HMAS Warramunga returns from record breaking mission

HMAS Warramunga has returned home to a hero’s welcome from family and friends after spending almost nine months deployed to the Middle East. The Minister for Defence, Senator Marise Payne, joined the Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Mike Noonan, on the wharf to congratulate the crew on their record breaking deployment. Continue reading

US Navy sails into the Taiwan Strait

By Sam Roggeveen*

It’s inevitable that, when the US sails warships through the Taiwan Strait, it will be interpreted as a broader diplomatic statement or even a protest – in this case, perhaps about North Korea, or the US–China trade spat. But these transits are more common than you might think.
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Hard truths about the US–Australia alliance

The signing of the ANZUS Treaty in 1951
By Zack Cooper*

The US–Australia alliance focuses too much on its past and too little on its future. That may seem sacrilegious, particularly amid the ongoing celebrations of 100 years of mateship. We should certainly honour the service of our men and women over the last century. But sentimentality is no replacement for level-headed rationality. If the alliance is to endure and flourish, then it’s long past time that we dealt with some hard truths. Continue reading

FOIP – a new name signals shift with China’s rise

By Huong Le Thu*

The free and open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) isn’t just a new name; it signals an important shift in framing a geostrategic understanding of the consequences of China’s rise. Apart from the ongoing process of clarifying the scope, meaning, objectives and roles of the actors involved, a new narrative is being built with incremental use of a special vocabulary — the FOIP language — which I’ll attempt to decode. Continue reading

China will challenge US naval supremacy ‘within a year’

China’s biggest challenge to the supremacy of the US Navy will come within the year, a well regarded Australian strategic analyst predicted in Washington this week, Fairfax Media reports.

It will come in the form of the announcement that China’s armed forces will hold exercises in the international waters of the South China Sea and that, to protect public safety, it will close the air and sea space in the area, he said.

Even though this would be presented as a temporary measure – a few days, perhaps a week – it would be the end of freedom of navigation and overflight if it went unchallenged.

The full article is


Brunei, 1962 – The RAN and its unfought war

Queen’s Own Highlanders in the Brunei campaign
By Mike Fogarty

The Brunei operation was conducted from 8 to 23 December, 1962. It also extended to North Borneo (Sarawak). It was an internal revolt against the inclusion of Brunei in the (projected) Malaysia of September, 1963. Indonesia was supportive of this insurrection. Brunei declined any prospective augmentation. Singapore joined it on its formation but ceded from Malaysia in August, 1965 to claim its own independence. Whitehall recognised the hardships and dangers which accompanied this service. The Royal Marines did most of the initial fighting ashore, being the first to engage the rebels, suffering several casualties.

There is no scope here to relay an exhaustive narrative on the Royal Navy and how it responded promptly to a developing local crisis within its station. Suffice it to say, those HM ships which participated included: Albion, Tiger, Woodbridge Haven, Loch Killisport, Blackpool, Barossa, Cavalier, Alert, Chawton, Fiskerton, Wilkieston, Wollaston, Brighton, Houghton, and three RFA ships; Wave Sovereign, Gold Ranger and Fort Charlotte. The Royal Marines deployed 40 and 42 Commando to the area of operations. The FAA also assisted by providing 845 and 846 squadrons (among others) in the fighting.

For the Royal Australian Navy, with its ships and crews, the 1962 rebellion in Brunei remains an unfought war. There are many reasons for their absence, which will be detailed below. Those reasons include: operational, diplomatic and political. However, Australia had a small role and some of our soldiers and airmen participated in that military campaign, and were awarded the General Service Medal (1915-1962) clasp Brunei, the last to be awarded before the introduction of the tri-service Campaign General Service Medal (1962). Few people would know of this minor conflict, in relative terms, but it should be acknowledged. Some recipients may have been awarded the GSM for previous service in Malaya to 1960. It is also possible some were awarded the CGSM for service in Confrontation until 11 August, 1966.

Firstly, operational reasons denied the RAN a part in this brief skirmish. The Royal Navy assumed the major ambit role in this combat mission and was, as always, ably supported by the British army and the Royal Air Force. At the time, Brunei was a British protectorate and existing Defence treaty agreements meant that it needed to remain sovereign to their shared British interests. Independence would come later, in 1984. Our troops participated vicariously if only through the secondment and thus attachment of some Australian soldiers to British army units who were serving in proximity, if not landed from Singapore or Malaya. The extent of military involvement by New Zealand, Singapore, Malaya or Brunei is not under discussion.

Secondly, a scheduled diplomatic port visit from Singapore to India in early December 1962 was underway and could not be cancelled. HMA ships Queenborough and Quiberon were tasked to visit Calcutta. Much planning had gone into this significant imperative to “show the flag”, which was accepted as a subsidiary function of operational service in the Far East Strategic Reserve (FESR), from 1955-71. Furthermore, it was in support of the then Department of External Affairs. These “shop window” initiatives were designed to reach out into South-East Asia and beyond to project good will and contacts with foreign governments. Moreover, the RAN advertised for recruits and offered them the opportunity to visit foreign ports during their sea-going service “up top.” It was meant to bolster morale and give officers and men a much-needed respite from the tedious rigours of exercises and patrols. The ships had a hectic and highly entertaining six days in Calcutta, a “city of contrasts.” There followed brief visits to Pulau Langkawi and Penang on their return to Singapore. The last passage of 1962 saw both ships in Hong Kong where the RAN received the acclaim of the World’s press, following a successful rescue of the crew of S.S. Tuscany, which had run aground. Christmas and New Year were spent in the delights of Hong Kong, where the ship underwent much-needed maintenance.

Thirdly, it was fortuitous that the two Q ships were not deployed to Brunei. The Far East Command in Singapore had a surfeit of assets and the quick despatch of a task force to an incipient insurgency in Brunei was within their contingency planning. Australia had ongoing tensions with Indonesia over the former Dutch New Guinea (Irian Jaya). However, when Confrontation with Indonesia escalated, from early 1964, Australia graduated an incremental deployment of elements from the army, the RAAF and, increasingly, the RAN. HMAS Sydney (Captain John Stevenson) assumed a major logistical role in ferrying our troops and their equipment to Borneo in mid-1964. While our two HMA ships in the FESR would have been capable of an adequate contribution, the RN had enough warships and did not need to divert RAN ships from their diplomatic obligations.

However, Canberra was not hesitant in its response to the aggression which Jakarta sympathised with, as if events were a spontaneous response to British “perfidy” in the region, seeking to thwart their natural development in a form inimical to Indonesia’s own revanchist claims on its neighbours. In a 1962 press release, the Minister for External affairs, Sir Garfield Barwick, condemned the revolt and acted quickly to provide an RAAF aircraft, in support, as a sign of Australia’s concern.

The author is under no compulsion to mindlessly replicate the full story of Brunei, 1962. It has been extensively covered elsewhere by many authoritative sources. Indeed, it is hardly appropriate to account for the RAN in a campaign which it played no part in. The main focus is to discuss the circumstances which led to their non-participation. Queenborough (Captain Brian Murray) and Quiberon (Commander Vernon Parker) had an eventful rotation to the FESR in 1962-1963. Notwithstanding, whilst Murray initially commanded Queenborough on its deployment, he was transferred to command HMAS Parramatta in early 1963. He was succeeded by Lieutenant Commander Frank Woods. Both ships in January, 1963 made a diplomatic visit to South Vietnam (Nha Trang and Saigon) and furthered government objectives in the region, as they would do in other foreign ports on a veritable “Cook’s tour”, as a reward for long and arduous service. Indeed, those on board, by virtue of their early 1963 visit to Saigon, later qualified for repatriation coverage, acknowledging that the crews were exposed to “war-like” conditions therein.

To repeat, some Australian soldiers were “in-country”, or supporting in and from Borneo, but not in unit strength, serving with British formations. While this article is written for a non-official journal, it should be left to our army to honour its own. One creditable source notes them. Lieutenant-Colonel Neil Smith, AM, Rtd has authored Nothing Short of War, With the Australian Army in Borneo, 1962-1966. His book covers Brunei and in Appendix B he lists 37 soldiers, of whom 6 qualified for the clasp Brunei. The clasp Brunei was officially recognised for repatriation benefits and entitlements. It is an award the RAN escaped from. Confrontation soon loomed. By mid-1965, the RAN was at war, operating on two fronts, Malaysia and Vietnam.

The RAAF had a small yet significant logistical transport role with 16 of its aircrew participating in 24 sorties flown. It assisted in countering the uprising by providing one Hercules C-130 from 36 Squadron based in Singapore. In comparison, the RNZAF provided two Bristol freighters (or “frighteners” as termed), from their 41 Squadron. Our one aircraft operated from Changi to Brunei, Labuan and Kuching. Its roles were mostly trooping, para-trooping, medical evacuation, carrying vehicles, ammunition, equipment and military stores. Its contribution is identifiable by sorties flown, date ranges, missions, locations and those aircrew who participated. For a list of personnel involved, refer to NAA CRS A1946/15 file 67/1350. This item number may be top-numbered from Defence file 167/1/40 and 642/1/42 (91).

The RAN did not have to wait long. In January, 1963 Malaysia’s Tunku (PM) reported that Indonesian activity against North Borneo was imminent, Australian and New Zealand Governments have been asked by the British Government whether (their) naval forces in the Far East would be available: “To help patrol territorial waters off the North Borneo coast or on the high seas.” Ministers have agreed to (the) use of Australian ships for this purpose. Clearly, the Brunei episode was a precursor to what our armed services would soon face in the theatre. By early 1963, approval was given for the employment of HMA ships in operations in Borneo, if required. Next year, Canberra had removed any ambiguous restrictions. In August, 1964 the Naval Board advised CINFE and COMFEF that it agreed to the employment of RAN escorts on patrol duties in the Tawau area in accordance with (the) directive for the attachment of HMA ships to the Far East Fleet for service with the Strategic Reserve. Once again, it signalled that HMA ships, as allocated and allotted, were on active service again.

* Mike Fogarty is a former RAN officer (lieutenant) who served in Singapore (1967) and later with the Australian High Commission, Singapore from 1974-1976.

RIMPAC and China’s push with Belt and Road, the seas and the net

By Nicholas Stuart

The water sparkles.

I’m standing, this blissful morning, on the bridge of HMAS Adelaide, just off Hawaii. The tropical storm clouds have parted and the ships of a small Aussie flotilla (two frigates, this Landing Helicopter Dock, our fleet oiler and a submarine) are sailing across placid waters.

They’re here for RIMPAC, a huge naval exercise. Twenty-five nations are taking part although not China, which was ostentatiously disinvited a few months ago. Since then the US has regularly sailed through the Taiwan strait (most recently with last weekend) and kicked off a trade war with Beijing.

Of course, the idea of real conflict still seems impossibly difficult to even conceive of, particularly as one gazes over the Pacific, and so it’s tempting to dismiss this as little other than a pleasure cruise. Unfortunately doing this would be to ignore a massively destabilising problem.

The West (including Australia) finds the current world order quite congenial. China doesn’t. Something will have to change and it won’t be Beijing. And that’s why these naval exercises are at the sharp end of the current conflict.

What some hotheads (on both sides) are looking for isn’t actually a way of resolving these issues at a conference table. They parse the historical record differently, insisting that the old pattern of long, drawn-out negotiations have gotten nowhere. In the past we’ve always put a premium on finding a way to reconcile different approaches; today that’s not a given. China, in particular, wants to change the international system.

Every four years the Communist Party holds a key meeting to officially approve decisions and policy directions already chosen by the leaders. In the past these have been relatively bureaucratic conferences. Not this year.

Analysis (by Kevin Rudd, no less) suggests Xi Jingping’s speech to the closed session made two things dramatically clear. Firstly that the so-called “rules based order” of global governance that Julie Bishop keeps prattling on so enthusiastically about doesn’t actually suit China at all. It had no part in formulating those rules and insists they’re rigged against it.

Secondly, critically, Xi’s not an incrementalist. He’s (personally) insisting if there’s going to be a challenge, a fight, well then, “bring it on”. This guy didn’t climb to the top without demonstrating utterly ruthless efficiency, both in dispatching his opponents and embracing conflict. That’s why we need to pay careful attention when he insists this is a moment offering “unparalleled opportunity” for struggle and changing the world order.

So how can this happen? There are three sites of conflict and China is moving to act on each.

Internationally, the Belt and Road initiative has become an umbrella. It’s successfully embracing genuine projects that really are opening up new development routes and combining these with new ways of exercising diplomatic and military leverage. What makes this strategically concerning is that often, alongside traditional economic opportunities, money has become a means to back ruling parties and strengthen domestic political players who, in the words of one observer, “may not necessarily be committed to traditional democratic outcomes”.

Remember that China doesn’t believe in democracy – it believes in the role of senior cadres to ‘guide us forward’.

There are two other areas where real, serious, and violent clashes can occur. Both of these represent ungoverned spaces, the so-called global commons. One is the internet; the other the waters.

There’s been an understandable political reluctance to call out cyber conflict for what it is, just as neither side wants to risk starting a cyber-war. To merely continue functioning, at even the most basic level, every society today is utterly dependent on the internet. The prospect of it going down would bring government to a standstill, and that’s why no country’s willing to initiate a conflict. No country is certain of its superiority and the West dares not risk exposing its vulnerabilities.

In the meantime, China continues targeted attacks, penetrating universities (like the ANU here in Canberra) and hacking into systems as part of a carefully co-ordinated strategy. Russia, however, continues spreading a trail of malevolent destruction and chaos wherever it can. It’s a far more free-market despoiler of the system.

This leaves the oceans. China doesn’t like it when the US Navy decides to send a couple of destroyers into its seas but, at the moment, there’s little it can do. Beijing still doesn’t have the capacity to send its fleet to waters near the continental US, otherwise it would. It’s worth noting, however, analogies to periods before both the world wars. Navies were seen as ways of demonstrating national power and also offered opportunities for nations to demonstrate their resolve in ways short of total war.

During the Falklands War the British Navy drew an ‘exclusion zone’ around the islands, effectively quarantining the conflict to a specific location. Similarly today, it’s becoming possible to imagine (however horrific) a time and space limited conflict taking place, perhaps based around an ‘incident’ such as a missile exchange between naval vessels in the South China Sea.

That’s the deeper message of this RIMPAC. It’s not all about love, and sharing, and cooperatively demonstrating how well the ships flourish in the tropics. These exercises are deadly serious. The dangers are escalating.

This article first appeared in Fairfax Media on 11 July 2018.

2018 Goldrick Seminar on shipbuilding

Naval Shipbuilding Enterprise: Its Contribution to Navy Strategy


Monday 17 September 2018

The 2018 Goldrick Seminar will be co-convened by the Australian Naval Institute, the Royal Australian Navy, the Australian Centre for the Study of Armed Conflict and Society and the Submarine Institute of Australia.

The all-day event will be held at the Adams Auditorium on 17 September 2018. The Seminar will deal with the development of the Australian naval shipbuilding enterprise. The topic was chosen by the outgoing Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Tim Barrett. Continue reading

CN Tim Barrett hands over the weight

Vice Admiral Tim Barrett has formally ended his term as Chief of Navy, following a handover ceremony at Blamey Square in Canberra. VADM Barrett ended his Permanent Navy career in style, with an honour guard and fly past in his honour, Navy News reports. Several hundred Navy personnel from across the region braved a blustery Canberra morning to attend the ceremony. VADM Barrett told the gathering, his time as Chief has seen significant change to the RAN, thanks to hard work and dedication by Navy members. Continue reading

$35b on frigates: BAE wins – has Australia won too?

By Michael Shoebridge

So, the nine new Hunter-class anti-submarine warfare frigates will be built by BAE Systems in Osborne, South Australia, with ASC Shipbuilding acting as BAE’s subsidiary over the decades-long, $35 billion shipbuilding program. The decision raises two big risks for the government to manage — the fact that the BAE ship does not yet exist and the project risk from an overlap between the Royal Navy frigate project and Australia’s. Continue reading