January 8, 2012

Prominent defence thinker Professor Babbage suggests 12 nuclear submarines and ballistic missiles for Australia

The concept of an arsenal ship proposed for use in the US Navy and also by Professor Babbage for the Australian Navy.

An extraordinary essay by prominent defence thinker, Professor Ross Babbage, on Australia's response to the China threat, will become public in 48 hours on January 7. The following is a preliminary analysis in The Australian January 5, 2011 by conservative journalist Greg Sheridan. My blog has long supported the notion of nuclear submarines for Australia - preferably armed with (hypersonic) ballistic missiles because cruise missiles are too slow for first or second strike. Long flight times lose the element of surprise and cruise missiles are more easily shot down.  Hence cruise missiles lack the deterrent value of ballistic missiles. Sheridan's preliminary analysis is:

'Boost military' to take on China: adviser AUSTRALIA will need nuclear-powered attack submarines among a range of highly potent weapons systems, and must revolutionise its strategic culture to answer the security dangers posed by China's massive military build-up, according to one of the federal government's chief military advisers.

Ross Babbage, who served on the government's advisory panel for the 2009 Defence white paper, believes Australia should acquire a fleet of 12 nuclear-powered attack submarines.

He also favours developing a conventionally armed cruise and ballistic missile capability to be carried on new "arsenal ships", as well as a massive increase in Australia's cyber-warfare investment. [Pete's comment: The concept of specialised arsenal ships comes from the US Navy which (unlike the Australian Navy) can afford a whole range of specialised ships.  A ship which carries cruise and/or ballistic missiles would be a warship, requiring a regular navy crew to maintain and fire the missiles. The crew and surrounding escort ships would likely also defend the "arsenal ship" from air, submarine and sea-surface threats. Making the ship submersible would improve survivability and would improve the element of surprise as well as deterrent value. In short a SSBN would be a better solution than an arsenal ship.]

In a report to be published on Monday, Australia's Strategic Edge 2030, Professor Babbage calls for Australia to host a range of American military bases. This would help disperse US military assets and make them harder to hit in the event of military conflict with China.

It would also emphasise the strength and intimacy of the US-Australia alliance and discourage any aggression against Australia, as any hostile power would fear that this would automatically involve the Americans.

Professor Babbage, the founder of the influential Kokoda Foundation security think tank, believes all this is necessary because China's extremely aggressive military build-up has transformed Australia's strategic environment, making it much more dangerous.

"Australia cannot overlook the way that the scale, pattern and speed of (Chinese) People's Liberation Army's development is altering security in the Western Pacific," Professor Babbage argues in the new paper, which has been obtained by The Weekend Australian.

Professor Babbage believes that China's massive military expansion is focused on "striking United States and allied forces in the Western Pacific" and that this has been accompanied by much more aggressive military and diplomatic behaviour by Beijing.

"Australia has to develop an effective response," he argues.

"The challenge posed by the rising PLA is arguably one of the most serious that has confronted Australia's national security planners since World War II," he says.

"China is for the first time close to achieving a military capability to deny United States and allied forces access to much of the Western Pacific rim."

Professor Babbage argues that this is not a question of distant threats to Australia's region but of direct threat to Australia itself, as it is within range of many existing Chinese weapons systems.

He identifies a vast range of Chinese military capabilities that are on a massive growth path. These include cruise and ballistic missiles, which can attack US and Australian ships and fixed targets; a massive investment in cyber-warfare capabilities, with reports of tens of thousands of Chinese cyber intrusions daily; new classes of both nuclear and conventionally powered submarines, including more than 40 new Chinese subs since 1995; a massive increase in Chinese nuclear weapons that will double or triple in number by 2030; a huge investment in space warfare so that China could destroy the communications satellites which are central to the Western way of war; and a massive increase in fighter bomber and other airborne strike capabilities.

Professor Babbage does not believe Australia can match these Chinese capabilities.

Rather, his strategic response consists of two elements.

One is Australia taking action to strengthen the US military position in Asia, such as by hosting more US military facilities.

The other is for Australia to do to China what China is doing to the US, which is to develop an "asymmetric" ability to use a smaller force to impose massive costs on China in the event of any conflict.

This would help to deter Chinese military adventurism and avoid conflict."

[Elsewhere in the January 5, 2011 edition of The Australian Sheridan describes http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/opinion/time-to-beat-china-at-its-own-game/story-e6frg6zo-1226000381520 the Babbage Essay (to be published on January 7 as:

 "one of the most important, deeply considered and logically compelling strategic documents ever seen in Australia".
Babbages views on Australia defence carry special weight due to his long career in the Australia DoD, in academia and because he has been asked several times to contribute to pivotal strategic (White) Papers on Australia's Defence.

As founder and most prominent member of the Kokoda Foundation Babbage regularly produces highly creative ideas on Australia's defence. Here is an earlier blog article where I comment on Professor Babbage's ripping the arms off Asian giants Kokoda article of March 2008.
Unfortunately the US is likely to maintain its position that its allies, such as Australia and Canada, cannot have nuclear submarines. In comments below my blog article Australia New Submarine Program - On Drawing Board I wrote on March 22, 2009 :

"The US has policies, laws and has signed treaties against nuclear proliferation. Proliferation includes the spread of nuclear weapons, fissile material, and weapons-applicable nuclear technology and information, to nations which are not recognized as "nuclear weapon States" by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

As submarine reactors often contain weapons grade uranium (97% for US sub reactors when only 85% would be enough for a bomb)) exporting such a reactor would amount to weapon proliferation. Teaching Australian technicians the skills to maintain and operate such reactors would amount proliferation of dual use information.

So the US in its self appointed role as world policeman and moral high grounder would be unlikely to help Australia in the nuclear propulsion and weapon areas.

But probably more likely nuclear exporters are France for naval reactors and Israel for actual weapons.

France has a history of building handy little SSNs that would be a better size for Australian requirements. For example the 6 French SSNs of the Rubis Class only displace 2,400 tons surfaced, 2,600 submerged. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubis_class_submarine

The Rubis Class are less than a third of the weight of US Los Angeles or Virginia class SSN/SSGNs. The Rubis' crew of 62 (the smaller the better for Australia) is only half that of US SSNs. Rubis are fairly recent with the first launched 1979 - obtaining them second hand or new build followon French SSN's ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barracuda_class_submarines  ) may be the best way to go if Australia considered nuclear propulsion.

Australia also fields Harpoon anti shipping and land attack missiles in its Collins Class subs. Given probable Israeli sub cruise missile warhead developments and Israel's past willingness to supply nuclear weapons technology to South Africa - Israel could well help Australia some day. Israel would certainly value Australian uranium aand diplomatic support in return:

"In June 2002, former State Department and Pentagon officials confirmed that the U.S. Navy observed Israeli missile tests in the Indian Ocean in 2000, and that the [Israeli HDW 214 derivative] Dolphin-class vessels have been fitted with nuclear-capable cruise missiles of a new design. Israel issued new denials, albeit in an indirect manner. In October 2003, unidentified senior U.S. and Israeli officials were quoted as saying that Israel had successfully modified nuclear warheads to fit its Harpoon missiles." http://www.nti.org/db/submarines/israel/index.html "
In line with US strictures Australia dismissed the option of Australian nuclear subs in the 2009 Defence White Paper - see http://gentleseas.blogspot.com/2009/05/australia-defence-white-paper-submarine.html However Professor Babbage is reviving that option due to the increasing China threat and perhaps a resultant decline in US power to limit US allies' weapon preferences. In http://gentleseas.blogspot.com/2009/05/australia-defence-white-paper-submarine.html I also noted:

"subsonic Tomahawk missiles are stealthy and part of an EW attack, however, a much faster mach 2+ weapon (retaining 2,000+ km range) would eventually be preferable for surprise land attack, quick response and to evade anti missile defences, such as the Russian or Chinese sourced S-400 (or equivalent) SAMs." [Ballistic missiles and their warheads are the only practical and mature hypersonic vehicles over their whole flight - not just a hypersonic endrun as seen in the BrahMos. Ballistic missile and warheads mainly operate in space where they do not overheat. Although there is much impractical, overheated, complete flight, hypersonic research in the atmosphere going on].