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Oz sub decision of little import

The world's first submarine, Turtle, was built by American inventor David Bushnell in 1775 for use against British warships in the Revolutionary War that gave birth to the United States. Due to the single operator's lack of skill, it failed to wreak even the slightest amount of havoc


ADELAIDE – I’m struggling to see how the acquisition of American nuclear submarines necessarily binds us to its foreign policy, let alone fighting a war with it.

If the mere acquisition of US made hardware and very secret and sophisticated technology did that, then surely buying 75 F35 fighters has long since locked us into that role?

Similarly, I struggle with the idea that buying a genuinely potent weapon as a means of defence is a provocation.

This notion runs utterly contrary to the lessons of history, where the strong have always dominated the weak.

While I agree with 'The Age' that Morrison is a person who lacks much insight or foresight or even good judgement, this clearly has not been his decision alone.

Other much more knowledgeable and hard-headed operators will have examined this decision with clear eyes; eyes completely unconcerned about domestic political considerations.

They have made a judgement that the only viable option for the future, other than accepting a role as China's humble supplicant, is to create a defence force capable of inflicting real damage upon any aggressive power.

And also to closely align Australia’s foreign policy with what still are the world's greatest liberal democracies, the United States and the United Kingdom.

This is not a risk free strategy by any measure, but there is no reasonable prospect that Australia could play a role as a neutral 'honest broker' between competing powers in this region.

It lacks the economic, political and military heft to do this.

I have a great admiration for China, its history and culture.

Its people are incredibly enterprising and its achievements over the last 30 years or so are nothing short of breathtaking.

It will deservedly resume its historic place as one the world's great powers after what it regards as 'a century of humiliation' at the hands of European imperial powers.

But it is led by what I regard as the 'usual suspects' who collectively form the anti-democratic, doctrinaire, authoritarian and xenophobic Chinese Communist Party.

The CCP is led by a self-appointed 'President for Life', whose pearls of wisdom are regarded as sacrosanct and who will not tolerate disobedience in any form.

Let us all be really clear: there will be no reasoning with the CCP over what constitutes acceptable conduct in international affairs, any more than there was with Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin or any other of the long and terrible list of demagogues stretching back in human history.

This is the context within which the decision about submarines was taken, not the electoral cycle.

This submarine decision alone is not, and will not, be regarded as of great importance when the journalists settle down, and should not be invested with more significance than it deserves.

It’s easy to foresee vastly more important sources of risk in our region than a very long term plan to acquire eight submarines.

In my judgement, climate change can and will upset and perhaps overturn much of today's world order long before Australia's first nuclear submarine slides into the water.

The world faces a struggle for survival in the face of the now inevitable severe and challenging consequences of climate change.

This seems to me to be vastly more likely to trigger warfare than eight submarines.

By the way, there are an estimated 450 submarines in operation, 300 of them in four countries: North Korea, China, the United States and Russia.


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Bernard Corden

It was not that long ago that the Department of Defence was forced to scavenge bits and pieces from the HMAS Otway at the submarine museum in Holbrook.

Philip Fitzpatrick

I can just imagine the scene in 2040 or thereabouts.

Rescuers out in their small boats off the Gold Coast diligently cutting away to free the Australian nuclear submarine tangled in a shark net.

Arthur Williams

We are said to learn lessons from history. We heard in 2017 that the first Allied submarine in action in World War I had been located in waters off the Duke of York Islands.

It was Australia's ill-fated A1 which had possibly been supporting the Bitapaka Wireless Station attack in Rabaul. The boat disappeared on 14 September 1914 for 103 years.

Her sister boat A2 is said to have been the only Australian sub to have ever fired in anger during its short lived five days in the Gallipoli shambles, where it was scuttled on 30 April 1915.

Since those early days Australia had two more attempts to have a submarine service but was unable to have any boats in operational service during World War II apart from a training submarine.

In 1964 a fourth attempt was successful and led to the formation of the current service; initially with six British made boats.

It was only in the 1990s with the Cold war ended that Australia decided, perhaps persuaded even then by the UK or USA that it still needed subs and so began building its own Collins class boats in Adelaide.

They were due to be phased out by 2026 and France was contracted to build six boats for the Australian submarine service. That contract now been scrapped due to 'the usual historical Anglo-Saxon perfidy' as Macron would describe it over a glass of wine.

Then there was the case of HMAS Orion, which in October 1992 had to abort its cold war surveillance off Vietnam because of a fishing net.

You can read the story at - 2013/11/14 - 'Missions of secret Australian submarines during the Cold War revealed'

Chris Overland

Just to briefly take up Ed Brumby's point about China's super power status.

While I agree that it is already a major power, it is not yet the 'super power' that people assume it is.

For example, its undoubtedly powerful economy is still heavily reliant upon export income, with its internal consumer economy relatively weak as an engine of overall economic growth.

This makes it much more vulnerable to trade disruptions than many people suppose.

Also, it is too heavily reliant upon the domestic construction industries to drive GDP growth.

Many of the huge corporations involved are heavily in debt and very vulnerable to even a quite modest economic downtown. Australia is, in practice, in very much the same position.

For those who may doubt this, you can read about the current woes of the Evergrande Corporation and the problems they are creating for the Chinese government.

In relation to military power, the People's Liberation Army has undergone a huge modernisation and expansion program.

New ships are being built at a furious rate, including a third aircraft carrier. Progress also is being made on developing a fifth generation fighter for the air force. Superficially at least, the Chinese military is a power to be reckoned with.

However, the truth is that its aircraft carriers are not in the same class as the US, British and French carriers, plus the PLAN (Navy) lacks operational experience with these immensely complicated weapons systems.

This means that the operational effectiveness of these major naval assets is less than optimal.

Similarly, while China has built a fifth generation fighter it is widely understood that the engines used in this fighter are not in the same league as those used in either the Russian Sukoi Su-57 or the US F22 fighters.

Also, it seems improbable that the Chinese jet's combat systems can match either of the aircraft mentioned.

The Chinese plane is not necessarily bad, just not the best in its class. This matters where very small technological improvements translate into very serious combat advantages.

Overall, China's ability to defend itself is now hugely greater than a few short years ago but its capacity to project its power much beyond its shores is open to question.

There are no Chinese equivalents to a US Carrier Battlegroup, hence its decision to militarise atolls in the South China Sea.

I could go on in this vein for some time but think that the above examples illustrate my point.

Yes, China is a major economic and military power but it probably is not yet able to match the US in terms of projecting that power and thus it is not yet a global power in the sense that the USSR was.

Australia's decision to buy nuclear submarines is irksome to the Chinese government not because it poses an existential threat to its interests but because it introduces another set of variables into an already very complex defence environment.

Also, it is an act of defiance which offends the Chinese government's growing sense of itself as a power which must be obeyed, not challenged.

The Chinese military know that even a conventionally armed nuclear submarine is fast, has tremendous endurance, is very, very hard to detect and is capable of delivering a serious blow to any and all surface ships in a combat situation. It is another problem that they could do without.

Of course, this is the very reason that Australia has decided to buy this weapon system.

That decision is a rational response to the overt threats made and trade sanctions imposed by the Chinese government in its thoroughly disproportionate response to Australia's admittedly ill advised and unhelpful statements about the origins of Covid 19.

In many respects this entire process to date demonstrates the sort of inexorable logic that can lead to disaster.

Each action by one antagonist provokes a reaction from its opposite number.

Each step in the process may be rational in itself but leads those involved ever closer to an outcome that no-one wants and certainly did not predict.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Michael Pascoe, writing for 'The New Daily' offers an interesting and believable take on the machiavellian possibilities behind the submarine purchase, particularly who might have been pulling Scott Morrison's strings.

Ed Brumby

I think, Chris, that China is already "one of the world's great powers". Why else are we engaged in the current display of posturing?

Paul Oates

Spot on Chris. It will be easy to see who the CCP sycophants are when the posturing claims are made about what should be our own decision affecting our own nation's defence.

Since Australia became a nation, we have not been noted for grand designs on subjugating other nations and have tried to help others instead.

While our political leaders may have their faults, these pale into insignificance when compared to those current dictators and authoritative leaders who brook no opposition at all.

The media posturing aside, greater issues are about to take prominence than a paltry few submarines that will help reduce the CO2 in the world. That is, if we ever bring some of these boats into operation.

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