According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald (25 March 2019) the coalition government, if re-elected, would spend $2.5 billion on an air defence system. The object of the expenditure is said to “bolster Australia’s capacity to intercept enemy aircraft”. The new system will also defend against helicopters, cruise missiles and unmanned aerial systems.
The cost is divided between an initial acquisition price of $1.5 billion and a further $1 billion to operate and maintain it over two decades. The Minister for Defence Industry,Linda Reynolds, said that the project had great export potential.
Once again, one has to wonder exactly what planet our defence politicians and their advisors actually inhabit. While the cost of this touted new system is small change compared to the tens of billions of dollars being lavished on expensive boondoggles such as the F35 joint strike fighter and the French built submarines, it is another illustration of wasted expenditure on military equipment not fit for purpose.
The stated object is to be able to defend against four intruders: helicopters; unmanned aerial systems; enemy aircraft and cruise missiles. Why one would need a $1 billion system to defend against helicopters, with their low altitude, short range, slow moving and noisy character simply boggles the mind.
Exactly what is meant by ‘unmanned aerial systems’ is not defined, but presumably refers to drones. The same point applies here as to helicopters. The more serious question relates to enemy aircraft and cruise missiles, and the source of those hostile intruders.
There is no obvious reason for Australia to be attacked by Indonesia, Papua New Guinea or any other country for whom Australia would be within the range of its bombers. The unspoken “enemy” here is presumably China, although again that raises the obvious question as to why China would wish to attack Australia. The only obvious answer to this is as a defensive reaction to an attack upon China itself.
Australia would only do that as part of yet another United States led “Coalition”, but why Australia would wish to be involved in such a foolhardy exercise against its largest trading partner should not be seriously contemplated by our defence planners, and if it is they need to spell out their rationale in clear terms.
Let us assume for arguments sake that China did attack Australia. It would not be with helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles, cruise missiles or bombers. It would be done with one or more of its repertoire of supersonic missiles from the Dong Feng family of missiles, most probably the DF41. This missile system travels at hypersonic speed (Mach 20) and has 8 to 10 independently targetable nuclear warheads.
There is nothing in the current repertoire of United States or Australian missile defence systems that can defend against such an attack, and the heroic claims of Defence Minister Christopher Pyne that it will be a “highly effective defence system” is simply nonsense.
If Australia did get into a shooting war with China, that war would likely involve China’s strategic partner Russia, whose missile systems (for example, Zircon, Burevestnik, Avangaard and Kinzhal) are decades ahead of US military technology, as even the United States itself admits (www.news.com.au19 December 2018). For details of these Russian systems see Martyanov www.unz.com5 March 2018; and Vineyard of the Saker www.thesaker.is24 January 2019.
James O’Neill is a barrister at law and geopolitical analyst. He may be contacted at email@example.com