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AUSTRALIAN SUBMARINES AND UNITED STATES 
MILITARY PLANNING FOR THE ASIA-PACIFIC REGION

(Contributed)

Editorial note: A reader has sent this article on US pressure for a Japanese build of the new Australian submarine fleet. Our position is that the submarines will most certainly be used to serve the predatory interests of US imperialism. We nevertheless support the call for Australian submarines to be built in Australia so as to frustrate US imperialism’s twin agenda of maximising the interoperability between its own and its “allies” armed forces on the one hand, and supporting Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe’s attempts to scuttle Japan’s post-war pacifist Constitution and re-establish Japan as an arms exporter under US control.  We thank the reader for the article and the information it contains.

Revelations about secret deals and military tenders involving former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott and military hawks in the Pentagon have shown a dangerous escalation of militarism has taken place across the region through hidden diplomatic agendas.

War, for those concerned, is already planned.

There is a great deal more to the whole matter than that which initially meets the eye, particularly if one reads between the lines. The whole matter has illustrated a chaotic state of affairs where agendas have been pursued without reference to usual “democratic” procedures. It has also been divisive, revealing a great deal about some of the figures involved and their means to achieve end results.

Australia, at present, has six Collins-class diesel-electric powered submarines based at HMAS Stirling in West Australia. It wants to increase the force to twelve submarines, operational by the mid-2020s. The doubling of the size of the submarine force is evidence, in itself, of the rapid wave of militarisation taking place across the region. It is explained by the US shifting their main focus away from European 'theatres of war’ in the past twenty years to the Asia-Pacific region.

Australia has had a long-standing military alliance with the United States and with the emergence of China as a world power, an estimated sixty per cent of US defence and security provision is now concentrated in the Asia-Pacific region. It is explained by Washington regarding 'US interests' and its hegemonic position to be under threat from China. While the US is dependent upon allies to provide regional provision they also want a strongly centralised military command with the Pentagon in control.

The issue of submarines, therefore, is regarded with the utmost importance. Submarines are used for intelligence collection, quietly gliding underwater into trouble-spots for surveillance of adversaries. They are in the forefront of Electronic Warfare (EW) systems, gathering intelligence through the interception of electronic communications. The intelligence is then quickly relayed to a centre for analysis, policy formation and implementation of hostilities should the situation warrant such action.

The present preoccupation with the perceived threat of China rests upon earlier US military planning. Assessments, from the 1990s, revealed widespread concern about the perceived economic threat from China.

Later, during the Bush administrations, the US formulated a Global Transformation of Defence and Security (GTDS) under Donald Rumsfeld as Defence Secretary. It sought to develop Japan as a fully-fledged hub for 'US interests' in the northern part of the region with Australia in the south.

Australia has been a strategic asset for 'US interests' in the region for decades, politically stable with a history of compliant governments. It is therefore no surprise the country has hosted a number of military facilities usually referred to as 'jointly-controlled' including the highly sensitive Pine Gap US intelligence base, linked to those on Diego Garcia in the mid-Indian Ocean. Their importance has increased dramatically in recent years with new responsibilities thrust upon Canberra from Washington.

The responsibilities have included greater influence for Australian diplomacy across the wider Indo-Pacific region. The boundaries for the greater responsibilities are not coincidental. The vast territory stretches from US intelligence facilities at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to the international time-line in the Pacific. It is also the domain of the US 7th naval fleet. (4)

The GTDS planning of the past decade has now been implemented; US-diplomacy, in the region, is triangular with the specific intention of containing and encircling China. It also forms part of a bigger picture. Layer after layer of military alliances rest upon exclusive so-called Free Trade Agreements (FTA's). They include the recently formulated Trans-Pacific Partnerships (TPP) which has the specific intention of excluding China while fostering stronger links between the US and a number of Asia-Pacific countries.

The diplomatic positioning, while following a distinctly political line has caused division within the business-classes. Favourable diplomatic relations with China remain extremely important for Australia, it being one of the largest trading partners. The reality of the business-classes, however, runs counter to Pentagon military planning. The Canberra elite therefore played their cards very close to their chests.

But matters have now finally come to a head after months of denial.

An article in the January edition of The National Interest by Andrew Shearer finally broke the official diplomatic silence over US military planning for the Asia-Pacific region with Australian provision of vital submarines. (5) There had, seemingly, been long-standing controversy in Canberra about tendering procedures for a number of submarine contracts to update Australian submarine facilities. Officially, the US maintained their stated diplomatic position on being neutral about the Australian tendering procedure to allow German, French and other bidders. Their stated official diplomatic position, however, was something rather different. The recent article has noted, 'US officials privately want Australia to choose Japan as the winning bidder'. (6)

It is not difficult to establish why the US seeks the favourable position toward Japan. It is regarded by the US as one of the closest allies, strategically placed near China and the Korean peninsula an area of the region where Cold War hostilities are hot. There were nevertheless problems. Japan was situated very close to possible theatres of war and therefore vulnerable.

Australia, therefore, has been regarded by the Pentagon as being 'more central to US military strategy in Asia', and, 'Washington will increasingly rely on Australia for some critical capabilities'. (7)  It is far enough away from actual hostilities and planned as a 'safe haven' for logistics and troop rotations.

The sympathetic diplomatic alliances between countries in the Asia-Pacific region and the US are not based upon equality. To the contrary, they are led by the US which conveniently hides behind the scenes. Other countries will fight their wars for them. Their alliances, to date, in the Asia-Pacific region have also enabled the US to use sympathetic countries to host massive EW systems to 'allow the US not only to cover all of North Korea, but also to peer deeper into China'. (8) It is the linkage between parts of these systems which reveal the existence of 'deep-state actors' in decision-making processes, in Australia and Japan.

It has been suggested 'the submarines are the single most important military capability Australia will possess'. (9) A closer look into the matter, however, has revealed questions arising about compatibility of secretive Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) facilities to the wider networks and serious doubts, by the US, about the reliability of some allies.

It has been noted, for example, a 'serious doubt that Washington will be willing to provide the US Navy's most advanced combat systems to Australian submarines if they are built by Germany or France' has arisen. (10) Fears, apparently, have arisen about the perceived inability of German and French bidders 'to protect critical defence technology from Chinese industrial espionage'. (11)

The problem would appear to have far-reaching implications for the role Australian submarines have been allocated within wider GTDS planning and provision. Reliable sources have suggested Washington has preferred Australia to operate conventional submarines rather than those adapted for nuclear use because the former 'can operate more easily and quietly in shallow waters, enabling them to hug the coastline of China or other intelligence targets without detection'. (12) The view is also supported by Don Chalmers, former head of the navy during the period 1993-95 who has been quoted as stating, 'what the US wants us to have are very quiet, smaller, less detectable submarines to help gather intelligence'. (13)

There are also important practical political considerations relating to employment matters in SA.

Australia has its own submarine manufacturing industry based at the Submarine Corporation  (ASC) in Adelaide, South Australia (SA). As a dominant part of the State Defence Industries it has been a large employer of workers of many trades with a supply-chain employing thousands more. Threats, therefore, by the right-wing Abbott Coalition government to award the submarine contracts to Japanese or other manufacturers led to a massive industrial campaign led by trade-unions to prevent job-losses in a state already undergoing turmoil with closures to the car and component industries.

The toppling of Prime Minister Abbott by Malcolm Turnbull took place largely due to the increasing unpopularity of the Coalition in SA because of job-losses. Since Turnbull assumed Prime Ministerial duties last year, however, the matter of submarine tenders has yet to be resolved. As if to add a further dimension to the controversy, Shearer, the writer of the National Interest article, was a senior advisor to Abbott, himself forced aside with the rise of Turnbull. Axes would appear to have been ground. The disclosures and 'planned leaks' reveal a great deal about the turbulence within Canberra decision-making circles. The timing of the publication of the article, as Prime Minister Turnbull made an official high-level diplomatic visit to Washington to meet President Obama, likewise, was also intended to be an embarrassment. And it has been.

Within only a few days of the disclosures, Tony Abbott casually announced he would not be retiring from politics at the next election later this year. He had every intention of pursuing his right-wing stance in future administrations, if elected once again as Prime Minister. He has also been quick to spread his pernicious influence and win support from influential sections the US Republican Party.

On a recent speaking tour of the US Abbott addressed far-right groups. One, the so-called Alliance Defending Freedom, formed part of a retinue from the previous Reagan and Bush administrations. (14) Both administrations were marked by crude anti-communist style politic, the crudeness of the political definition being anyone or any organisation which stood in opposition to the forces of capital.

Any serious study of the US political system reveals the extensive influence of shadowy, out-sourced intelligence-type organisations working as lobbyists in Washington. They tend to have a strong hold on patronage from the military-industrial complex, with numerous scholarships and employment for those regarded as 'being on-side'.

Organisations such as the Alliance for a Strong America, established by former Republican Vice-President Dick Cheney and his daughter in 2014, are a good example of such groups. It has lobbied for the US to adopt a more aggressive diplomatic position in world politics. (15) They attract retired military officials who retain contacts within defence and security.

It is therefore no great surprise the National Interest publication used by Andrew Shearer to 'leak' information about the role of the Abbott government and the submarine controversy is a journal linked to the far-right 'Reagan doctrine', linked to the Heritage Foundation and American Security Council. Their influence lurks within most corridors of power in Washington and the Pentagon.

Australian politicians such as Tony Abbott and his colleague Andrew Shearer clearly feel comfortable in their company of the US far-right, assisting with their long-time tradition for war-mongering.

The continued embarrassment surrounding the whole submarine affair and high-level diplomacy between Australia and the US, however, recently took a further turn with the release of information concerning the nature of the AN-BYG 1 EW system planned for installation in the new vessels and its compatibility to a wider system.

Some years ago the US began implementing a vast Seaweb Underwater Sensor Network (SUSN). Submarines are regarded a vital part of the system. It rests upon US Cold War-type positions with the Pentagon in command of the highly centralised communications and intelligence system. (16)

There is some contemporary history involved with the matter.

The initial tender for the AN-BYG 1 equipment was awarded by the US Sea Systems Command in Washington, for the US Navy and RAN submarines in mid-2012. (17) Secretively, decisions were taken as, it was noted last year, the US 'have already transferred much of its combat technology to Japan' for a combat system of a 'highly confidential nature' with reliance upon the US Seaweb Sensor system. (18) Officially, however, the final decision by the Australian government about Japan manufacturing the submarines has not yet been taken. The Australian government is expected to announce the winner of the submarine contracts mid-year.

The controversy surrounding the whole affair and the embarrassment it has caused escalated during the last week.

As Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop made high-level diplomatic initiatives to both China and Japan and President Obama hosted South-East Asian leaders at a Californian desert retreat, the stakes about Japanese submarine contracts appear to have raised considerably.

The desperation of the US and their regional flunkies to build the submarines in Japan was illustrated with an announcement from Tokyo-based corporate sector leader, Shunichi Miyanaga, that his government would be willing to also add 'future warships contracts in Australia and to launch satellites for the Australian government or telecommunications companies to augment its campaign for the $50 billion submarines contract'. The salesmanship, reminiscent of the buy-one-get-one-free approach, was based in diplomatic initiatives in Washington and Tokyo. (19)

Two serious points have arisen.

A statement from the highest level of the Australian defence establishment has concluded, 'our feeling is that carrying the BYG-1 into the future submarines would not be the right course of action. It should be an informed decision made after conducting a robust assessment of competing systems', has illustrated serious disquiet in Canberra. (20) Such people, clearly, have no wish to be mere playthings of US military planning with the facilitation of 'real-time data transmission and high resolution imaging' in their submarines linked into the 'most advanced US military communications' for the sole benefit of 'US interests'. (21)

Their position has also been strengthened with revelations the Coalition government in Canberra during the period Tony Abbott was PM 'pursued a plan, driven largely from Tony Abbott's office, to buy the navy's new submarines from Japan'. (22) Vital information, concerning the whole matter, was officially suppressed. (23) Abbott, clearly, headed a government regarded by the US as a compliant administration in Canberra.

Secondly, there will be federal elections in Australia this year. They will be hard fought for millions of working people. The record, to date, of the present Coalition government in defending national interests and employment for Australian workers has been dismal. Their incompetence has been a disgrace.

The issue of unemployment has suddenly become very important as tens of thousands of workers traditionally employed in the manufacturing sector lose their jobs. The submarine contracts and local manufacturing in South Australia has become a central election issue, not only for the ASC but all those linked within the supply-chain across Australia.

The whole question about control of the Australian submarine fleet and whether it will be used for genuine defence and security or military aggression against our biggest trading partner has yet to be answered.

 

4.     U.S Seeks New Asia Defences,  The Wall Street Journal, Friday-Sunday, 24-6 August 2012.

5.     Website: The National Interest (U.S.), Andrew Shearer, and, “US eyes strategic benefits from Japan subs deal”, The Australian, 22 January 2016.

6.     Ibid.

7.     Asia-Pacific Rebalance 2025, Capabilities, Presence and Partnerships, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, quoted in the Weekend Australian, 23-24 January 2016.

8.     “US signals foreign policy shift away from military might”, Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 6 June 2014.

9.     Wall Street Journal, op. cit., Friday-Sunday, 24-6 August 2012.

10.   “Cautious US gives Japan edge in subs”, the Australian, 25 January 2016.

11.   Ibid.

12.   “Why didn't we go nuclear?” the Australian, 22 January 2016.

13.   Ibid.

14.   “Don't damage marriage: Abbott”, the Australian, 29 January 2016.

15.   “Cheney rides again for tougher America”, the Australian, 2 June 2015; see also,

        “The Neo-Con Game”, The Nation, (New York), 14-21 September 2015.

16.   Website: Underwater Warfare; Magazine, US Submarine Force, Summer, 2011.

17.   Website: Signal, AFCEA Magazine, 17-19 February 2016.

18.   Website: Submarine Matters, 22 September 2015, Part Two.

19.   “Japanese warn of risks in rival subs”, the Australian, 16 February 2016.

20.   Website: Australian Defence Magazine, 18 March 2015.

21.   Website: New Communications Contract Attracting Bidders, AFR Weekend, 15 September 2015.

22.   “Japan sub talks well advanced before glitches ended deal”, the Australian, 2 March 2015.

23.   Ibid.

 

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