Australian Defence Policy: Way To Go ‘Oz’ – Australia’s Naval Renaissance*

*Moderators Note:  This article is reprinted with permission from Seaways, Journal of the Nautical Institute, October 2009, pp. 25-26

After 16 months of careful preparation and stage managed partial disclosures, the orchestrated launch of “Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century: Force 2030” declared an apparent security paradigm for the Antipodes.  Delivered not to parliament but from the deck of HMAS Stuart, Prime Minister Rudd’s words heralded a more muscular Australia ready to play an increasingly active part in delivering international and regional security.  Yet this declaration is from a nation which already contributes more to defence and international security than many of its allies.  Allies who have been content to reap the peace dividend from the end of the Cold War or who place endless caveats on foreign military deployments so as to deliver the minimum required for political expediency.  So why is Australia blazing a trail that leaves others in its wake?

The recent Australian Defence White Paper (2009) outlined a dramatic transformation to future Australian Defence Force (ADF) force levels and their more active security role on the global stage.  This review came about from the realisation that Australia’s position in the world had changed post the Bali bombings and from its contribution to the war in Afghanistan.  This new security environment has catapulted her from a benign back-water into a dangerous international arena where future national and international security was very much at stake.  So is this a case of cometh the hour cometh the man?

The output from Australia’s defence community has for a long time been coherent with politicians, academics and senior officers all identifying the need for change.  For instance, within the maritime domain, the Royal Australian Navy’s (RAN) Sea Power Centre (SPC) in Canberra has been tirelessly building an enviable reputation as a noteworthy international think-tank.  The recent editorial works of Andrew Forbes stand out as good examples of honest, articulate and rigorous analysis.

Many have speculated this more muscular Australia was a response to the rise of China but this observation only addresses one aspect of the new security environment in which she finds herself.  Above all, it recognises that in a future world (2030) dominated by the US and increasingly powerful regional powers, such as the BRIC States (Brazil, Russia, India & China), the ADF will need to be more capable of unilateral and independent deployment to guarantee national security.  The rise of these regional powers means the US can no longer focus upon just one enemy, instead it will need to constantly juggle and balance its military activities across all areas of the globe. It will become increasingly susceptible to regional alliances and collaboration; a factor which provides a watershed in defence planning for its many allies. The pertinence of this lesson is one that sits uncomfortably in Europe, where a culture of over-reliance on US security guarantees has increased alongside the continuing short-sighted harvest of post Cold War peace dividends.

So, at the dawn of the Asia Pacific Century how right was Canberra to outline a security shift that carefully balances existing military alliances, the new regional economic realities shaped by the rise of these regional powers, and the need to combat non-state terrorism or escalating organised crime?  The new policy is an acknowledgement that no matter how strong its alliance with the US is, Australia will have to be more capable in delivering national security alongside an economically weakened, militarily less dominant US.

So what does the White Paper mean in terms of new force elements?   This table shows the considerable investment in capability the ADF will get.  It details the major equipment purchases for each of the three armed services:


Numbers Equipment Suggested Purchase Date Analysis
12 Conventional Submarines 2020-2035 Replacement for the Collins Class SSK4000 tonnes

Cruise missile armed

8 New Generation Escorts 2020-2035 Replace FFG & ANZAC5500-7000 tonnes
24 Maritime Helicopters Urgent Operational requirement Advances procurement project slated for 2020
20 Offshore Patrol Vessels 2020-2035 Multi-role high utility platforms
100 F-35A JSF 2015 Defence Capability Plan (DCP)2006
7 &8 Unmanned MPA  &Manned P8 Poseidon 2018 & 2015 respectively  Unmanned MPA delay from DCP & Manned P-8 already in DCP
36-59 Artillery Pieces 2012-2013 As per DCP and mixture of self propelled and towed pieces up to 155mm


The RAN will be the main benefactor of this refocus on defence but not to the exclusion of its Army and Air Force siblings.  The revised force-structure will allow far greater integration and deliver truly joint effects both on the battle-field and in the management of peacetime security.  The envisaged force structure will see Australia lead as the regional military power capable of unilaterally or collectively securing its sphere of influence.

An examination of recent Australian military and academic analysis concerning regional security issues, demonstrates conclusively why Australia has proactively responded as it has done in its Defence White Paper.  Strategically the rise of both China and India will be of concern to all in the region.  The value of examining these publications is that they put meat on the bone so as to educate and inform those from outside the region of its unique dynamics and cultural nuances.  From this comes an acceptance that Australia is not looking to replace the US as the regional power or to threaten the emerging powers but to defend itself and its interests more effectively, more dynamically and at greater range than it can do at this time.

Obviously these outlined strategic changes will remain only an aspiration unless the current political acceptance of their national importance can be retained.  Like all aspects of long term defence procurement Australians are hostages to fortune both of defence inflation and election cycles.  But, on a positive note, Australia has a dynamism where politicians of all hues accept their international reputation; unlike many of their Western counterparts. They accept that influence comes at a cost and that significant economies must contribute more proportionately to international security.  Unforeseen events can change national policies in a heart-beat, but the tone and well considered logic of this White Paper suggests that Australia’s enviable war fighting record will be supported with good equipment and a united national outlook for the generation to come.

The lessons learnt here are particularly appropriate for many western navies as they face the financial rigours associated with losing the relevance argument to overstretched deployed armies.  Australia has chosen to look beyond today and its own campaigns in both Iraq and Afghanistan to recognise that international power projection is more sophisticated than simply boots on the ground.  Real international clout comes from having a wide-range of security options that can be employed individually or collectively to secure influence or support the tenets of foreign policy.

In conclusion, this White Paper represents a valuable contribution to the maritime security debate.  It illustrates a political elite, defence force and doctrinal heart moving forward with one voice.  This is a visionary policy that should be heeded in Europe.  Otherwise Europe’s land-centric defence community with its stale doctrine will end up very well prepared for the last war and lose the next by having its head in the mountains of high Asia rather than addressing a deteriorating situation at sea in an increasingly littoral world, dominated by regional maritime powers.