HMA Ships Canberra, Anzac, Sirius, Parramatta and Melbourne operate together off the Australian East Coast during Exercise OCEAN RAIDER.
In How to defend Australia, I argued that if we are to take our defence seriously, we need to prepare to defend Australia from a major Asian power independently. That is necessary, I said, because we can no longer take the support of powerful allies for granted in the decades ahead.
. . . or how I learned to stop worrying, and embrace a reimagining of the Royal Australian Navy’s surface fleet.
This essay was highly commended in the military division of the Chief of Navy’s 2019 Essay Competition. Details of the competition are here.
By Michael Copland*
In March of 1996, the United States Navy (USN) conducted a demonstration of combat power, centred on two Carrier Battle Groups (CBG), which was designed to humble the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and force the communist government of the People’s Republic of China to back down from its efforts to coerce and threaten Taiwan. Although it faded quickly in the minds of policy-makers in the West, the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis was a watershed moment for Beijing.
The US Naval War College’s James Holmes, a strategist of serious stature, has suggested that the US Navy should establish a ‘massive’ base in Australia. This isn’t Holmes’s first stab at this. His initial proposal, back in 2011, apparently received the ‘gimlet-eye’ treatment from the would-be hosts.
In October, during his second official visit to Russia, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte invited Moscow-based energy company Rosneft to conduct oil and gas exploration in waters the Philippines claims in the South China Sea. The offer was reciprocated by the Russian ambassador to the Philippines, Igor Khovaev, who invited Philippine companies to also ‘explore oil and gas in Russia together with Russian companies’. A team from Rosneft went to Manila later that month to discuss the possibility of joint offshore oil exploration with the Philippines Department of Energy.
We seem to have been both naughty and nice this year. The Australian National Audit Office isn’t going to put its much-anticipated report on the future submarine program in our stocking before Christmas and we’ll have to keep our breath bated until January. That’s a shame, since the ANAO’s website says, ‘The objective of this audit is to examine the effectiveness of Defence’s administration of the Future Submarine program to date.’ That’s an $80 billion issue that many Australians would be interested in.
It is 75 years since RAN took part in the Battle of Surigao Strait which was last battleship engagement in history. The cruiser HMAS Shrosphire and the destroyer HMAS Arunta were part of Admiral Jesse Oldendorf’s powerful force that sank the Japanese battleships Yamashiro and Fusō.
Rear Admiral Rothesay Swan was a midshipman in Shropshire. He went onto a distinguished naval career and was one of the founders of the Australian Naval Institute. Rear Admiral Swan was our longest serving President from 1978 to 1983. The ANI asked Rear Admiral Swan for his recollections of that great battle.
Could Australia defend itself independently from direct military attack by a major Asian power like China? That’s the key question I set out to answer in How to defend Australia. My answer was a cautious ‘yes’.
That answer was based on two judgements. The first was that Australia’s key strategic objectives—the things we most needed our armed forces to be able to do in order to defend ourselves—could be achieved with what I called a military strategy of maritime denial. The second was that we could achieve maritime denial with forces which we might, at a stretch, be able to afford.