Summary: 2020 Vision: Review and Analysis of Davis and Davidsons Book

Averting Crisis: American strategy, military spending and collective defence in the Indo-Pacific
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A recent study projected these two classes on their own would need to grow to 69 and 25 respectively to fulfil the aims of the National Defense Strategy. During other periods of great power competition, the budget dedicated to logistic shipbuilding rose to almost 4 per cent of the total naval shipbuilding budget. At present, it will only reach 1. While new military platforms, like unmanned vehicles and submarines, are critical to the evolving balance of power in the Indo-Pacific, the payloads they will carry are equally important. In some cases, China has made strides in developing new classes of munitions that the United States has abrogated since the end of the Cold War, notably in naval strike weapons and over-the-horizon air-to-air missiles.

American naval vessels do not have the strike power needed to confront PLAN warships on the open sea, while the Air Force lacks stealthy, long-range missiles for land, air and maritime strike roles. Disadvantages in offensive munitions are compounded by the need for sufficient and war-time credible inventories that are stockpiled in the region. As the limits of current munitions stocks and capabilities have become apparent, efforts to provide US and allied forces with longer-range and more sophisticated stand-off weapons have quickened.

The Norwegian designed and manufactured Naval Strike Missile NSM , an over-the-horizon capability with a range of over nm, was recently selected by the US Navy to begin integration across its air and surface forces, with potential application onboard submarines as well. These capabilities provide near-term options while a new generation of munitions is entering into development. Even with the next-generation of long-range munitions well under way, ensuring a sufficient inventory on hand and forward-deployed to the region remains a problem for US Indo-Pacific Command.

The state of the US military and its questionable ability to execute a strategy of conventional deterrence in the Indo-Pacific should be of grave concern to policymakers in Australia and other like-minded countries. This is not to say that the United States has become a paper tiger. Given the hardening consensus in Washington that Beijing poses a strategic threat, the United States is likely to continue supplying the central elements of any military counterweight to China in the region.

Its ability to single-handedly maintain a favourable balance of power, however, faces mounting and ultimately insurmountable challenges. Washington will require significant and ongoing support from its regional allies and partners to successfully deter Chinese adventurism and shore-up a stable strategic order in the Indo-Pacific. This uncomfortable fact is now openly recognised at senior levels of the US defence establishment. Such a strategy would see middle powers with capable militaries — such as Australia and Japan — work alongside the United States and vulnerable regional partners to strengthen deterrence in strategically critical flashpoints like Taiwan, the East China Sea, maritime Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

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Australia has deep national interests in contributing to a strategy of collective regional defence. Although it is defensive in nature it is not without risks. Joining a collective approach to deterrence and warfighting would place Australia into a more adversarial relationship with China, with the potential for severe consequences in a crisis. Canberra, in any case, should carefully weigh its interests in any contingency to determine whether it is prudent to take part in collective military action. Furthermore, given the ongoing uncertainty about American military power in the region, Australia should simultaneously prepare for a more unstable future in which the Australian Defence Force may be required to provide large-scale independent strategic effects to secure its vital national interests.

But the overall logic of a collective balancing strategy in which like-minded nations pull together to uphold a favourable balance of power makes strategic sense for a middle power like Australia. It is far preferable to an alternative future in which the spectre of American decline causes regional allies and partners to defect from common defence objectives.

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With the above caveats in mind, Australia should work towards advancing a strategy of collective defence through the following recommendations. Prudent capability aggregation between the armed forces of Australia, Japan and the United States will be critical to addressing the shortfalls that America is likely to face in its military power over the coming years.

The strategic purpose of such efforts should be to strengthen the collective capacity to deter prospective Chinese fait accompli aggression in strategically significant regional flashpoints, particularly along the First Island Chain and in the South China Sea. Canberra would need to plan and credibly demonstrate a willingness to use its sophisticated and high-end capabilities — in combination with other like-minded partners — to deny, disrupt and destroy the forces of a highly-capable aggressor in the absence of all-domain dominance.

Such an approach necessitates careful thinking about the political, legal and military criteria that would need to be met for Australia to be able to aggregate its capabilities with other militaries in a cohesive and operationally useful way. Australia and Japan have credible roles to play in an Indo-Pacific collective balancing strategy.

Establishing pathways towards joint operational directives are necessary building blocks for an effective denial strategy, as knowing how multi-national forces will be employed in peacetime and war is critical to the reliability of the collective deterrent. Submarines — both nuclear and conventional — will be critical capabilities for collective deterrence and denial.

Notwithstanding the future introduction of unmanned underwater vehicles UUVs , submarines are highly likely to remain valuable asymmetric assets in the Indo-Pacific, acting as force multipliers for small and middle powers like Australia due to their stealth, range and multi-role functions. A consideration for Australia will be the need to account for the current projected decline of the US nuclear attack submarine fleet through the s, which is predicted to reach a nadir of 42 boats by Principal surface combatants present another opportunity for Australia and Japan to aggregate assets with the US military.

Surface combatants — such as frigates, destroyers and amphibious assault vessels — can play a role in responding to fait accompli aggression in the Indo-Pacific.

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This is not currently the case. At present, many large but highly-capable surface combatants are still vulnerable to salvos of precision-guided anti-ship missiles, threatened by capable attack submarines, and ill-equipped for a strategy of sea-control against modern PLAN assets around the First and Second Island Chains.

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One example of this future role for surface combatants in regional collective defence will be the formation of a mobile strategic reserve. The fact that Japan and Australia will have a combined total of 20 major surface combatants equipped with sophisticated Aegis missile defence systems will permit them to play a crucial warfighting role in degrading and blunting missile strikes against immobile allied targets. Australian and Japanese naval and maritime air forces can also make significant contributions to coalition strategic anti-submarine warfare operations.

Large-scale, coordinated and networked ASW campaigns remain a critical area of asymmetric advantage for coalition forces in the Indo-Pacific.

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Coordination within the ANZUS alliance should also be focused on strengthening regional conventional deterrence. This will require: Identifying shared thresholds for action in advance of a crisis; deepening intelligence, operational and tactical planning; and working to bridge the divide among and between political and strategic communities in the United States and Australia. Crucially, neither the US-Australia alliance nor the broader regional alliance and partner network have developed the levels of military interoperability, shared understandings of risk and resolve, or coordination required for credible collective deterrence.

Cohesion, while improving, is limited and will, if unaddressed, impede efforts to aggregate capabilities or execute a collective balancing strategy. Indeed, it is compounded at the political level by divergent threat perceptions about the nature and scale of the challenge China poses to US and Australian interests. Avoiding expectation gaps within ANZUS and with coalition partners like Japan is essential for undertaking effective operational planning for deterring plausible crisis scenarios.

This requires shared understandings of different thresholds for military action and the development of a joint willingness to accept a degree of risk. Reform of defence and strategic policy coordination within the alliance, however, should be a priority as American security resources become more strained and collective regional responses to Chinese assertiveness grow more demanding. This will be a challenge. Bilateral defence engagement between the United States and Australia is crowded with multiple mechanisms, sometimes at the expense of focused outcomes.

Effort must therefore be made to streamline and focus the existing fora that are most valuable to bolstering regional deterrence.

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Developing a joint and in-depth understanding of plausible regional scenarios, thresholds for kinetic action, strategic lines of effort, escalation risks and resourcing demands would add serious credibility to the alliance in contributing to collective action in the region. Strategic futures simulations should be incorporated into these consultations with the aim of developing systematic bilateral approaches to likely deterrence and conflict scenarios in the Indo-Pacific. Australia should strategically reprioritise forces and focus operational resources on the Indo-Pacific.

This requires a major rebalancing away from the Middle East. At present, a significant portion of the Australian Defence Force ADF and its own finite resources remain entangled in ongoing operations in the Middle East, including counter-narcotics activities, capacity-building missions and supporting coalition air operations in the fight against ISIS. Australia, to be sure, has enduring interests in the Middle East — primarily in the security of sealanes through the Strait of Hormuz and Persian Gulf, a reality that is unlikely to change so long as Australia is dependent on unrefined fuels imported from the region.

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But there are limits to the applicability of experience gained in the Middle East to future coalition operations in the Indo-Pacific. For instance, the aerial environment in Iraq and Syria is largely permissive — quite unlike the contested skies of the Western Pacific — enabling a focus on low tempo sorties and limited strike operations rather than high-tempo air-to-air combat.

Attrition of assets has been an additional drawback. These should be conducted independently by Australia and jointly with allies and partners to advance collective defence objectives.

Australia conducts and participates in a range of sophisticated military exercises, including Talisman Sabre and Exercise Pitch Black. Talisman Sabre is the main combined military exercise between Australia and the United States — held every two years — focusing on high-intensity warfare and involving amphibious, logistics, air and land operations. Such collective capabilities and habits of defence cooperation will be critical for deterring and responding to prospective Chinese aggression.

Repurposed operational funding from an Australian Middle East drawdown should be used to further grow these activities and establish new, joint and independent exercises tailored towards developing and demonstrating new operational concepts for Indo-Pacific contingencies. The primary aim of such exercises should be to bolster the collective ability to deter, deny and, if necessary, blunt potential Chinese fait accompli aggression.

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Specifically, exercises should practice and demonstrate rapid dispersal of air- and land-based strike forces from concentrated basing in mainland Japan, Okinawa and Guam, to small geographically diverse operating locations across the First and Second Island Chains. Further, Australian and US forces should work towards demonstrating the logistical ability to rearm, refuel and redeploy geographically disperse forces, as well as transporting war-time relevant amounts of materiel and reserve forces from staging areas in Hawaii, the US west coast and continental Australia, across the Pacific and Southeast Asia, to forward locations on short notice.

These exercises should begin to incorporate deception, cover, bluffing and surprise tactics in the movement and operation of naval, amphibious, air and land forces over significant distances in the Indo-Pacific, including through information activities, electromagnetic warfare and physical decoys, aided by special operations forces. The most immediate and significant may be the need for advanced land-based sea and air denial capabilities and potentially long-range offensive strike systems. For the past several years, the Australian Army has been considering its role in collective anti-access and area denial operations, notably with publication of its Joint Archipelagic Manoeuvre concept in The Australian Defence White Paper hinted at these capabilities, forecasting that the government would acquire land-based anti-ship missiles at some point in the future.

The United States and Australia should also urgently review the logistical impact of their declining merchant fleets on the credibility of their conventional deterrence threats. Nationally flagged vessels that run on a commercial basis can be requisitioned during a crisis and would be critical in moving large quantities of fuel and materiel through alternative sea lanes if key routes and chokepoints throughout the Indo-Pacific were contested or closed.

Australia should increase its stockpiles and create sovereign capability in the storage and production of precision munitions, fuel and other materiel necessary for sustained high-end conflict. The large number of munitions that would be used during a major power conflict in the region demands resiliency in ADF and US stockpiles, but also raises a potential need for domestic production. One option could be a networked approach to production, where Australia, Japan and other regional partners host domestic munitions manufacturing facilities with the United States receiving royalties and access to the production chain.

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In a crisis, logistical supply and sea lines of communication to US bases in the Western Pacific, and between continental United States and Australia, would not be guaranteed. The development of new operational concepts will be essential to maintaining conventional deterrence in the Indo-Pacific. At present, American and allied forces are structured and deployed to operate on the basis of outdated assumptions about air superiority, concentrated basing and long logistical lead-times.

New concepts, particularly in a joint environment, must be developed to address the specific operational challenges that the United States, Australia, Japan and other like-minded partners face in the Indo-Pacific.

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The establishment of an Indo-Pacific Security Workshop — based on the Cold War-era European-American Workshop that helped drive such concepts as Assault Breaker — is necessary to generate new ideas on technologies, capabilities and how they can be employed.

In line with developing new operational concepts, Australia, the United States, Japan and other partners should stand up joint research and development programs on technologies and capabilities focused on lowering the cost-capability curve. Next-generation military platforms and capabilities are growing in cost and complexity at an exponential rate across many allied militaries.

Taking advantage of the integration afforded under recent changes to the US National Technology Industrial Base and reforming arrangements like the International Traffic in Arms Regulations will be key to enabling long-term and sustainable research and development projects. Complementary programs focusing on land-based strike and maritime capabilities should be areas of sustained and focused development between the United States, Australia and other Five Eye partners, as well as Japan, as new operational concepts are established. Reports were chosen based on the availability and consistency of data available across this period. From December DoD ceased to report numbers for personnel assigned for overseas contingency operations as well as permanently assigned active duty personnel numbers for Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, leading to a significant drop in the figures available for CENTCOM.