Occam’s AUKUS

HOW would the English friar of razor fame slice and dice Scott Morrison’s foundering submarine project? Forget that the United States and Australia should have been discussing nuclear-powered subs years ago and that the catch-up being played after the French fiasco is akin to the fabled covid victims on ventilators pleading for a ‘vaccine.’ While the escalating ‘gray-zone warfare’ being used to intimidate Taiwan isn’t new, its magnitude this month can be seen as Beijing’s response to shots of resolve put across its bow by the five powers of AUKUS and the Quad in recent weeks. The only surprising thing about China’s conduct is that it contradicts Napoleon’s maxim about interrupting an enemy when he’s making a mistake. Despite the meta-catastrophe of Joe Biden, pandemic and Afghanistan, the China containment pact is more unified than ever. This telegraphs a vulnerability in Xi Jinping that Bonaparte should have lamented all the way home from Moscow: ego. This is a cold war, then, between impatience and insincerity.

Australia cannot possibly build eight nuclear submarines or continue relying on six diesel-electrics. Do we therefore outsource the AUKUS venture to America and lease an intermediate fleet? If the rationale for nuclearised boats is China’s hemispheric thuggery now, what real use are submarines that might be launched in the 2040s? Given the lead-time involved even in leasing ad hoc in-betweeners, the truth is we’re weak as a naval power and will be for many years to come. The insipidity, in turn, is a new trap in its own right. Not everything has to be about the present. There will be wars and rumours of wars long after China v. Taiwan. To avoid being as unprepared in 2051 as it is in 2021, Australia has to commit to rearmament anyway – however unknown the unknowns.

Regarding the known unknowns, Greg Sheridan deserves a lot of credit for his razor work on bunk in a quest for clarity. Last week, he canvassed several rightist “elder statesmen” of strategic policy on AUKUS. They welcomed nuclearisation but scotched the dream of an Adelaidean building bee. As the reviewer of a new book on Occam argues, simplicity has its limits. AUKUS might eventually deliver but only if it gets a lot more complicated. Unfortunately, it can deliver nothing to Taiwan’s Foreign Minister, Joseph Wu, who wants Australian help to counteract a possible Chinese invasion today. According to Newspoll, the Prime Minister’s victory over anti-nuclear daftness is emphatic. That will resound long-term but only if future Labor governments and the Luddites holding them to ransom stay the course. That’s an Ayers Rock if but an even bigger one hasn’t been addressed by either Sheridan or his round table:

Molan supports nuclear submarines but asks this astringent question: “What good is it having an eye-pleasing defence industry in 20 years time if we lose the next war? The operational need must trump the industry need.”

Molan tells Inquirer: “The PM’s prediction on getting the nuclear submarines in one or two decades means we will fight the (hypothetical) China war, itself variously predicted within three to 10 years, with the Collins. The nukes are a worthwhile long-term strategic objective, but they are not the one answer to our ­national security needs. The next 18 months will be key. Can the PM find more subs sooner?”

And here is the killer line, though phrased politely as a question: “Can we perhaps build some subs overseas to begin with, then in Adelaide?”

As an acquisitions critique, well and good, but there are two absurdities here that point to the true essence of the problem in Australia’s defence posture (or posturing) vis-a-vis China. First, “we” – meaning Australia – are not going to declare, wage, win, lose or draw any war except as an ally of the United States and probably three or four other major world powers. A few submarines are not going to make an enormous difference either way. I doubt historians of the 2120s will sheet home the blame for a lost world war to Scott Morrison’s inability to “find more subs.”

Second, if a war against China is as inevitable as Jim Molan says it is – and the government seems to think it is – why not make the necessary changes to the Defence Act 1903 to enable compulsory military service? Everybody knows why. It is politically unthinkable. Australia has no appetite for mass casualties to defend Taiwan. It has none for the minor casualties of the flu. At the root of our military unpreparedness is a culture of ‘safety,’ pacifism and moral subjectivism three quarters of a century in the making. Submarines being no more a projection of abiding martial will than an SAS turnstile at Tarin Kowt, this indifference makes AUKUS per se a parlour game. President Xi knows this and obviously dreams of writing himself into Chinese lore as the great re-unifier – preferably, without firing a shot. The world is very impressed but perhaps more than it should be. Xi’s hubris won’t protect his green, pretty soldiers if it all goes wrong.

Occam v. Sun Tzu. What a chess match that would have been.

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13 Responses to Occam’s AUKUS

  1. Entropy says:

    All very true.
    And of course the yanks and poms are gearing up anyway so I am not sure they could build us a boat either, and they won’t have spares to lease anyway. And the. There is the matter of if we could lease, who would know how to drive it?
    Perhaps the only short term solution is to build bases in Australia for USN and RN boats to be based. The we could start integrating RAN crew in both local and overseas baes USN and RN boats to literally learn the ropes.

  2. Not Trampis says:

    There is a lot more to AUKUS than mere nuke subs.
    Try reading some articles at the Lowy Institute. Much higher quality that Sheridan.
    the beauty of diesel subs is they can be absolutely quiet unlike Nuke subs.
    Rich Armitage stated he would have like our collins subs stationed outside where China’s navy is ready to attack if things got to that stage.

  3. Shy Ted says:

    People in the diplomatic bubble have special immunity to things from which we must be protected. They shouldn’t have.
    And compulsory military service. Can you imagine a RSM shouting, “you ‘orrible little um, what’s your pronouns?”

  4. C.L. says:

    Armitage wanted them to be replaced and in 2016 threw his weight behind Japan’s bid. This was reported at the time.

    His biggest call before that was Saddam Hussein having nukes. Saddam didn’t even have a microwave.

    Armitage was a swabbie promoted way beyond his intellectual abilities.

  5. C.L. says:

    Molan was on Sky last night saying a general conflagration with China would involve multiple theatres of land-based action and garrisoning – including in (and of) Japan. If the government believes such a war is imminent, it better start planning for the mobilisation of service-age Australians. The SAS won’t be enough this time.

  6. Entropy says:

    Diesel subs are great at being an invisible hole Mr Trampus. For a little while.
    Then they become a death trap.

  7. Rex Anger says:

    the beauty of diesel subs is they can be absolutely quiet unlike Nuke subs.

    Paxton, this has all been done to death before.

    The sound profile of a diesel-electric submarine is different to a nuclear boat. It is no easier and no harder to detect in terms of sheer noise profile, but that most major navies are geared towards detecting and sinking each others’ nuke boats. Russian submarine designers started to add electric ‘creep’ motors to their vessels in the late 1980s, and caused all manner of consternation in NATO. The boats got no louder or quieter, but the sound profile changed.

    In terms of practicality, transit speed, security and operational range, there is no comparison. Nuclear submarines hold every advantage as a warship over diesel electric boats.

    We are not some little Baltic or Asia-Pacific nation that has masses of shallow/deep water interfaces, islands and other narrow channels close to home that we can ambush potential enemies in. A short-ranged diesel-electric coastal boat off thenshelf from Germany or Sweden or Japan is perfect for that. Australia also has huge stretches of deep ocean on all sides betweem said island chains.

    Please stop repeating the lazy meme about ‘DiEsEl SuBmArInEs ArE BeTtEr CoS QuIeTeR.’ It is not even a tenth of the full story, and you are far too late for that bandwagon.

  8. Entropy says:

    The other thing is we are a trading nation that has not had to develop the ability to keep our sea lanes over vast distances open as the yanks (and the RN before them) did it for us. A diesel boat isn’t going to do that.

  9. Not Trampis says:

    Nuke subs cannot be silent as they are always running! Some lazy people think ( ?) because they are quieter that means better. It doesn’t but most navies have both diesel and nuke subs.

    nice sidestep on collins. Avoiding what he said should occur if China ever started a war.

    Are you confusing Armitage with what you said about Iraq? Are you now saying you were wrong about Iraq’s alleged capabilities?

  10. jupes says:

    I wonder if Molan has any regrets about his role in the emasculation of the army?

  11. Rex Anger says:

    Nuke subs cannot be silent as they are always running! Some lazy people think ( ?) because they are quieter that means better.

    Paxton, give it up now. A nuclear submarine that has turbines and steam plant for propulsion, but is not using them at the time is just as quiet as a DE boat with its diesel and electric motors alike turned off.
    A reactor is not a toy rocket that goes at full pelt until its fuel is completely expended when you first activate it.

    Furthermore, all submarine systems related to life support are always running when a submarine is crewed. Life support cannot be deactivated indefinitely.

    Spack off and troll others with your imbecility elsewhere.

  12. Not Trampis says:

    A nuke sub is always on so it can always be found. A diesel sub can turn off for a significant time. A reactor is always on as they will be on our subs when we eventually get them. When we finish with them we hand the reactors back to the Yanks.

    That is why most advanced navies have both. China for example has a large amount of diesel powered subs.

    It is why Armitage made his remark about our collins class subs.

    quite clearly come people do not understand this.

  13. Rex Anger says:

    Homer Paxton, ‘a significant time’ means the crew is dead.

    Stop being stupid.

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