2019 was a big year for Defence and defence industry, with major projects kicking off across the three branches. In this top five, we will cover the most popular Insight stories of the year.
As part of the evolving role and offering provided by Defence Connect, 2019 saw the introduction of the daily Insight bulletin – which is designed to serve as a conduit and source of up-to-date, reliable analysis, conversation and thought leadership information from a range of individual contributors engaged with the broader Australian national security debate.
2019 set the scene for much of what we can expect to witness in the 2020s; increasing nation-state competition, driven largely by the balance of power between the US and China, increased competition between established and rising regional and global powers, with Australia firmly entrenched in this period of competition.
Further compounding these factors is the increasing disruptive nature of 'grey zone' tactics, which see state and non-state actors challenging the national security of rivals, water, energy and resource security, ancient territorial enmities that have the potential to plunge regions or the globe into conflict and the disruptive impact of climate change.
Aircraft carriers emerged from the Second World War as the pinnacle of maritime prestige and power projection.
However, unlike their predecessors, the battleship, aircraft carriers are in themselves relatively benign actors, relying heavily a their attached carrier air-wings and supporting escort fleets of cruisers, destroyers and submarines to screen them from hostile action.
Japan's recent announcement that it would refit its Izumo Class vessels to act as F-35B carriers has seen ASPI kick off renewed debate about the viability of a similar platform for the Royal Australian Navy.
Malcolm Davis of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) has reopened the debate around the return of fixed-wing naval aviation and strike capabilities for the RAN in response to the rising regional carrier capabilities.
"Starting this conversation is part of a broader discussion ahead of the 2020-21 white paper. We have recognised that a) we can't have same white paper as 2016 and b) we need to start seriously responding to the changing strategic reality, which will require a wholesale review of the force structure and force posture and a renewed focus on long-range strike and power projection, both of which a carrier or similar vessel can fill perfectly," Dr Davis told Defence Connect.
It is heavily rumoured that the Australian Defence Force will soon change its ranking systems to bring the service chiefs to equivalent rank with their global counterparts, and band four departmental secretaries in the Australian Public Service.
The touted changes would see the service chiefs become four-stars for the first time, with a full Admiral as Chief of Navy, a full General as Chief of Army and an Air Chief Marshal as Chief of Air Force.
The structure would see four-star rankings being designated for the Chief of the Defence Force, Vice Chief, and all of the individual service chiefs, with deputy service chiefs as three-stars.
The US is looking beyond the fifth-generation F-35 with plans already underway for the sixth-generation 'Penetrating Counter Air' concept, which will be operated by the US Air Force and Navy and, potentially, allies like Australia.
With the growing success of Russian and Chinese fifth-generation fighter aircraft like the Su-57, J-20 and JF-31, the US has kicked off a suite of development programs to replace the ageing F-15 Eagle and fifth-generation F-22 Raptor air frames.
This Penetrating Counter Air concept will seek to complement the US Air Force F-35 and the US Navy's F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fleets, serving niche roles including air dominance, air supremacy, fleet air defence, air interdiction and precision strike.
The US is not the only nation beginning development of such platforms, as both the UK and a joint French-German team have begun developing their own sixth-generation air superiority combat fighters.
BAE Systems announced the Tempest in July 2018. The Tempest program will incorporate industrial co-operation and collaboration between some of the largest and most advanced aerospace and defence companies in the world to deliver an unrivalled air combat capability for the RAF.
The ADF is beset by an almost perfect storm. A period of modernisation combined with the increasing capability of regional peer and near-peer competitors is forcing Australia to ask, is the ADF large enough to reliably execute the mission in a radically evolving geo-political and strategic order?
Over the past few months Defence Connect has received a range of feedback in response to articles regarding the recapitalisation, modernisation and expansion of the Australian Army, Royal Australian Navy and Royal Australian Air Force to better support and defend national interests in an increasingly challenging and complex Indo-Pacific environment.
The unique operating environments and both tactical and strategic responsibilities of the individual branches, combined with recent revelations in the Australian Strategic Policy Institute's (ASPI) 'Cost of Defence Report' by Dr Marcus Hellyer, identified that while defence expenditure is rapidly heading towards the 2 per cent of GDP as committed to by the government, personnel recruitment remains a significant challenge.
As it stands, the personnel budget for the Australian Defence Force for 2018-19 is $11,776 million, supporting 14,689 for the Royal Australian Navy, 14,295 for the Royal Australian Air Force and 30,810 Australian Army – for a total ADF strength of 59,794 personnel. Additionally, the budget supports 16,393 within the Australian Public Service and 19,850 reservists.
Drawing inspiration from the resurgent Royal Navy, South Korea is preparing two plans for a conventional aircraft carrier force in response to the rising capability of both the People’s Liberation Army Navy, Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force and North Korea’s continued nuclear belligerence – marking a major step change for the rising Asian power and its ambitions in the region.
As both China and Japan surge ahead with plans to build potent aircraft carrier capabilities, South Korea has joined the race and announced plans to build a modified large-deck aircraft carrier based on the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) Dokdo Class amphibious warfare ships.
Enter Choi Jae-ung, a prominent member of South Korea's ruling Democratic Party, who has pushed a plan for the nation to develop a conventional carrier force, presenting two catapult assisted take-off, barrier arrested recovery (CATOBAR) design options:
- A 298-metre, 71,400-ton variant with a 1,340 crew compliment (not including air wing members) capable of housing 32 fixed wing combat aircraft and eight helicopters; and
- A 240-metre, 41,500-ton variant with a approximately 670 crew compliment (not including air wing members) capable of housing 12 fixed wing combat aircraft.
A key driving force behind Choi's push toward larger, more traditional aircraft carriers is the tactical and strategic limitations of converted large-deck amphibious vessels like the Dokdo Class vessels when compared with the large Chinese carriers currently in service and expected to enter service in the coming decades, placing the ROKN at a major disadvantage.
"In view of the current military expansion rate of major north-east Asian countries, the future battlefield in 2033 will be very different from what it is now. You should review your plan changes," Choi posited in a report to the South Korean government.
The proposed 41,500 variant is comparable to the French Navy's Charles de Gaulle nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, which has a complement of 1,950 including the air wing personnel and plays host to at least 28 aircraft, but has a maximum capacity of 40 aircraft, including E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning and control aircraft.
South Korea's plans for the larger, 71,400-ton variant draws inspiration from the Royal Navy's Queen Elizabeth Class carriers and the next-generation French PA2 Class CATOBAR carrier variants filling a niche capability role, providing the nation with a powerful power projection capability for the ROKN, particularly as its maritime and trade interests are increasingly challenged.