Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 18:19 | SYDNEY
Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 18:19 | SYDNEY

If the aim is sea denial, only subs can carry that weight


Hugh White

16 September 2008 15:19

Mark is, of course, quite correct: it is very unclear that twelve submarines could defend Australia’s sea lines of communication (SLOCs). But he is not right to think that defending SLOCs is what I think we need submarines for. In fact I think the PM’s focus – in his press conference last Wednesday morning — on SLOC defence as the rationale of Australia’s naval force structure is very misguided. No conceivable Australian force structure could protect Australia’s sea-borne trade from a major maritime power intent on disrupting it by direct defence of the shipping lanes themselves.

In broad terms, I think the operational aim of Australian naval operations is to deny the use of the sea to other forces, not to ensure that we can use it ourselves.  For this purpose – what the navalists call ‘sea denial’ — submarines are a very potent weapon indeed, and that is why I think we need more of them. By the same token, the vulnerability of our surface ships to others’ submarines explains why I do not think we should be spending much money on expensive destroyers.

Could we crew more submarines? Of course we could, if we really tried. How about this approach? Identify a senior naval officer as the person responsible for submarine crewing. Provide him with authority for all decisions pertaining to it. Give him a reasonable budget. And promise him that if all the boats are fully crewed by the end of next year, he will get one million dollars as a Christmas bonus. Let’s be blunt about this: submarine crewing problems are a result of poor management, which in turn is a result of weak leadership.