Showing posts with label Australian defense. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Australian defense. Show all posts

Monday, August 19, 2013

Nuclear submarines for Australia

Several years ago, I brought up the important subject of Australia's antiquated submarine fleet, and the question of an ideal replacement model:

— 26 December 2007, Australia's submarines [display]

— 2 January 2008, Australian arithmetic [display]

I evoked the idea that Australia might examine the feasibility of a French nuclear-powered vessel such as the Barracuda.


This interesting question of nuclear-powered vessels has given rise to a recent report entitled Nuclear submarines for Australia [display]. A link to the original green paper on this subject written by specialists at UCL [University College London] can be found here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Australia's future fighter planes

Two-and-a-half years ago, on 1 March 2010, my blog post entitled Australia's choice of fighter planes [display] suggested that my native country would do well to compare the French Rafale with the aircraft on order, the US Joint Strike Fighter.

Towards the end of last year, doubts concerning the evolution of the US project provoked a statement by the Australian Minister of Defence.


His words were reproduced in The Sydney Morning Herald dated 7 December 2011 [display].
Australia has set aside up to $16 billion to buy 100 of the planes, but the Minister for Defence, Stephen Smith, has already warned that any cuts to the program could force Australia to reconsider its orders for the fighter beyond the first 14, which are to be delivered by 2014 at a cost of $3.2 billion.
Today, in the French press, there's an interesting article [display] entitled Et si Dassault convainquait les Américains d'acheter le Rafale? That tongue-in-cheekish title asks a rhetorical question: And what if Dassault convinced the US to purchase the Rafale?

In the Breton city of Brest this morning, at a colloquium on European defense, the director of Dassault, Charles Edelstenne, took to the floor for a totally unexpected little speech, which included the following statement concerning the US project, whose total costs have skyrocketed by 50 percent in the space of a few years:
The present difficulties are just a beginning. As soon as the systems attain their age of maturity, things will become far more complex. The unit cost has already overtaken that of the Rafale, in spite of the fact that the volume of orders for the F-35 is ten times superior [to that of the Rafale].
He added jokingly:
The Americans call the program TINA, meaning "There is no alternative". On the contrary, an alternative exists: the Rafale, an aircraft that has been proven both technically and financially.

These remarks should be interpreted within the context of the so-called "Smart Defense" approach that might be adopted in Europe, involving the large-scale mutualization of defense resources, and a "Buy European" attitude. But Edelstenne's remarks might be little more than wishful thinking.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Australia's choice of fighter planes

I started my professional life in France, in 1965, as a technical writer concerned with the Cyrano radar system of Thomson-CSF for fighter aircraft. Later on, I worked in audiovisual production with my friend François de Rivals, former Dassault test pilot.

Last Thursday, February 25, 2010, a surprising article appeared in The Australian, signed by Cameron Stewart: Scientists warned defence department against Joint Strike Fighter [display]. The gist of this fascinating scoop is that a study carried out ten years ago by the internal group known as the DSTO [Defence Science and Technology Organisation] warned the federal government of the risks that would be incurred through a choice of the US aircraft known as the JSF [Joint Strike Fighter]. In spite of these warnings, the government of John Howard signed an order in 2002 to purchase a hundred JSFs for $16 billion: the biggest Australian defense purchase in history.

Today, I would not be particularly dismayed, retrospectively, by this secretive Aussie style of doing defense business were it not for the fact that the DSTO study contains scathing criticism of the other available options if Australia were to reject the JSF choice. These options included, in particular, the US F-15E and the French Rafale. According to the article in The Australian, the study concluded that the French aircraft had weaknesses described as follows:

"France's Rafale had an unreliable and weak engine."

"Rafale has short-term shortfalls in engine and radar performance."

Insofar as the virtual JSF product, at that time, existed only on paper, it can be said retrospectively that Australia plunged blindly into the US program, inspired primarily by Howard's attachments to his time-honored protector. Today, it's too late to change things, but the publication of last week's revelations in Australia demands an informal French reaction concerning the unjust criticism of the illustrious Rafale fighter, which is a proven masterpiece produced by Dassault Aviation.

Last December, during a giant international encounter organized by the United Arab Emirates, the Dassault Rafale, in spite of its "unreliable and weak engine" and its "shortfalls in engine and radar performance", proved itself a superior killer. Today, the only aircraft that is in fact technologically superior to the Dassault Rafale is the American F-22. But it costs three times the price of a Rafale, and it's not a polyvalent aircraft capable of air/ground and air/sea actions.

Meanwhile, the American JSF project seems to be moving head-first into a brick wall of technical and financial problems... whose consequences will be felt inevitably, sooner or later, by Australia.

Believe me (or rather, believe Dassault and the facts):
There's nothing wrong with the Rafale!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Disappearing trick

As everybody knows [well, let's say, everybody with a good Catholic education], a strange event once took place on August 15. Mary took off skywards, literally, clothes and all, in what must be classified as the second case in world history of gravitational escape... not counting the flight of pterosaurs and phoenixes, and setting aside the hordes of angels and other heavenly creatures such as fairies, pixies, winged sprites and Irish leprechauns, goblins, hobgoblins, witches on magic broomsticks, etc. As everybody knows, prior to the so-called Assumption of Mary, there had been the equally spectacular Ascension of her son.

Compared with such happenings, the disappearing trick that occurred yesterday in the website of a high-quality Australian newspaper was a trivial stunt, but it's nevertheless interesting. Unless I happened to have been momentarily bewitched (which is not impossible, but rather unlikely), I claim to have witnessed with my own eyes a fascinating article, of a highly critical nature, on Australia's defense system. Now, this is an interesting topic that I've already mentioned in my blog:

Australia's submarines, 26 December 2007 [display]

Australian arithmetic, 2 January 2008 [display]

Expensive, aesthetic and nasty, 21 January 2008 [display]

I made a mental note of yesterday's article, saying to myself that it might be a good subject for a blog article... in spite of the fact that, these days, I no longer have much to say about my native land. Well, today, when I tried to find this article, I was surprised to discover that, overnight, it had completely disappeared into thin air, leaving no traces whatsoever.

In a neighboring domain, I have a trivial but significant Australian anecdote to relate. There's a web forum that gathers together Australian bloggers. A few weeks ago, I submitted a short calmly-written post concerning a question that has often interested me, particularly since my trip to Australia in 2006. Why does a supposedly prosperous nation such as Australia, with immense riches in the earth, continue to suffer from a relatively underdeveloped infrastructure (roads, railways, bridges, telecom, defense system, etc) ? I imagined that, since bloggers are supposed to be talkative and well-informed folk, I would get some worthwhile factual answers to my question. What I wanted to learn, in a nutshell, was the amount of tax from mineral sales that is actually invested in the Australian infrastructure. Alas, a forum moderator sent me a polite email to say that they were not prepared to publish my post.

Your discussion related to infrastructure comes very close to crossing the line relating to what is fair game on the Forums. We do not allow political discussions. I encourage you to steer readers to your blog if you wish to start a discussion in this area. I do not think that it would take long for any discussion along the lines that you have started to get political.

Will there be medals in Beijing for catching up with China in the time-honored game called censorship?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Death of a bloody Asian dictator

I was amazed and sickened to find a reputed journalist in The Australian coming out with a lengthy and laudatory obituary for Indonesia's Suharto. In praising the way in which Suharto slaughtered opponents after he came to power in 1965, Greg Sheridan writes: "It is difficult to imagine what Australia might have been like had Indonesia become a communist nation in the mid-1960s. Everything we know of Southeast Asian development and success would have been absent from history, and tyranny and social failure on a massive scale would have replaced it. Australia’s defence budget over three decades might have been three or four times as high as it was. We could have developed as a fearful, isolated and perhaps even militaristic society. This is all speculation, but a communist Indonesia would have fundamentally changed Australian history."

What a curious style of thinking aimed at justifying retrospectively the emergence of a bloody tyrant. Sheridan paints a depressing picture of Australia standing apathetically on the sidelines and applauding the efforts of a dictator doing his appalling dirty work in a neighboring nation. Is that really the spirit of foreign affairs in Australia?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Expensive, aesthetic and nasty

An inspired TV journalist once asked the Dalai Lama: "Can your beliefs in reincarnation and your unbounded respect for all forms of life be reconciled with the case, say, of a mosquito that's intent upon settling on your arm and sucking your blood?" The grinning Dalai Lama said he would try to shoo the creature away. The journalist insisted: "But what if the mosquito fails to go away, because it's determined to bite you?" The Dalai Lama broke into typical laughter and made it clear by a few unmistakable gestures that, in such circumstances, the creature stood a good chance of being squashed to death. I admired the Dalai Lama's suggestion that it's all very well to have lofty principles... but, if an alien creature is attacking you, then it's perfectly normal to exterminate the vicious little bugger. [On the other hand, maybe I totally misunderstood what the wise man was saying.]

I can't say I've ever felt the need to respect religiously all forms of life, because I grew up in an environment where it was quite normal to kill various animals: snakes, rabbits, hens, ducks, etc. It's true, though, that I was overcome by pangs of guilt for several days, at around the age of ten, after having shot an unsuspecting bird with a catapult. [Even today, I remain so marked by that anecdote that I recently wove it into my fictional biography of Master Bruno, the medieval hermit who founded the Carthusian order of Christian monks.] I'm not cynical to the point of saying that rules are made to be broken, but I believe that we have the right—and the obligation, at times—to stretch them to their breaking point... and what the hell if they snap! That's why I like the Dalai Lama's loose attitude towards offensive mosquitoes, as opposed, say, to the dogmatic outlook of many Christian prelates concerning aborted foetuses or human stem cells.

In a neighboring moral domain, I've never been an all-out pacifist, either. For example, I've always been horrified by the alleged "turning the other cheek" principle of Christianity [which, I believe, has rarely been put into regular practice]. If I had been a Christian in one of Rome's martyrdom arenas, I would have used every possible means at my disposal in order to kill the beasts before they killed me.

And that brings me to the subject of the present post: modern machines of destruction. I was happy to see that some privileged Australian military personnel have been undergoing training in France in the context of the purchase by my native land of several Franco-German combat helicopters of the Tiger class. Now, if you haven't seen these diabolical but fascinating beasts in action, you might take a look at the following spectacular video:



Jumping from helicopters to submarines [metaphorically], I feel obliged to add a few remarks concerning the subject I tackled briefly in my article of 2 January 2008 entitled Australian arithmetic [display]. Otherwise, I could be accused of expressing opinions and then leaving them hanging up in the air, without following them right on through. Let me repeat rapidly the essential points of my reflections concerning the high price of Australia's future submarines. The Australian press had announced that our country would be spending 25 billion dollars to build six diesel-powered vessels, and I made the remark that French nuclear-powered combat submarines of the Barracuda class can be purchased for 36% of that outlay: a billion euros per submarine.

At the same time that I made those remarks publicly in my blog, I got into direct contact with Ross Babbage, chairman of the Kokoda Foundation in Canberra. He's the man who actually signed the Kokoda paper #4 of April 2007, which was the main source of the media articles that had presented this submarine affair to the public, as explained in my article of 26 December 2007 entitled Australia's submarines [display]. Ross Babbage reacted kindly by sending me (airmail to France) a complimentary copy of his report, along with helpful explanations that clarify the situation considerably. Here are the precise words on this subject from the Kokoda paper #4:

... simply replacing the Collins Class submarines with a new class of six submarines would probably cost $12-$15 billion. Modernising and adapting Australia's total underwater capabilities to meet the needs of potential defence contingencies in the 2025-2050 timeframe would probably require expenditures in the order of $20-$25 billion.

In other words, we are down to a unit price of $2-$2.5 billion per vessel. Expressed in European currency, that's a unit price between 1.2 and 1.5 billion euros. It's still 20% to 50% more expensive than the ultramodern French nuclear-powered Barracuda submarine, but we're down to sensible figures. Incidentally, the expression "Australia's total underwater capabilities" includes, besides the six future submarines, such costly matters as RAN anti-submarine warfare capabilities and RAAF underwater-surveillance capabilities.

Now, the Antipodes blog is hardly the right place to get deeply involved in affairs of this kind. All I wish to say, by way of a conclusion, is that I was rather surprised by the relatively "lightweight" nature of the Kokoda paper, which is a tiny printed booklet of no more than 64 pages. I had been expecting that the so-called "paper" would be a dense fact-filled report stored, maybe, on a set of DVDs. On the contrary, it skims through the domain of submarines with no attempt whatsoever at attaining depth. Astonishing in the case of a report on submarines...

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Australian arithmetic

During my short trip to Australia in 2006, I was shocked to discover that there were no trains to a couple of NSW towns that I wished to visit (Braidwood and Byron Bay), and I was further surprised to find that the only way of crossing the river at Grafton was by means of the antiquated bridge over which I used to pedal my bicycle when I was a boy.

Since then, I've got into the habit of asking naive questions about Australia's infrastructures. Why do Australians never stop boasting about the fabulous wealth of their land, while still tolerating old-fashioned infrastructures that are often like those of a developing nation? A friend tried to tell me recently that the respective infrastructures of France and Australia cannot be compared because... there are three times as many tax-payers in France as in Australia. This analysis is rubbish, of course. When Australia sells a mountain of precious minerals to foreign purchasers, her potential income from the deal has nothing whatsoever to do with the number of Aussies paying taxes. It's a matter of complex political, economic and business considerations that determine what percentage of such wealth will return to Australian citizens, and how much will be left in the hands of greedy international capitalists. It's childishly naive to imagine that the quality of Australia's roads, bridges and railway lines depends necessarily and exclusively upon the financial resources resulting from income tax paid by Aussie wage-earners. That is not only bad arithmetic; it's bad politics. And you can't run a country on such idiotic principles. If indeed the mountains of minerals that we're peddling to foreign buyers don't enable the citizens of Australia to take advantage of decent infrastructures, then our nation's leaders should halt immediately the sale of these mountains of minerals, while we do some serious thinking about what has gone wrong.

Let me turn my attention to another kind of infrastructure. In my articles entitled Australia's submarines [display] and Nuclear energy [display], I referred to an aspect of Australia's future defense system that has given rise to articles in the local press over the last few days. All these articles repeat the same huge investment figure: some 25 billion dollars for six future submarines. Now, this is typically the kind of situation in which a citizen, instead of believing naively what he hears, has the right and the possibility to do some independent thinking. Let's talk in euros. The unit cost of each of Australia's future submarines amounts to 2.75 billion euros. And what is Australia going to receive for this sum? An old-fashioned vessel that runs on diesel oil. My God, that's a lot of cash for a diesel boat!

By way of comparison, let us look at the production of one of the world's most advanced nations in the field of nuclear-propelled submarines: France. It just so happens that France, like Australia, is currently planning to renew its fleet of six attack submarines. The future model is known as the Barracuda, and it will be constructed in the Cherbourg shipyards in Normandy.

The Barracuda vessels will, of course, be propelled by nuclear energy. So, they will be intrinsically far more sophisticated than Australia's classic vessels. And the Barracuda's unit cost price? One billion euros. In other words, Australia's classic submarine, to be delivered in 2025, will be 2.75 times as expensive as France's avant-garde nuclear vessel, to be delivered eight years earlier, in 2017.

Is there something wrong with my arithmetic? Or is there maybe something wrong with Australia's political thinking about the nation's allegedly high-priced infrastructures?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Australia's submarines

It has just been announced that Australia plans to build "the world's most lethal conventional submarine fleet". That curious expression is an example of the propensity to exaggerate whenever Australians talk about Australia. It's a little like referring, say, to "the world's most powerful horse-cavalry division". If foreign navies throughout the world were to reach a gentlemen's agreement with Australia to the effect that only classic diesel-powered submersible vessels would be employed in future underwater conflicts with the Royal Australian Navy, then we would probably be in a relatively comfortable situation. But, if an uncouth enemy were to ignore the rules of the game by using attack submarines of the nuclear-powered SSN class (not to be confused with submarines that actually launch nuclear missiles), then Australia's antiquated SSG models might not be nearly as "deadly" as claimed.

Australia's recent history in the submarine domain, dating from the Bob Hawke era and culminating in the existence of six faulty Australian-made Collins-class vessels, has been catastrophic, from both a financial and a technological viewpoint. Will the situation be better when these old-fashioned mediocre submarines (whose computer systems are off-the-shelf products from Raytheon) are replaced around 2025 by the newer models, to be manufactured by the same shipbuilder?

As an outside observer knowing little about defense strategies in general and submarines in particular, I have the impression that the decision that has just been announced has been largely inspired by the cogitations of an Australian think tank named Kokoda.

For $22 you can even purchase a paper signed by Ross Babbage, dated April 2007, entitled Australia's Future Underwater Operations and System Requirements. Although I haven't yet invested in a copy of this report (and no doubt never will, because I've got more exciting stuff to read), I'm convinced that the decision of the Royal Australian Navy reflects intimately the thinking of the above-named author. So, it would appear to be a blatant case of one-man thinking. What a tank for submarines! Incidentally, at the Kokoda website, the summary of Babbage's report is accompanied by a quaint drawing:

Don't you agree with me that this rudimentary sketch looks like an illustration from an old volume by Jules Verne? If you look closely, you can even see a midget robot submarine that has emerged from the entrails of the mother vessel. Believe it or not, this is an authentic aspect of Australia's future submarine fleet. Vicious little unmanned tadpoles will be expected to do all the dirty work while the host vessel sits quietly on the seabed, trying to remain undetected.

Recently, I got into a discussion with an Australian friend concerning the antiquated nature of the transport infrastructure in New South Wales. I was thinking primarily of roads, bridges and railway lines. He reacted simplistically by claiming that the volume of tax revenues in Australia is insufficient to cover expenditure in this domain. Now, that sounds to me like naive bullshit. In Australia, the land is composed of metaphorical gold. Theoretically, there are more than enough riches in Australia's soil to build the world's greatest roads, bridges, railway lines and nuclear-powered submarines. There's enough uranium in Australia to power all the nuclear vessels of all the navies of the globe. The only vital natural resource that is totally lacking in Australia is political consciousness. The concept of statesmanship is unknown in Australia. Politicians get elected because they promise, say, to lower interest rates for wage-earners paying mortgages on their suburban houses. Australians voters simply don't comprehend the notion of electing an individual with political wisdom, vision, imagination and profound humanitarian moral principles (as distinct from the candidate's uninteresting personal beliefs of a religious kind). For loud-mouthed snake-oil candidates, seeking to be elected, mythical Australia is the richest land on Earth... and I agree with them a priori. But, for elected representatives of the nation, there's never enough cash in the coffers to build a safe road, a modern bridge, a decent train service or a self-respecting nuclear-powered submarine.

An article in this morning's The Australian says: Although Defence has not yet ruled out the possibility of Australia acquiring nuclear-powered submarines, this option is considered highly unlikely on strategic, practical and political grounds.

Note the final adjective: political. That's what I was saying a moment ago: Australia is simply not mature enough, politically, to own a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines. As the old saying goes, or might have gone: Every nation has the submarines it deserves.