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By John Helmer, Moscow

It is eleven weeks since President Vladimir Putin visited Brisbane, Australia, for a summit meeting of the G20 states. Putin was escorted in the Coral Sea, east of Brisbane, by a Russian Navy flotilla making the longest deployment of the Russian surface fleet ever displayed. Including Russian submarines shadowing the flotilla, this was also the most powerful Russian force ever to practice aiming at targets on the Australian continent operated by the Australian Defence Forces, the US military, or the two at bases they operate together.

Because these bases run in secret, most Australians had no idea what was happening, and what was changing. The Australian media – controlled by three proprietors — Rupert Murdoch; the government; and until February 6 a mining oligarch called Gina Rinehart — didn’t alert them. For the story the Australian and Russian press didn’t report, click.

The Russian Navy off the Australian east coast in November was armed with ballistic and cruise missiles, with nuclear warheads capable of striking every US warfighting base on the Australian continent, plus the Australian cities. Like Putin, the flotilla withdrew northwards to base on November 16. They left behind a death ray which is destroying the local politicians most hostile to receiving Putin at the summit.

On January 31 Campbell Newman, premier of the host state Queensland, lost his seat in a provincial parliamentary election, and his party was ousted from its governing majority. In Canberra, the national capital, Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott has fallen in the national polls to trail his political rivals by 15 percentage points. On February 9 he narrowly survived a no-confidence vote by his own party deputies; he now faces a revolt by his party’s senators threatening the government’s majority in the upper house of the Australian parliament. For the election purpose these men thought public display of Russophobia might serve, read this.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, whose attacks on Putin between March and November of 2014 helped lifted her name recognition and performance rating among Australian voters, has recently lost ground to party rivals for the prime ministry; they left Putin unmentioned. For Bishop’s record, read this. For her poll decline, click.

Abbott and Putin, November 15, 2014; Mikhail Gorbachev posed alone with a koala in Brisbane in July 2006 when the then Prime Minister John Howard refused to meet either of them.

On Wednesday last week (February 11), Abbott went on the attack against Putin once more. In an impromptu speech in parliament, referring to his decision to build a new fleet of Australian submarines with a no-tender award to shipyards in Japan, Abbott claimed: “Do you know about an open tender? Anyone can compete. What the Leader of the Opposition wants is for anyone to be able to compete to provide Australia’s next generation of submarines. He might want the Russians to compete—the Putin class subs. That is what we will get from the Leader of the Opposition. First of all, he attacks the Japanese in some bout of antediluvian xenophobia and says that we cannot possibly have Japanese involvement in the submarine contract because of what happened in Sydney Harbour [World War II]. Now he says you have got to have an open tender. We could have Kim Jong-il class submarines or Vladimir Putin submarines.”

The strategic purpose of the new submarines, according to the US Pacific Fleet commander, Admiral Harry Harris, is to combine with the US fleet to attack the Chinese Navy and threaten China. Presentations to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (APSI) by a group of US Navy officers and US consultants in Canberra a year ago emphasized that it is US strategy to deploy the proposed new Australian Navy submarines for “strategic effect through offensive operations …by operating forward and up-threat.” Discussion during the presentations identified Russia as a “forward” target, as well as China. “Up-threat” was military jargon for preemptive attack.

Alexey MuravievThe last time APSI assessed Russian naval strategy off Australia’s shores was in December 2011. Then the prognosis was benign – defensive and unthreatening for Australia, according to Alexey Muraviev (right), an Australian analyst of Russian origin. “Russia’s long-term economic agenda and its clear interest in cooperation rather than confrontation drive this comeback. Its intention to rebuild a credible military capability in the Pacific is driven not by threat perceptions alone, but by a pragmatic need to protect its national economic and political interests… Its return as a Pacific player might not necessarily destabilise the regional balance. Russia remains an important contributor to the global war on terror (particularly in Afghanistan) and is becoming increasingly prominent as a leading provider of energy resources, especially in the light of mounting instability in the Middle East and the unsettled behaviour of individual supplier-states, such as Venezuela. In the longer run, it may become a key player in the region’s efforts to restore stability in Korea and possibly to balance China, which many in Russia consider as a future security challenge.”

Several years on, the APSI papers reveal that Australian-American targeting of “Putin-Class submarines” extends, not only to China and Russia, but also to Vietnam and possibly Indonesia.

Source: https://www.aspi.org.au/publications/the-submarine-choice-perspectives-on-australias-most-complex-defence-project/Strategy_submarine_choice.pdf

A US Navy presentation of the flags of the attack submarine fleets in the Pacific and Indian Oceans indicates that much faster growth is planned for the submarine fleets of US allies – Australia, Indonesia, Japan, and South Korea – than for Russian allies – China, India, and North Korea.

Source: https://www.aspi.org.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/21099/Sawyer-slides.pdf

Australian voter opposition has been growing to the cost of this new submarine fleet, which has been estimated to be between A$36 billion and A$60 billion (US$28-$47 billion). Bill Shorten, leader of the opposition Labor Party, favours the US submarine strategy and the new Australian submarine fleet, so long as domestic yards and American technology are used. He has claimed: “Torpedo Tony [Abbott] has torpedoed the Australian shipbuilding industry and Labor’s never going to stand for that.”

Abbott’s preference for Japan — an enemy threatening invasion and occupation of Australia until 1945 — over the Australian Submarine Corporation (ASC) shipyard in South Australia has triggered opposition among local naval analysts, as well as steel and shipyard constituency revolts around the country. If a national election were called today, in the state of South Australia Abbott and his party would be annihilated.

The ASC yard at Osborne, South Australia.

The “Vladimir Putin submarines” to which Abbott referred last week are currently operated by the Russian fleet based at Vladivostok. Russian built analogues and domestically modified designs of “Putin class” submarines are also operated by the Chinese and the Indian Navies. All are capable of launching nuclear-armed missiles, some by ballistic trajectory and some by cruise flight. According to a survey of Russian naval experts this week, all three submarine fleets now have the launch capability to strike the bases in Australia on which the US depends for warfighting in the southern hemisphere.

The Russian plan currently calls for six Borey-class attack submarines – three, the Yury Dolgorukiy, the Vladimir Monomakh (below, left) and the Alexander Nevsky (right) – are already operational. Each armed with 16 intercontinental ballistic missiles, the primary mission of these craft is to attack the continental US and US nuclear bases in the north western hemisphere. By the time all six are deployed in 2018, one is likely to target US bases in Australia. A new Australian submarine fleet moves this targeting up the probability scale from likely to certain.


Russia does not export missiles with longer than 300-km range; this is a requirement of the multinational Missile Technology Control Regime of 1987; Russia adhered in 1995. According to Alexander Mozgovoy, editor of National Defence magazine in Moscow, the Russian submarine fleet already has the capability to strike all Australian targets. The Chinese Navy has developed its own missiles with range of between 1,700 and 2,500 kms; they too are within strike range of Australian targets. The Indian Navy’s missile ranges are more restricted in line with their traditional targeting on Pakistan. However, the Indians are expected to have their own long-range missiles aboard submarines which will operate at the eastern reaches of the Indian Ocean, as well as in the Pacific, south of China.

Australian security doctrine plays down the likelihood of an Indian challenge to Australia in the Indian Ocean, but Russian analysts aren’t persuaded. They point to efforts the Australians are making to develop a West Australian base complex operated with the US Navy. On that, the 2013 version of the Australian defence doctrine claims: “The Government will explore further opportunities to support US defence communications capabilities, including through hosting capabilities and the possible establishment of a Combined Communications Gateway in Western Australia, which would provide both Australia and the United States greater access to the Wideband Global Satellite Communications constellation in which we are partners. This cooperation will build on the longstanding defence communications relationship, including at the Harold E. Holt Naval Communications Station at Exmouth which provides support to US and Australian submarine fleets, and which will host the C-band space object detection and tracking radar to be relocated from the United States.”

Gennady Nechaev, a military analyst at Vzglyad in Moscow, acknowledges that the extent to which Australia is a carrier for US military operations against China and Russia, makes it inevitable that Russia, China and India will deploy counter-measures, particularly against Pine Gap, in central Australia. In this essay Nechaev reviews the growth of Russian, Chinese and Indian aircraft carrier strike forces. He concludes that current Kremlin thinking favours investment in submarines over aircraft carriers. Indian and Chinese calculations are a little different.

Nechaev is sceptical that the Putin flotilla in the Coral Sea last November was accompanied by a submarine. The Russian Navy declines to comment. Nechaev is more confident that as Australian bases and weapons are expanded for new US strike strategy, they will be countered by Russia, China, and India.

Also, as the Putin submarines approach firing range, they will be undetectable. This is confirmed by evidence of recent failures by US, UK, Swedish and NATO submarine defence units to find Russian craft off the coast of Scotland, and within the Swedish archipelago.

A Russian submarine threat to Australia also went undetected in a study of “Indo-Pacific rivalry” last August by the normally Russophobic Lowy Institute of Sydney. In this analysis China is Australia’s enemy; India Australia’s ally. The Ukraine war rated a passing mention; Putin submarines were ignored.

Richard TanterAn assessment from an Australian strategist, Richard Tanter (right), is critical of the integration of Australian and American military strategy. “[This] integration is manifest organisationally, operationally and materially… Taken together, the result of these policy and force structure changes may well be, from a Chinese perspective, that Australia is not so much hosting US military bases, but is becoming a virtual American base in its own right… For China the missile defence capacities of the United States and its East Asian allies threaten to vitiate its minimal nuclear deterrence force – 200 plus operational missiles vs. the US 1700 or so, with more than double that number in storage, and with far greater accuracy, reliability, deployment options, and design sophistication. We are already seeing the strategic consequences: Chinese missile modernization, missile defence counter-measures, and most likely, targeting of Pine Gap in the event of war. The Defence Department recognized that last fact, but only in a classified Force Posture Review conducted for the 2009 Defence White Paper.”

The US response is contradictory. On the one hand, US naval analysts claim the Russian submarine fleet isn’t a match for the US fleet, and is not therefore a serious threat to the balance of power in the Indian and Pacific oceans. On the other hand, the Americans aren’t so sure. Last month, Bryan Clark, a former US submariner and now an analyst with the Centre for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) in Washington, reported: “[The Russians] don’t have very many submarines today, and they certainly don’t have very many frontline submarines that would be anywhere close to US submarines. The best submarines the Russians are producing are perhaps equivalent to some of the older US submarines currently in use. It would take a while for the Russians to build up enough of those to where they create a potential problem for the US.”

Notwithstanding, Clark adds, “the main concern is that even a small number of very good submarines can be problematic from an intelligence-gathering and surprise strike kind of perspective. But they’re not able to cause a debilitating effect to a fleet.”

Clark’s presentation to the CSBA makes the case that significant changes in the technology of undersea detection, in submarine stealth, and in new undersea weapons, sensors and communications increase the US Navy’s dependence on Australian shore bases for coverage of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. “American undersea forces will likely become more vulnerable to inadvertent detection by civilian and foreign entities, while rival military and non-state forces could more easily access and incorporate new technologies in their undersea sensors, unmanned vehicles, and weapons.”

Source: http://csbaonline.org/publications/2015/01/undersea-warfare/

Russian strategists say the behaviour of the US and the NATO allies in starting civil war in Ukraine, and targeting regime change in Moscow, has now transformed the entire strategy map. Says one: “What the Americans have proved – in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, everywhere – is that the US can start wars, but then defend noone from the consequences. If Australians want to follow their prime minister down this path, the realities of this new world may be submerged right now, but they will catch up with them.”

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