• Credit: Defence
    Credit: Defence

CANBERRA – Australia will adopt a defence strategy of denial, developing anti-access and area denial capabilities to detect an adversary and prevent them from entering an operational area, the new Defence Strategic Review says.

The Review, says the current ADF force structure was based on a balanced force model and Defence of Australia doctrine, an approach which was no longer fit for purpose.

“The development of a strategy of denial for the ADF is key in our ability to deny an adversary freedom of action to militarily coerce Australia and to operate against Australia without being held at risk,” it says.

The Review makes major recommendations about force structure and capabilities. Acquiring nuclear submarines takes number one priority. The ADF will acquire long range strike capabilities, both air and land launched.

Significantly, there will be a short independent review, reporting third quarter, of the Navy surface combatant fleet to ensure its size, structure and composition complement capabilities provided by the new nuclear submarines.

One possibility would appear to be a greater number of smaller vessels.

That would appear to potentially impact the proposed fleet of nine Hunter-class anti-submarine warfare frigates, regarded as providing limited capabilities with just 32 vertical launch missile cells against 48 on each of the three Hobart-class air warfare destroyers.

The Defence Structure Review was commissioned by the new Labor government and conducted by former Defence force chief Angus Houston and former Labor Defencer Minister Stephen Smith.

Australia has had many defence review most recently the 2020 Defence Strategic Update, it says.

But the US is no longer the unipolar leader of the Indo-Pacific and the region has seen the return of major power strategic competition “the intensity of which should be seen as the defining feature of our region and time.”

The 110-page document specifically says Defence’s current approach to capability acquisition is not fit for purpose.

“The system needs to abandon its pursuit of the perfect solution or process and focus on delivering timely and relevant capability,” it says.

"Defence must move away from processes based around project management risk rather than strategic risk management. It must be based on minimum viable capability in the shortest possible time.”

The Review devotes a chapter to climate change, saying it holds a number of significant implications for defence.

It stops well short of some outside proposals for substantial elements of the ADF be devoted to humanitarian and disaster relief.

Acceleration of major climate events risks overwhelming the government’s capacity to respond effectively and detracting from Defence’s primary purpose of defending Australia.

“Defence must be the force of last resort for domestic aid to the civil community. This is critical given the urgent geostrategic risks that the nation faces and the need for the ADF to be in a position to respond to regional contingencies,” it says.

As previously announced, the Army loses out: the acquisition of 450 Infantry Fighting Vehicles under Land 400 Phase 3 will now be reduced to 129. The project to acquire additional self-propelled howitzers under Project Land 8116 Phase 2 will be cancelled.

“The systems do not provide the required range or lethality,” the DSR says. However Army will acquire a land-launched long range missile capability and landing craft to enhance its littoral warfare capability.

The review team examined whether Australia could acquire the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider bomber.

“…we do not consider the B-21 to be a suitable option for consideration for acquisition,” they concluded.

DSR priorities will require additional funding; Defence Minister Richard Marles said the defence funding trajectory would remain as it is over the next four years of the forward estimates. After that, additional funding will be supplied.

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