Seapower and Australian Defence Strategy
By Michael Pezzullo, Chief Operating Officer, Australian Customs and Border Protection Service
Tonight, I would like to discuss the influence and role of sea power on Australian defence strategy, as borne out by the recent Defence White Paper, Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century: Force 20301 In my remarks today, I would like to build the following case:
0 Australia is, and has always been, a maritime nation;
0 Sea power – the freedom to use, and to influence others’ use of, the sea and the land beyond the sea – has always been at the heart of Australian defence strategy, whether expressly or implicitly so;
0 At the heart of the strategy underpinning the 2009 Defence White Paper is a maritime strategy;
0 At the heart of maritime strategy, insofar as it concerns the control ofthe sea, is the surface combatant, whose day is far from over, and the submarine, whose most significant days are yet to come, at least for Australia.
To such an audience as this, I dare say that I do not need to spend much time arguing that Australia is and has always been a maritime nation.
Geographically, Australia sits astride two ofthe world’s most strategically important oceans – the Indian and the Pacific Oceans.
We therefore sit in the middle of one ofthe great strategic theatres of the world. An essentially maritime environment, stretching from the northern Pacific to the Persian or Arabian Gulf, it encompasses approximately half the globe. Today it is the stage for the movement of over half the world’s trade as well as the interests of great maritime powers – some established, some rising.
It is also host to many of the world’s most strategically important shipping routes and choke points, such as the Malacca, Singapore, Lombok, and Sunda straits. For example, over 60,000 ships transit the Malacca Strait each year, carrying up to one third of world trade, and half of the world’s oil (11 million barrels daily).
After the interruption of the global financial and economic crisis, which has had a material impact on global trade flaws, we will see a reassumption of unprecedented growth in the volume and value of globalised maritime trade traversing the strategic choke points and dense sea lanes of our region.
The other key feature of our surrounding maritime region are its fluid sea frontiers and porous borders, which makes for piracy and contra-banding activities, which involves, among other things, the illicit movement of people, weapons, and prohibited goods.
For quintessentially geo-strategic reasons, nations beyond the littoral states of the region will continue to have a major stake as well as a long term naval presence in these waters, which the littoral states will sometimes view with concern, while the major naval powers themselves will view their interests through hard-nosed strategic prisms, to which I now turn.
As the White Paper said, Australia’s strategic outlook over the coming decades will continue to be shaped by the changing global distribution of economic, political and military power, and by the future role and weight of the United States within that global system.
We are not likely to see the emergence of an alternative political and economic system to rival the network of liberal, market-based democracies that Above left: The Royal Australian Navy Adelaide-class guldedmlsslle frigateHMAS Sydneyandthe Anzac-dass frigate HMASBallarat perform formation maneuvering with the guided missile destroyer USS Mahan-USN photo Journal ofthe Australian Naval Institute Vernon Parker Oration emerged after World War II, as the communist system attempted to do last century during the Cold War.
Globalisation will ensure that economic interdependence acts to link states and regions together more closely.
This will not, however, prevent major powers from hedging their strategic positions and developing the capability to underpin their interests with hard military power.
Take the Indian Ocean. These waters will have an increasingly strategic role to play within Australia’s strategic outlook. This will include transnational security risks, such as piracy, as well as growing strategic competition within the Indian Ocean, along its periphery, and through the straits leading to and from it. There are a number of significant inter-state and intra-state conflicts along its periphery that have the potential to draw in other powers. Over time, and in response to these factors as well as transnational security issues, the Indian Ocean is likely to host a larger military (particularly naval) presence.
A number of major naval powers are likely to increasingly compete for strategic advantage in this crucial maritime region. With these factors in mind, and with the centrality of the Indian Ocean’s maritime trade routes to the energy security of many Asian states, Defence planners will need to focus increasingly on the operating conditions and demands of this region.
More than ever before, short of war, Australian defence planning will have to contemplate operational concepts for the Indian Ocean region, including with regional partners with whom we share similar strategic interests.
It will simply become impossible to coherently develop our defence strategies and naval plans with an exclusively Pacific bias.
How are we positioned to respond to these and other like challenges? Of course, the sea is our life blood as a nation. The vast majority of our international trade by volume and most of it by value is borne by the sea.
We are a significant user of merchant shipping (even if we do not possess a large merchant marine) and we have one ofthe world’s largest exclusive maritime economic zones. The oceans are a major physical resource for Australia. We are a leading player in a multilateral forum concerned with shipping, the protection of the marine environment and other maritime matters. We have a proud naval history, and at the end of the Second World War possessed one ofthe world’s most significant navies. We have one of the most challenging maritime border protection tasks in the world, something to which I can directly attest in my new role as Chief Operating Officer of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. We are vitally interested in maritime border security risks who, other than armed attack, relate to the offshore roles and functions of my agency, such as maritime terrorism, illegal activity at sea such as drugs smuggling and illegal fishing, and the movement of potential illegal immigrants. Finally, of course, we have a vital interest in defence from armed attack, to which I will soon turn.
The sea of course has to be central to our strategic worldview. As an island nation, any physical threat to Australia must come on, over or under the ocean and we must use the sea to deploy and support our armed forces. Geography makes this so.
Command of the sea is bound up inextricably with commercial, geographic, and military considerations. Commerce, and thus national prosperity, hinges on sea power, and Australian strategy has, since Federation, recognised this imperative. Everybody here would be very familiar with the political debates of 100 years ago regarding the establishment of what became the Royal Australian Navy. These debates turned in large part on whether or not Australia saw itself in the business of sea control. The Government of Prime Minister Andrew Fisher decided that question in the affirmative.
After World War II, defence planning consistently recognised the centrality of command of the sea. The 1947 Appreciation ofthe Strategical Position of Australia’ noted that a policy of isolation could only lead to disaster, and that Australia’s security must be based on strategic interests which were considered in maritime terms and which were associated with:
The Indian Ocean: mainly concerned with the integrity of British AusArmy Blackhawksover HMASNewcartle Journal ofthe Australian Naval Institute Issue 134 Territories which bordered on the Indian Ocean, oil resources, the sea and air routes that constituted the shortest and best routes for air supply and reinforcement.
The Pacific Ocean; and South East Asia Moving forward 62 years, the 2009 Defence White Paper noted that:
Our strategic interests and defence posture suggest a primary focus for the ADF on tasks in a predominantly maritime operational environment.
In other words, to guide defence planning, the Government decided in the White Paper that the ADF’s primary operational environment is an inherently maritime one, which extends from the eastern Indian Ocean to the island states of Polynesia, and from the equator to the Southern Ocean. That area contains all Australian sovereign, offshore and economic territories, such as Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Christmas Island, Heard and McDonald Islands, Macquarie Island, Norfolk Island and also waters adjacent to the Australian Antarctic Territory.
The sea-air gap to our north is at the strategic centre of our primary operational environment. It affords us an opportunity to detect and respond to potentially hostile military incursions at sufficiently long ranges to enable an effective response before an adversary could reach Australian mainland territory and, in particular, key population centres and major infrastructure.
While this affords us an ability to employ defence in depth, our strategic geography nonetheless poses major defence planning challenges. Northern Australia, with its long coastline, remote population centres, substantial economic resources, and relatively underdeveloped infrastructure, will always command a significant place in our military contingency planning.
Most of Australia’s reserves of oil and gas are concentrated offshore in the north-west of Australia and the Timor Sea. Many of our key resource extraction facilities are remote and would be vulnerable to interference, disruption or attack. Some of our offshore territories would also be vulnerable to harassment or attack, and their loss or occupation by an adversary^ would represent a major strategic setback.
As part of its core business, Defence will need to continue to revise and update contingency plans for the defence of Australia and its approaches, notwithstanding the imperative of managing ongoing operations. This planning work should comprehend especially difficult military problems, such as establishing sea control and air superiority in our approaches, the defence of our offshore territories and resources, and operations on and around our territory.
The White Paper goes on to state that our military strategy is crucially dependent on our ability to conduct joint operations in the approaches to Australia – especially those necessary to achieve and maintain air superiority and sea control in places of our choosing, to the extent required to safeguard our territory, critical sea lanes, pop centres and major infrastructure.
In response to these challenges, the White Paper lays out a maritime strategy, one in which Australia’s aim should be to establish and maintain sea and air control to enable the manoeuvre and employment of joint ADF elements in our primary operational environment, and particularly in the maritime and littoral approaches to the continent.
Such a strategy does not necessarily entail a purely defensive or reactive approach. In operational terms, if we have to, we will need to be prepared to undertake proactive combat operations against an adversary’s military bases and staging areas, and against its forces in transit, as far from Australia as possible.
This might involve using our strike capabilities, including combat aircraft, long-range missiles (including land attack missiles fired from submerged submarines and/or surface combatants) and special forces (most likely inserted from the sea). We will aim to control the dynamics ofthe conflict by setting the pace, scale and intensity of operations, by dissuading an adversary from making any attempt to escalate the conflict, and convincing HMAS Newcastle byChrisSattler Journal ofthe Australian Naval Institute Vernon Parker Oration them that such escalation would come at significant cost.
The ADF would have to, as necessary, tailor its operations, such that we do not fight in a manner that sees a high rate of attrition and mass casualties among our forces. We will seek to avoid battle on unfavourable terms, apply force in a precise manner, in a way that the adversary is not expecting, and seek to overmatch at decisive points in battle.
In this maritime strategy – taking maritime at its fullest meaning – naval forces are of course not the only tools of military power, but they are the indispensable platform for success.
How then should we view modern navies in the context of our future conception of sea control? A.T. Mahan in his classic book with which you would all be familiar, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History 1660-1783, published in 1890, effectively laid out a key thesis which resonates today – the West came to value navies as the key to global influence and upon this foundation the modern world was built. Now he knew that sea power was more than the navy and more than control of strategic trading routes. It meant using the mobility of the sea to build a system of economic and political links and an ability to project hard power on, and from, the sea if and when required. It also meant using the strategic flexibility of being an offshore power, protected in large measure from land neighbours to pursue national ends. Mahan would not have been surprised that some 30 years later, empires devoid of these attributes – the Ottoman, Habsbury, Romanov and Wilhelmine – ceased to exist.
At the core of Mahanian concepts for a nation as a sea power are:
0 A geographic position that lends itself to the exercise of sea power, where a nation does not have to worry overly ab out defending itself by land, and has relatively uninhabited access to the sea.
0 The length of the coast-line and the character of a nation’s harbours. Mahan suggested that the longer the coastline and the greater number of natural harbours, the better off the country would be in terms of commerce and the capability to support fleet actions. It would be harder for an enemy to blockade such a country and the internal and external lines of communication would be subject to less friction.
0 The size of the nation’s population, specifically the number of population involved in the sea for their living. Mahan suggested that a nation cannot quickly build up an effective navy. The development and building of naval capability takes years and having a crew that can maintain and fight the ship requires a great deal of training.
0 The national character of a nation, and an understanding of the value of commerce and an open attitude toward prosperity and growth.
0 The character of government and the way it pays attention to the sea with respect to commerce (which directly led to national wealth) and to a strong, capable navy (which directly led to the security of that national wealth).
By such measures, and adjusting for the different era in which Mahan was writing, Australia can be considered a sea power – albeit one that is limited to some extent by the size of its population.
Sea control is not these days principally about the engagement of other nation’s main fleet, although any maritime power seriously interested in sea control needs the ability to engage in high intensity maritime conflict if called upon to do so in credible contingencies against likely adversaries.
Today sea control is also concerned with the ability to keep open sea lanes;
protect commerce, and the movement of crucial energy supplies; deter and defeat illegal activities such as maritime terrorism, drug trafficking, people smuggling, piracy, and illegal fishing, and prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and prohibited goods, including those the subject of international sanctions.
As such, sea control lends itself to being effected through international maritime partnerships such as we have seen in the last 25 years in terms of the protection by international naval forces of commerce and energy supplies in the Gulf and in a different context through the growth of counter-proliferation exercises under the rubric of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI).
Intuitively this would seem to be a sound basis for Australian defence planning, alongside the equally important platform of air power (but that’s another lecture).
Alas, it is never so simple. For too long, Australian defence strategy – or should I say debate about Australian defence strategy – has been immobilised in an intellectual straightjacket which essentially boiled down to this binary construction: we should pursue either an expeditionary strategy which is founded on our land forces operating in alliance or coalitions frameworks, most likely in the Middle East, Central Asia or Africa, or a ‘continentalist’ strategy which is founded on our naval and air forces operating in the defence of Australia from bases in Australia. This tired Journal ofthe Australian Naval Institute Issue 134 construction should be laid to rest, and I believe that the 2009 Defence White Paper does so. It is possible to envisage if one looks at Force 2030, an expeditionary orientation founded on sea power, with Australian forces operating (either independently or in coalition, depending on the strategic circumstances) in a range of operational scenarios ranging from hunting and destroying submarines, protecting commerce and energy supplies, deterring and defeating pirates, interdicting the movement of WMD or goods prohibited by international sanctions, projecting land forces ashore or delivering humanitarian assistance from a sea base. How does that range of scenarios fit within the tired old intellectual straight jacket of the navy being the defender ofthe moat? Of course it does not. As the White Paper made clear, the Government has set very clear force structure determinants. These do not constrain unduly the uses to which the ADF might be put in the pursuit of our strategic interests.
To achieve its strategy, the White Paper of course establishes force structure priorities for Force 2030 based on major surface combatants (destroyers and frigates), submarines and other naval capabilities, supported by air combat (for air superiority and maritime strike) and maritime surveillance and response assets, to establish sea control, and to project force in our maritime environment (including for the purposes of maintaining freedom of navigation, protecting our shipping, and lifting and supporting land forces).
Assuming that future governments commit to this plan and that Defence ensures that it is implemented, by the mid-2030s we will have a heavier and more potent maritime force. The Government will double the size of the submarine force (12 more capable boats to replace the current fleet of six Collins class submarines), replace the current Anzac class frigate with eight more capable Future Frigate optimised for anti-submarine warfare (ASW);
and enhance our capability for offshore maritime warfare, border protection and mine countermeasures.
Let me spell out the logic behind the submarine decision. The Government took the view in the White Paper that our future strategic circumstances necessitate a substantially expanded submarine fleet of 12 boats in order to sustain a force at sea large enough in a crisis or conflict to be able to defend our approaches (including at considerable distance from Australia, if necessary), protect and support other ADF assets, and undertake certain strategic missions where the stealth and other operating characteristics of highly-capable advanced submarines would be crucial. Moreover, a larger submarine force would significantly increase the military planning challenges faced by any adversaries, and increase the size and capabilities of the force they would have to be prepared to commit to attack us directly, or coerce, intimidate or otherwise employ military power against us.
The Future Submarine will be capable of a range of tasks such as anti-ship and anti-submarine warfare;
strategic strike; mine detection and mine-laying operations; intelligence collection; supporting special forces (including infiltration and exfiltration missions); and gathering battlespace data in support of operation.
Long transits and potentially short- notice contingencies in our primary operational environment demand high levels of mobility and endurance in the Future Submarine. The boats need to be able to undertake prolonged covert patrols over the full distance of our strategic approaches and in operational areas. They require low signatures across all spectrums, including at higher speeds. The Government has ruled out nuclear propulsion for these submarines.
Driving this project will be of singular importance and I am delighted that RADM Rowan Moffit has been given the task.
Turning to the surface fleet, the Government decided to proceed with HMASSuaessby ChrisSattler Journal ofthe Australian Naval Institute 10 Vernon Parker Oration the acquisition of three Air Warfare Destroyers(AWD). The AWDs will be\ equipped with:
the Standard Missile 6 (SM-6) long-range anti-aircraft missile, with a range of more than 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres).
‚Ä¢ A sophisticated Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC), which enable each vessel to act as part of a wider ‘grid’ of sensor and weapon platforms that can share surveillance and targeting information.
‚Ä¢ The Government will continue to assess the capability need for a fourth AWD in the future against further changes in the strategic assessment and, consistent with that assessment the most rational public investment in further defence platforms.
The Government has also decided to acquire a fleet of eight new Future Frigates, which will be larger than the Anzac class vessels. The Future Frigate will be designed and equipped with a strong emphasis on submarine detection and response operations.
They will be equipped with an integrated sonar suite that includes long-range active towed-array sonar, and be able to embark a combination of] naval combat helicopters and maritime Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV).
In terms of naval aviation, the Government decided to acquire a fleet of at least 24 new naval combat helicopters to provide eight or more aircraft concurrently embarked on ships at sea.
These new aircraft will possess advanced ASW capabilities, including sonar systems able to be lowered into the sea and air-launched torpedoes, as well as an ability to fire air-to-surface missiles.
In terms ofthe undersea domain, it will not have escaped this audience that the White Paper placed greater emphasis on our capacity to detect and respond to submarines in the ADF’s primary operational environment through the acquisition ofthe Future Submarine, and enhanced ASW capabilities in the surface combatant fleet, the naval combat helicopter and the maritime patrol aircraft which will replace the P3COrion fleet.
As we develop our information superiority capability, situational awareness in the undersea domain will become relatively more important.
The Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) will enhance its research into underwater sensors and networking to give greater emphasis to underwater situational awareness.
I should say something about the Offshore Combatant Vessel. The Government decided to rationalise the Navy’s patrol boat, mine counter measures, hydrographic and oceanographic forces into a single modular multirole class of around 20 Offshore Combatant Vessels combining four existing classes of vessels.
This has the potential to provide significant operational efficiencies and potential savings. The new vessels will be larger than the current Armidale class patrol boats, with an anticipated displacement of up to 2,000 tonnes.
This concept relies on the use of modular unmanned underwater systems for both mine countermeasures and other tasks.
These systems are envisaged to be containerised and portable modules capable of being used in any port or loaded onto any ofthe Offshore Combatant Vessels or other suitable vessels.
The future Offshore Combatant Vessel will be able to undertake offshore and littoral warfighting roles, border protection tasks, long-range counter-terrorism and counter- piracy operations, support to special forces, and missions in support of security and stability in the immediate neighbourhood. Defence will examine the potential for these new ships to embark a helicopter or UAV, to allow a surge in surveillance and response capabilities without the need to deploy additional ships. This increased capability will also ensure that major surface combatants are free for more demanding operations. As the Chief Operating Officer ofthe Australian Customs and Border Protection HMASKanimblaby ChrisSattler Journal ofthe Australian Naval Institute Issue 134 11 Service, I will be taking a very close interest in the evolution of this project.
It has the potential to revolutionise the way in which we undertake offshore maritime patrol and response and I have directed our staff to engage very closely with Defence.
I should round out this survey by touching on our future amphibious capability. The Government decided to enhance our amphibious capability by acquiring a large strategic sealift ship to move stores, equipment and personnel.
Based on a proven design, the new ship will have a displacement of 10,000 -15,000 tonnes, with landing spots for a number of helicopters and an ability to land vehicles and other cargo without requiring port infrastructure.
The new ship will provide ongoing sustainment support for deployed forces, allowing the LHD ships to remain in areas of operations in direct support of the land force ashore.
Further, the plan will introduce six new heavy landing craft with improved ocean-going capabilities, able to transport armoured vehicles, trucks, stores and people in intra-theatre lift tasks to augment the larger amphibious vessels.
What are the key strategic features of this future FLEET? In this force structure, surface combatants will continue to be the platform most applicable to the widest range of maritime tasks, including sea control, power projection, visible deterrence, border protection and territorial security, although they will be challenged by increasingly sophisticated anti-ship weapons and systems. (Nothing however that is new in the eternal cycle of measure and counter-measures, with surface ships able to increasingly rely on being part of networked systems to defend themselves and accomplish their missions.) Submarines will be increasingly used across a wider range of roles and missions and will significantly complicate an adversary’s planning calculations.
Let me conclude by tackling head on one of the fundamental misconceptions about the White Paper’s approach to sea power. The fundamental role of sea power in Australian defence strategy is to shape the strategic environment in which we will operate. In order to deny at sea, we must control at sea.
That is why the White Paper avoided a one dimensional approach to sea power, as was recommended by those proponents of a narrow sea denial strategy which, being based on a large force of submarines (18 in the case of one commentator), would shape too narrowly an adversary’s strategic perceptions through the uncertainty created in that adversary’s mind by that force’s location and disposition. Sea denial is of course a critical component of the exercise of sea power, and the Force 2030 plan to acquire 12 large conventional submarines should be seen in that light. But there are other missions and roles to be performed, such as protection of shipping lanes and amphibious manoeuvre, which rely on sea control in its broadest sense, and in relation to which a narrowly focussed sea denial force would be an over indulgent waste of money, and unfit for purpose.
As most of you would be aware, the 2007 US maritime strategy document, ACooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, emphasises humanitarian assistance and disaster relief as among the core missions for US maritime forces, alongside sea control, power projection and strategic deterrence.
The US strategy also elevates other forms of naval ‘soft power’ including exercises, training and partnering with foreign navies to combat piracy, terrorism, weapons proliferation and other illicit or illegal activities. Naval forces are particularly suited for undertaking such a wide range of mission – which have less to do with imposing one’s will (although they can do that) and more with shaping behaviour. We need increasingly to think in such terms and to post one example have probably only just begun to think about the shaping effects of an Australian expeditionary amphibious group based around a LHD standing ready to provide humanitarian assistance and/or intervene to protect our nationals from a sea base. In our part of the world that would be environment shaping sea power.
My concluding point then is this: let us place sea power to its rightful place at the centre of Australian defence strategy, and as we build the most powerful navy in the Southern Hemisphere let us develop the skills and intellectual frameworks with which, and through which, to think about sea power as a tool of national policy.
I have every confidence that the Australian Naval Institute will argue this cause very passionately and I will watch the process with very great interest. I thank you most sincerely for giving me the opportunity to address you tonight.
* Mr Michael Pezzullo Deputy Secretary Strategy Michael Pezzullo took up the position of Deputy Secretary Strategy in the Department of Defence in January 2006. In this role, he is responsible for defence strategy and planning, force structure development, the strategic policy aspects of Australian Defence Force operations, Defences international security relationships, and delivering national security programmes in areas such as export controls, counter- proliferation and Defence cooperation with other countries.
He also oversees the Department’s ministerial support and public affairs programmes. Mr Pezzullo joined the Department of Defence as a graduate in 1987.