The past is past; what should Australia do from here after the decades of submarine idiocy we have suffered?

First of all, we should go back to Japan and ask them to build some Taigai class submarines for us.

The Taigai class is the next generation on from the Soryu class. This will be about $1 billion per boat.

This should be done with minimal changes to the design – perhaps just another eight metres in the hull length for extra diesel to increase the range.

If we really wanted to have a cheap solution to increasing the range of our submarines then we would build a refuelling base in Exmouth Gulf.

In WW2, submarines heading off on patrol from the base in Fremantle would call into Exmouth Gulf to top up their tanks before heading further north.

Seemingly that concept is too difficult to grasp for the current leadership of the Royal Australian Navy.

Secondly, we could pay for a second refit for the Soryu class submarines after their first 20 years of service and take them for a further 10 years.

These would be a cheap and fast way of replacing the Collins class. We should give up building submarines in Australia.

Any Australian who can weld or fit pipe will be flat out building our fuel supply system.

With respect to the surface fleet, the Defence Strategic Review stated that it would be better to shrink the average size of the vessels in our fleet to frigate size or smaller.

If one of the arguments against conventional submarines is that modern radars can detect them snorkelling, then a ten thousand tonne ship is going to find survival far more difficult.

The world’s oceans are now like the Mediterranean Sea during WW2 – every ship traversing it could be attacked by land-based aircraft at a moment’s notice.

If you have a big ship with a big missile magazine, that just makes it a bigger target. Once a ship’s stock of surface-to-air missiles is depleted, it is defenceless and has to return to a port to reload even if it hasn’t fired off any of its offensive weapons.

The Army may be getting new infantry fighting vehicles. They will be more heavily armed than the latest addition to our surface fleet weighing 40 times as much. The Royal Australian Navy is embarrassed that their profession involves killing people so they would rather have ships that are unarmed.

The Army may be getting new infantry fighting vehicles. They will be more heavily armed than the latest addition to our surface fleet weighing 40 times as much. The Royal Australian Navy is embarrassed that their profession involves killing people so they would rather have ships that are unarmed.

And once any of our ships are sunk, or aircraft shot down over the ocean, we have no way of rescuing survivors other than to send another ship to the site of the sinking.

This might take weeks. As a matter of urgency, we need to acquire flying boats which will assume the role that the Catalina had in WW2.

Luckily a company called Amphibian Aerospace Industries has set up in Darwin to make an updated version of the Grumman Albatross. The Albatross, slightly larger than the Catalina, first flew in 1947. Australia operated 168 Catalinas during WW2. We need at least 50 Albatross from the Darwin production line.

Grumman Albatross

Next up for consideration is the Army. In this branch of the services we are going down a number of false paths that will lead to death and suffering, needless death and suffering.

Ideas about modern land combat can be tested against what is happening in Ukraine. That war shows that combat continues to be based on the exchange of high explosive on the battlefield, in other words artillery.

The side that can do this cost-effectively while outranging the other side will have the advantage.

Traditionally artillery has been towed tube systems firing shells now up to 155 mm in diameter. The Russians track the incoming shells with radar and in Ukraine have been returning counter-battery fire within a minute.

That counter-battery fire led to the development of self-propelled howitzer in which the tube was put on a tracked chassis and with the crew compartment protected by armour thick enough to stop shell fragments.

A further development was putting the artillery tube on a wheeled vehicle. France, Sweden and Israel have all produced versions of this concept.

What the Ukraine War has shown is that wheeled is better than tracked which in turn is better than towed.

French Caesar 155 mm wheeled howitzer

A wheeled howitzer can fire off a few shells and then leave its firing position rapidly. The Ukraine War has shown that the tracked howitzers are slow on the ground and have a lot of mechanical downtime.

The Defence Strategic Review reduced our buy of self-propelled howitzers but didn’t make the case for more wheeled howitzers. As a result, we will have less artillery which is a bad thing.

The second path to death and suffering is in our choice of surface-to-surface missiles.

To put that into context, let’s go back to the evolution of these systems in modern warfare. The Russians were big users of unguided rockets, the Grad system, during WW2 but the Germans weren’t afraid of them.

The next big development was as a result of the Yom Kippur War of 1973. US military personnel inspecting the battlefields after the war were shocked at the rate of advance and the rate of consumption of ordnance.

To stop breakthroughs that might over-run the line of artillery, the United States developed an assault-breaker weapon, a tracked vehicle that could fire off 12 unguided missiles with cluster munition warheads.

The warhead consisted of 640 Dual Purpose Improved Cluster Munition (DPICM) which had a shaped charge within a fragmentation casing.

If the DPICM hit a tank, the shaped charge could penetrate 100 mm of armour. Whether or not it did that, the fragments from the casing would perforate enemy personnel within a five-metre radius.

So, with a cluster munition warhead, a single type of missile could break an assault by tanks and/or infantry, three hectares at a time.

M77 Dual Purpose Improved Cluster Munition

From that start the United States developed a wheeled version called the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, with a pod of six missiles.

The range of the missiles was about 30 km. Then there was a step forward and a step backward.

The step forward was to incorporate GPS guidance so the missiles became far more accurate and single missiles could reliably be used to target one particular thing rather than relying upon firing off the whole pod of six to achieve an area effect.

The step backwards was as a result of the public campaign against cluster munitions, using their dud rate as an excuse, the United States stopped making cluster munitions and switched to Alternate Warhead which is 160,000 tungsten pellets weighing a fraction of a gram each.

But these have an effective radius of only 50 metres instead of 100 metres for the original cluster munition variant and is only one quarter as effective.

So, for ideological reasons the United States is fighting with one hand tied behind its back, and so are all its allies who are using the system, including Australia.

There is also a unitary warhead version, made up like an artillery shell, for attacking concrete structures. The range of HIMARS has been extended to 80 km reliably and a 150 km range variant is coming.

Now that HIMARS has proved its utility on the battlefield, there is the temptation to extend its application to things far removed from the original intent.

So recently during the joint US – Philippines exercise called Balikatan, six HIMARS rockets were fired at a ship 20 km away and all missed.

The Ukrainian military continually ask the United States to supply cluster munitions and the United States continually declines to supply them.

The Russian army is bashing itself to death in Ukraine and the United States may be selectively denying the supply of more effective weapons that would end the war sooner.

The longer the war goes on, the more potentially unstable Russia becomes and the longer it will take them to recover.

Cluster munitions are used by serious militaries who want to win and do that cost-effectively.

Turkey and Israel both make their own cluster munitions. Australia should make its own cluster munitions and the missiles to deliver them.

Cluster munitions are ideal for counter-battery fire because they don’t have to be accurate to kill the crew of a towed howitzer or hit the amour of a self-propelled howitzer.

What’s more, being a missile they can be ranged beyond the reach of enemy tube artillery. In turn this means that the system can be carried on commercial trucks which don’t have to be armoured.

The Ukraine War has shown again that tanks and their supporting infantry fighting vehicles are necessary to be able to advance over open ground.

In the former category, the handful of tanks that Australia has are the M1A2 Abrams weighing 72 tonnes.

The Achilles heel of the Abrams is its fuel consumption because it is powered by a gas turbine engine with twice the fuel consumption of diesel-engined tanks.

This means that the logistics tail to support an Abrams in the field is twice as large and therefore twice as vulnerable. Australia’s handful of tanks, 75, isn’t worth worrying about. We might as well park them up and get a tank better suited to Australia’s conditions. That tank would likely be the South Korean K2 Black Panther of 55 tonnes.

Australia has three combined arms brigades in which tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, artillery and infantry train and fight as one unit.

As a result of the Defence Strategic Review this will be cut down to one combined arms brigade, making the Army one of the least effective fighting forces on the planet.

We should have gone the other way and form 10 combined arms brigades. Each such brigade would have 90 tanks and twice as many infantry fighting vehicles. So that is 900 tanks and 1,800 infantry fighting vehicles. 

The saga of Australia’s infantry fighting vehicles is another farce. In the 1960s, Australia with a then population of 12 million acquired 800 M113 armoured personnel carriers.

In 2004 a project was started to replace them with 1,100 infantry fighting vehicles that would have thicker armour and heavier armament.

Nearly 20 years after the project started, the number to be acquired has shrunk to 129, not even enough for one combined arms brigade.

There are two contenders for the contract – the German Lynx and the South Korean Red Back with the Red Back considered to be the better of the two.

The threat of Antitank Guided Missiles is reduced by fitting each armoured vehicle with an active protection system, such as the Israeli Trophy or Iron Fist systems, at a cost of about $1 million per vehicle.

There is no sign yet that the Australian Defence Force is taking the threat from drones seriously.

Dealing with that threat will mean another layer of sensors, radar and optical, to tie to the counter-battery radars with the system deciding the most cost-effective way of eliminating each drone – laser, microwave beam, 25 mm cannon, or missile.

On the subject of lasers, it is apparent that handheld lasers with the purpose of blinding have been widely distributed in the People’s Liberation Army. All our personnel need to be issued with laser-resistant sunglasses.

All of the above is just useless conjecture if we don’t have the diesel and jet fuel to keep the domestic economy going as well as fight the war.

Even better if we were able to help our allies and friends – for example all the countries in the South Pacific that will grind to a halt when China’s war starts and are cut off from fuel supply.

The oil companies run their operations on a just-in-time basis so we have two weeks’ worth of refined product in stock.

A lot of blame could be put on John Howard for our predicament because, as prime minister, he said that it didn’t matter if Australia didn’t have its own liquid fuel supply as long as we were net energy exporters.

But without liquid fuels we won’t be exporting anything, and all our tanks and ships and planes become static targets.

Fortunately, the solution to that problem is well within our reach when we adopt the right frame of mind.

We have an enormous amount of low-grade coal in Australia which is too low grade to be worth exporting.

Using the Bergius process this coal will yield up to 1,000 litres of fuel per tonne. A plant producing 5,000 barrels per day would consume 33 tonnes of coal per hour.

With residence time of one hour in the process, the conversion would be achieved in a high-pressure vessel with a volume of 26 cubic metres.

To fit that pressure vessel on the back of a semi-trailer, it would only be seven metres long.

That indicates that synthetic fuel plants don’t need to be fabricated on site. They can be made modular in a central facility and trucked out with assembly on site using a crane.

The current oil price of US$71.34 per barrel is well short of the US$120 per barrel necessary to develop a synthetic fuels industry.

We can use the fuel excise levy of $0.47 per litre to bridge the gap. That translates to US$49.32 per barrel and gets us to the needed US$120 per barrel level.

To get around the notion that becoming self-sufficient in diesel and jet fuel would add to Australia’s carbon emissions, we simply have a legal and regulatory carve-out for any defence-related facility. Because we wouldn’t be doing it if we weren’t under threat from China.

Finally, how are we going to pay for the military we need?

WW2 was traumatic for Australia. At its peak we had one million people in uniform out of a population of seven million and 50% of GDP was spent on defence.

When that war was over, there was a consensus that we should spend a minimum of 3% of GDP on defence.

We are currently at $48.6 billion per annum equating to 2.1% of GDP.

Expenditure on the NDIS has blown out from the $6 billion per annum that Gillard proposed with the original legislation to $36 billion.

We should simply shrink the NDIS back to the original figure of $6 billion and free up $30 billion for defence.

Similarly, the Aboriginal industry in Australia takes more than $30 billion per annum but it hasn’t made our Aboriginals any happier.

So, there’s another $30 billion available.  News is just in that in the last year of the Morrison government $20 billion was spent on consultants. This takes the total available to $130 billion per annum. It’s all doable.

David Archibald is the author of American Gripen: The Solution to the F-35 Nightmare

Defence Strategic Review Part One

Defence Strategic Review Part Two

Defence Strategic Review Part Three