The Great US-NorK summit. Peace in our times.

Singapore summit echoes Hitler-Chamberlain meeting in 1938, but offering ‘lots of great condos’ in our time

Well, lets just say Australia is extremely skeptical of the entire thing. For many reasons.

China is a clear winner from the Singapore summit with Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un

He said all joint US and South Korean war games would cease, to match a freeze of North Korean nuclear and missile tests.

It’s a signal to China that their demands are being met and raises hopes that China’s strategic interests can further be served.

In the coming rounds of meetings and negotiations China will push for at the very least a ‘redefinition’ of the 28,000 US troops in South Korea to ‘peacekeepers’.

Mr Trump himself said he eventually wants the troops to come home.

This is a golden opportunity for China to consolidate its ambitions of dominance in Asia.

The American troop presence in South Korea — with their massive bases — are the biggest projection of US power into the region. With a dilution of that China stands to gain.

This will be taken locally that the US is pulling out of the region.

While it may be the path to de-escalating the Koreas, it will be making a lot of countries pretty nervous.

NSM – US Navy interested in the Naval Strike Missile.

One of the more subtle announcements, that wasn’t particularly surprising or earth shattering was the announcement, NSM, had finally been selected, by the USN.

It’s offical – The Navy’s next anti-ship cruise missile will be the NSM

USN has no planned changes for the NSM

For those who aren’t aware the NSM is a Norwegian Missile that has a range a bit longer than the existing and most popular of Western Anti-Shipping Missiles, Harpoon. Harpoon is of course ancient, having started life in the 1960’s, and while popular, the US never really loved Anti-Shipping Missiles, preferring to focus on things like fighter launched weapons and submarines.

NSM and it’s related family member JSM are good missiles. But they don’t stick to typical USN and US style thinking. They aren’t big, LRASM for example is a bigger missile. With longer range and a bigger war head. But being small has its advantage. You can replace a 8 x Harpoon box launchers with a 12 x NSM launchers for the same weight and nearly the same size. JSM is also small enough to fit into the F-35 internal weapons bay, and also the usual US VLS system.

nsmjsm.PNG

The key thing about being selected by the USN is that it will be integrated into the whole US systems, directly. It also means there will be a significant supply chain for the weapon.

It also holds that the JSM is also going to be very popular globally and likely to be picked up with the USN/USAF.

Now Australia has been learing around the JSM and NSM like no ones business, we even designed a RF seeker for it.

Joint Strike Missile on F/A-18 fit Check

USN even did some test fitting of the weapon. It starts to make sense why the weapons pod of the Advanced Hornet was declined. JSM is a stealthy weapon, while not ideal when carried externally, it is probably good enough to for a SuperHornet, and even on a F-35 external carriage is not likely to be a huge issue, normal load outs with 2 internals, along side 2 air to air missiles are ideal for the F-35.

JSM is likely to give a significant advantage over regular glide bombs, allowing the F-35 to engage ships and stationary targets at much longer ranges, with much lower risk of being detected.

NSM isn’t likely to be as revolutionary for the USN. But on smaller ships like the LCS and perhaps the future frigate which may very well operate outside the bubble of a traditional carrier group, pluging the weapons gap.

But for middle powers like Australia, it is a game changer. Both weapons really extend existing platforms. The SuperHornet will still hang in as a first strike weapon for a much longer period, with better low observability, and greater range.

For the Australian Navy it means being able to pack a 50% greater punch in terms of missiles, but with a stealthier, longer ranged weapon. Or some top weight margin that would allow some other weapon upgrade to happen. For example perhaps a rocket launched MU-90, or perhaps a larger caliber CIWS.

And they are stealthy. They can target completely passively, making it a difficult weapon to detect and spoof. They also have data link capability, and a range of modern features that make it very attractive. It is also able to be fired as a land based weapon. Something that may be useful in this age of hybrid land and sea defence.

While LRASM is also competitive in this space, it is a bigger, heavier weapon, for longer range strikes, and with heavier hitting power (1000lb). It doesn’t fit into a F-35 internal weapons bay,  it won’t replace harpoon in box launches. It is probably better able to replace Tomahawk on medium range strikes against advanced or hardened targets.

NSM is also able to be fired from Subs. For a variety of reason NSM might be idea for a vertical launch weapon over things like Tomahawk or LRASM or and extended range Harpoon. Being short and fairly light, makes it more able to be accommodated in a submarine. While it isn’t a sure thing to have vertical launch missiles on the new Sea1000 submarines, it is something that is being openly discussed and would be in line with the capabilities of the submarine, including naval and land strike. An additional 8 VLS launch NSM (or Harpoon for land targets that need more punch), would be a welcome addition to the 4 torpedo tubes on the standard Barracuda design.

NSM was originally designed to be a replacement for Penguin, so another application is as a helicopter fired missile. A capability which again could be useful for longer range strikes, away from the platform. Distance brings security and options. Also this capability is movable, so could deployed on OPV’s or off the LHD for example.

The OPV themselves were originally designed with Exocet capability, which NSM would be ideally adapted if that was capability the RAN was interested in.

I expect to see Australia make some announcements regarding this missile (the NSM/JSM combo) now it is in the USN family.

Sea5000: A tale of two combat systems

cec combat

While the Sea5000 platform announcement gets all the headlines (F-5000, FREMM or Type 26), and many are concerned about what the ships look like, a very interesting announcement was made regarding the combat systems which hasn’t received much thought or analysis.

Future Frigate decision’s focus on combat system will leverage Aegis

The combat system. While originally conceived as a choice between the (perceived) lower, cheaper end 9LV and higher end, more expensive, Aegis. Many seemed surprised when it was announced that both would be used. Even more curiously, the recently built and yet to be commissioned AWD’s would get the same combination as an upgrade, they were originally fitted with just Aegis combat systems and consoles, and a slightly older baseline.

This combination approach has been applied before, most notably by South Korea and Japan. Both South Korea and Japan extensively manufacturer their own systems, sensors and weapons, in many cases there are very few US manufactured items on their ships, many are licences locally manufactured or locally developed and locally manufactured. Korean and Japanese languages, cultural preference mean that the local consoles can present and control the systems anyway they want and be localized. Any weapons can be integrated at this level, rather than try to get it integrated directly into Aegis.

This may have been the reason why Japan and the US decided to work together on missile defense, as that is really the only weapon system which you really wanted or need to be integrated into the core. To fire SM-3, Aegis is probably the only game in town that has the level of integration and the number of platforms and the inherent capability.

U.S.-Japan Cooperation and Ballistic Missile Defense

But the question is why would Australia not be satisfied with the regular Aegis combat consoles and systems and want a combined approach?

Unique weapons – Korea and Japan have their own missiles and torpedoes. However, Australia is generally quite happy to buy off the shelf US weapons. So unless there is a change in policy, a sudden change in the Australian arms industry, this would seem possible but unlikely. There are a few non-US systems in the ADF, MT-90 (but we also use and have the American Mk 54 and of course the Mk 48 heavyweights in the submarines)

Unique sensors – Australia will have its own radar, the CEAFAR, which is going to be quite the capable unit. Australia will also likely select a a range of sensors different to what the US operates with, and may not be able to be directly integrated with Aegis. Here 9LV will be more than capable in this regard and the integration can occur on the console so it is completely seamless to operators which sensors and systems are integrated into what system.

Unique data sharing – Most of Australia’s data sharing is through US links and systems, but it may allow European kit (think of something like the Tiger attack helicopter which famously isn’t talkative to other ADF systems, even other European ADF systems) to be integrated into the ships systems and the entire battlespace system. This can exist alongside other links like Hawklink & LAMPS.

Cooperative engagement capability is also to be included on the Frigates, and has already been integrated and tested on the new AWD’s (which are now DDG’s). There will be apparently further integration on the E7 Wedge-tails as well.

It would also seem possible that the Anzac frigates could be integrated with the 9LV system, as could OPV’s as sensor platforms.

Australia is poised to be very far along the integration path, across it’s whole force. With surprisingly few legacy platforms operating past 2020 in front-line roles and by 2030 nearly all of them being phased off or integrated. Making the individual platform less of a critical factor as the whole interconnected system.

Australia: Beast Mode On

Image result for f-35 beast mode

Australia is building multiple Navies and doubling up on Air Forces. Meet the western power that just kicked itself into full beast mode as it pursues the most ambitious, fastest, most expensive military expansion of a middle power, in history. 

Sea1000 (Future Submarine, some $50+ billion) and Sea5000(Future Frigates, some $40 billion) are really the two projects that reflect the changes in the region. The AWD’s, the LHD’s, and pretty much all the other acquisitions from Land400 and F-35 were really spun out of the issues of East Timor and modernizing Australia’s capability and would have happened regardless of the sudden development of any nations in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Future subs and the Future frigates are different. While Sea1000, steel won’t be cut for years as the design process needs to happen, Sea5000 will happen almost instantly, with Sea1180 OPV as an immediate warm up for the South Australian ASC work force and to buy time for the new Civmec Western Australian yard to be constructed.

But the 2020 cutting steel date for the Future Frigates is very aggressive. So aggressive, some tendering companies had difficulty believing it. (Future Frigates Fleet will begin construction in 2020, says Christopher Pyne).

Image result for f-5000 frigate

Meet the new Frigate that is bigger and more heavily armed than the Destroyers. Think mini-Burke Flight III. 

While they are called frigates, they are likely to be bigger than the Aegis Destroyers of the Hobart Class, and just as capable. With Aegis, Cooperative Engagement Capability, 9lv consoles, the very latest and largest CEA electronic solid state multi-band Radars. Capable of ballistic missile interception with SM-6 or SM-3, regular Air threats with SM-2, able to embark two ASW helicopters,  land attack, anti-shipping missiles, torpedoes and a big old 5″ up front and a suite of decoys, ESSM, CIWS and other safety features.

Image result for anzac class upgrade cea

The Anzacs.. A nice little frigate for an apocalypse.

That date isn’t driven by the need by the existing Anzac class frigates, which are currently undergoing further modification ($148 million radar upgrade) which have barely just finished being upgraded (Eighth ASMD ship completed ending $2 billion upgrade), in fact these frigates will arguably be the most capable and most upgraded small frigates in the world. But with only 8 VLS cells, carrying quad packed ESSM short range missiles, they are not well matched to what is required for the South China Sea area. Their radar’s however, are excellent so as a sensor platform there is minimal concern. They are more suited patrolling the larger blue expanses or the middle east, where they are unlikely to encounter movements like the recent 48 ship Chinese armada, which recently unsuccessfully challenged the passage of an Australian Navy taskforce.

But with steel being cut in 2020, and ships coming off the line approximately every 2 years, Australia will quickly find itself awash with modern ships it will struggle to man in peace time. A spare Navy. There is talk about gifting or leasing these to allies, who might be able to manage and operate them, perhaps New Zealand, Singapore and even Indonesia.

Image result for Civmec to build ship yard western australia sea1180

The Lurrsen 80OPV. Australia will take 12, construction will start immediately.

On top of this Australia is also even more furiously building 12 x 1,700t OPV’s. Steel is going to be cut this year on those, quite a quick turnaround on the announcement. It is also expected that this class will be joined by another 6-8 ships of possibly a more capable type sometime in the future.

Australia is also frantically building the small nations of the Pacific, more patrol boats, over 20 in fact, going to 12 nations across the region.

But Australia doesn’t just have a spare Navy. It also has a spare Air Force.

Image result for Australia's F-35

 Australia is all Block 3F (combat ready), and will take delivery of 10 F-35’s in 2018.

Australia is still in negotiations with Canada regarding selling its older F-18’s (much to Canada’s airforce disbelief) to Canada as an interim measure. Australia’s hornets are also recently upgraded, and have more flight hours than expected, partly as a result of trying to lengthen and manage their life span to ensure F-35 IOC. Australia is also rapidly receiving F-35’s in fighting ready block 3F configuration. By 2020 Australia will have its first operational F-35 squadron. By 2023 Australia will have received all of its ordered 75 F-35A’s. At that point there is also the option of buying another 30 odd F-35’s (A’s or B’s?) to get to the 100 Australia had as its target. The 70 odd F-18’s will be a spare air force.

Image result for Superhornet block III

 F-18 Superhornet with the new fuel tanks.

Australia will also have its (24+12) Super Hornets (in regular and electronic Growler configuration), which are highly likely to receive upgrades including con-formal fuel tanks and weapons pods as we are locked into the USN program.

Sounds pretty exciting for the pilots. It makes the mind wonder if Australia is selling Hornets to Canada, or relocating pilots off Canada. It wouldn’t be the first Air Force that would be consumed by the RAAF, having picked up the New Zealand Air Force fast jet arm, and basically absorbing all of Rhodesia’s pilots before it re-branded itself.

Would Australia be interested in operating an Air Force with approximately 200 front lime fighters? Normally, no. But if things were to deteriorate, cultivating options would be possible, after all it will already own the 200 fighters. Too many planes, not enough pilots would seem to be an easy fix. Of course, if everyone is civil, and polite, the RAAF won’t want some dirty old 1980’s F-18 cramping their high tech budget and Canada will have something to fly for the next few years.

Related image

Spain’s JC1 with harriers.

While Australia has two large amphibious ships that can operate Harriers (which Spain does love to do) and F-35’s, those ships are really focused on Australia’s amphibious capability. Which really is a global show piece, with Australia able to form a full Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) comparable by the US own standards to the USMC ARG, of which only 3 are operational world wide at anytime.  On top of that there will be US Marines deployed within that on Australian ships, (US Marines join Australian Ships as Anxiety grows in the South China Sea).

The obvious solution is to swap HMAS Choules for another LHD. This would ensure greater and more reliable amphibious capability and space and time to operate other items such as ASW helicopters and F-35B’s. The crew number differences are not insurmountable, training, logistics and operational costs would be reduced and made more flexible.

While that is going on, it would also be time to wonder, if you were a Canadian Submariner, if you might be better off joining Australia’s growing submarine service, with the first 5,500t behemoth entering service in 2030, and then the submarine sausage factory will double the size of Australia’s submarine fleet. With the Collins submarines fleet also getting a half billion dollar upgrade to allow it to be very competitive into the future. With a transit speed that is within a few knots of the original French Nuclear Submarine, lithium ion batteries, US combat systems, the best mixture of US and UK SSN sensors and systems, full photonics mast, Mk48 ADCAP, VLS, land and naval strike (LRASM?) on offer these will quickly become a very potent force. Leveraging the technologies off three different SSN programs, its a bubble heads wet dream. No doubt the continued drain from the Royal Navy will continue.

But why stop there. Australia has been spending up big on enablers, like the 6 x E-7 Wedgetails AEW, 15 x P8 Poseidons ASW, MQ-4C Tritons drones, 6 x KC-30 refuellers (growing to 9), 8 x C-17, 12 x C-130J’s, 10 x C27J.

The F-18 Superhornets, E7’s and KC-30’s are fresh from combat operations over Syria. A P8 has been deployed to Japan while the older P3’s have just come back from the Philippines helping fight ISIS version 2.0.

Australia has also been stocking up on munitions.

  • 3,900 Small diameter Bombs. Will go great with those F-35’s.
  • 175 SM-2 IIIA and 80 SM-2 IIIB missiles. These will go into the 3 x DDG’s  and the future frigates.
  • Australia also already has it’s hand up and is approved for SM-6. SM-3 is openly talked about, the question seems to be when not if.
  • Australia also developed parts of the NSM/JSM missile. It is expected to purchase a significant number of the missile (hundreds?). Which can be carried internally on the F-35.
  • LRASM (we already are involved in JASSM and JASSM-ER)

Unfortunately Australia doesn’t also have a spare Army. However, it will have excellent mobility with the new Land400, the bushmasters, the Hawkie, the G wagons, the M1A1’s, and all the other gear. Each solider will be very well kitted out, with an almost unbelievable optics, rifle combo. But Australia isn’t preparing to fight a massive continental land war, it needs a modern, mobile and expeditionary Army, and arguably it has the second most of that on the planet, only beaten by the US Marines, because they are massive in size…

Australia seems to be curiously busy cultivating options and winning friends.

While its often China that gets the blame, it isn’t that simple. Australia has seen the limits of US power, and it knows very well the limitations of US global interests. China isn’t the only rising power (and is probably the rising power we have the best relationship with), and rising powers aren’t the only problem. There are problems within states. Malaysia and the Philippines have very different but very significant issues, issues that make other issues like US and China seem like minor sideline or footnote issues.

Australia seemingly has no fear. Not just of China. Look how casually some parts of Australia decided it could solve South Africa’s issues in one fell swoop by absorbing the Farmers. (Farmers won’t get special treatment).  Even a dressing down by the PM and the foreign minister wasn’t enough to pour water on it. Even the Afrikaans were a bit confused.

India boots Australia out of the Quad, while blaming China, it didn’t seem to have the same objections when it visited Australia for exercises last year. It isn’t the first time Australia and India’s relationship has soured, as the two big Indian Ocean powers, it is quite possible we won’t always get along smoothly, something others seem to struggle to understand.

There will be energy, population, political, social, water, resource and environmental pressures. Australia intends to keep its region steady, with a fist ready to squash whatever comes its way.

 

US Fails to appoint Australian Ambassador (again)

Well it looks like the current US administration proves that it can only focus on one thing at a time and is spreading its chaos globally and further damages their own interests.

Guessing Game for Ambassador as Harris switched to Korea

Now the reasoning is Pompeo wants Harris for Korea, because, famously, South Korea also doesn’t have an Ambassador (Still no Ambassador in South Korea). In a grim move, Australia was also left, alone to make this announcement, as I assume the Trump administration doesn’t want to highlight that it no longer has a plan B for Australia (or more importantly, the rest of the region).

It isn’t clear why he wants Harris and for what aim. In Korea, other than warming things up for the president there is very little direction to move. Harris’s strengths lay around his regional connections with the nations around the Pacific and his significant standing with them, particularly on issues regarding China. Due to pressures on the Korean peninsula, South Korea diplomatically and military is very much concerned with itself, and its immediate space shared with China, North Korea and Japan.

It seems the main positive quality in Harris they need, is the ability to see military action as being conceivable. If that is the case, why use Harris? Wouldn’t any Admiral or General fill that criteria?

In Harris white house finds diplomat who can imagine the unimaginable with North Korea

What this means is again, there is no current plan, not just for Australia, but for the wider region. The genius of Harris’s appointment to Australia is that Australia is very much concerned for the region. It would be entirely sensible for Harris to also visit countries like Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Japan, Fiji and Malaysia to build relationships and belay fears. It was the role he was doing  very successfully when Admiral.

Now in Korea, all key roles on the American side will be filled by Pompeo and Trump and their circle. While Harris is highly experienced, it is unlikely that Pompeo or Trump will listen to him regarding anything to do with Korea.

Turnbull disappointed by Ambassador switch

With in Australia the decision has come under harsh criticism by Kevin Rudd (previous Labor Prime Minister) and Tim Fischer (Deputy Prime Minister under the coalition).

I wonder given the current environment if the US will ever fill Australia’s ambassador position. Using current logic, there are bigger problems everywhere else, so why not bait and switch for future appointments. Turkey, Saudi Arabia are having wars, why not appoint them first before Australia.

The US Chargé d’Affaires is doing a great job, however, he doesn’t have the strategic weight to perform the wider alliance building and also look after the wider region, where US presence has evaporated. Australia isn’t the only country without an Ambassador, most of the Asia Pacific and the Middle East are without US Ambassadors. Countries that are now looking to someone else to help them.

Just more deafening silence from the US.

It is quite plausible that as part of the Korean negotiations, the US will move some, perhaps most forces out of Korea.

Deafening silence and a withdrawal.

It will be interesting to see the wider repercussions with the development in Korea.

Leaving Quora

So I will be leaving Quora and posting a blog here instead.

Quora is a Question and answer site, and really what I want to write about goes beyond the typical short answers of Quora.

Topics I intend to focus on include:

  • World Politics
  • Military acquisitions
  • Developments in Engineering
  • Renewable technology
  • Technology and communication
  • Education

Basically the same type of stuff I was covering at Quora, but in more detail and much deeper.