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Federal election and the khaki component

Written by: (Contributed) on 17 May 2022


Any doubts about the Morrison coalition government's attempt to make the 2022 federal election one steeped in US-led militarism, can easily be dispelled by their last-minute announcements about their acquisition of over forty naval helicopters from the US together with other related diplomatic hostilities toward the Solomon islands.

The manner in which the announcement about the helicopters was finally made in Canberra has raised serious questions about the nature of the political and diplomatic standpoint taken by the outgoing Morrison coalition government. 

Meanwhile, Labor is complaining that it was shut out of preliminary AUKUS discussions and hoping that their loyalty to the US – verified by the US desire to have them involved at the start – will defuse any wedging  in a “khaki contest”.

A short single column in the Australian, days before the federal election, announced that the Department of Defence would be purchasing 29 Boeing-built AH-64E Apache helicopters and a further thirteen Sikorsky MH-60R Romeo helicopters, to replace existing Airbus ARH Tiger helicopters. (1)

The helicopters are designed for use in military operations from naval vessels at sea. An official Department of Defence comment, however, noted 'the new helicopters will be used to fly cargo and personnel between ships at sea in the embarked logistical support helicopter role and fitted out to carry up to five passengers'. (2) No information was provided about the specific role of the five 'passengers' and whether they would be deployed for operating sensitive military equipment.

The detailed costing of the acquisitions amount to more than A$2.5 bn and they will be based at HMAS Albatross, in NSW. (3) The main naval-air base also hosts an Electronic Warfare Support Section, indicating the sophisticated radar and signals systems in the 'armed reconnaissance helicopters', would be used primarily for intelligence-gathering. (4)

They are scheduled for delivery in 2025, following concern in the department about the reliability of the Airbus systems which have been plagued with problems. It was also officially noted the 'Tiger suffered from communications systems compatibility issues', indicating difficulties had arisen linking its operations with US-led defence and security provision. (5) The Pentagon, with its main focus upon the Indo-Pacific region, has enhanced Australia's position for future regional operations in recent times; their emphasis is now based on the notion of 'real-war scenarios' with Australia having a decisive position. Compatibility of military and signals communications, particularly those in the areas of intelligence and operations have, therefore, become an issue of paramount importance.

During his election campaign, PM Scott Morrison, has continually played the military option to boost the coalition's political position. It would appear, however, to have not worked according to plan; the coalition have fallen heavily in opinion polls with present cabinet ministers likely to lose their seats. The whole coalition organisation has been plagued with serious in-fighting, which has increasingly spilled over into the public arena.

Morrison, nevertheless, announced during the election campaign that, 'our world and our region are changing but we're investing a record $270 bn in the defence and security of Australia over the decade to 2030'. (6) Elsewhere, carefully worded media releases emphasised 'the government's plan for a safe and secure Australia in the face of regional and global uncertainty'. (7) It would appear to have fallen rather flat with the electorate.

Another Morrison ploy during the election campaign has been to create widespread innuendo and speculation following the Solomon Islands switching their diplomatic alliance from Taiwan to China, which has included numerous added speculative references that Beijing might attempt to establish military facilities in the South Pacific country. (8) Not one scrap of evidence, however, has been provided to substantial the claims. A daily deluge of diplomatic hostility toward Solomon's Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, nevertheless, has included continual references to his ruling administration in Honiara as not being on-side with the Australian vision of 'our Pacific family' and accompanied by little other than political muck-raking. (9)

Anyone expecting a more independent position to emerge under Labor, if it wins the election, should have no doubt about its loyalty to US imperialism. For months, Albanese and Wong have been repeating the mantra that the US “alliance” was a Labor creation, developed by Labor PM Curtin during World War 2. They are right, of course, and their “bipartisan support” for AUKUS and the switch to US nuclear submarines, and their boasting about having established the US marine base outside Darwin, are testimony to their subservience to imperialism.

The final moves by the Morrison coalition clique leave little doubt they are staging a khaki election campaign, designed to whip up sub-rational hysterical fears amid a fug of nationalist sentiment about 'Australian values'. The decision to purchase the Apache and Romeo naval helicopters was apparently included in the March federal budget, but noted it was 'kept secret … under the heading decision taken but not yet announced'. (10) The timing of the announcement was left until the election campaign was well under-way.

It was, furthermore, later officially reported the Morrison government had approached the US in October 2021, with the specific intention of requesting availability and pricing data. (11) The move was kept secret to avoid unnecessary controversy:

                                       We need an independent foreign policy!


1.     Choppers to have $8 bn price tag, Australian, 9 May 2022; and, Australia details Romeo, Apache helicopter acquisitions, Janes, 9 March 2022.
2.     Navy backs Romeo advantage, Indo Pacific supplement, Australian, 10 May 2022.
3.     Janes, op.cit., 9 March 2022.
4.     Ibid.
5.     Australian, op.cit, 9 May 2022.
6.     Ibid.
7.     Ibid.
8.     See: Election 22, 'Rogue PM holding Solomons back', Australian, 10 May 2022; and,Long history to Beijing's move to capture Sogavare, Editorial, Australian, 10 May 2022.
9.     History of neglect fuels our Pacific family feud, The Weekend Australian, 7-8 May 2022.
10.   Australian, op.cit., 9 May 2022.
11.   Indo Pacific supplement, op.cit., Australian, 10 May 2022.


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