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Interoperability and US military planning for the Indo-Pacific

Written by: (Contributed) on 18 December 2020


Australian government decision-makers involved with a defence contract for acquisition of helicopters have revealed the central importance of inter-operability for the Pentagon and their use for rapid deployments with regional military operations.

Together with compatibility of sensitive military equipment, the US has increasingly relied upon its two regional hubs, Australia and Japan, for military and security provision aligned with 'US interests'.

Both hubs have, subsequently, been pushed into front-line positions by US regional foreign policy, with conventional military considerations and softer-style diplomacy both having the same aim of reasserting traditional hegemonic positions.

The position is fraught with dangers as rising diplomatic tensions could easily escalate into real war scenarios.

Three former members of the Australian Defence Forces now sitting as M.P.s in Canberra have lodged a suggestion that the European-designed ARH Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopter in present use should be decommissioned in favour of two other US-manufactured systems. (1) The three, Liberal M.P.s Andrew Hastie and Phillip Thomson together with ALP M.P. Luke Gosling, apparently favour the Boeing-manufactured Apache AH64E or the Bell-manufactured AH-17 Viper systems.

The reasoning behind the decision has ostensibly been due to the ARH Tiger being plagued with problems and a flight-cost of $34,000 per hour. While the helicopter is no longer in production, which has raised problems of on-going maintenance and spare parts, cost has never really been an issue in defence circles. They tend to be big spenders: the defence department does not usually conduct its business on the basis of cost-effectiveness or chasing special offers.

Other factors, therefore, would appear to have been considered with the decision-making.
The Apache and Viper technical specifications note they are 'fully integrated with Australian and US weapons systems'; as the Pentagon has undergone moves to upgrade military equipment and ensure compatibility for real-war scenarios, inter-operability has become a key jargon word. (2)

Last year, official Pentagon media releases included reference to the strategic significance of military facilities in Australia's northern areas. (3) It was noted that 'Australia's Top End air bases were seen as a valuable strategic asset by the US in its military planning'. (4) The country is a southern regional hub for 'US interests' with Japan as a northern counterpart. Much of the US-led military planning toward the two hubs is remarkably similar; both countries have been pushed into front-line positions for regional operations.

The recent high-level diplomatic talks between Australia and Japan, for example, noted both countries were 'strategic partners and work closely together on trade, security, defence'. (5)

The use, by US military personnel, of Australian and Japanese facilities is not for logistics, storage and training; it is a vital part of US-led military planning for regional operations. Following the recent high-level diplomatic talks between Australia and Japan an official media release noted 'our defence forces can … now … operate in and around Japan and Japanese self-defence forces can operate in and around Australia … this new agreement is driven by Australia-Japan strategic concord'. (6)

The US-led military planning has drawn both hubs ever closer to real-war scenarios where an official media release noted Canberra had already entered 'grey zone operations just below the level of open conflict' in the region. (7)   

Reference, therefore, to the recent Canberra defence talks and a suggestion the Viper was 'ready made for engagements across our sprawling archipelagic region made up of thousands of islands with a lot of ocean between them', together and that the 'the Viper would be interoperable with those flown by US Marines in Darwin', leave little to the imagination about US-led military planning for the wider region. (8)

The moves have been accompanied by two further considerations: a recent US-led military exercise, and the use of softer-style US-led regional diplomacy thrust upon Australia.

The recent US-led Noble Fury military exercise included training provision for the capturing of remote islands and atolls which form part of strategic chains of small landmasses with the use of guerrilla-style tactics. The 'expeditionary advanced base operations' were planned for strategic areas and included rapid deployment for US-led personnel to move quickly between strategic targets on the basis of 'shoot and scoot'. (9)  

In recent times US-led regional military planning has focussed upon Island Chain Theory for demarcation and defence and security provision. It is aimed at containing and encircling China's influence across the region by restricting their access and egress.

It is, therefore, important to note the recent Noble Fury exercise is expected to be fully operational at the start of the next decade, with helicopter provision being a central part of the military planning. (10) US-led military planning will increasingly focus upon strengthening strategic island chains; the proposed acquisition of either the Apache or Viper helicopters has coincided with other US-led military plans, inter-operability is regarded as essential.

Secondly, a recent reference made by outgoing US ambassador to Australia, Arthur Culvahouse, that, 'America … wants … to reassert its role in key multilateral bodies … in co-operation with countries such as Australia', has revealed greater diplomatic responsibilities have been placed upon Australia by the US. (11) It has placed Australia in a difficult position, with both military and diplomatic considerations; similar responsibilities have also been thrust upon Japan.

                                           We need an independent foreign policy!

1.     MPs want US chopper to replace 'disastrous' Tiger, Australian, 14 December 2020.
2.     Ibid.
3.     Strategic alliance in north enthuses visiting US chiefs, Australian, 22 August 2019.
4.     PM to meet Japan's Suga on home soil, Australian, 13 November 2020.
5.     Australian, op.cit., 22 August 2019.
6.     Trip emphasis that we and Japan are natural partners, Australian, 18 November 2019.
7.     The alliance is safe, The Weekend Australian, 14-15 November 2020.
8.     Australian, op.cit., 14 December 2020.
9.     US marines move fast to 'shoot and scoot', Australian, 22 October 2020.
10.   Ibid.
11.   Washington has work to do whoever wins, says envoy, Australian, 14 November 2020.


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