What do destroyers destroy? What do frigates … ?

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.

192 thoughts on “What do destroyers destroy? What do frigates … ?

  1. Look at any conflict in the world today that involves people killing lots of other people with serious weapons and you will find the US behind it – one way or another, either directly or indirectly.

    If you can’t see that then there is no point discussing any issues in the world involving armed conflict.

    The US is the world’s primary purveyor of violence and death. They have killed millions of people with their weapons, they are the only nation in the world to have used nuclear WMD to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians.

  2. @Ronald Brak

    My mistake in exposition. I did not make myself clear. The cost of weapons platforms to the enemy is relevant in assessing whether a given enemy will be able to field and maintain in the field certain platforms. To hit a defensive fleet (remember I advocate a defensive stance) an enemy will have to range out. What platforms does the enemy have to range out and will he be willing to risk them? That is the question. You cannot validly assume that a strike comes from nowhere without a delivery platform.

    The real issue apart from submarines is the increase in power of new A2/AD (anti-access/area denial). This is essentially the use of land based missile and ballistic missile systems. This only strengthens the argument for a defensive stance. In a defensive stance, frigates and air-warfare destroyers can add to the sum of anti-air and anti-sea defence. Whether they or subs and aircraft suit our defence and are cost effective are the next questions for sure. Australia has a “moat”, a long coastline, large area and small population. We need air and sea mobility to stop invasion landings. Our best move would be to sink any possible invasion fleet so we need control of air and sea around our coast.

    Big nations commit aggression as much as they can because they can. Megan has correctly pointed out that this is how the USA operates. It is how all big nations operate. Indonesia annexed, oppressed and exploited West Papua because it could and it wanted the resource prizes. The USA and Australia permitted it to do so for various expedient reasons or excuses. The only reason Indonesia does not attack and annex Australia is because they calculate they can’t win. There is no other reason. To think the Indonesian elite-military oligarchy is any way more benign than the US military-oligarchic complex (for example) is the height of naivety.

  3. Well, Ikonoclast, I certainly can’t dispute your last point. Looking at US Attack spending as a percentage of GDP it reached 38% in 1944, fell slightly prior to their invasion of Canada, and now appears to be permenantly above 70%. My own parents fled the US Mexican war of ’62 and became Australian citizens after New Zealand was annexed. Fortunately my mother had a productive womb and recieved a Menzies Star for having over 10 Australian children. And she somehow managed to keep going even after my father was shot through the spine in Malaysia. Anyway, after leaving half a leg in Suva, I now work at the Murry Bridge drone factory. I also left a couple of other things behind in Fiji, so I’m a class B citizen when it comes to radiation exposure from the Adelaide ruins. Anyway, peg leg technology has come a long way and they always need people who can use a soldering iron in the field, so it looks like I may be scraped up as part of Operation Recycle. But until that happens I keep myself amused in my rest hour by reading badly written alternate history fiction. Currently I’m reading one in which the world was influenced by a fictional 19th century military philosopher called Carl von Clausewitz. It is horribly researched, as the writer, Harry Turtledove, doesn’t even seem to realise that Prussians would spell that as Karl von Klausewitz.

  4. @Chris O’Neill

    Considering how extremely unlikely that circumstance is and the relatively small cost of dealing with it in a non-military way (staying out of Indonesian territorial waters), it hardly makes any economic sense to spend vast amounts of money on military assets to deal with this extremely unlikely type of problem, even if use of such military assets could solve the problem which seems pretty unlikely anyway.

    Maybe, Although given that virtually all Australian exports to China, Japan and Korea transit through Indonesian waters, as do the vast majority of Australian oil imports*, I suspect that the Australian government would arrive at a different estimate of the size of the cost of your ‘non-military’ solution to the hypothetical problem of which you speak. I suspect, in fact, that the Australian government might well regard access to trade routes passing through Indonesian waters as a vital national interest. Just sayin’.

    (*the non-military solution of reducing dependence on imported oil certainly makes a lot of sense!)

  5. @Ikonoclast
    Apropos the One Defence proposal, it’s too late to be worried about the managerialists running Defence – that’s been the case for years. If you ask any old soldier (or sailor or airman) about it, you’ll get a series of grizzles starting with (but not limited to) the destruction of mess life. This is also not the first time they’ve tried a unified approach to defence anyway. (I recall when I was in the Army, it was happening in support functions like logistics and movements quite successfully.)

    However on my initial reading of the document, it seems to be focussed on DMO and, I’ll be frank, it’s not before time that something serious happened to defence procurement.

  6. @Megan

    I guess if you only want to have discussions with people who automatically agree with whatever you say, then I’m not one of those people, although it’s hard to tell what the point of a discussion like that would be.

    The Wikipedia listing I mentioned earlier includes, among others, the war in Darfur, the Boko Haram insurgency, and the Central African Republic conflict, each with estimates of fatalities in the thousands just in 2014 and 2015. I don’t perceive the US behind those conflicts, directly or indirectly. Possibly you do, but if you can’t or won’t or don’t give any more details of your perceptions then there is nothing more to discuss.

  7. I suggest the value of Australia’s navy are as much psychological as practical.

    It’s worth noting that:
    – Yes, blue water navies are very expensive, but they do have reasonable shelf life (outside of warzones!) and the Navy at least has picked up a bargain recently (HMAS Choules)
    – we are very large island nation – if anyone should invest in Navy why not us
    – we have soverignty over a very large ocean territory – worth having the capacity to defend / enforce our sovereignty over to some degree.

    It’s also worth noting the challenge of seeing the future. All military investments are insurance policies against unpredictable futures. In short, the world in 2050 will likely be more crowded, hotter, and subject to a bi-polar USA – China superpower contest (whether economic or military or both).
    By the time these ships come on line:
    – the world’s climate will have continued to warm, with climatic change likely to be driver of future conflict (this is recognised by many militaries, including our US allies).
    – the world is going to be substantially more crowded
    – tensions between China and USA may be severe or not.

    It seems prudent that a rich nation, in our geography, invests in naval capabiilty.

    Whether this is best spent on Destroyers, Patrol Boats, or floating LHDs is a question others will be better placed than I to answer.

  8. @Ikonoclast

    Land-based capability to launch missiles is cheaper than seaborne capability; the only reason it would ever be worth investing in seaborne capability would be in preparation for scenarios where land-based capability is unavailable.

    If a conflict takes place between Australian forces and the forces of another country in the coastal waters of that other country, then the only way for Australian forces to be able to launch missiles will be if Australia has ships with the capacity to launch them (or to launch aircraft that can launch them); but the other country will be able to launch missiles from land or from land-based aircraft and won’t need ships with that capability.

    Contrariwise, if a conflict takes place between Australian forces and the forces of another country in the coastal waters of Australia, it is the other country that will need to rely on the capabilities of its ships if it is to launch missiles, while Australia will be able to rely on launching from land or from land-based aircraft and won’t need that seaborne capability.

    You recommend a defensive stance. If Australia adopts a defensive stance, it will not be involved in conflicts in the coastal waters of other countries, and if it is involved in conflicts in its own coastal waters its forces will be able to rely on land-based capability to launch missiles (if desired) and won’t need ships with that capability.

    (I think this idea has been in the minds of the people who have been exchanging comments with you about this, but it seemed to need spelling out.)

  9. Darfur is in Sudan. Sudan has a long and sorry history of imperial meddling. Israel is up to its eyeballs in such meddling in recent times.

    But, as far as the US involvement goes (“direct or indirect”), in 2007 retired US General Wesley Clark did an interview with Amy Goodman in which he recounted a visit to the Pentagon soon after 9/11:

    …So I came back to see him a few weeks later, and by that time we were bombing in Afghanistan. I said, “Are we still going to war with Iraq?” And he said, “Oh, it’s worse than that.” He reached over on his desk. He picked up a piece of paper. And he said, “I just got this down from upstairs” — meaning the Secretary of Defense’s office — “today.” And he said, “This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, S0m@lia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.”…

    In the end Sudan was “taken out” with the further loss of many lives.

  10. @J-D
    Bear in mind, we don’t have defensive missile launch sites (or gun emplacements, or … anything, really) every few miles all the way around our coast. It actually makes sense to have a few portable weapon platforms (like, say, ships) that can swiftly be deployed to wherever they are required.

  11. @James Wimberley
    Somewhat ironically, the CIA and the Sudanese government appear to have had a mostly cooperative arrangement in the years following 11 September 2001, notwithstanding the sporadic condemnation of Sudanese actions in Darfur by other branches of the US government. This cooperative arrangement presumably saved the Sudanese regime from being ‘taken out’. At least, that’s what the Sudanese government seems to think – http: // www. sudantribune.com /spip.php?page=imprimable&id_article=24527

  12. @David Irving (no relation)

    It actually makes sense to have a few portable weapon platforms (like, say, ships)

    IIRC, a more mobile weapon platform was developed a while back. A lot cheaper and faster than a ship, and has sunk lots of them. Can anyone remind me what it was?

  13. @Megan

    Among the countries not on that alleged list of seven, but appearing on the Wikipedia list of ongoing conflicts, are Nigeria, the Central African Republic, Yemen, Colombia, Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, Myanmar, India, Thailand, Ethiopia, China, and Mali.

  14. Sir! Sir! Could it be a plane, sir!

    Planes and helicopters!

    Neither of which need to be very large or have a pilot these days, so why we are spending billions on Joint Strike fighters I don’t know. An aircraft so named because the planners were all either smoking joints or out on strike when they decided to go ahead with it. Australia is paying over $200 million each for what is basically a range extender for missiles.

    Anyway, David, ships are bad, m’kay. Because ships are what we scientists call very very large. Much too large to avoid being a target for an anti-ship missile. With today’s offensive technology anything larger than a patrol boat is a waste of lives and material. Not that I think we should use patrol boat sized missile ships. The United States is the only country that could currently realistically invade Australia and they probably have enough missiles and other capability to sink every patrol boat Australia could realistically float. So instead, if you want to launch missiles from a surface vessel, missile speedboats might be the way to go. I suggest looking at the go-fast boats that commonly avoid US detection and apparently smuggle tonnes of drugs into their country each day. And I also suggest looking at drug smuggler’s semi-submersibles.

    Of course, we wouldn’t put an actual missile on each go-fast missile boat. Those things are expensive. For each $100,000 boat carrying a multi-million dollar missile we could have 10 or more decoy boats, and these days there’s no need to put an actual person in them. Of course, considering that Australia sent troops to help occupy Iraq, the lives of Australian Defence Force personnel appear to have a negative value to the government, but me, I still think we should try not to get them murdered and should shell out for a little automation. (The cost of anti-ship missiles varies. The US pays about $2 million a piece for Harpoon anti-ship missiles, but charges India about $20 million each for them.)

    And of course, these days there is no reason why we can’t have torpedos or missiles just sitting in the ocean waiting for the enemy to simply blunder into their general area, although we are more likely to wait until we have a general idea of where the enemy vessels are before we drop them by plane, small boat, or helichopper – all of which could be drones. (And we would drop many decoys as well, just to make things more difficult for them.)

    Now because the amount of energy required to overcome water resistance per tonne decreases with the size of a boat or ship, if someone wants to sail to Australia, to do so in a fuel efficient manner will generally require something larger than a speedboat. About 30,000 tonnes is large enough for further increases in size to result in trivial efficiency improvements. This is a major reason why cargo ships tend to be big. So provided Australia doesn’t do anything stupid like build frigates, it can use the offensive advantage of anti-ship missiles and torpedoes (whether launched by a submarine or otherwise) to its advantage against invaders who try to approach in more fuel efficient, larger vessels. Australian vessels don’t require the advantage of ocean going range because we don’t want to murder people other countries. Or at least I don’t. Anyone here feel like murdering people in Fiji or Iceland?

    Of course, if Australia really wants to deter the United States from invading, it should build Improvised Explosive Device factories and stockpile the product. Of course, these would actually be Unimprovised Explosive Devices. We should also consider closer military ties with Iran to benfit from their experience with the US turning Iraq into a laboratory for them to experiment with different ways to drive out a US occupation.

  15. @John Quiggin

    If I recall correctly (and I do — evidence available above), I mentioned that very mobile weapon platform you’re thinking of in the very comment that David Irving was responding to. Did I not mention it emphatically enough?

  16. @AndyA

    The navy’s value is psychological rather than practical? The only meaning I can get out of that is ‘The navy is not actually any use to us, but it makes us feel better’. That’s one of Humphrey Appleby’s explanations for defence policy that I quoted earlier. Perhaps the navy makes you feel better, but it doesn’t make me feel any better.

    The navy is expensive, but durable. If it’s of no practical use, it makes no difference how durable it is.

    If you want an example of a country that has more practical use for a navy than Australia does, I refer you to the earlier discussion of South Korea.

    Tensions between USA and China may be severe … or not. Yes, well spotted. And having a navy may be a good idea … or not.

  17. Nick Turse (TomDispatch) wrote an investigative journalism piece in 2013 about AFRICOM.

    An extract:

    …Nzara in South Sudan is one of a string of shadowy forward operating posts on the continent where U.S. Special Operations Forces have been stationed in recent years. Other sites include Obo and Djema in the Central Africa Republic and Dungu in the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to Lieutenant Colonel Guillaume Beaurpere, the commander of the 3rd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group, “advisory assistance at forward outposts was directly responsible for the establishment of combined operations fusion centers where military commanders, local security officials, and a host of international and non-governmental organizations could share information about regional insurgent activity and coordinate military activities with civil authorities.”

    Drone bases are also expanding. In February, the U.S. announced the establishment of a new drone facility in Niger. Later in the spring, AFRICOM spokesman Benjamin Benson confirmed to TomDispatch that U.S. air operations conducted from Base Aerienne 101 at Diori Hamani International Airport in Niamey, Niger’s capital, were providing “support for intelligence collection with French forces conducting operations in Mali and with other partners in the region.” More recently, the New York Times noted that what began as the deployment of one Predator drone to Niger had expanded to encompass daily flights by one of two larger, more advanced Reaper remotely piloted aircraft, supported by 120 Air Force personnel. Additionally, the U.S. has flown drones out of the Seychelles Islands and Ethiopia’s Arba Minch Airport. …

    We know from WikiLeaks cables that the US has been killing covertly people in Yemen (under the protection of the recently ousted government) with drones for years.

  18. @Megan

    Are you suggesting that the presence of US special operations forces and drone bases in a continent means that they are the sole source of violent conflict there? I wonder whether your model includes a fixed radius centred on US forces within which it becomes impossible for anybody to launch violent conflict without being prompted by the US. If every country in the world except the US — and every opposition group too — has lost the power to initiate violence without US involvement, it’s a remarkable historical development, and it seems natural to ask when it’s supposed to date from. What is the date of the most recent violent conflict not caused by the US supposed to be?

    I suppose it’s possible that if a civil war broke out in Upper Comebuckta West you’d be able to show that US soldiers were present there, or, if they weren’t, that at some point they had been. But that’s not the same thing as showing that the past or current presence of US soldiers was the cause of the civil war. People have been fighting and killing each other all over the world long before the US came on the scene, and if they continue to do so once the US comes on the scene that doesn’t prove the US is responsible.

    The US is, of course, responsible for a great many things, but that’s not the same as being responsible for everything. I am tempted to wonder whether you grasp the distinction. If you could go through that Wikipedia list — or a similar list from some other source — and systematically demonstrate how every single one of those conflicts had been caused by the US, your case would be more convincing. The unsystematic observations you’ve produced so far don’t even come close.

  19. Nice set of motorized goal-posts!

    The original assertion was:

    Look at any conflict in the world today that involves people killing lots of other people with serious weapons and you will find the US behind it – one way or another, either directly or indirectly. …

    Nobody seriously suggests that the people of Iraq, Libya, Syria – for example – are better off today than they were before the US started to “help” them with a bit of “regime change”.

    As for Colombia (in a piece by James Petras from yesterday):

    Colombia has received more US military aid — over $6 billion dollars in the past decade — than any country in the Western Hemisphere. For its part, Colombia allowed the Pentagon to build seven military bases, more than all the other countries in the region combined. There are over 2,000 US military officers and private US ‘mercenary’ contractors engaged in military activities in Colombia – more than any other country in Latin America.

    During the decade-long (2001-2010) regime of President Alvaro Uribe, (a drug trafficker and death squad jefe in his own right), more than one-thousand trade union leaders and activists were murdered — over one hundred a year.

    Nevertheless, the ‘Colombian killing field’ regime under Uribe was described in glowing terms by all the major respectable Anglo-American newspapers, including the Financial Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post for having brought “stability and peace” (of the graveyard) to the country and making Colombia “safe for investors”. …

    No, I’m not suggesting … “that the presence of US special operations forces and drone bases in a continent means that they are the sole source of violent conflict there”. If the US Empire had its way there would be no resistance to its quest for global hegemony whatsoever. But there is resistance, and they tend to deal with it – directly or indirectly – with extreme weaponised violence.

  20. @Megan

    I am aware that the original assertion was

    Look at any conflict in the world today that involves people killing lots of other people with serious weapons and you will find the US behind it – one way or another, either directly or indirectly.

    So what evidence is adequate to establish the truth of that assertion?

    So far the evidence you have presented shows that in some of the places where there is conflict in the world today, there either is now or has been at some point in the recent past a US military presence.

    The statement ‘there is a US military presence in country X’ is not synonymous with the statement ‘the US is behind the conflict in country X’.

    So the evidence presented is inadequate to justify the assertion.

  21. Hoping to resolve this debate, can I suggest the following:

    Look at any event in the world today, regardless of what it involves, and you will find the US behind it, one way or another, either directly or indirectly

    Let’s face it, as the global hegemon, the US has a finger in every pie.

  22. @John Quiggin

    Hah, ha. Perhaps even a bit more sweepingly generalised than my original point, but workable.

    Somebody once said: “There will never be a military coup in the US because there is no US embassy there.”

  23. William Blum has a handy, but not exhaustive, list under his post “Overthrowing other people’s governments“:

    Instances of the United States overthrowing, or attempting to overthrow, a foreign government since the Second World War. (* indicates successful ouster of a government)

    China 1949 to early 1960s
    Albania 1949-53
    East Germany 1950s
    Iran 1953 *
    Guatemala 1954 *
    Costa Rica mid-1950s
    Syria 1956-7
    Egypt 1957
    Indonesia 1957-8
    British Guiana 1953-64 *
    Iraq 1963 *
    North Vietnam 1945-73
    Cambodia 1955-70 *
    Laos 1958 *, 1959 *, 1960 *
    Ecuador 1960-63 *
    Congo 1960 *
    France 1965
    Brazil 1962-64 *
    Dominican Republic 1963 *
    Cuba 1959 to present
    Bolivia 1964 *
    Indonesia 1965 *
    Ghana 1966 *
    Chile 1964-73 *
    Greece 1967 *
    Costa Rica 1970-71
    Bolivia 1971 *
    Australia 1973-75 *
    Angola 1975, 1980s
    Zaire 1975
    Portugal 1974-76 *
    Jamaica 1976-80 *
    Seychelles 1979-81
    Chad 1981-82 *
    Grenada 1983 *
    South Yemen 1982-84
    Suriname 1982-84
    Fiji 1987 *
    Libya 1980s
    Nicaragua 1981-90 *
    Panama 1989 *
    Bulgaria 1990 *
    Albania 1991 *
    Iraq 1991
    Afghanistan 1980s *
    S0m@lia 1993
    Yugoslavia 1999-2000 *
    Ecuador 2000 *
    Afghanistan 2001 *
    Venezuela 2002 *
    Iraq 2003 *
    Haiti 2004 *
    S0m@lia 2007 to present
    Honduras 2009
    Libya 2011 *
    Syria 2012
    Ukraine 2014 *

  24. Any nation with overwhelming power is going to abuse it. The US is no different in this regard. The best we can hope for is that the great powers will more nearly balance each other in future. The US seems to be losing its economic lead. Its military power must follow.

  25. @John Quiggin

    So I go straight to Google News, and just look at the top story. It’s about Tony Abbott saying there’s a strong case for increasing the GST. Is the US behind that?

    Is the US behind every story I see on Google News? The dispute between management and unions and the resulting disruption of train services in Melbourne? The suspicious death of a three-month-old girl in Victoria? The fire in a Paris apartment block? The explosion at a chemical plant in China? The murder of Brendan Vollmost? The encounter between a fisherman and a great white shark? The launch of a new smartphone by Huawei Technologies? The Ashley Madison hack? Julia Baird’s cancer?

    (I didn’t have to go to Google News. I could have gone to the Bureau of Meteorology. It rained in Sydney overnight. That’s an event in the world today.)

  26. @Megan

    You’re making essentially the same mistake as before if you’re confusing the statement ‘the US has been involved in many cases where a government has been overthrown’ with ‘the US has been involved in all cases where a government has been overthrown’. Your list looks like a long list, but how long would be the list of all cases over the same period of overthrow or attempted overthrow of a government?

    ‘The hits are recorded, the misses are not. Thus human nature unconsciously conspires to produce a biased reporting of the frequency of such events. If enough independent phenomena are studied and correlations sought, some will of course be found. If we know only the coincidences and not the unsuccessful trials, we might believe that an important finding has been made. Actually, it is only what statisticians call the fallacy of the enumeration of favorable circumstances.’ (Richard Feynman)

  27. @J-D

    Let’s divide these into two categories. First, there are stories with a substantial economic element (wage disputes, factory explosion, new products, websites). Given the dominant role of the US in the global economy and its role as technological leader for the past century or so, the existence of a link, direct or otherwise is pretty much guaranteed. Taking the tram dispute as an example, do you think the attitude of the Victorian government is influenced by budgetary concerns linked to credit ratings? If so, we’ve made our link. Same for the others

    I’ll skip to the end, and do the rain in Sydney. Do you believe that the global climate, including the climate in Sydney, has been influenced by the burning of fossil fuels over the past century? If so, we’re done. And anyone who doesn’t believe this has been suckered by US denialists.

    Going back to the middle, do you think social conditions in Australia are influenced by the economic developments of the past century? Need I go further?

  28. …how long would be the list of all cases over the same period of overthrow or attempted overthrow of a government?

    Good question. As the contrarian here, maybe you could suggest a few – and we can look into them to see whether “…you will find the US behind it, one way or another, either directly or indirectly”.

  29. @John Quiggin

    The statement ‘there is a link between the existence of the US and this event’ is not synonymous with ‘it is the US that is primarily responsible for this event’. The statement ‘there is a link between the existence of the US and the occurrence of this conflict’ is not synonymous with ‘it is the US that is primarily responsible for this conflict’. The statement ‘there is a link between the existence of the US and the overthrow of this government’ is not synonymous with ‘it is the US that is primarily responsible for overthrowing this government’. If the Chicxulub impact had never occurred, human history as we know it would never have happened; if I asked you to describe the causes of the transport dispute in Melbourne, would you include the Chicxulub impact in your explanation?

    If Megan’s point is ‘In a hypothetical world where the US didn’t exist, these conflicts would not have been initiated and these governments would not have been overthrown’, it may be technically correct, but so what? In a hypothetical world where the US didn’t exist, other conflicts would have been initiated and other governments would have been overthrown. That is, after all, exactly what did happen before the US existed. It seemed to me, however, that Megan was making a stronger and more specific claim, one which seemed to me not to be adequately supported by the evidence presented. If my impression was mistaken, perhaps Megan will correct me.

    For example, if the US had not existed, the burning of Washington by the UK in 1814 would never have happened, but that would not justify saying that the US burned Washington. If the US had not existed, the overthrow of Batista by Castro would never have occurred; but it was Castro that overthrew Batista, not the US.

  30. Primarily responsible for” is to selectively cherry-pick a narrow definition of “behind”.

    The more appropriate – and correct – definition (per Merriam and others) is broader and covers: “in a role of originating or supporting; as a cause or latent feature of; concerning the circumstances surrounding; in the background of; underlying.”

  31. @John Quiggin
    (and others), I’ll return to our original topic.

    Yes, aircraft are armaments platforms, and are faster than ships, but they can’t stay on station for weeks or months at a time. (Hours, maybe.) They’re also eye-wateringly expensive to keep in the air.

  32. (I should perhaps confess an interest here: the company I work for builds ships, amongst other things.)

  33. @David Irving (no relation)

    Of course aircraft can’t stay in the air for weeks or months at a time. However, if the hypothetical conflict is taking place in Australia’s coastal waters (which is consistent with Ikonoclast’s suggestion of a defensive stance), there’s no need for them to stay in the air for weeks or months at a time. They only need to be on hand.

    If you don’t see this, think about it in the converse. Suppose the conflict was taking place in another country’s coastal waters; and suppose the other country had aircraft capable of firing missiles but no ships capable of doing so. Would you conclude that we didn’t need to worry about our ships being sunk by their missiles because their aircraft can’t stay in the air for weeks or months at a time?

  34. @David Irving (no relation)

    I doubt the cost of keeping them in the air approaches the cost of building and maintaining air warfare destroyers.

    And of course, the cost of losing one of them would be trivial compared with the cost of losing an air warfare destroyer.

  35. David, a Predator drone used for reconnaisance might use 5 liters of fuel an hour. That’s about $2.70 at current aviation fuel prices while a frigate is likely to burn over 1,000 as much fuel per kilometer travelled. Because frigates tend to have crews of over 150, just paying people’s salaries will come to over $3,000 an hour. The Australian government can borrow money at around 2% at the moment, so the interest on a three billion dollar frigate comes to around $6,850 an hour. An Anzac frigate is about 30m above water at its highest point. This means it can spot things on the horizon a maximum of about 20 kilometers away. A aircraft at 10,000 meters can spot things on the horizon 360 kilometers away.

    And then if a frigate was used for “station keeping” the question arises of what possible benefit would that serve? If a frigate is sitting in more or less one spot in a conflict without air support, it is very likely to be detected and destroyed as they have no defence against ballistic anti-ship missiles. Frigates are far too expensive and vulnerable to be used for station keeping in a conflict, and if there isn’t a conflict then we don’t need a frigate.

    And I’ll mention the fact that there are planes that can stay on station for weeks or months these days. They aren’t capable of being much more than reconnaissance platforms at the moment, but the combination of aerial reconnaissance plus anti-ship missiles elsewhere means that people on board any ships that are seen approaching could more or less be murdered at will.

    I was going to describe how small drones could be combined with World War I technology to damage or disable a frigate and how there would be basically nothing the frigate could do about it, but I decided not to just in case someone out there has access to 1914 technology.

  36. @Tim Macknay

    Although given that virtually all Australian exports to China, Japan and Korea transit through Indonesian waters, as do the vast majority of Australian oil imports*

    No that is not necessary. Alternate routes from Indonesian territorial waters are economically feasible in the EXTREMELY unlikely event that Indonesia decides to withdraw from the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. And it’s not just extremely unlikely ever, it’s even more unlikely in the foreseeable future. Huge cost with very low likelihood of moderate economic payoff doesn’t make any economic sense.

    I suspect that the Australian government would arrive at a different estimate of the size of the cost of your ‘non-military’ solution to the hypothetical problem of which you speak.

    At least you don’t explicitly disagree that the Australian government would arrive at a different estimate of the likelihood of Indonesia withdrawing from the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

    And you’re still ignoring the chances of Australia being successful at using naval force to enable ordinary ships to use Indonesian territorial waters. Somewhere between Buckley’s and Nunn.

    Just sayin’.

    Nope. You’re just claimin’.

  37. @Tim Macknay

    Although given that virtually all Australian exports to China, Japan and Korea transit through Indonesian waters, as do the vast majority of Australian oil imports*

    No that is not necessary. Alternate routes from Indonesian territorial waters are economically feasible in the EXTREMELY unlikely event that Indonesia decides to withdraw from the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. And it’s not just extremely unlikely ever, it’s even more unlikely in the foreseeable future. Huge cost with very low likelihood of moderate economic payoff doesn’t make any economic sense.

    I suspect that the Australian government would arrive at a different estimate of the size of the cost of your ‘non-military’ solution to the hypothetical problem of which you speak.

    At least you don’t explicitly disagree that the Australian government would arrive at a different estimate of the likelihood of Indonesia withdrawing from the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

    And you’re still ignoring the chances of Australia being successful at using military force to enable ordinary ships to use Indonesian territorial waters. Somewhere between Buckley’s and Nunn.

    Just sayin’.

    Nope. You’re just claimin’.

    BTW, html buttons are sort-of handy but not half as good as preview.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s