A new Insight Economics report presents arguments for submarine capability that lean very heavily on a rather fuzzy concept; the capability gap.
Outdated terms-of-art are spread through defence policy unchallenged. They are so common, and have acquired such authority, that the need to define or explicate them is deemed unnecessary. They shut down arguments. However, terms like capability gap carry unexamined assumptions from a time when submarines, P3C-Orions, and minehunters were effective.
In relation to submarines, has the idea of a capability gap become redundant? And does it not seem odd to expect submarines to fill a capability gap in thirty plus years time?
Robert Gottliebsen has found ‘a clear warning to the Australian nation’ (‘The Australian’ 12 Feb 2020) in the Naval Shipbuilding Advisory Board (NSAB)’s recommendations. Gottliebsen construes the NSAB’s advice as a warning to the ‘nation of the risks’ which ‘may even ultimately put the alliance at risk’. He suggests that the NSAB is alluding to the possibility that the US will find a way to give Australia a combat system that is old technology.
In this article Mike questions whether Gottliebsen is right to see the NSAB’s advice as anything other than unremarkable and standard, and whether there is reason to think that the US would refuse to supply a suitable combat system. Finally, in light of the ANAO Report’s findings, Mike challenges the contention that there is evidence that Defence is not managing the project risks effectively.
When critiquing government’s strategic policy, the ‘things were better in my day’ syndrome needs to be avoided. That these decisions and the supporting background strategic analysis and assessments are always hidden from wider view by secrecy classifications and need-to-know protocols must be accepted, as must the reality that pragmatic consideration will be given to other important matters like alliance and industry policy. Still, how did SEA1000 happen?
The decision doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Even less so now that the capability solution, acquisition lead-times and the price-tag are known – and there is a clear need to consider the impact of the decision on other capabilities. Has a ‘replacement mentality’ disproportionately affected the decision? Perhaps combined with a shift in influence within goverment in favour of the Chief of the Defence Force (CDF)?
Australia’s SEA1000 Future Submarine project is back in the news following a 60% increase in the project’s cost to AUD 80 billion, and a report by the Australian National Audit Office that identified flaws in the acquisition process Mike asks the broader question of the strategic assessment that underpins an investment of this magnitude over an extended, 30-year timeframe. What sort of capability will be produced by the project, and what sort of conflict would the capability serve?