Australia’s DSR is set to be publicly released in March next year, however, the new Australian government is already hinting at its plans for the entire Australian Defence Force (ADF) and RAN specifically. Since a draft report was delivered to the government in November, senior figures have spoken of the government’s desire for so-called “impactful projection” and dropped hints about what this may mean for force posture and composition.
Impactful Projection and AUKUS
In a November speech to the Sydney Institute, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, Richard Marles described “Impactful Projection” as the ability for Australia to hold hostile forces at risk from long range, thereby increasing the costs associated with action against Australia or its interests.
Senior government officials have made it very clear that AUKUS is a key (or perhaps the key) to fulfilling this goal.
At the Submarine Institute of Australia (SIA), Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles told delegates that SSNs were critical to the doctrine of “impactful projection’ as they “do more impactful projection than any other platform [within the ADF] right now”.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese echoed the importance of AUKUS in comments to the Sydney Morning Herald, in which he insisted that SSNs are the “assets we need” due to rising tensions in the Indo-Pacific region. In the same interview, he also flagged that Australian Defence spending may rise above 2% of GDP in the future so that the country can acquire the capabilities it needs.
What of the surface fleet?
While the future of the submarine force has rightly captured much of the attention, concerns around the suitability, composition and timeline of the future surface fleet are also being examined by the DSR. Additional air warfare destroyers, a fleet of corvettes, and the possible divestment or upgrade of the new Arafura-class OPVs are all reportedly on the table.
Three more AWD ?
Last month, departmental officials told Parliament that an unsolicited Navantia Australia proposal to build three more Hobart class DDGs is being actively examined by the DSR and separately by the RAND Corporation as part of a risk reduction assessment. While Defence officials were tight-lipped on details, they confirmed that the RAND study (worth AUD 1 million), is examining both the acquisition and capability impacts of the proposal, which is also being informed by Navantia.
In a written response to questions on notice, Defence said that it “has been working with RAND and Navantia at the working level” and “is [currently] assessing the unsolicited proposal to purchase three Navantia destroyers.”
What fate for Arafura-class OPVs ?
Another major change, reportedly being examined by the DSR, is the possibility of either up-arming or divesting the service’s new Arafura-class OPVs, before NUSHIP Arafura has even conducted sea trials. The concern, Naval News understands, is that the OPVs are not able to contribute to any high-end scenarios, as they lack so much as a large calibre gun. One possibility, being examined, is outfitting the vessels with between four and six Kongsberg Naval Strike Missiles, which the RAN is already procuring.
Another approach, which has gained some traction, is the possibility of divesting the fleet to other government agencies (such as the Australian Border Force) and international partners (such as Papua New Guinea), and instead procuring a fleet of missile-armed corvettes.