Monday, December 4, 2017

Indian Ocean: Secret Bases (Part One)


Almost hidden in recent mainstream media coverage of publication of an Australian foreign policy White Paper and related defence commentary, references to a secret base reveal the extent of Australian involvement with US-led regional military planning.

The planning is directed toward China and has possible and likely real-life scenarios, drawing Australia into military hostilities.

The recent publication of a foreign policy White Paper together with other defence commentary was covered extensively in the Australian press on the basis that a rising China was altering the traditional balance of forces across the region. Statements included 'Australia needs a new defence strategy to deter, and if necessary, defend itself against an increasingly powerful, aggressive China', as evidence of the line chosen by Canberra and their media moguls. (1)


Behind the wave of US-led militarism across the region lie basic economic realities which have serious implications for western countries. Economic projections have revealed China will have reached a GDP of $42 trillion by 2030, if not sooner. It will dwarf the US GDP which has remained at $24 trillion. Australia will hardly enter into the equation with a paltry $1.7 trillion GDP. (2)


The increased economic influence has provided a serious challenge to traditional US hegemonic positions, which have been translated into diplomatic and military threats. The problem, once denied, is now openly acknowledged in mainstream Australian media. A recent official diplomatic statement was quoted as 'America is clearly on a downward trajectory in terms of its influence in the region'. (3)

Further evidence of the declining regional US hegemonic position has been provided in a recent defence paper where it was noted 'individual South-east Asian countries are drifting into China's orbit' and traditional pro-US bodies such as ASEAN have been 'incapable of protecting territorial interests'. (4)


In what can be considered an official position of the Australian government, former secretary to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Peter Varghese recently commented 'there is a real risk that South-east Asia is becoming a Chinese sphere of influence'. (5) It was further noted the dramatic rise in Chinese influence had been rapid while 'Australia's strategic circumstances have deteriorated with the continuing shift in the balance of power in the region in favour of China' since the publication of a defence white paper last year. (6)


The view is also supported by a recent poll of South-east Asian elites by a Singapore-based organisation which revealed 74 per cent thought China 'was the most influential country in the region', and only 3.5 per cent regarded the US as more important. (7)


To counter the economic challenge to their hegemonic position the US imperialists have deepened their military position across the region. An estimated sixty per cent of the military might is now based in the Asia-Pacific and used for continual regional exercises amongst allies. Another accompanying development has been to rename the Asia-Pacific as Indo-Pacific, drawing in India as part of US-led military planning. India has long been regarded as a western-buffer against China and has been drawn into the so-called Quadrilateral Strategic Dialogue including the US, Australia and Japan which has already conducted high-level diplomatic meetings in Manila, early November. (8)


The Cocos Islands: ‘lily pad’ for imperialist military reach


It is therefore, against the backcloth of changing realities in the wider region, that references to trilateral cooperation between Australia, India and Indonesia, around the Cocos Islands and it acting as a 'lily pad' for 'extending the strategic reach of RAAF aircraft and sustaining operations of unmanned aerial vehicles' can be regarded as US-led military planning designed for strategic advantage. (9)  It is no surprise hidden within the massive US defence policy bill totalling US$700 billion lie budget allocations for 'other weapons needed to halt an erosion of the military's combat readiness'. (10)


The Cocos Islands, situated close to western Indonesia, remain Australian sovereign territory. They are also near to highly sensitive and congested shipping-lanes used by the merchant fleets of most regional countries.

(Australian Signals Directorate base on Cocos West)


Military facilities on the Cocos Islands were used extensively during the Second World War and later in the 1980s hosted highly sensitive Australian military signals equipment used for monitoring and intercepting 'volumes of regional naval and military communications'. (11) The signals equipment later included additional communications satellite earth stations together with 'radio mast sets, including a 44-metre wide circularly disposed antenna array for high-frequency and very high-frequency radio direction finding'. (12)


The signals equipment on the Cocos Islands was also noted to possess a state range to defence facilities at Russell Hill, Canberra. (13) Using a standard Peters Projection Map of the World, the range arc swings through a large part of Asia and well within transmission distance with US facilities based on Diego Garcia which, in turn, are linked to Pine Gap, Central Australia, and Silvermine, on the far side of the Indian Ocean in South Africa.

(A 2012 graphic from the Australian newspaper includes US military expansion on the Cocos Is.)


The stated references to unmanned aerial vehicles or drones is particularly significant as they have been used increasingly for intelligence collection and also pre-emptive strikes upon targets. The former have often been used to clarify targets for the latter. They have also become a weapon of choice for US-led military planning, operated by sophisticated signals intelligence equipment.


If recent defence publications are to provide a blue-print for future real-war scenarios there is little ambiguity about intended adversaries. One paper regarded China as possessing 'serious challenges for Australian defence policy'. (14) It also stated 'much more thought needs to be given to the expansion of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and its capacity to engage in high-intensity conflict', together with standard defence and 'the conduct of operations further afield'. (15)


1.     China's rise a threat to security, Australian, 15 November 2017.
2.     Keeping a grip on foreign policy reins of two horses, The Weekend Australian, 25-26 November 2017.
3.     Isolationist America allowing China to fill Southeast Asia's void, Australian, 10 November 2017.
4.     Australia's Management of Strategic Risk, ASPI 15 October 2017, Paul Dibb and Richard Brabin-Smith; see also, 'Overhaul nation's defence strategy' to handle China's rise, experts warn,  Australian, 15 November 2017.
5.     China's rise poses growing threat, Australian, 15 November 2017.
6.     Ibid.
7.     Faulty road map in a GPS world, Australian, 24 November 2017.
8.     Labor's damaging Quad qualms are an insult to India, The Weekend Australian, 18-19 November 2017.
9.     Common challenges provide platform for regional co-operation, Australian, 27 November 2017.
10.   $924 bn defence bill sent to Trump, Australian, 18 November 2017.
11.   Listening post revealed on Cocos Islands, The Age (Melbourne), 1 November 2013; see also, G.C.H.Q., The Secret Wireless War 1900-86, Nigel West, (London, 1987), page 244, which has provided information about secret British monitoring of regional Japanese signals in the Second World War and their linkage to four Australian-based stations.
12.   Listening post, ibid.
13.   Ibid.
14.   Dibb and Brabin-Smith, op.cit., 15 October 2017.
15.   Ibid.

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