Our Air Force is already ‘operating against China’

Aug 26, 2022
Vector map of the Pacific Ocean showing China, Australia and the USA
Image: iStock

Australia is seemingly as eager as ever to be pushed out on a plank by our American friends, professionally. Ever the faithful “patsy”.

What’s got into Australia’s defence administration, when our military believe that warlike actions against China is what is required of them daily in the South China Sea? The government has not declared China to be a military threat to Australia. How can there be such a disconnect between the Australian government’s policies and our military’s actions?

On 22nd August, ABC News reported that Air Marshal Chipman met with US Secretary for the Air Force Frank Kendall. The RAAF Chief warned China had established a “formidable aerospace capability” in the South China Sea, but military operations could still be conducted there:

“It doesn’t make it impenetrable and it doesn’t mean you can’t deliver military effects to achieve your interests when you are operating against China,”

At the highest level, our Air Force is planning and acting to penetrate China’s air defences. And publicly enthusiastic about it. While complaining that Chinese pilots were not behaving “professionally”. All within a ruse of preserving “rules”.

There is a well- known Australian military syndrome found mainly at the footslogger level whereby the infectious American military mindset induces our military to identify unquestioningly with US goals. The Service chiefs and Secretary of Defence have long had an important role in containing it. Yet here we find a Chief infected. The disease has grown to an epidemic with repeated US joint military exercising in northern Australia over recent months.

Apart from undermining foreign policy and diplomacy it is structurally damaging to our defence. Any sober strategic view of our security always returns to Australia having to stand alone. We cannot count on the US for a variety of substantial reasons.

A lot of effort and money has gone into creating that independent capacity. Much of it is idiosyncratic. The Jindalee surveillance network is an example, which has enabled a quantum leap in effectiveness of Australia’s defences. The US initially had embarked on that same surveillance course but changed tack to a space-based system. The two forces depend on entirely different systems for operations, in fundamental ways. So limits to interoperability exist which must be preserved if we are to retain a self-reliant defence.

The danger in wholesale embrace of the American way is that we are gutted of the hard-won pillars of self reliance. Who is looking out for that?

Indeed, is anyone in charge of Defence in Canberra? Once, a strong Secretary would have called a meeting of the Defence Committee to ask the military Chiefs how their organisations behaviour is furthering government’s security objectives. With the Secretary of Foreign Affairs alongside, who might have talked of the aim to “reset” with China.

However, as our military is already at war against China with the US, let’s get a fix on how it’s going. The US response to the Pelosi visit to Taiwan makes an interesting comparison with its reaction to the last Taiwan crisis in 1996. Then the US sailed an aircraft carrier force through the Taiwan Strait in a “get out of my way” demonstration of power. With no China military response. Now, twenty five years later China has reacted to Pelosi with a demonstration of defensive power – exercising with live firings in the same waters around Taiwan. America’s Nimitz-class super aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and an accompanying strike group were tucked well out the way in the Philippine Sea before heading back to port in Yokosuka Japan. The US claims it chose not to over react. Others say it knew that reacting as previously was not an option because of China’s defences. And it shows the US is already on the retreat. At least this notion would occur to Taiwan, and allies Japan and Korea.

It was President Lyndon Johnson who worried, sixty years ago, about sending “good American boys to fight for Asian boys” in its proxy war with China through Vietnam. Today a conflict with China which consumed American troops would be politically unthinkable (if anything is unthinkable today). If America can’t find a proxy to contain China then it will relent. The penny might drop for America’s Asian allies, the front-line proxy candidates. But not for Australia, seemingly as eager as ever to be pushed out on a plank by their American friends, professionally. Ever the faithful “patsy”.

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