Saturday, March 2, 2019

US strengthens military grip: The Australian International Airshow, Avalon 2019

(Contributed)       3 March 2019

Speaking at the Avalon International Air Show at Geelong yesterday, the head of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), Air Marshal Leo Davies has predicted a "significant investment" in space for the RAAF over the next twenty years.

Although he distanced this spend from Trump’s proposed Space Force, there is little doubt about where the RAAF’s future is heading.

A study of official information material issued for the Australian International Airshow, 2019 has revealed just how important the country has become as a southern 'hub' for 'US interests'.


Australia now has a leading role in US-led regional military and security provision in two areas: intelligence; strategic operations.

Working to support US rivalry with China.


The diplomatic positions of US-led western allies, including Australia, have undoubtedly become more aggressive in recent times; they are situated within parameters defined by the new Cold War directed by US imperialism against its main rival, China.


Australia, subsequently, has been pushed into a position where, with an increased likelihood of US-led war-games escalating into real-war scenarios, they will be expected to provide a decisive contribution.


The official Avalon 2019 Special Report for the Australian International Airshow, 2019, was written in an easy-going journalistic style, which enabled the casual reader to not really learn very much about the Defence Forces. The so-called 'alliance' with the US was not raised; readers were being led to believe the Australian Defence Forces (ADF) operated under their own leadership, without reference to US-led military planning.


The role of the military-industrial complex, likewise, was played down: while it was acknowledged the four-day International Aerospace and Defence Exposition component of the Airshow, which was closed to the general public, attracted hundreds of defence companies and military and government delegations, no economic criteria were made available about the huge government handouts made to private industry in the service of the new Cold War provoked by a nervous US imperialism. Meanwhile social and welfare services are cut and thresholds for most pensions have been drastically lowered for ordinary people.


The annual Avalon bean-feast was noted as providing “specialist conferences which allow delegates to identify major players and mix with them in a casual setting. Organisations take advantage of the critical mass of industry to plan specialist briefings and functions to further relationships”. (1)  Prominent among the “major players” are war-addicted US monopolies like Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and missile manufacturer Raytheon.


What is Australia’s role?


A more comprehensive read of the Avalon Report, however, has revealed preparations for regional military deployments, with far-reaching implications for Australia.


The present role of Australia within US-led regional military planning has its roots in the late 1990s period. Regional assessments from that period noted that 'the Pacific Ocean is the most likely theatre of major US military operations, as China becomes more powerful'. (2) The rise of China as a regional power had been assessed as a threat to traditional positions of US domination; the US began, therefore, to shift emphasis away from Europe in a “tilt” toward the Asia-Pacific.


US-led military planning for the period also included the transformation of Japan from a client-type state to a fully-fledged northern regional hub for 'US interests', with Australia as a southern counterpart. The triangular regional diplomatic relations have now been made fully operational through vast military facilities intended to contain and encircle the expansion of China. Both regional hubs are expected to take leading roles within US-led military planning, and it is at this level several problems have arisen.


One is the geographical size of the Asia-Pacific region.


It is interesting to note that a major US pre-occupation during the early stages of planning was for 'the additional emphasis upon on long-range power projection, which means greater attention to airlift capacity and other ways of sending troops and fire-power across thousands of miles'. (3)


A study of the Avalon 2019 documentation has revealed how US military planners have attempted to deal with the problem, with accurate intelligence assessments being used for later military planning of strategic operations.


Reference to a distributed and resilient wide-area surveillance network 'to maximise the ADF's ability to see deep into the Indo-Pacific region as an essential enabler for striking deep when necessary', leaves little to the imagination. (4) Further reference, likewise, to, 'intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions including signals intelligence and electronic warfare', together with satellite-based systems 'with ISR capability to enhance the Jindalee Over the Horizon Network (JORN)', show the strategic importance of Australian-based facilities for US-led regional military planning. (5)


Elsewhere in the report it was noted that 'larger, intelligence-gathering drones can fly for up to ten hours'. (6) A ten-hour flight, for a drone, would reach far into the region.


Further references to Northrop Grumman's MQ-4C Triton unmanned aerial system, announced by Canberra last June, reveal the Australian role in surveillance of sensitive shipping-lanes off northern shores. It was noted that 'Triton is a high-altitude, long endurance system that will provide a transformational increase in Australia's maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities'. (7) The Triton system would also make use of a 'highly sophisticated sensor suite, which supports the processing and distribution of large volumes of data', indicating that while Australian-based facilities would collate data, a network of offshore-based sensors would collect it all. (8)


Space industry tied to US military


Coverage of the space industry was also included in the report, with reference to two defence space projects: Def 799 Phase 2 and JP – 9102B. (9) Def 799 was noted as being composed of two phases: the first to 'provide Australia with direct and more timely access to commercial imaging satellites', and the second, to 'seek the acquisition of new space-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability'. (10) The JP – 9102B system was being developed for a 'next-generation Australian defence sat-com system to enable joint command and control of deployed joint task forces through providing resilient and responsive communications via a dedicated space segment. The satellites would be deployed in both geostationary and other orbital locations'. (11) 


Curiously, nowhere in the report is any reference made to the role of the US as the senior partner in all regional diplomatic relations. Elsewhere, in official Australian government media releases however, reference has been given to Australian involvement with US-led regional defence and security provision. Last September, for example, a statement issued by the Australian Defence Department, acknowledged Australian military research was conducted with US counterparts, which was considered 'critical for future defence capabilities'. (12) 


It is, nevertheless, how the largely intelligence-based military facilities have been planned for use with strategic operations which is of considerable interest.

Reference, therefore, to the ADF being provided with 'much greater flexibility in moving personnel and cargo to remote locations, into the Pacific', reveals the role of US-led military planning for Australia. (13) Further reference to joint interoperability for the ADF and the Australian Light Armoured Vehicle, an eight-wheeled amphibious armoured reconnaissance vehicle, reveal land-based forces also making use of cross-water missions. 


Further reference to joint military action with all three forces acting in unison include the RAAF possessing longer-range stand-off weapons, complemented by naval facilities for anti-ship and land-strike roles. The US-led military planning behind the joint approach is being directed primarily to sensitive shipping-lanes off northern shores, with problems of access and egress at times of heightened diplomatic tensions and hostilities. It was noted, for example, in rather evasive terminology, 'the capability objective should be to negate the requirement to have to penetrate deep within adversary anti-access and area denial (A2AD) envelopes to deliver precision effect'. (14) In simpler language, long-range weapons would be launched from Australian facilities, either land or sea-based, against adversaries.

Australian military involvement offshore, nevertheless, was also considered in the report.


Making further use of evasive terminology without reference to the problem of counter-insurgency in other countries following a military incursion by ADF personnel, the report stated, 'consider the future scenario of expeditionary deployment to undertake stabilisation in a contested environment. Air Force MC – 27Js could directly support ground forces through providing battlefield ISR and airborne electronic warfare support'. (15)


In conclusion, the Avalon 2019 Special Report made an interesting read. It is important to know how those planning Australian military deployment at the service of US imperialism think.


We need an independent foreign policy!


1.     Eyes on deals and trade competitions, Avalon 2019 Special Report, Australian, 26 February 2019.

2.     Rumsfeld signals shift to Pacific in overhaul of defence thinking, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 29 March – 4 April 2001.

3.     Ibid.

4.     A gap to close in next-generation defence, Avalon 2019 Special Report, Australian, 26 February 2019.

5.     Force's bold launch into space projects, Avalon 2019 Special Report, Australian, 26 February 2019.

6.     Drones reveal detail for business, military, Avalon 2019 Special Report, Australian, 26 February 2019.

7.     ADF can work with partners using fifth generation unmanned aircraft, Avalon 2019 Special Report, Australian, 26 February 2019.

8.     Ibid.

9.     Force's bold launch into space projects, op.cit., 26 February 2019.

10.   Ibid.

11.   Ibid.

12.   Investing in science and innovation for our security, Dr. Alex Zelinsky, Chief Defence Scientist, The Australian Defence Department, Research Supplement, Australian, 26 September 2018.

13.   Spartan lifter could be the ADF's first gunship, Avalon 2019 Special Report,  Australian, 26 February 2019.

14.   A gap too close in next-generation defence, op.cit., 26 February 2019.

15.   Spartan lifter could be ADF's first gunship, op.cit., 26 February 2019.

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