Pressure is building to expand defence sector

Comment by Peter Roberts

If you are a manufacturer in the defence business, or are diversifying into the sector, you are very likely onto a good thing.

Yes, everyone has heard the government’s boast that it has spending of $200 billion planned on new equipment, including $50 billion for submarines and $35 billion for frigates.

But wait, there is more.

Defence strategists and the defence media are abuzz about Australia’s changed strategic situation given the rise of China as a super power, rapid development capability among our Asian neighbours, and a new unreliability of the United States.

Australian National University’s Hugh White put the argument most clearly in his book How to Defend Australia published by La Trobe University Press.

We can no longer rely on the US and that means we have to prepare to go it alone, which means new strategy and far greater spending to pay for new capabilities and more, much more, of what we already have.

Hugh White said : “It means a limited role for the army beyond the continent, a much bigger submarine force, and a bigger fleet of fighter aircraft.

“…I offer a very broad estimate that we would need to spend 3.5 per cent of GDP — four per cent with nuclear weapons — to build and maintain the forces which we would need to achieve the strategic objectives I have proposed.”

This is more twice what we spend today, and the figure has set the hares racing with wish lists, even including nuclear weapons, published almost daily.

Small aircraft carriers that could carry a short take off version of our new F-35 fighters are a favourite.

One even asked the question whether Australia should aspire to be a small power, a regional force, or a major power.

The Coalition has begun the groundwork for a more independent stance by linking Defence needs more closely to the goal of developing industrial capability.

Clearly we can’t defend ourselves if we can’t make what we need.

But neither the government nor the Opposition has achieved their shared goal of spending two per cent of GDP on Defence after years of trying, let alone four.

And neither has embraced the idea that we should not continue to follow the US into conflicts such as the US administration’s current antipathy towards Iran.

Clearly the world has changed, and what we need now is a national discussion about what sort of defence stance we need – so far it is taking place only among the conflicted and the cogniscenti.

Picture: Defence/RAN fleet base, Sydney

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