The new Australian Defence Force Chief will be Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell, Chief of Army since 2015, who became the operational public face of the Coalition government’s Operation Sovereign Borders.
Campbell replaces the present chief, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, 58, who will retire from the ADF in July.
With his promotion, Campbell has jumped over the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, who was involved in controversy over his relationship with a junior officer, whom he later married. Two reviews cleared Griggs of any impropriety. He is now leaving the military.
While the vice chief is frequently promoted to chief, as were Binskin and David Hurley before him, it is not an invariable practice. Neither Angus Houston nor Peter Cosgrove had been vice chief before taking the top role.
Campbell joined the army in 1981, graduating from Duntroon in 1984. Later he served in the Special Air Service Regiment (SAS).
In 2005, he joined the Prime Minister’s Department, rising to become Deputy Secretary and Deputy National Security Adviser. In 2011, he took command of Australian forces deployed in the Middle East area of operations.
He has a Bachelor of Science (honours) from the University of New South Wales and a Master of Philosophy in international relations from Cambridge University.
In his role in Operation Sovereign Borders, Campbell was known for his tight lips in face of questions, often ruling them out as “on water” matters.
Announcing the ADF changes, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Campbell brought leadership and experience to his new position. Defence Minister Marise Payne said he had shown leadership across many roles – “from operational periods of the highest tempo to what some might call a character-building period in Prime Minister and Cabinet some years ago”.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten also praised the Campbell appointment, saying it was well-deserved and the Labor Party “wholeheartedly support it”.
The new Vice Chief of the ADF will be Vice Admiral David Johnston, currently Chief of Joint Operations, where his role has been “to plan, control and conduct military campaigns, operations, joint exercises and other activities” to meet Australia’s national objectives.
John Blaxland, Professor of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at ANU, praised the appointments, tweeting that these were “a good call”. Both were “well-seasoned, intelligent and highly regarded officers”, he said.
He said Campbell understood the importance of closer engagement with our Southeast Asian and South Pacific neighbours.
Houston said Campbell was “an outstanding appointment”. He was very happy the government had appointed such a “strong and well-credentialed team”.
The new Chief of Army will be Major General Rick Burr.
Rear Admiral Mike Noonan becomes Chief of Navy, replacing Tim Barrett the present Navy Chief, who will also retire in July after a 42 year career.
Air Vice Marshal Mel Hupfeld will become Chief of Joint Operations – he is currently the head of Force Design.
Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Leo Davies, continues in his present position.
Rumour has it that Vanuatu has agreed to a Chinese request to establish a military base. The substance of this rumour is highly speculative at the least and disingenuous at most. Regardless of the truth, the fact that it raises alarm about the threat of Chinese military expansionism speaks volumes about Australian foreign policy, particularly toward the Pacific.
On Monday, Fairfax Media reported that “China had approached Vanuatu” about setting up a “permanent military presence” – in other words, a base.
The article went on to speculate about the dramatic strategic importance of the “globally significant move that could see the rising superpower sail warships on Australia’s doorstep”. Furthermore, this Chinese base “would … upend the long standing strategic balance in the region” and would likely be followed by bases elsewhere.
Multiple international mediaoutlets have syndicated the story. Much of the coverage alluded to military threats and a shift in the strategic balance. The language is reminiscent of Cold War bipolarity: “their” gain is “our” loss.
On face value, this sounds like a serious geostrategic issue for Australia. But on close examination, the threat is more apparent than real. An indication of which is that nowhere are Chinese or Vanuatuan interests in provoking this form of strategic competition explained.
From the beginning, every assertion was countered by one of the primary players. Multiple representatives of the Vanuatu government have been at pains to deny the story. For instance, Vanuatu Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu was quoted as saying:
No-one in the Vanuatu Government has ever talked about a Chinese military base in Vanuatu of any sort.
As the story spiralled out of control, he then told SBS News it was “fake news” concocted by a Fairfax Media journalist.
Multiple Chinese government sources have denied the story and also described it as “fake news”. China also has assured the Australian government that the story has no validity.
In the original article, it was noted that talks between China and Vanuatu were only “preliminary discussions” and that “no formal proposals had been put to Vanuatu’s government.” So given these caveats, and the comprehensive denials, this raises some serious questions about why this rumour was newsworthy in the first place.
So where did it come from? Presumably Fairfax Media would only have acted if the information was from a highly placed Australian government source that could be verified. Presumably this unnamed source has leaked sensitive intelligence, but it is curious that no Australian Federal Police investigation has been announced.
This has been the past practice from the Turnbull government in relation to national security leaks, and there is no sign the government is at all concerned about this leak.
In contrast, it has used this rumour for megaphone diplomacy against both Vanuatu and China. For example, after accepting the Chinese government’s denial, the prime minister said:
We would view with great concern the establishment of any foreign military bases in those Pacific island countries and neighbours of ours.
And it was the latter rather than the former statement that was covered by many media outlets.
This is very telling. Canberra is clearly sending signals to Beijing and Port Vila that it maintains significant strategic interests in the region (and is a message not lost on other Pacific capitals).
This approach simply rehashes colonial tropes about Pacific Island Nations being economically unsustainable, corrupt, and easily influenced by great powers. This is reinforced by China’s alleged influence borne from budget support, and capital and aid flows into the Pacific.
What these colonial stereotypes fail to acknowledge is that the foreign policies of Pacific Island countries have matured. Vanuatu is a committed member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), eschewing formal military alliances and entanglements with great powers. The lesson of Fiji’s strong stance against Australian sanctions is that it too has created an independent foreign policy. Neither country will be easily influenced by foreign powers, including Australia.
Returning to the “truth”. It is true that China’s influence in the region has grown dramatically in recent years, especially during the sanctions years from 2006 to 2014, when Canberra attempted to isolate Fiji.
It is also true that military diplomacy is a key element of China’s foreign policy approach (to the Pacific as in Africa). A final truth is that Vanuatu has a high level of debt dependence on China and is a major beneficiary of Chinese aid. However, this does not mean that Vanuatu is being influenced into accepting a Chinese military base.
At some stage, Vanuatu might very well sign an agreement that allows transit and refuelling of Chinese vessels, as is commonplace in international relations. As Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop told Radio National: “these sorts of visits are normal for many neighbours around the world.”
If so, then all we have learned from this episode is that old colonial habits die hard, and the chances of dispassionately dealing with the geo-strategic rise of China are narrowing.
Chinese President Xi Jinping wants to transform China’s military into the world’s most powerful force by 2050. And he could be on track to do it.
On the opening day of its National People’s Congress in Beijing yesterday, China reported a defence budget of ¥1.11 trillion ($A225 billion) for 2018. That represents an 8.1% increase in its defence budget, compared to a 7% increase last year.
China’s military has modernised rapidly in recent years. Since January alone it has demonstrated new capabilities in stealth fighter jets, drones, naval ships and advanced missiles.
Chinese scientists are also working to develop revolutionary technologies that would change the way wars are fought – and the way we live.
While China still lags the US in overall technological capability, it has narrowed the gap substantially. In the coming decades, it is poised to challenge US technological supremacy in key fields such as artificial intelligence, supercomputing and quantum information science.
What explains China’s rise as a technological power?
According to one security analysis, between 2006 and 2013 the Chinese military stole confidential data from more than 140 organisations around the world. The problem was so serious that in May 2014, the US Department of Justice indicted five Chinese military hackers for cyber-espionage activities against US companies.
Second, China has been able to mobilise resources for priority technology sectors and research and development (R&D) projects in a way that many democracies are simply unable to do because of the limits of government power or popular mandate. Large state subsidies, government R&D funding, tailored regulations, market barriers and lax individual rights (such as privacy) protection have given Chinese domestic companies an edge over their foreign competitors.
Here are a few examples of how China is making rapid progress in high-tech fields with military applications.
Hypersonic technology could one day allow us to travel from Beijing to New York in about two hours, rather than the 13 hours it currently takes. China is developing a hypersonic glide vehicle known as DF-ZF to make its nuclear and non-nuclear missiles extremely fast, manoeuvrable and capable of defeating existing missile defence systems.
To support this effort, China is building the world’s most advanced hypersonic wind tunnel for testing the extreme conditions of supersonic flight. While an operational hypersonic missile is still years away, once developed it would be a formidable weapon. It could also have a destabilising effect on strategic relations between China and other powers by compressing the time window for decision-making in a conflict or crisis situation.
Another area of China’s focus is quantum technology, which uses subatomic mechanics to process and transmit information in a fraction of the time required by existing technology.
China is making rapid headway in quantum communication, computing and cryptography. In August 2016, China launched the world’s first quantum satellite. This enabled Chinese researchers to conduct cutting-edge experiments in quantum entanglement and teleportation. To win the quantum race, China announced last year that it will build the world’s largest quantum research facility at a cost of ¥76 billion ($A15.4 billion).
Quantum technology would enable the Chinese military to set up virtually unbreakable communication networks. It would also provide it with overwhelming computing power for information operations, such as the decryption of secret communications by adversaries.
China is also in the advanced stages of developing an electromagnetic railgun. This supergun uses electromagnetic energy to shoot powerful projectiles over vast distances at incredible speed. These projectiles are aerodynamic and their power comes from the kinetic damage generated by the intense speed at which they travel.
Recent photos circulated on Chinese social media show what is suspected to be an experimental electromagnetic railgun mounted on the bow of the Chinese navy ship. This indicates that China may soon be the first in world to test such a weapon at sea, where it could revolutionise naval combat. In contrast, the US Navy is winding down its railgun research program because of resource constraints and shifting priorities.
The above examples are only a few among dozens of high-tech fields in which China is making rapid progress. Others include biotechnology, robotics, supercomputing, nanotechnology, advanced materials, space technology, and artificial intelligence. In fact, the Chinese government has identified 17 engineering and science megaprojects that are key to China’s economic and military strength. These include advanced satellites, large nuclear reactors, large aircraft and high-end electronic chips.
China’s continued rise as a technological giant will have profound implications for its military power as Beijing leverages civilian technology for its military. This effort is so important that President Xi considers it a top priority. To underscore this, Xi created a powerful commission under his direct leadership to provide high-level guidance and oversight.
Much hinges on how Beijing chooses to use its new-found military and technological might. Indeed, China’s extensive geopolitical ambitions and increasingly assertive foreign policy are ominous signs that foreshadow the challenges ahead.
Australia’s “national security” government has found yet another credential to add to its claim that it’s protecting the country’s future. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull launched a new Defence Export Strategy this week to catapult Australia into the top 10 defence exporting countries in the world by 2028.
Broadly speaking, the plan’s main premise is that if Australia is going to retool its defence industry over the coming decade to lift the production of Australian-made military equipment and services, then the government and industry itself should take the opportunity to export the same products and services.
Just as importantly, the strategy notes, if domestic producers are to prosper and succeed in playing their part, they will need bigger markets than the Australian armed forces can provide.
Three big questions
There are at least three big questions that can be raised about the plan.
First, we can wonder just how Australia hopes to achieve the 800% growth in sales represented by the “top 10” ambition in a highly competitive market place.
A second question concerns the national innovation strategy that would be needed to achieve such a massive improvement.
One day after the Prime minister’s new push for arms exports, the Chairman of the Board of Innovation and Science Australia, Bill Ferris, released Australia 2030 – a strategic plan for the Australian innovation, science and research system out to 2030 – commissioned by the government.
The report identified five things that need to change urgently: education, industry, government, research and development, and culture and ambition. Without going into detail here, that is quite some agenda for radical and comprehensive change. It is as needed in defence industry as in the economy as a whole.
A third question is the diplomacy of selling weapons into conflict zones or to governments with troubled human rights records. The government dismissed this concern by saying the main recipients of our defence exports are close allies.
So, if the aims of the strategy are broadly credible, but there are some questions about pace and ambition, what are we to make of it?
Its success will hinge on whether key stakeholders, especially the government, industry and academia, truly understand the meaning of the main goal: to, as the report says, transform the
Australian defence industry into the high-tech, agile and cutting-edge industry we need to assure our future defence and national security.
The Ferris report singled out the medical sector as the one with most potential for innovation and export growth. In contrast, the Defence Export Strategy is agnostic as to choice of sector or focus. Selling components for weapon systems is painted as the same as selling military vehicles or radars.
Picking winners may not be sensible in a globalised free market sector such as medical services, but there are some choices in the defence sector that the Turnbull government should be making.
Australia has a significant comparative advantage in cyber security knowledge and skills. The country is seen by insiders as being in the top ten in that field already, largely because of its decades of experience working inside the “five eyes” intelligence alliance.
Admittedly, the domestic industry doesn’t yet reflect that strength. But a focus on high-tech military industry development by the defence ministers would play not just to our natural strengths, but also to the need to sell mainly to close allies. (We would only sell such military exports to our closest allies).
More importantly, cyber science is not a sector, it is the essence of all military high technology. Australian universities already export their technology research to the United States through grants from the Pentagon. Several Australian technology startups have been acquired by US military giants. That includes the purchase of Canberra company, M5, by Northrop Grumman. Australian technology company, Atlassian, provides secure web services to the Pentagon.
The government is yet to release its Defence Industrial Capability Plan so maybe it is too soon to tell whether or not Australia’s cyber industry will take a privileged spot. But to date, most key power holders in Australian industrial development have responded only episodically to the challenges and opportunities represented by the information age. Austcyber, the cyber security growth and innovation centre set up by the government, is just one year old.
Australia must build “industries of the future”, according to a multi-year multi-author series of studies led by the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA), culminating in the book Securing Australia’s Future. This simple message, and many of the fine nuances of the ACOLA work about what makes a national innovation system, find little reflection in the Defence Export Strategy.
Between 2012 and 2014, China decided on its “industries of the future” for defence and security purposes – including for export – and they are all cyber-related. Australia should choose as decisively. We can do it, but we need to first build the critical mass of cyber-educated innovators needed for more rapid takeoff.
Investing very heavily in the military cyber sector may be the only pathway to begin to approach 800% growth in defence exports by 2028.
… larger and more complex than the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme and the National Broadband Network.
Irrespective of this particular claim’s validity, the investment of A$89 billion for nine new frigates, 12 submarines and 12 offshore patrol vessels is a substantial commitment to Australia’s security. The plan is a comprehensive approach to establishing a continuous program for building these platforms in Australia.
Apart from the future introduction of these and other vessels into service, one of the plan’s key outcomes is a “sovereign Australian capability to deliver affordable and achievable naval shipbuilding and sustainment”. The development of a sovereign capability is stated as “the government’s clear priority”.
But what is sovereignty in this context? And is it attainable from the naval shipbuilding plan?
Two clear weaknesses
The plan has two interconnected weaknesses when it comes to sovereignty.
First, the Australian defence industry environment is dominated by companies whose parentage and ultimate control rest offshore. This is not necessarily a bad thing. But given the shipbuilding plan’s focus on Australian jobs and resources, it is a reality that needs confronting.
To that end one might have expected to see, both in this document and in earlier ones, a definition of Australia’s defence industry – what it is and, importantly, what it is not.
The UK’s 2005 description of its defence industry embraces the combination of local and offshore companies contributing to defence outcomes in terms of:
… where the technology is created, where the skills and intellectual property reside, where the jobs are created and sustained, and where the investment is made.
A similar definition for Australia would provide a foundation for sovereignty in the shipbuilding environment to be properly assessed. The plan suggests the Australian subsidiaries of offshore companies will be considered as sovereign without discussing how local control might be maintained, and how Australian sensitivities might be tackled.
The proposed definition for defence industry also highlights the second weakness of the shipbuilding plan: it is focused on building and sustaining the structural component (the “float” and “move” aspects), rather than the total capability the ship or submarine represents.
The lists of skills cited as necessary are those primarily associated with building and sustaining the structure. The shipbuilding plan gives scant coverage to the important combat system and weapons elements upon which the war-fighting capability rests.
The plan does not address the industrial capabilities necessary for the local maintenance and improvement of these ships. Access to the detailed design information for the combat and sensor systems in particular is required so that such systems can be upgraded locally if required. An offshore equipment supplier may not give the same priority to our needs.
The plan for naval shipbuilding in Australia says it will source many systems of the future frigate and other naval platforms from the US. However, the closest it gets to recognition of this reality in the context of sovereignty is that:
Australia’s alliance with the US, and the access to advanced technology and information it provides, will remain critical.
The plan therefore implies that sovereignty is sought for the “float” and “move” aspects of the naval capabilities, but not necessarily for the important “fight” aspects. This means the systems elements of ships and submarines will be tackled in some other context – outside the naval shipbuilding plan.
More than just ‘doing stuff’
The naval shipbuilding plan is undoubtedly a major step forward for industrial capability in Australia.
A successful implementation will provide significant benefits for the Navy in terms of force structure, for industry in terms of a long-term enterprise upon which to grow overall capability and capacity, for innovation, for workers in terms of continuity of effort, and for the development of shipbuilding-related STEM skills. These are all worthy outcomes.
But sovereignty is more than just “doing stuff” in the country.
If the plan really wanted to tackle sovereignty, it should have provided a foundation on which aspects of industrial and operational sovereignty could be properly assessed, prioritised and managed. It would also have addressed the systems aspects of ships, rather than just the structure.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is central to Australia’s air defence plans for the years ahead, however, the continuing delays are causing major issues for Australia’s current defence needs. The link below is to an article that examines the F-35 development program in some detail.