With the increasing proliferation of advanced ballistic and cruise missile threats in the Indo-Pacific, the Australian mainland has never been more exposed – meanwhile, the cost effectiveness of contemporary anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) systems provides valuable enhancements for defending the continent and enhancing the nation’s strategic buffer in the region.
From the earliest days of cruise and ballistic missiles, the evolution of technology between defence and offence has been a game of cat and mouse, with technology empowering both attacker and defender serving to create a constant state of tactical and strategic flux.
The advent of multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRV) during the Cold War and the rise of hypersonic ballistic and cruise missiles in recent years have constantly undermined efforts to develop a reliable, cost-effective and survivable missile defence system and capabilities. In response, the US, Russia, China, India, Israel and France have all invested heavily in developing a range of land, air and sea-based missile defence technologies and systems.
While fanciful programs like the Reagan administration's Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) postulated the use of space-based systems, namely laser-armed satellites, as a cost effective and survivable missile defence system, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the costs associated with developing such technologies pushed even the US to the limits of its financial and industrial capabilities.
However, the complexity of missile variants, combined with speed, improved manoeuvrability and re-targetable systems has required a layered approach to tactical and strategic missile defence, adding both cost and complexity to missile defence countermeasures. Meanwhile, the increasing focus on the development of integrated air and missile defence and A2/AD systems, largely by China in the South China Sea (SCS) provide interesting avenues for developing a similar system across Australia's north.
Australia's geographic isolation and size presents a series of operational and strategic challenges for implementing a layered system of continental defence, nevertheless, there has been an introduction of increasingly capable ballistic missiles throughout the region, most recently with announcements of a successful precision guided long-range ballistic missile by North Korea and the increasing capability of China's own ballistic and cruise missile systems.
Combining JORN and Aegis ashore
JORN has long served as a key force multiplier for the ADF, providing unprecedented over-the-horizon surveillance capabilities to monitor contingencies and co-ordinate responses to the north of the continent. Combining this capability with the growing power of integrated air and missile defence systems, in unison with advanced, multi-domain ‘shooters’, provides traditional ‘defence in depth’.
Aegis ashore meanwhile provides a highly capable missile defence system – building on the successful integration to the Aegis combat system on US, Australian, Japanese and South Korean warships while incorporating 'shoot down' capabilities and interoperability with a range of 'sensor' and 'shooter' platforms including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, E-7A Wedgetail, P-8A Poseidon, Hobart Class and Hunter Class and the recently announced $2 billion LAND 19 Phase 7B program.
Deployed in both Japan and parts of eastern Europe – Aegis ashore serves as a potent tactical and strategic force multiplier and 'goal keeper' enabling freedom of movement for air, land and sea-based assets throughout the theatre despite increasingly advanced and prolific ballistic and cruise missile systems fielded by adversaries like Russia, China and North Korea.
Combining the over-the-horizon surveillance capabilities of JORN – estimated to be capable of providing wide area surveillance at ranges of 1,000 to 3,000 kilometres – with the capabilities of Aegis can be used to form a key strategic integrated air and missile defence (IAMD) system for the long-range defence of the Australian mainland.
Further supporting the broader integration of these systems is the introduction of the $1 billion AIR 6500 program, which is designed as a joint battle management system that will interconnect the many disparate platforms, systems and sensors across the air, land, space, electromagnetic and cyber domains into a collaborative environment that provides shared situational awareness of the battlespace and the ability to rapidly plan responses to threats.
NORFORCE and roving IAMD
Formed in 1981, NORFORCE and its supporting Regional Force Surveillance Units (RFSU) are employed to provide surveillance and reconnaissance across the remote areas of Northern Australia – specifically focusing on an area of 1.8 million square kilometres and encompasses the Northern Territory and the Kimberley region of Western Australia.
The mobility of LAND 19 Phase 7B provides the perfect opportunity for NORFORCE to be shaped into the inner tier of the continental IAMD network – rapidly deployable and positioned throughout remote parts of northern Australia with the networked interoperability as part of the growing ADF 'system of systems'.
This mobile nature and the inner-tier capabilities of the LAND 19 Phase 7B systems was explained by Raytheon Australia managing director, Michael Ward, at the announcement of the selection of the National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System (NASAM) in early 2019: "LAND 19 will provide the inner tier of the air and missile defence capability with the Hobart Class providing the outer tier of the national air and missile defence. As a result of this, Raytheon can say that the integration centre will be focused on force protection with a focus on supporting Australian industry content and we are proud to say that our solution for LAND 19."
The NASAMS acquisition aims to bring a transformational change to the Army’s existing force protection capability, including a progression from man-portable GBAD capability to a fully networked and distributed system, these advancements allow the Army to counter complex air threats beyond visual range and significantly increases protection coverage for Australian soldiers.
As a potential further development, Australia could also look to equip NORFORCE with a mid-range IAMD system, like the Lockheed Martin Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system at semi-permanent 'bare bases' building on the precedent established by existing 'bare base' infrastructure like RAAF Bases Scherger, Curtin and Learmonth.
Aegis ashore and A2/AD
The intrinsic link between Aegis and platforms like the Mk 41 vertical launch systems (VLS) based onboard Aegis equipped destroyers and frigates in Australian and allied navies provides incredible opportunity for the nation to establish its own A2/AD network that penetrates well into the Indo-Pacific – while also drawing on the incredible interoperability, sensor fusion and strike capabilities of existing and developing platforms.
The commonality of the Mk 41 system, combined with the development of increasingly potent long-range anti-ship missile systems including the Kongsberg/Raytheon Naval Strike Missile/Joint Strike Missile family, the Lockheed Martin AGM-158C Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) and upgraded variants of the Raytheon Tomahawk cruise missile all provide viable, cost effective A2/AD capabilities.
Furthermore, the commonality of air and missile defence systems like Evolved SeaSparrow Missile (ESSM), SM-3 and SM-6 systems and interoperability of said platforms with both Aegis and the Mk 41 VLS further enhance both the A2/AD and IAMD capabilities of the broader network, but Aegis ashore in particular.
AIR 6500 and knitting the system together
AIR 6500 and Plan Jericho serve as the basis for Australia's pursuit of a complex, IAMD system responsible for providing a range of capabilities – ranging from tactical air and missile area defence for forward deployed Army expeditionary units, through to a layered, continental air and missile defence system.
Additionally, the increasing interoperability and commonality of data links and platforms operated by Australia and key regional allies like the US, Japan and Korea all serve to enhance the development of an IAMD network covering vast swathes of the Indo-Pacific – while also enabling platforms operating throughout the region to provide both 'sensor' and 'shooting' solutions across the region.
Each of these platforms form part of an intricate jigsaw puzzle, each filling a unique purpose within the broader 'joint force' concept – coming together to form an integrated tapestry of capabilities. As part of this, the ADF will also acquire ground-based active electronically scanned array radars from around 2020, expanding Australia's access to air and space situational awareness information, including through space-based systems.
These platforms, operating individually, serve an important role within the broader 'joint force' concept of the future ADF – however, when integrated, these capabilities serve as part of the development of a broader integrated air and missile defence and A2/AD system responsible for establishing a complex, 'defence in depth' network capable of shifting Australia's role in the region.