is a view that Russia’s dominance of missile tech, mobility & shear numbers gives it the upper hand in western Europe.

  21. February 26th, 2016 at 17:42 | #21

    I thought there was a problem with finding personnel for submarines? Is an expansion of our submarine force going to be possible with the available personnel? I think the UK is having this problem too.

  22. Ikonoclast
    February 26th, 2016 at 17:51 | #22

    “The Government is aiming to build spending up to 2 per cent of GDP by 2020/21 โ€” earlier than previously promised โ€” representing an overall increase of $29.9 billion.”

    That’s over 5 spending years, if I can count on my fingers correctly. That’s a 6 billion increase per year. Will it really happen? I don’t know but I agree it’s 6 billion a year too much. Given all the other issues we have, there are plenty of better places to spend that money. I suspect Australia, and maybe the globe, has another big recession coming very soon. I doubt this is the time to be ramping up defence spending. Too much of defence spending (equipment spending) goes straight overseas. We need the economic spending boost to be domestic.

    Since warfare is evolving very rapidly, with rapid obsolescence of very expensive equipment, we could probably sit out a development cycle (say 5 to 7 years) and save some money by playing “wait and see”. As we are not a pace-setter or a world power we do not have to be super-early or first wave adopters. Better to be a second wave adopter of proven technology. I mean in the military sphere.

  23. February 26th, 2016 at 19:21 | #23

    Said it before, been howled down, will say it again, as long as I’ve got breath – don’t worry too much about the details, this is patriarchy, it’s an historical stage with kingdoms fighting each other, it’s time we moved beyond it.

    Not worth getting into the technical details about war and the capacity to wage war – war is stupid and wrong, oppose it on those grounds.

  24. Newtownian
    February 26th, 2016 at 19:48 | #24

    The guardian cartoonist steve bell did a great take on thatcher selling the ultimate weapon to the Saudis……the flying pig…..as distinct from its relative the flying white elephant.

    That said in defense of the fascinating history of military blundering eg the story of the battle cruisers at Jutland and the protected cruisers (livebait squadron) and aircraft like WWII defiant shows military experts have always done this ….. Preparing for novel conflicts using old paradigms. So nothing new here.

  25. February 26th, 2016 at 19:48 | #25

    @Ikonoclast

    Six billion dollars a year eh? You could actually do some good with that – or you could spend it on “defence”.

    The lives of ordinary people won’t change much if we are run by us, the Americans or the Chinese, or Jerry Hall’s husband. Why waste money pretending that we have a say in all this?

  26. Ikonoclast
    February 26th, 2016 at 21:36 | #26

    @John Brookes

    Agreed. I said don’t spend that money on defence, spend it domestically to stimulate the economy.

  27. Ikonoclast
    February 26th, 2016 at 21:43 | #27

    @Val

    You have an easier sell than I do. ๐Ÿ™‚

    When you criticise war at least you don’t have people saying “What’s war?” or “War doesn’t exist.”

    When I criticise capitalism just about all I get is “What’s capitalism?” or “Capitalism doesn’t exist.”

  28. wmmbb
    February 26th, 2016 at 21:48 | #28

    The pretence that this war waste policy is economically rational is about as wrong-headed as the assumption neoliberal assumption that we continue to live in a industrial society paradigm when must of the industry has been sent overseas, or otherwise closed down.

    It seems to me that drones, and similar systems, depend on satellites and digital technology. The war against hacking and security is alternatively being comprehensively lost or represents – as does neoliberalism – a fundamental threat to democracy.

    Biggles is very enthusiastic about this extravagant and stupid expenditure, as you would be expected. The fact that most major political parties, are likely to embrace this nonsense, as significant portions embrace neoliberalism, means more of the same is likely.

  29. paul walter
    February 26th, 2016 at 23:29 | #29

    @Donald Oats
    Get much cooler weather also…a nuclear winter could be the answer to the global warming problem?

  30. February 27th, 2016 at 05:39 | #30

    @Ikonoclast
    Ah but I get exactly those reactions when I talk about patriarchy Ikon ๐Ÿ™‚

    Even though I usually carefully say that the formal legal structure of patriarchy has largely been dismantled (in some countries like ours) and what we are left with is the inheritance – I still get people saying it didn’t exist. If I may put words in people’s mouths, I think maybe what they are resisting is the idea of complete hegemony – they’re saying that capitalism or patriarchy didn’t completely dominate people’s lives, that they still had some agency. That’s fair enough I suppose, but trying to say P or C didn’t or doesn’t exist is just wishful thinking.

  31. hc
    February 27th, 2016 at 08:38 | #31

    The interoperability issues raised by Derrida seem to be the strongest argument for this spending. The US doubtless insists we do our “share” in terms of supporting the alliance. China is, of course, adding significantly to its naval capacity.

    Serious questions about an immense level of spending.

  32. Ikonoclast
    February 27th, 2016 at 09:12 | #32

    This is an interesting analysis of the war problem. At one level it is plausible at another level I am left feeling that there is much more to the whole problem.

    “Rationalist explanations for war” – James D. Fearon

    http://slantchev.ucsd.edu/courses/pdf/fearon-io1995v49n3.pdf

    My own theories are only suppositions at this time so I won’t say too much. However, I think structural theorising (as structuralism) could be taken further in this arena than it has been. Structures, in this context, do two important things. They contain and facilitate, and, in a growing and changing set of societies or nations, they ramify. Conflict becomes more likely when structures break down or when competing structures ramify into “areas” previously unoccupied or uncontested. The rationalist analysis seems to assume that rational choices are always possible and that rational choices will always be effective. I take “rational choice” to mean a level of foresighted utility calculation beyond absolutely immediate exigencies.[1]

    A view, from a structural determinist point of view, would suggest that sometimes structural breakdown or structural ramification into newly contested areas will create situations where rational choices are either impossible or ineffective. These will often be cases (at least in the initial stages) where the assumption of top down command and control of a society is a flawed assumption. Conflict or a “will to conflict” will “bubble up” from the base. Civil wars, but not only civil wars, can evolve in this manner.

    fn 1. In making rational choices in response to immediate exigencies (emergencies) we can make choices which lead to failures, dead-ends or escalations of the crisis. This is an information problem and also a real-time problem. It is like being under time pressure in a chess game. In emergencies there is little time to calculate before acting.

  33. Jim
    February 27th, 2016 at 14:13 | #33

    Clearly I’m working as a consultant doing analysis in the wrong area (resource management).

    The standard of analysis required to justify a few million for the GBR is several times higher than the standard of analysis required to justify a lazy trillion on defence.

    Why?

  34. February 27th, 2016 at 14:16 | #34

    I’m a bit worried that for some reason we are only buying one type of each major item. Game theory would suggest advantages of having a couple of types of subs so that the enemy has to do a lot of guessing about what they are dealing with. I would have thought the strategic advantages of more than one type would out weight the cost disadvantages.

  35. Ikonoclast
    February 27th, 2016 at 14:55 | #35

    I am sure a lot of pressure is brought to bear on the Australian government (any government) by Uncle Sam. Clearly, our best, self-interested defence stance would be to free-ride under Uncle Sam’s forward defence and their nuclear umbrella. The USA govt. knows this and thus heavy pressure is brought to bear, behind the scenes, to make us buy their expensive 2nd gen. war toys. We don’t get the 1st gen. toys of course. It’s a protection racket and we have to pay for our protection. A realpolitik analysis indicates we can’t escape this game. We could perhaps play it a different way by being less servile and more multi-lateral. There may be limits to this too.

  36. February 27th, 2016 at 15:25 | #36

    Still no strict vehicle fuel standards to reduce Australia’s dependence on imported oil? So it’s a case of billions for defence, not one penny for actually making Australia more defendable.

    Just consider this for a moment. We have a government that is going to spend billions more on submarines and jets specifically designed for killing people, but they are not taking an action that would make Australia easier to defend, does not threaten anyone with harm, and is expected to save us money. Clearly the Coalition is not very good at cost/benefit analysis.

  37. Donald Oats
    February 27th, 2016 at 17:06 | #37

    @paul walter
    Indeed.

    I’m of the view now that this government is as much use as a second arsehole; the stupidest government Australia has had since Federation. About as appropriate as the Harold Holte memorial swimming pool.

    My money is still on Abbott stealing power just as the campaign period is about to start. It would be the stupidest thing to do, so…

  38. Ikonoclast
    February 27th, 2016 at 17:09 | #38

    @Ronald Brak

    I agree. If you can’t fuel and repair high tech stuff it rapidly becomes useless. I don’t see any plans for fuel independence and adequate engineering, fitting and maintenance capacities in Australia. So basically, if the US doesn’t resupply us we go down the gurgler very rapidly in any conflict.

  39. totaram
    February 27th, 2016 at 19:08 | #39

    After all these comments, I have nothing to add except this: stupid expenditure by a stupid government, elected by stupid voters. These very same stupid voters may very likely vote these same stupid people into power again, or they may vote in another stupid bunch of people who will not want to be seen as “soft on defence” and will approve the same stupid expenditure on the same stupid toys for the boys. Hallelujah!

  40. paul walter
    February 27th, 2016 at 19:11 | #40

    Donald Oats, agree re Abbott, Turncow is in big trouble now.

    As for the rest, refer to Ikonoclast’s post, 45.

  41. paul walter
    February 27th, 2016 at 19:14 | #41

    Sorry, 35. Just recalling some alleged expert at The Conversation trying tp schmooze through the white paper, https://theconversation.com/the-end-of-2-australia-gets-serious-about-its-defence-budget-53554

  42. rog
    February 28th, 2016 at 10:03 | #42

    Was it Harold Wilson who said that they were going to focus resources on welfare, not warfare?

    I’m surprised that the ostensibly genial Turnbull is leading this country down the path of warfare. No doubt there will be further savage cuts to health and education services.

  43. Ikonoclast
    February 28th, 2016 at 11:00 | #43

    @rog

    Well over a decade ago I formulated the proposition;

    “What does not go into welfare goes into warfare.”

    I don’t claim originality. At the time, I was reading about ideas of the welfare state and the warfare state. The idea obviously flows straight from that reading and is probably be no more than a succinct expression of it. The formulation must be axiomatically true. Welfare is the precise inverse of warfare and vice versa. It follows from this that we should make the welfare economy as big as possible as this is the best way, indeed the only way, to starve the war economy.

    I use the term “welfare economy” to not prejudge the form of the welfare economy. It could be a “welfare state”, “welfare collectives”, a “social market”, “market s o c ia l is m”, “s o c i a l i s m” etc. We are yet to find a form or forms of plenty, ownership, production, distribution and governance / decision making which reduce organised conflict to near zero at the global level.

  44. Douglas Hynd
    February 28th, 2016 at 13:38 | #44

    What can be sure of is that the cost of all these large weapons systems will come in well over budget and years late – every other system has. why? simple economics – few suppliers, so no effective competition to keep prices down, in fact oligopoly drives prices up because each supplier keeps adding essential bells and whistles which raises the prices, asymmetry of information between purchaser and supplier and shared view of the world by the purchasers and the people staffing the sales for overseas companies – the latter are all ex service people

  45. BilB
    February 28th, 2016 at 14:18 | #45

    With China moving to take a commanding and aggressive position in the South China Sea which to me looks like a strategy to contain and control initially Taiwan, and secondarily Vietnam, I think the real defence focus here will be one of product supply. For example I have four largish CNC machines with US brand names and one CNC machine with Italian branding, all were manufactured in Taiwan.

    We have a huge dependence on this region, and in Australia’s case it is both for sales and equipment. I think China has judged that their strategically placed new military and naval bases will be sufficient to intimidate not just countries in the region but the US as well that the defending Taiwan’s independence is impossible as any naval support would be effectively surrounded.

    China has bought huge amounts of land in Vietnam which suggests a hunger for productive land and with that in mind when I look at the geography between Vietnam and Myanmar I see a mass of soft target land for China to acquire. It is also a huge amount of “Carbon Sink” potential for a huge emitter, it might be argued.

    I really can’t imagine how all of this will play out, but only an ultra trusting fool would say that there is not a Chinese strategic plan under way here. During the recent Japan/China tension I watched the China News in the mornings. The message was one of massive Naval, Military and Air capability complete with Nuclear Missiles (even showing cutaways of their triggering devices being activated), day after day.

    A fairly senior Air Force person recently expressed to me that the future of Australia’s defence was submarines. I am inclined to believe it.

    I think the Abbott Governments demolition of Australia’s Auto Industry will be very quickly lamented. I was sourcing high performance plastic on Friday and spoke with a company in Melbourne, the message there was when the car plant lights go out, so do theirs. Just when we might be needing to do things for ourselves, our capability will be at its weakest.

  46. Peter T
    February 28th, 2016 at 14:20 | #46

    Just flipped through the White Paper. There’s remarkably little effort in it to relate threats or the wider strategic situation to the planned purchases. It’s a shopping list without a menu. Looks a lot like the Iraq debacle – the end (in this case spend a lot of money) dictating the rationale…

  47. Donald Oats
    February 28th, 2016 at 15:00 | #47

    I think 9/11, and more importantly the aftermath, taught us some lessons that went largely unheeded. If a different person had been president (of the USA), a very different response could have been the result. Perhaps there would have been a bigger force in Afghanistan, and no destruction of Iraq. Perhaps ISIS would have only been a fringe player at best.

    Or, the president could have been Donald Trump. Imagine that, and what the aftermath could have been.

    The larger and more capable our defence forces, the more chance we get dragged into a war as one of the capable allies, and the more chance we end up losing control of our destiny, it being tied to that of a super-power.

    That is an existential risk.

    What if Tony Abbott were PM, and Donald Trump were the president, and something like 9/11 happened?

  48. BilB
    February 28th, 2016 at 15:02 | #48

    For China to annex the entire Asian peninsula they would add just under 2 million square kilometres of “green” land mass and control an additional 260 million people. I they in a later action annexed the Russian lands and resources directly above China, land defended by a population of just 140 million) they would become a nation of nearly 2 billion occupying the largest national land mass in the world.

    That is what I think the world map will transform towards over the next 30 years. One large dominate population, China, a permanently fractured middle east (just supply them enough guns and ammunition), Africa with limited unity due to their tribalism, South America too remote to matter, a self absorbed India, and a feuding dysfunctional yet pyramidally wealthy west.

  49. BilB
    February 28th, 2016 at 16:05 | #49

    As to the White Paper, I think this is a case of making the “Grand Gesture”. This is money that is not spent, it is just talking about spending. Japan recently announced a forward defence expenditure over five? years of 13 trillion dollars.

    The other aspect is that the type of expenditure is more about gaining leverage. We are not talking about defending ourselves directly but defending those along the way to us. Most of whom occupy a multiplicity of islands.

    The other and more practical kind of defence plan involves a realistic attempt at regional development. Australian politicians have gone to a huge amount of effort to make Australians maximally vulnerable to hostile attack. We are all bunched together in a way that minimises the effort required to cripple our population. Knock out the power lines in a few places, blow holes in a few pipelines and we are instantly crippled.

    One of the best defence strategies is distributed solar energy production with battery backup. Yay greenies, and the cool thing about that is that it costs the government nothing.

  50. February 28th, 2016 at 18:11 | #50

    Always puzzled by the use of “defence” in ADF- the old version (“War” dept) was more honest. All our wars post ww2 were wars of choice, wars in which we invaded someone (darker folks) and basically tried, with little success, to impose a western, imperialist view of how things ought to be. Made for the Liberal party really. I get to read Yr 12 writing and find the death cult /anzac myth stuff scary. the most hilarious was a student extolling the bravery of the diggers who fought on the Kokoda track in 1913 defending Australia against Turk invading us. Thanks John howard and brendan nelson. Spending a fortune on submarines and the most sophisticated fighter on the planet is par for the Liberal party course. Did we use any of the expensive tanks in iraq (guarding the Green Zone (!!!!) or Afghan? Submarines? We are actually using the F16s to bomb Syria, but that’s serving little purpose. Kind of like Donald trump’s vague sense of rage: let’s bomb someone. I’m also struck by the narrow range of “approved” opinion on defence that the ABC consults. Noone evr gets on air asking why, for eg, we really can afford to send RAAF planes up to the South China Sea to exercise our right of passage. The point being?

  51. RJW
    February 28th, 2016 at 18:33 | #51

    “So far, only the US is using military drones on a large scale, but itโ€™s obvious that this is the way of future wars.”

    Not necessarily, the US is using drones against targets in Third World countries, they wouldn’t last five minutes against the Chinese or Russian defence forces. I’m sure somewhere the world’s militaries are developing, or have already developed, hunter-killer drones. To be effective against technologically advanced enemies drones would probably need to be autonomous and that’s a really scary scenario.

  52. February 28th, 2016 at 23:21 | #52

    Is it possible that this is a smart move by Turnbull? Shorten has an almost pathological habit of agreeing with anything the government says on “national security”. By agreeing, he makes the ALP seem more like the Libs, and hence less of an alternative.

    Would it be “crazy brave” of Shorten to come out with a vastly lower expenditure on defence so as to continue to highlight the difference between the parties? Hell, he could even say that they’d spend the difference on education.

  53. Donald Oats
    February 28th, 2016 at 23:27 | #53

    On a slightly adjacent topic, I (have insomnia, thus) saw the docu-drama “37 days to war” on SBS , late Saturday night. Three episodes back-to-back, brought to life the Sarajevo assassination that in its own serpentine way led to World War I. There are some decent actors/actresses in the mix, too.

  54. J-D
    February 29th, 2016 at 09:33 | #54

    @Ikonoclast

    I think we can learn something from that. Do you think we can learn something from that?

  55. Troy Prideaux
    February 29th, 2016 at 09:58 | #55

    Donald Oats :
    I think 9/11, and more importantly the aftermath, taught us some lessons that went largely unheeded. If a different person had been president (of the USA), a very different response could have been the result. Perhaps there would have been a bigger force in Afghanistan, and no destruction of Iraq. Perhaps ISIS would have only been a fringe player at best.
    Or, the president could have been Donald Trump. Imagine that, and what the aftermath could have been.

    Was it all the president though? Yep, he is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces and has the ultimate say, but he appeared to rely a lot on the advice of the hard-right string pullers like Cheney when it came to big strategic calls.

  56. Michael V
    February 29th, 2016 at 10:55 | #56

    I think that you’re probably right, particularly re. the fighters. But if I was to try to make a counterargument, it would include these two premises:

    1. Since WWII warfare has mostly been very asymmetrical โ€“ one great power against guerrilla forces (who are usually armed by another power). The sorts of conflicts that people are speculating may occur in East Asia in the medium-term are more of a return to conventional warfare between great powers โ€“ less Cold War, more WWII.

    2. Figures on the number of uses (e.g. of submarines since WWII) do not provide a good account of their significance in shaping conflict. The extreme example is nuclear weaponry, which has not been fully used in conflict since WWII (thankfully!!) but certainly has an enormous effect on what hawkish governments are prepared to do.

  57. J-D
    February 29th, 2016 at 13:02 | #57

    @Val
    I’m interested in details, and I’m not going to stop being interested in details just because you tell me not to worry about them and try to howl me down.

  58. Patrickb
    February 29th, 2016 at 23:51 | #58

    @Troy Prideaux
    They are the spaceships of the oceans.

  59. BilB
    March 1st, 2016 at 15:58 | #59

    Details…

  60. Debbieanne
    March 4th, 2016 at 19:39 | #60

    @Donald Oats
    That has to be one of the scariest imagines ever brought to mind. ‘SHUDDER’

  61. Ikonoclast
    March 4th, 2016 at 21:06 | #61

    @BilB

    Grea’ document’ry! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    “Here’s person gooin’ ta wurk on bike. Here’s person gooin’ ta wurk on motorbike. Here’s person gooin’ ta wurk in car. Aye! Here’s person gooin’ thru turnstile. Here’s ‘nother person gooin’ thru turnstile. Aye! Here’s person takin’ pies oota ooven. Here’s nother purson takin’ pies oota ooven. Ooops sooory, tha’ wa’ same person takin’ pies oota ooven.

    These persons live in a town. This town has loots af related persons livin in town. Tha’ aw’ work ut fact’ry maakin’ submarine. Haint wa learnin’ looots bout maakin’ sub-marines. We prafer makin’ billion pound submarine to makin’ say flud mitigation warks. We prefer ta let our towns flud. Bu’ wa hav’ luvly submarine. Maybe we can goo hame on sub-marine.

    We aa’ live in a yellow submarine… wall ooctually uts blaack.. buut you get th’ picture. Aye!”

  62. BilB
    March 6th, 2016 at 13:11 | #62

    Yes, indeed Ikonoclast, such is the calibre of documentaries today. Learning from such depends on whether you can add together the technical image snippets. No-one is rushing out to divulge their submarine construction secrets. If you feel let down then maybe this will appease you

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dxMGj7tksa8

    …stop at the halfway point as the second half is about the fanfare of launching the ship. Even the Yanks know how to string out a doco. What am I saying, they invented the technique.

  63. Metryll
    March 11th, 2016 at 05:03 | #63

    Sorry for my poor English, this is not my native language.

    Subs almost never were used to sink enemy combat ships but merchant shipping : North Atlantic 1939/45, Med 1940/43, Pacific 1941/45. In case of conflict, Chinese tankers would most likely become theirs primary targets.

  64. Troy Prideaux
    March 11th, 2016 at 09:04 | #64

    @Metryll
    Surely that logic is obsolete – many/most US subs can launch Tomahawks which means they can hit anything within range of the missile.

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