While China has dominated the conversation around the introduction of an integrated A2/AD network, and a Japanese push supported by growing US interest in such capabilities, Australia is well positioned to develop and integrate a combined stationary and rapidly mobile capability on the south-east arc of the Indo-Pacific, supporting greater allied mobility in the region.
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, provides 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.
Nevertheless, the tactical and strategic importance of the sea-air gap and Australia’s northern approaches cannot be underestimated and should continue to play an important role in the future tactical and strategic planning for both Australian and allied planners.
The introduction of a combined mobile and fixed anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capability serves as an invaluable force multiplier for both Australian and allied forces operating in the region by providing an enhanced sense of tactical and strategic mobility, in a similar manner to the way China’s own A2/AD network aims to support China’s mobility.
Drawing on precedent – Japan’s growing A2/AD kill chain
This “southwestern wall” as it has been labeled by a number of American and Japanese strategic experts is designed to serve in a similar function to that of China’s own A2/AD network – that is to blunt any potential adversary’s concerted naval and aerial attack through the use of integrated anti-ship and anti-air defence systems, combined with roving packs of hunter-killer submarines, airborne early warning, command and control aircraft, fighters and, in the event of an amphibious occupation, the Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade (ARDB).
Supporting this rollout is the development of military bases on more-remote islands stretching west towards Taiwan, to house troops and missiles capable of defending territory, waterways and airspace.
On the island of Miyako, among sugar-cane fields, Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force opened a new base in March that will accommodate 700 to 800 troops, anti-ship and surface-to-air missile batteries, and radar and intelligence-gathering facilities.
A similar such base was established on the island of Amami Oshima at the same time. A smaller facility opened on the westernmost island of Yonaguni in 2016, and another is planned for the island of Ishigaki by 2021, each forming a brick in the wall.
The ongoing territorial dispute centers on five small, uninhabited islands controlled by Japan and known here as the Senkakus but claimed by China, which calls them the Diaoyu, as well as by Taiwan.
Providing the teeth in Japan’s own A2/AD network is the growing suite of advanced weapons systems and platforms, including the two Izumo class vessels, supported by the highly capable Aegis destroyer fleet, and the Soryu class submarines.
In the air, Japan’s fleet of F-15J, F-2 and the increasing number of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, KC-46 Tankers and E-2D Advanced Hawkeye and E-767 AWACS all provide a powerful A2/AD capability.
Finally, the introduction of Japan’s suite of locally developed anti-ship cruise missiles, including the ASM-3, Type 93 air-to-ship missile and the road-mobile Type 88 surface-to-ship missile systems, which all combine to form an integrated net effectively limiting the tactical and strategic mobility of potential adversaries in the region.
Linking JORN, Aegis and IAMD – AIR 6500
JORN has long served as a key force multiplier for the ADF, providing unprecedented over-the-horizon surveillance capabilities to monitor contingencies and coordinate 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, multidomain “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.
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 increase protection coverage for Australian soldiers.
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 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 integrated air and missile defence (IAMD) capabilities of the broader network, but Aegis ashore in particular.
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 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.
The rapidly developing qualitative and quantitative capabilities of regional surface warship and submarine fleets, namely by Russia and China – combined with the increasing proliferation of surface vessels and submarines designed and built by the aforementioned nations by emerging peer competitors – serve to stretch the tactical and strategic capabilities of the RAN.
Additionally, the increasing proliferation of advanced anti-ship ballistic and anti-ship cruise missiles – combined with the growing prominence of naval aviation, again led by China but also pursued by Japan and India – is serving to raise questions about the size and the specialised area-air defence, ballistic missile defence, power projection and sea control capabilities of the ADF.