by David Archibald
(Connor Court, Ballarat, 2015)
Paperback: 258 pages
Reviewed by Hal G.P. Colebatch
Since its foundation, the publishing house of Connor Court has built up an excellent stable of writers, many of whom would otherwise be condemned to totenschweigtaktic (death by silence) by the left-dominated literary industry.
Australia’s Defence by David Archibald is an impressive and alarming book by a well-qualified scientist with a prodigious grasp of defence facts.
Since the Turnbull regime appointed a Minister of Defence (in Marise Payne) with no discernible record of interest or qualifications in the subject, the problems Archibald calls attention to have become, for Australia, perhaps even more acute.
Archibald sees a coming war between China and Japan as probable, if not inevitable, now that America has turned in its sheriff’s badge and abandoned its role as a keeper of international law and order.
China is fortifying and building airstrips on a number of reefs and islets in the South China Sea, which actually lie much closer to other countries than they do to China. Some of these were previously completely submerged at low tide, and obviously uninhabitable.
The Philippines has tried to establish title to one by running a ship upon it. The wretched crew is still aboard, under a state of siege by Chinese ships. Taiwan has a garrison on one of the larger islands.
China has no particular title to these reefs apart from its own insistence on the fact, but the forts and airstrips look to give it a stranglehold on the vast amount of traffic that passes in and out of the western Pacific (our greenies don’t seem to worry about the pristine coral reefs being buried under concrete and flak towers).
China, Archibald argues, is still burning to avenge the shame of the unequal treaties of the 19th century, a grievance which its rulers attempt to foster and keep alive in its peoples’ minds. Its other long-standing grievance is Japan’s invasion in the 1930s, including the atrocious rape of Nanking.
He believes Japan is still more militarily powerful than China, and, of course, its navy has a great fighting tradition. It has scrapped its pacifist constitution and is building up its armed forces, obviously to counter China.
However, Archibald also believes that if China were losing the war, its own rulers, with their heads (literally) on the line and nothing to lose, would not hesitate to use nuclear weapons. Japan, too, could quickly acquire a nuclear capability. China’s rulers may, however, be making a mistake it they assume the present weakness, irresolution and appeasement by America is a permanent state of affairs rather than the aberration of an extraordinarily weak president.
In such a war, there would be a strong likelihood of Australia getting involved.
Procurement in dire straits
Archibald’s criticisms of Australia’s present defence procurement policies are as alarming as his international scenario. The new F-35 fighters, of which Australia has agreed to buy 70, are, he argues, so astronomically expensive that they will suck the defence budget dry, and are an inferior aircraft by modern standards.
Originally intended as light bombers, they are clumsy and ill armed, and have proved sitting ducks in simulated combat exercises. Two have arrived but Australia should cancel the rest of the order immediately, and instead buy larger numbers of the Swedish Gripen fighters, which are, he argues – and backs this up with a wealth of factual detail – superior in every way to the F-35, and cost only a fraction as much.
The F-111s, which while aging were still useful aircraft and should have been kept in reserve to give a fast-medium bomber force, were wantonly broken up and the pieces buried in landfill. This, he argues, was deliberate policy by some Air Force brass to narrow things down to the F-35 (each F-35’s pilot’s helmet alone costs $600,000!). Civilian airliners could be bought and fitted with cruise missiles, making them potent weapons.
Archibald believes Australia should get up to 24 new submarines. The six Collins-class boats have become a byword for mechanical problems and should be scrapped.
Australia should get the Japanese Soryu-class boats or even the American nuclear-powered Virginia-class, which among other things has unlimited range, a high underwater speed and requires no refuelling throughout its service life of about 30 years.
The Army’s 59 Abrams tanks are also unsuitable as well as being too few and too heavy, and there are several better options for Australia. Archibald wants no fewer than 800 tanks and suggests three now on the market.
The army is also deficient in all manner of other fields, including rockets and self-propelled artillery (Archibald wants 600 pieces and suggests a South Korean model). Towed artillery has become a kamikaze business in modern warfare. A gun has to move, and fast, after it has got off about three shots before the enemy tracks the shells from their point of origin by radar.
Where, however, one might ask, will the personnel for all this new and technologically demanding equipment come from? Conscription? National service? Tiny Singapore, through national service, has trained reserves of about 800,000 personnel.
A nuclear answer?
Archibald also points out that, if it made the effort, Australia could build a nuclear weapon in about six months, possibly in collaboration with Japan. It has important assets here, including big uranium deposits and vast uninhabited deserts that have already been used for nuclear testing.
This is in fact quite an old idea. The excellent and intriguing book, Australia’s Bid for the Atom Bomb (by Wayne Reynolds), tells how the Australian National University’s physics department was deliberately sited near the Snowy Mountains scheme for a convenient supply of heavy water, and the Snowy’s critical control centres, by no coincidence, are underground.
Far from being a secret of conspiracy theorists, the atomic applications were read out to Parliament in the legislation establishing the Snowy scheme. America previously killed the project, but times have changed. Further, Australia’s previous role as a British atomic testing ground means it would not, by acquiring nuclear weapons now, be violating anti-proliferation treaties.
The nuclear option ties in with the fact that Bass Strait oil is becoming exhausted. Apart from going nuclear, the chemistry of converting coal to oil has been known for decades and the technology has been improving all the time.
This book will doubtless provoke controversy unless the left resort to their usual tactic of ignoring it. It has, however, already been praised by a number of senior retired officers and other defence experts, including Professor Marek Chodakiewicz of the Institute of World Politics. Assuming its facts are correct, and I have seen no rebuttal of them, its logic and arguments seem impeccable.
This is surely one of the most important books on the subject published in the post-Cold War world. I only wish I had any confidence that the present government would consider its recommendations seriously – perhaps even helping to finance a decent national defence by cutting the ABC and the foreign-aid budgets – rather than flailing at the phantom menace of global warming.