Australia’s naval upgrade may not be enough to keep pace in a fast-changing region



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As part of Australia’s naval upgrade, construction of 12 future submarines will start around 2022-23.
Brendan Esposito/AAP

Chris Barrie, Australian National University

Last year, Professor Roger Bradbury and I questioned whether or not there was an unacceptable risk of the world “sleepwalking” into war.

We cited as reasons to be concerned a lack of strong and principled leadership, the problem of a rising power contesting other major powers for influence, the rise of nationalism, and the ineffectiveness of the UN Security Council in managing conflict situations. And we said:

the peaceful domain in the landscape shrinks rapidly as risk aversion decreases, such that, at low risk aversion, even low levels of hawkishness can drive countries to war

So, in the aftermath of US Vice President Mike Pence’s recent and provocative speech to the Hudson Institute in which the US laid down the gauntlet to China over many issues, it seems timely to look at Australia’s naval shipbuilding enterprise and our readiness for the future if conflict does someday break out in our region.

Slow-moving and complacent

I have been watching developments in defence circles since the release of a series of white papers on defence in 2016.

From a naval perspective, the major thrust of these developments seems to have produced significant changes in how Australia is approaching its capability needs over the next 30 years.




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But, in a comparative sense, we seem slow-moving and complacent in our decision-making and lack the agility to keep up with the times.

Why do I make this point?

In May 2017, the Coalition government released its Naval Shipbuilding Plan. The government announced it was embarking on a large shipbuilding enterprise to equip the nation to meet future challenges. Its vision is:

to deliver and sustain modern, capable naval vessels, on time and on budget, maximising Australian industry involvement and contributing to a secure and prosperous future for our nation.

The Turnbull government’s shipbuilding plan may not be adequate in a constantly shifting region.
David Mariuz/AAP

In summary, the plan included:

  • A rolling acquisition program to produce a new submarine fleet at the Osborne Naval Shipyard in South Australia. Construction of 12 future submarines will commence around 2022-23. The last submarine to enter service will be delivered in the early 2050s. This plan means the present Collins class submarines will have to remain in service until the late 2030s. There would also be no capability gap (with at least two serviceable submarines available for operations at all times).

  • The construction of nine future frigates would commence in 2020, also at the Osborne Naval Shipyard. The last of these frigates will be delivered in 2039. These ships would allow us to create surface task groups comprising one air warfare destroyer and three frigates able to be deployed quickly, with a second surface task group able to be deployed at no more than 90 days notice for up to six months. These measures could enable us to operate in two separate geographic areas at the same time.

  • A continuous build program for minor naval vessels that was to begin with the Pacific patrol boat replacement project in 2017 at the Henderson Maritime Precinct in Western Australia and the construction of 12 offshore patrol vessels. Construction of the first two offshore patrol vessels will begin in 2018. The remainder will be built at the start of the future frigate project, with the final vessel delivered in 2030.

The key to successful delivery and sustainment of our “enhanced” naval capabilities will be a coherent national approach formed through strategic partnerships with the defence industry, state and territory governments, foreign allies and other suitable partners, commercial enterprises, academics, and science and technology research organisations.

Adequate force for a changing region?

Earlier this month, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute released a report about submarines detailing many of the problems yet to be solved in maintaining our current naval capability and simultaneously constructing a future fleet of 12 submarines.

The plan certainly looks challenging enough, but is it even adequate to meet our needs now – and in the future?

I note, for example, that the new naval surface fleet will deliver about the same level of capability that Australia has had since I joined the Navy in 1961 – one surface task group of four ships. But in 1961, we also had the possibility of adding to the mix the power of a small aircraft carrier.

To assess the adequacy of our current plans, we need to look ahead to what our region will look like in 2050.

In a snapshot: there will be an estimated 5.3 billion people in the Asia-Pacific region. Indonesia will have about 321 million people and a defence budget equal to ours. Australia’s population is expected to reach 33 million, just 0.6% of the total regional population.

And, we have little idea where China will be positioned by that time!




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Given these circumstances, will we have the assets to meet our needs if conflict does arise, or if there is a period of escalating tensions?

The size of our force structure has been limited since 1945. But, if war were to break out, the numbers we have been thinking about in our current naval programs will be at the low end of our needs.

From this strategic perspective, there are a range of questions:

  • Will these plans deliver sufficient capability in time to meet significant strategic challenges?

  • Will our shipbuilding enterprise be able to ramp up quickly to deliver more vessels if there is a sudden deterioration in our strategic circumstances?

  • To what extent will we be able to build more vessels that are dependent on systems supplied from other countries?

  • How dependent will these new capabilities be on the provision of spare parts and sophisticated weapons from overseas suppliers?

  • By what measures should we assess that our capability plans are adequate to meet Australia’s needs at any time?

  • And to what extent can the success of our international relationships ameliorate the need to go it alone?

I do not have answers to these questions. I raise them because I think we need to bear them in mind in today’s fast-moving strategic environment.

It’s also important to recognise that our plans require all levels of government, and many foreign governments, to pull together in a clearly defined way.

In addition, our ability to play in the big game in our region and retain a military advantage if conflict does break out depends a lot on the capabilities of our opposing forces. And even here, an analysis of the current situation is not re-assuring.

China’s new Navy

In May, the ANU Strategic and Defence Study Centre published a paper by Sam Roggeveen about China’s new Navy. It’s a reminder of the complexities of the issues that Australia will have to confront over the next three decades and is intended to be a guide for policymakers.

Chinese sailors aboard a PLA Navy frigate in Singapore last year.
Wallace Noon/EPA

According to Andrew Erickson of the US Naval Institute, the Chinese PLA Navy is:

poised to become the world’s second largest navy by 2020, and – if current trends continue – a combat fleet that in overall order of battle is quantitatively and even perhaps qualitatively on a par with that of the US Navy by 2030.

The US naval predominance will continue to erode in north Asia and give way to a multi-polar balance. And in Southeast Asia, China will become predominant.

In addition, China may already be building a “post-American navy” – one designed not to confront US naval predominance in the Pacific, but to inherit it as the US balks at the increasing cost of continued regional leadership.

The final point of China’s naval ambitions is worth emphasising:

China wants a powerful surface fleet to signal to the region and the
world its great-power ambitions, thereby eroding incentives to resist China’s agenda.

US aircraft carriers in the western Pacific. By 2030, the US is no longer expected to be the predominant power in the region.
US Navy/EPA

What can Australia do better?

For policy recommendations, Roggeveen proposes that:

Australia must plan for a future in which its major ally is not the uncontested maritime leader in our region, and in which America’s will to maintain a preeminent place in the region will be severely tested.

Australia should follow China’s example by focusing its maritime force structure on anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities. The plan to double the size of Australia’s submarine fleet is welcome, but given the leaps in Chinese capability, there are major questions around the pace of this program.

Australia cannot pursue an A2/AD strategy without Indonesia’s consent, and preferably its cooperation. Our defence diplomacy should be concentrated on Jakarta.




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But it is too easy to think that China’s ambitions will be uncontested as the trade war between China and the US unfolds. The presumption about the decline of US power may well be overstated.

Also, China does not yet have global military and naval forces suited to superpower interests, though this could change in the next two decades.

For Australia, this means that we cannot be sure how we should balance our economic interests with our security requirements.

It also suggests we are not planning to do enough in this uncertain climate to assure Australians of a secure future in our region.The Conversation

Chris Barrie, Honorary Professor, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Push for Islamic Courts in Kenya Alarms Christians


Emergence of Somali-related Islamic extremists puts authorities on high alert.

NAIROBI, Kenya, February 11 (CDN) — A constitutional battle to expand the scope of Islamic courts in Kenya threatens to ignite religious tensions at a time when authorities are on high alert against Muslim extremists with ties to Somalia.

Constitutional provisions for Islamic or Kadhis’ courts have existed in Kenya since 1963, with the courts serving the country’s coastal Muslim population in matters of personal status, marriage, divorce, or inheritance. Kenya’s secular High Court has jurisdiction over civil and criminal matters, and even a decision in the Islamic courts can be appealed at the High Court.

The Islamic courts have functioned only in Kenya’s Coast Province, but in a hotly debated draft constitution, their jurisdiction would expand across the nation and their scope would increase. The proposed constitution has gathered enough momentum that 23 leaders of churches and Christian organizations released a statement on Feb. 1 asserting their opposition to any inclusion of such religious courts.

“It is clear that the Muslim community is basically carving for itself an Islamic state within a state,” the Kenyan church leaders stated. “This is a state with its own sharia [Islamic law]- compliant banking system; its own sharia-compliant insurance; its own Halaal [lawful in Islam] bureau of standards; and it is now pressing for its own judicial system.”

Muslim leaders are striving to expand the scope of Islamic courts to include civil and small claims cases. They also want to upgrade the Muslim tribunals to High Court status. These demands have alarmed Christians, who make up 80 percent of the population and defeated a similar proposal in a 2005 referendum. Muslims make up 10 percent of Kenya’s 39 million people, 9 percent of the population follows indigenous religions and less than 1 percent are Hindu, Sikh and Baha’i.

The National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) said the Committee of Experts (CoE) responsible for “harmonizing” drafts from various stakeholders ignored their concerns. The committee was responsible for determining what matters would be unduly “contentious” and was charged with keeping them out of the draft.

“We wrote to them, but we have been ignored,” said the Rev. Canon Peter Karanja, NCCK general secretary. “Who told the CoE that Kadhis’ courts were not contentious?”

Saying the committee ignored the crucial requirement of omitting what is “contentious,” Karanja said it did little to build consensus. He said that unless the Islamic courts are stricken from the constitution, Christians might be forced to reject the document in a national referendum later this year.

Muslim leaders, just as stridently, insist that recognition of the Islamic courts does not elevate Islam over other religions, and that if the courts are removed they will shoot down the draft in the referendum.

The 2005 referendum split the country and was followed by a bitterly disputed presidential election in 2007 that sparked rioting, reportedly leaving 1,300 people dead. The election dispute was resolved with one candidate becoming president and the other prime minister, and at the heart of the proposed constitution is an attempt to transfer presidential powers to the prime minister.

Christian leaders point out that the “Harmonized Draft” of the constitution discriminates against non-Muslims and contradicts its own Article 10 (1-3), which states that there shall be no state religion, that the state shall treat all religions equally and that state and religion shall be separate. They see the attempt to expand the scope of the Islamic courts as part of a long-term effort by Muslims to gain political, economic and judicial power.

Muslim leaders claim that inclusion of the Islamic courts in the new constitution would recognize “a basic religious right” for a minority group. Some Muslim extremists have said that if Islamic courts are removed from the draft constitution, they will demand their own state and introduce sharia.

Extremists Emerge

The constitutional issue erupted as security officials went on high alert when sympathizers of the Islamic terrorist al Shabaab militia appeared in a protest in mid-January to demand the release of radical Muslim cleric Abdullah Al-Faisal, who had entered the country on Dec. 31.

Al-Faisal, imprisoned from 2004 to 2008 after a British court convicted him of soliciting murder and inciting hatred, is on a global terrorism list. Government spokesman Alfred Mutua said Al-Faisal has been known to recruit suicide bombers and was arrested for violating terms of his tourist visa by preaching. He was reportedly deported to his native Jamaica on Jan. 21.

Eyewitnesses to the protests in Nairobi told Compass one demonstrator clad in fatigues, with his face masked by a balaclava, waved the black flag of the al-Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militia and passed his finger across his throat in a slitting gesture, taunting passersby.

Officials from the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya and from Muslims for Human Rights defended the demonstrations as legitimate to condemn violation of Al-Faisal’s rights. At least one person died as the protests turned violent, and Internal Security Minister George Saitoti said five civilians and six police officers were injured, with one security officer wounded from a bullet said to be shot by a demonstrator.

Al Shabaab-affiliated operatives appear to have targeted Christians in Kenya, according to an Internet threat in December by a group claiming to align itself with the Islamic extremist militia seeking to topple Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government. In an e-mail message with “Fatwa for you Infidels” in the subject line to Christian and governmental leaders in Kenya, a group calling itself the Harakatul-Al-Shabaab-al Mujahidin threatened to kill Muslim converts to Christianity and those who help them.

“We are proud to be an Islamic revolutionary group, and we are honored to be affiliated with Al Qaeda, a group of honest Muslims in which we share long-term goals and the broad outlines of our ideologies, while focusing on our efforts on attacking secular and moderate governments in the Muslim world, America and Western targets of opportunity and of course Uganda, Ethiopia, Burundi and Kenya if they do not stop their assistance to the Somali fragile and apostate government,” the group wrote in the e-mail. “Although we receive support for some of our operations, we function independently and generally depend on ourselves…”

The group threatened to shake the Kenyan government “in minutes,” calling it the “the most fragile target in the world.”

The emergence of al Shabaab and its sympathizers in Kenya coincides with the swelling of the Somali population in the country to 2.4 million, according to the August 2009 census.

Report from Compass Direct News