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Wednesday, October 06, 2004

 

Australia's cruise missiles have South China Sea role

The Australian newspaper disturbed regional security strategists when it preempted an Australian Government announcement that its F/A-18 Hornet fighters and AP-3C Orion maritime surveillance aircraft would be armed with cruise missiles from 2007 as the nation's ageing F-111 strike bombers are phased out by 2010. Although the air-to-surface missiles can destroy targets up to 400 kilometres away, F/A-18s armed with the new missiles would have at best 75 percent of the F-111s' range.

Costing up to A$450 million, the three missile options being considered by Canberra are Lockheed Martin's 400km-range Joint Air-to-Surface Stand-off Missile, the German, 350km-range Taurus Systems KEPD 350 precision-attack cruise missile and Boeing's 250km-range cruise missile known as SLAM-ER (Stand-off Land Attack Missile - Expanded Response).

The news story forced Australian Defence Minister, Robert Hill, to comment to the media before military attaches of neighbouring countries had been briefed. This provided a window of opportunity for unnecessary and ill-informed comment by the opposition Australian Labor Party, Indonesia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and regional media.

"What has it done to explain this to the countries in the region with whom we must be associated in the struggle with fundamentalist terror?" ALP spokesman Kim Beazley curiously said. "As far as I can see, the government has made absolutely no effort. In normal circumstances that would be bad, but in circumstances where we need to be alongside them, it's very foolish indeed."

Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa expressed concern about the plan, questioning why Australia was beefing up its offensive capacity. "We are talking here of an offensive capability, no longer defensive capability, and we have to ask ourselves against whom is this long-range cruise missile being directed."

"You cannot arm yourselves to the teeth and expect that will lead, of itself, to a sense of security," he said. "You have to work with the region to share in a sense of security. It's a qualitative advance for the region. We know Australia's government has until now been against the proliferation of advanced missile technologies in the region. There is a risk that raising the level of sophistication could lead to some kind of a counter response."
While confirming that the new air-to-air missiles, combined with upgraded precision-guided bombs, would make Australia's fighter jets the region's most lethal capacity for air combat and strike operations," Defence Minister Hill denied it would trigger an arms race. "In the same way as Indonesia and all our regional neighbours continue to build their capabilities, they expect Australia to do so," he said.

Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, said simply, "our regional neighbours will understand why we have done this."

Within two days, Indonesia's military confirmed it had no misunderstanding or apprehension about the Australian announcement. Military (TNI) Commander Gen Endriartono Sutarto said Australia's decision to equip its jet fighters with sophisticated missiles and to improve its defense system constituted no threat to Indonesia.

"It is Australia's right to develop its defence system and this must be respected by other countries, including Indonesia," he said, adding that Indonesia did not see the development as a threat. "So there is no need for Indonesia to excessively respond to the Australian missile program," he said.
So why the cryptic pussyfooting by the Australian government?

Simply, the aircraft and new weaponry are primarily configured to prevent a PRC navy from taking possession of the South China Sea, an area the PRC claims as its sovereign territory. According to the PRC, the South China Sea and Taiwan are the only two "non-negotiables" of Chinese foreign policy.

With overlapping territorial claims by South East Asian nations, the South China Sea is a highly sensitive security zone and Australia's contribution to the area's stability is its long-range attack aircraft. Along with its major trading partners, Japan, Korea and Taiwan, Australia also has a significant economic interest in the sea being completely open to north-south shipping.

The following report suggests the Australian government and political elite purposely limit public access to this information:
The missiles, to be used on Australia's F-18 Hornet fighters and AP-3C Orion
maritime surveillance aircraft [will] extend the lethal reach of the Australian
Defense Force as far as the South China Sea [and will provide] a long-range,
accurate and lethal attack against a range of targets including fixed and
re-locatable targets on land and sea ...

The Australian navy also intends to equip three new destroyers with cruise missiles of even greater range, and hopes to do the same with its submarines. Australia has already signed up for the U.S. joint strike fighter project and the missile defense program, and last year's review of the ADF structure has sharply increased the size and support system for Australia's special forces ...

What the Australians do not publicly mention is the country that started the Asian arms build-up -- China. The modernization of the Chinese military, replacing the massive armies of Mao's day with Russian-built Kilo-class submarines and Su-30 fighter-bombers, along with the breakneck pace of China's economic growth, has changed the strategic dynamics of the broader Asia-Pacific region.

For Australia, China is now a major customer ...

[However] Australians have read with careful attention the platform adopted ... by the Republican Party, whose section on Asia takes aim at China, expressing profound disagreements on human rights, over Taiwan and on Beijing's outdated path of seeking advanced weaponry.

[This denies] the right of Beijing to impose its rule on the free Taiwanese people. All issues regarding Taiwan's future must be resolved peacefully and must be agreeable to the people of Taiwan, the platform says. If China violates these principles and attacks Taiwan, then the United States will respond appropriately. America will help Taiwan defend itself.

The question is whether Australia will stick by its American ally in such an event, given that Australia has taken part alongside the Americans in every serious conflict since World War II.

It is the question that loomed over the recent five-day trip to China of the chief of Australia's Defense Force, Gen. Peter Cosgrove, for talks with his Chinese military counterparts ...

If you can foresee Australian forces operating alongside U.S. forces, say in the event of a collapse of the armistice in Korea or the hostilities between Taiwan and China, the type of missiles that are being sought as a result of this project would be the sort nof equipment you would need to operate Australian aircraft in that environment and keep the pilots comparatively safe ...

US interests aside, our region's continuing strategic concern is containing PRC militarism in the South China Sea and against the Republic of China on Taiwan. The PRC government's declared "inviolate" policy is that both territories are its own. That's an open enough war warning-- not only against the ROC and all nations claiming South China Sea territory but also those others who regard it as international waters.

It is reprehensible that while our investment in aircraft, missiles, ships and submarines only make sense as part of regional defence against PRC revanchism, Australian parliamentary papers never address that scenario.

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