It’s time for the armed forces to focus on the threat, Peter Dutton | The rural

The Australian government has ordered 75 Abrams tanks. Photo: Ministry of Defense

And so on. Self-propelled guns last month; tanks this month.

Defense Minister Peter Dutton continues to fund the defense budget to prepare the military for anything but the Chinese threat.

Worse still, the government is to varying degrees letting the three armed forces off the hook with complacent behavior that is only affordable when a country is at deep peace, that is, when it is not facing to any serious military threat.

As this column explained last week, we are now in anxious peace, not deep peace. Observing China’s arms buildup and obvious ambition to dominate this part of the world, military analysts have become seriously concerned.

Dutton this week announced a $3.5 billion order for 75 Abrams tanks and 46 equally massive support vehicles. Last month, the government ordered 30 large self-propelled guns and 15 ammunition vehicles for $1 billion.

These acquisitions fuel the army’s obsession with obtaining a mix of equipment like that available to large armies. The Air Force and Navy, on the other hand, pursue different obsessions.

Over decades of deep peace, Australian military policy established a principle called “balanced force”, that our armed forces should have a good variety of capabilities, without focusing too much because we weren’t sure what kind of fight in which we could be involved.

According to this principle, each of the services had a cover to deal with its traditional obsession. No one needed to focus on defending this country, because for that they only had to protect us from Indonesia if it became unstable. It was easy work.

In an age of anxious peace, we must overturn the principle of balance of power and force the services to focus on our main problem, the Chinese threat which increases in the 2020s.

The army’s obsession can be roughly summed up in “heavy combined arms”: a set of ground forces that support each other with different and expensive equipment. As developed in the 20th century, this includes artillery in various forms, tanks, well-equipped infantry, wheeled fighting vehicles, tracked infantry fighting vehicles, and attack and transport helicopters .

The army does not yet have all the necessary equipment, but it is spending tens of billions of dollars to make it happen. When he reaches the ideal, he will be fully prepared for the 2003 Iraq War – and just as useless as he is now to protect that country from China or help the United States defend Taiwan.

The military refuses to accept the need to reshape – for example, equipping itself heavily with missiles for long-range ground strikes, naval attacks, and the destruction of aircraft and other missiles.

Air forces, including ours, are obsessed with high technology, including technology that does not yet exist. Sounds good, but it can get in the way of urgent preparations.

Our Air Force spending plan vaguely outlines intriguing, unidentified new aircraft types that are slated to be procured in the 2030s and 2040s.

Fine. I’m sure they’ll be gee-whiz. But we face danger of war before that, so we should quickly get more planes of the not so intriguing types that we already have.

We should have more tankers, for example. They are very valuable because they make other planes more efficient.

Ours are based on Airbus A330-200s – and these airliners are now available cheaply on the used market, although they would need some modification. This is the perfect time to increase the size of a tanker fleet that in wartime would never seem large enough.

To my knowledge, the Air Force is not considering buying more tankers now.

We use Boeing Growler electromagnetic attackers and Poseidon maritime patrol boats. Neither type will likely stay in production much longer, so it’s time to stockpile more of them, and we can divert the money from the military to do so. With our vast maritime approaches, there is no practical limit to the number of Poseidons we could use.

Defense money could be better spent buying more wedgetail radar planes.  Photo: Ministry of Defense

Defense money could be better spent buying more wedgetail radar planes. Photo: Ministry of Defense

We should have more than our six Boeing Wedgetail air monitors, radar planes watching what the planes on the other side are doing. Wedgetails may not be as good as the air monitors the Air Force imagines using after 2030, but they have good current technology – good enough for the US Air Force to take an interest in.

The traditional naval obsession is to get many surface ships of the largest possible size. Because most naval officers have served in destroyers and frigates, they tend to be less interested in submarines.

Since 2009, first Labor and then Liberal-National governments have worked to rebalance the navy towards submarines (unsuccessfully so far). But there are serious questions about whether surface warships are really worth building, as they are increasingly vulnerable to Chinese missiles.

The government may be able to force the Navy to begin rebalancing quickly. He could see if we could buy good used diesel submarines from Japan, which usually retires submarines before they are worn out. We could have one boat per year from 2023, building up a fleet of seven by 2029.

This idea is not far-fetched. We are already looking at the possibility of buying surplus nuclear submarines from the US Navy.

Running minor Japanese diesel boats would be much less difficult, especially if we relied on the existing maintenance facility in Japan for them.

And we could get them very quickly. It’s the kind of thing a country does when it’s anxious.

  • Bradley Perrett was based in Beijing as a journalist from 2004 to 2020.
This story It’s time for the armed forces to focus on the current threat first featured in The Canberra Times.