Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Briggs Report: Divisions go deep in submarine debate

Nick G.

The release today (21 January 2015) of retired RAN Rear-Admiral Peter Briggs’ paper Why Australia should build its own submarines has deepened divisions over the relationship between the Australian military and its overlords, the US imperialists.

The US has successfully pushed the Australian government to scuttle plans to build 12 new submarines in Australia.  Instead, they have argued that a model based on Mitsubishi and Kawasaki’s Soryu-class vessels will better serve the needs of naval interoperability.

There are two sides to the Australian armed forces.  During the War against Fascism they served a progressive and heroic purpose and actually deserved their description as defence forces.  Apart from this, they have served mainly to bolster imperialist domination of the world by aggressive action under the direction of either the British or US imperialists.  Some limited regional peace-keeping activities have occurred, but never at cross-purposes with wider imperialist interests.

Australian submarines will be deployed primarily in support of US world domination and not for the immediate defence of Australia from third-party aggression.

However, the question of where they should be built has important implications, not least for workers requiring local employment.


In a Reuters report last November, senior US commanders were quoted as saying that the US would “welcome Canberra’s purchase of Japanese submarines because of the increased interoperability it would give the three navies”.

Interoperability basically means that the US imperialists know down to the last detail the capabilities and limitations of its own and its allies’ submarines, and that it has seamless use of technologies for communications and cryptography.  Issues around communications can be the most serious in preventing effective interoperability.  To ensure effective digital information exchange, including electronic counter measures, requires highly standardised, or interoperable, enabling systems.  The US objective is to standardise communications protocols for allied operations.

The US regards it as to its own advantage that Japan and Australia share a common submarine design.  Given that the Japanese military would not snub Mitsubishi and Kawasaki to purchase an Australian manufactured submarine, it makes sense for them that Australia purchases the Japanese Soryu-class vessels.

Rejecting Australian military design dependency

However, there are those within the Australian armed forces who reject the dependency on a foreign power implicit in any decision to take Australian submarine manufacture overseas.

Briggs is one of them.  He does not challenge the subordinate status of Australia’s armed forces nor the US requirement for interoperability.  The latter can be served, he believes, by installation in an Australian manufactured submarine of “a US combat system, communications fit-out and weapons suite”.

What he opposes is “control of the design and construction of such a critical national capability” by a foreign government.  The current focus on a Japanese-built submarine is “misdirected and a distraction”, he argues, from the more important issue of Australia having “full and unhindered access to the technologies and intellectual property underpinning the future submarine”.

Build on experiences with the Collins class

Contrary to the repeated denigration of the Collins class submarines by comprador journalists keen to justify the Japanese option, Briggs expresses confidence in the experiences gained through the Collins project.  He maintains that the “Collins project has been much maligned in the media, but an objective look at the program provides both valuable lessons and encouragement that the future submarine can be successfully built in Australia”.

Re-establishing Japan as an arms exporter

Briggs has unimpeachable credibility as an RAN submarine specialist.  He believes that the next generation of Australian submarines can be built here without jeopardising the US imperialists’ precious “interoperability” and without placing us in a position of dependency on a foreign government.  What other reasons might there be for the pigs in the Abbottoir to hold out for the Japanese option?

The US imperialists want to dominate the Pacific but they want their regional allies to more actively involve themselves in this exercise.  As a carrot for the Japanese militarists to share the task of maintaining US hegemony, the US is working to realise Japanese PM Shinzo Abe’s dream of re-establishing Japan as an arms exporter.  Half a century after a defeated Japan adopted a pacifist constitution, Abe has ended a ban on Japanese weapons exports.  Abe needs major contracts with clean, respectable and stable customers to sell this to the Japanese people.  Australia fits the bill and the tens of billions of Australian dollars that would boost Japanese military manufacturing reflect a higher strategic priority for US imperialism than the investment of the same money in Australia.

How important is Australia’s contribution?

It is a little-known fact that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has the world’s largest submarine fleet.  Although these 2013 figures do not take account of submarine type, the DPRK has 78 submarines to 72 of the US.  Playing war games for a moment, the combined submarine fleet strength of the DPRK, PRC and Russia is 210; for the US, Australia, Japan and South Korea the combined total is 108.  Even if Australia boosts its strength by 6 (retirement of 6 Collins class and addition of 12 new subs), the balance in submarine strength is largely unaltered. 

The strength of the US imperialists is in their aircraft carriers and in the air.  The US has 10 aircraft carriers to the PRC’s one.  The DPRK has none, but its overall naval strength, as assessed by the Global Firepower website, has a rating of 1,061 to the USA’s 473. 

US has no loyalty to a client state

The US imperialists have no particular loyalty to their client states.  Despite the very real importance to Australian manufacturers of keeping submarine production here, and the relatively insignificant addition to US-led submarine strength of our small contribution, the US is prepared to sacrifice Australian manufacturing on the altar of a revived Japanese war machine.

It all illustrates the need for a genuinely anti-imperialist Australian independence that can only come about through the active leadership of the Australian working class.

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