Another big problem for China is its seven bases in the Spratly Islands. They are 1,000 km from Hainan and stuck between Vietnam 450 km to the west and the Philippines 300 km to the east.

Their bases are in a natural kill box. When they are attacked, China will put inordinate effort into trying to defend them.

Ships and aircraft trying to get to those bases will be easily detected and shot down/sunk.

So in defending against China, the first thing to do is to attack and seize those seven bases.

If you wanted to help deter China from attacking anyone, the division of those bases among the Allies in the peace settlement should be published so that China is aware that when it starts a war, it will lose its South China Sea bases. This is a suggestion for the allocation of bases:

Vietnam:                   Fiery Cross Reef, Cuateron Reef

Japan:                        Subi Reef, Gaven Reef

United States:           Mischief Reef, Hughes Reef, Johnson South Reef

The other thing that Allied forces need to do on the outbreak of the war is to attack every Chinese base from Djibouti in the west to Tulagi in the Solomon Islands, and south to their bases in the Antarctic. They should also sink/disable every Chinese commercial vessel and fishing boat.

Our war with China will largely be a maritime war fought with aircraft. What we need most for that role is bombers carrying cruise missiles to their launch points.

The most cost-effective way of achieving that capability is to convert second hand Boeing 737s. Our P-8 Poseidon anti-submarine aircraft are based on the 737 and can drop torpedoes, similar in weight and dimensions to cruise missiles. 

The 737 bombers would have a return range of 3,000 km with a payload of 30 cruise missiles. Those cruise missiles in turn would have ranges from 500 km to 2,000 km.

So, bombers from Tindal in the Northern Territory could hit targets as far away as Hong Kong without coming in range of Chinese fighters.

Once the surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems in the Spratlys are eliminated, the bombers could fly closer to drop glide bombs with a range of 70 km.

Alice Springs aircraft storage – our bomber fleet in being?
 

These 737 bombers would be supplemented by drones based on the Ghost Bat. The Ghost Bat is a type of drone designed around supporting fighter aircraft.

To that end it carries two AIM-120 radar-guided missiles internally to maintain stealth. This is a low weapons load for the size and cost of the aircraft.

The RAAF should split off a separate program from the Ghost Bat to develop a drone optimised on attacking surface targets.

This new design will have a low wing (below the fuselage) instead of a high wing (above the fuselage).

This will allow the main landing gear to be pushed out into the wings, in turn increasing the amount of ordnance that can be carried under on the fuselage.

It will also allow the conformal carriage of missiles in a recess along the centreline of the aircraft.

The experience in the Ukraine War is that most Russian Kalibr cruise missiles are being shot down by Ukrainian SAM systems and 35 mm radar-guided cannon.

This suggests that missiles that are supersonic in their terminal phase would have a better chance of defeating air defence, which in turn means a large, single missile up to the carrying capacity of the aircraft.

Being conformably carried would mean that it would not increase drag and would have a radar signature no worse than a clean aircraft.

Australia doesn’t have any proper fighter aircraft; the F-35s and Super Hornets we have are merely light bombers.

The F-35 is near effectively unarmed in its non-bomber loadout with only four radar-guided missiles.

It is also too expensive to operate at US$42,000 per hour of flight. The Super Hornet was built as a replacement for the A-6 Intruder for the US Navy.

As a fighter aircraft it is even worse than the F-35. Its best use would be to deliver cruise missiles at sea.

Real fighter aircraft are needed to keep enemy aircraft away from our positions. In the Ukraine War, Russian Mig-31s are firing air-to-air R-37 missiles with a range of 300 km.

This is keeping Ukrainian fighter aircraft back from the front line which in turn allows the Russians to use glide bombs to attack Ukrainian positions.

The Mig-31 armed with the 600kg R-37 missile has been effective in keeping Ukrainian aircraft away from the front line.
 

The solution is to make the Gripen E fighter in Australia under licence from Saab in Sweden. The Gripen E has one fifth the operating cost of the F-35 and half the capital cost while being a more effective fighter.

The next thing for the RAAF to do is to have another set of Jindalee Over the Horizon Radar (JORN) systems on our northern coastline.

The current set of JORN radar systems are set 1,000 km back from the coastline so that their coverage begins at the coast and extends a further 2,000 km out.

Having another line of radar systems on the coast would push our coverage another 1,000 km out to the southern end of the South China Sea.

The United States is currently installing an over-the-horizon radar system on Palau which will provide coverage starting in the Philippines and extending to coast of Vietnam.

With respect to making our own cruise missiles and other things to fling at the Chinese, Australia used to have a big effort in drone and missile development based at Salisbury in South Australia.

This was best known for the Jindivik target drone which had its first flight over 70 years ago in 1952.

One product from that era, the Nulka radar decoy for ships, is still in use today. That research effort was closed down in the 1970s as an economy measure.

Our Department of Defence is in the position of knowing it needs to have missiles made in Australia, as all battlefield consumables should be, but only buys the offerings of Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.

It regards the making of missiles as akin to magic and has no knowledge of what is involved. So when the then Liberal government decided to get into making missiles, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon were selected to run the enterprise.

This is putting the fox in charge of the hen house. Those companies will be rapacious, and of course progress in putting up the buildings etc. will be glacially slow. In fact, there has been no progress.

There is a whole world beyond Lockheed Martin in making cruise missiles, surface-to-surface missiles and similar things.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan makes the Type 12 truck-mounted, antiship missile with ranges up to 1,500 km.

South Korea makes the Hyunmoo-3 series of land-attack cruise missiles with ranges of up to 1,500 km.

That country also makes the Chunmoo surface-to-surface missiles which are much like the HIMARS system produced by Lockheed, but already with a 150 km range.

Taiwan has the Hsiung Feng family of anti-ship cruise missiles, including supersonic variants, and the Yun Feng land attack cruise missile with a range of 2,000 km.

In Singapore, ST Engineering has developed the Blue Spear anti-ship cruise missile with a range of 290 km.

India, with an economy only twice the size of Australia’s, has developed a number of families of missiles, including subsonic cruise missiles, the supersonic, ramjet-powered Brahmos antiship missiles and the solid-fuelled Agni-V ballistic missile with a range of 5,000 km. With that range it could reach Shanghai from Darwin. 

Israel, with a population of only eight million, produces just about everything needed on the battlefield.

Licencing terms are likely to be stiffer than those of the Asian missile producers and that is also likely to be true of the European missile companies, with the exception of Saab in Sweden.

And this brings up another point. If you wanted to integrate a new missile to the F-35 that would have to be done by Lockheed Martin because Australia doesn’t have access to the computer code the F-35 runs on.

The only country that has access to the code for the F-35 is Israel which insisted on it. Also, integration testing on the F-35 is an exhaustive process because the flight software is mixed in with the weapons systems software.

Consequently, only Lockheed Martin can integrate other missile systems and at inordinate expense, when they get around to it.

In the Gripen E the flight software and the weapons system software are separate and open architecture.

We will need to get new aircraft to be able to use our own missiles so we might as well start that process as soon as possible.

Lockheed Martin and Raytheon are now very busy rebuilding US stocks of weapons and aren’t likely to speed up progress to Australia’s domestic production of missiles.

This is how we should proceed. A team should visit the missile makers from Japan to Israel and select the optimum offering in each of the following categories:

  1. Air-launched, subsonic anti-ship cruise missiles
  2. Air-launched, supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles
  3. Truck-mounted surface-to-surface missiles
  4. Subsonic land attack cruise missiles
  5. Solid-fuel ballistic missiles

Then call for tenders for supply. The tenderers will be encouraged to bid on the basis that they will largely be assembling sub-components made by others rather than making every component themselves.

For example, solid-fuel rocket motors will be much the same in terms of what they are made from and the fuel they will burn.

So, we don’t need more than a few manufacturers of them – as long as there is some competitive tension.

With respect to the Navy, much needs to be done and undone. Let’s start with the submarines.

In the competition for what became the Collins class, the Swedish design was chosen over the German one due to the admiral running the acquisition favouring the Swedish offering in the way the merits of each were tallied.

The Collins class turned out to be a junky design which took a lot of effort to clean up. It still has the world’s worst marine diesel engine.

Our Collins class submarines are now worn out and need replacing as soon as possible. We should have a submarine force in case they might be useful in the coming war with China.

The Abbott government proposed replacing the Collins class with the Japanese Soryu class submarines.

The US Navy considered the Soryu class to be the world’s best conventional submarines.

A conventional submarine normally has two refits in its life, ten years apart, for a total life in service of 30 years. 

Japanese practice is to have only one refit for a total service life on 20 years on the basis that evolution in submarine design is faster than a 30-year cycle, thus maintaining a better technological edge over Chinese submarines.

But Abbott’s government didn’t complete a contract for Soryus before he was replaced as prime minister by a more overt socialist, Malcolm Turnbull.

Turnbull did his best to dismantle any positive legacy from the Abbott period and that included taking Japanese submarines.

The French inveigled their way into the submarine acquisition with a proposal to convert a nuclear submarine into a conventional one.

When this was announced it was immediately denounced by all and sundry as idiotic, but this project took years to die and not before billions had been spent on it.

The French made sure a contract was signed before the next election.

The idiotic French proposal was replaced with another idiotic scheme. The detail released is hazy, but it seems to involve buying second-hand Virginia class submarines from the United States and then at a later stage building a new class of nuclear submarine based on a British design.

All this is, of course, to be accomplished at inordinate expense. The Virginia class cost about US$3.5 billion per boat.

The operating cost is US$140 million per annum for a total cost over a 20-year life of US$6.3 billion which we can round up to $10 billion per boat.

So, if we spend $100 billion then we should get 10 nuclear submarines. The Australian Government proposes to spend more than three times that. Something does not compute.

It doesn’t matter too much because aspects of the proposal are so far out in time that we know that they will be overtaken by events such as war with China in perhaps 2027.

What we want to do with the submarines is sink Chinese ships. A more cost-effective way to do that is with 737s converted to bombers delivering anti-ship cruise missiles.

Even a nuclear-powered submarine doing 30 knots is going to take days to get on station. Then if it is lucky, it will take a week or more to find targets for all its torpedoes and then begin its journey back to Australia.

In comparison, our bomber can deliver 20 tonnes of ordnance to the battlefield each day.

Now it is said that torpedoes make a hole in the bottom of a ship and let the water in while a missile makes a hole in the top of the ship and lets the air in, which isn’t as effective in sinking it.

Nevertheless, the targeting cycle and cost-efficiency make bombers the far better option.

Concept for a Boeing 747 converted to carrying cruise missiles. At one stage in the early 1980s the US Air Force was interested in saving money – then the feeling passed.

The Defence Strategic Review Part One

The Defence Strategic Review Part Two

SUGGESTED ARTICLES