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The Key To Air Power Part I

Aug 17, 2007
The key to air superiority is estimating the shape and size of future threat, coupled with the development of an appropriate force structure to deal with it.

Executive Summary
The ability of the Australian Defence Force to maintain air superiority in our region to 2020 depends entirely on our assessment of threat. The Defence department's choice of the F35 describes a low-level threat environment. This means Australia is not prepared for the worst, but a very hopeful situation, a nice bright sunny day. The combination of an improved F111 and the F22, outshine the F35 (which doesn't exist operationally) and F18 mix significantly, both financially and in capability terms. Our failure to influence the region with long range heavy hitters will impact both strategic and internal securities, adding a new dimension to the need for range, endurance, payload and speed.

If states sponsoring terrorism on our soil are immune from retaliation, there may be consequences our population will have to suffer with on means of protection. Defence acquisitions are long term events. Yet predicting even the near future is almost impossible. But there are answers. The most obvious answer is the force structure we will require.

The sweeping victory of Hamas in the Middle East is a lesson in how quickly the political and strategic landscape can change. It also suggests a trend in Islamic countries that have significant implications to Australia. This is a wind of change that has been blowing for some time. What do we do? Alex Fishman, military commentator for the Yediot Ahronot daily stated "The best brains in the business tried to reasonably predict outcomes. Israel's military intelligence, which prepared forecasts, said a major Hamas win was an 'extreme scenario' of low probability." He added, "None of the experts, of any colour or uniform, realised what was going to happen. It appears that the same agencies that did not predict the collapse of the Soviet Union, and failed to read events in Libya also failed this time." Given that the best minds have been completely surprised over the last century and have failed to warn effectively of not just long term, but imminent threat, including Pearl Harbour (1941), Communist attacks on South Korea (1950), Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia (1968), the Iran revolution (1979), and Iraq's invasion of Kuwait (1990), asking anyone to look ahead twenty years is impossible. But there is an answer.

The Australian Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade is being asked to crystal ball fifteen years into the future, a tough job for anyone. This enquiry operates in a strategic environment of substantive uncertainty that surrounds potential threats, requiring judgments that are inherently vulnerable to error. A review of intelligence forecasts published after 1990 illustrate clearly how erroneous we can be (do a search on the internet, they are hilarious). This means that the threat scenarios offered to you today could be invalid tomorrow, a single unexpected event like the Hamas win, the Lebanon war, changing the course of events and history. The logical conclusion therefore, if you are planning for the future, is to assume the worst and prepare for that. Current defence thinking illustrates a belief in the possibility of a mild threat scenario. The early retirement of our heavy hitter (F111), the continuation of the F18 and the proposed acquisition of a low performance light bomber, clearly suggests we don't perceive too much trouble in our neighbourhood. (I think Neville Chamberlain had the same plan).

Probability of War
There have been wars among the major powers for sixty percent of the years since 1500. Nine of these wars were world wars involving nearly all the great powers. The twentieth century has seen over 250 wars, including two world wars and a cold war, with more dead than in all previous wars over the past two millennia. Over the next 25 years, the number of wars, small and not so small, that even reasonably sanguine analysts might justifiably expect to see, is large enough to make anyone worry.

Does Regional Air Superiority Secure Australia Internally? Australia's future internal security might be strongly influenced by our ability to project power over long distances. Countries, or rogue states supporting terrorist elements in Australia, will think twice if they know we can pay them a quick visit and accurately deposit bombs anywhere we want to. Air Superiority is the only means we have to achieve this. This requires, capable and very fast long range aircraft with the ability to deliver heavy loads that can be tailored to multiple mission requirements.

Possible Scenarios
Given the earlier discussion, a number of scenarios are worth noting, which even if improbable, the serious consequences make them worthy of consideration.
1. China vs US over Taiwan
2. China vs Japan over resources/commerce
3. China trading weapons and aid for basing access in SEA
4. Terrorism in Australia supported by a foreign power
5. China playing a coercive Soviet like policy across the region
6. Balkanisation of Indonesia and factions seeking Chinese aid/intervention
7. Balkanisation of Indonesia and formation of Islamist state
8. Coalition attack on Iran over nukes
9. Coalition attack on Nth Korea over nukes
10. Coalition campaign in central Asia over oil/gas
11. Major war in Middle East resulting in coalition campaign.
12. Oil embargo

Political correctness and our economic partnership with China might be blindsiding Australian leadership to a rapidly developing threat. China, with the world's fastest growing economy, is focusing its strategic development to secure access to energy resources. Unburdened with democratic processes, it often supports dodgy regimes, such as Iran or Dafur in order to acquire oil. China goes further by providing military technology. The most recent example of this is Iran's 3000km ballistic missile. In a few years they will exceed this, bringing us well under the Islamic Nuclear strike capability.

The Islamic Nations
Within less than a decade we may have to face up to an enemy that is rich, well armed and hostile to our way of life. Moreover, this enemy may well have the ability to crumble our economies by controlling energy resources, specifically oil. The coalescing of many Islamic states and subsequent evolution of these countries into Islamic theocracies is a probability. Ironically, new democracies could be fomenting this process. It is worthwhile noting that Nazism and Communism both took advantage of democratic processes only to eliminate them when they got the chance; there is no reason to think Islamic fundamentalists will not do the same. Abdul Majeed Thunaibat, head of Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood, the country's largest party, said the Palestinian elections proved that given a free choice Arabs would pick Islamists, not nationalist and leftist parties blamed for Arab defeats. We're seeing that, for now, the only alternative to secular regimes in the Middle East are the Islamists.

In a Gallup poll of the Islamic world, only 27% of Indonesians held a favourable view of the United States. Eighty nine percent opposed the U.S. led war on terrorism, more than any other Muslim nation surveyed, including Iran and Saudi Arabia. A large percentage of Indonesia has already adopted strict Islamic law with plans to do the same in nearly all other states. Within these states other religions are actively persecuted. Within just a few years, the entire nation of Indonesia, over 200 million Muslims, will live under syariah law, strictly interpreted from the Quran. A nation capable in this late age of killing over 180,000 East Timorese (Non Muslim), governed by religious dictates and militarily still led by many people complicit in the genocide. This is a country to worry about. What are we doing Considering the acquisition of go carts in a Formula One racing event? Make sure to read Part II of this article.
About the Author
Military warfare and strategic writing on future combat scenarios.
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