The global pandemic was not completely catastrophic in its effects. It led to the cancellation, and postponement, of wasteful projects and events. It spared public money. But as the pandemic slides into the shadow of policymaking, bad habits have returned. The profligates are here to stay.
One such habit is the Avalon air show, a celebration of aeronautical militarism in the southern hemisphere best done without. In 2021, the organisers announced with regret that the event would be cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions and uncertainty. Last October, however, organisers promised a return to form in 2023. Those with tickets “can look forward to a whole new program with jaw-dropping aerial displays, a refreshed food and beverage offering, and live entertainment.”
Also known as the Australian International Airshow and Aerospace and Defence Exposition, Avalon2023 promises to “showcase” much in the “dynamic world of aviation, aerospace and space, new materials, fuels and ways of flying.”
The program features both a specialist dimension and complimentary conferences “open to any accredited Trade Visitor.” The specialist aspect will feature presentations from, among others, the Royal Australian Air Force, Australian International Aerospace Congress, Australian Association for Unscrewed Systems (AAUS), Australian Industry Defence Network (AIDN), and the Australian Airports Association.
With this military bonanza unfolding on February 28, the Australian Defence Minister, Richard “Call me Deputy Prime Minister” Marles, has tooted his justifications for more hardware, more military merchandise and more engagement with the defence industry. His address to the Avalon 2023 Defence and Industry Dinner revealed a boyish credulity typical in so many who lead that portfolio. The boys-with-toys credo becomes all seducing. Air forces, he noted, “are the coolest part of any military.” Trying to amuse, he called Top Gun Maverick “an important and insightful documentary.”
With that treacly tribute out of the way, Marles could get down to the business of frightening Australians and delighting the military industrial mandarins. Australia faced “the most challenging and complex set of strategic circumstances we’ve seen since the Second World War.” The “global rules-based order” had been placed “under immense pressure”, largely due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “The post-Cold War era – a period of democratic expansion and unprecedented integration of global trade and investment – is now over.”
The scriptwriter had evidently gone to sleep in drafting such words. The post-Cold War era was streaked by brutal invasions and interventions (Iraq and Libya, to name but two instances), supposedly by the rules-abiding types in Washington, London and Canberra. The Russian invasion did feature the imposition of will by a larger state on a smaller neighbour using “power and might”, but the US-led invasion that kicked the hornet’s nest of sectarian violence in 2003 came from the same stable of thought.
The speech then follows a familiar pattern. First, call out the Russians. Then highlight the Oriental Armed Scourge to the North. “In the Indo-Pacific, China is driving the largest conventional military build-up we’ve seen anywhere in the world since the Second World War. And much of this build-up is opaque.”
Australia’s security, assured by its remote location and geography, could no longer be taken seriously. “Today we face a range of threats – including longer-range missiles and hypersonics and cyber-attacks – which render our geographic advantages far less relevant.”
The enemy could do damage from afar, causing harm “without ever having to enter our territorial waters or our air space.” It was therefore important to place Australian defence upon the footing of “being able to hold any potential adversaries at risk much further from our shores.”
This was a rather devious way of laying the ground for more cash and larger budgets, ignoring the clear point that Australia has no truly mortal enemies, but wishes to make them as Washington’s obedient deputy.
One particular product is meant to take centre stage. The Australian Defence Force is lagging in the department of murderous drone technology. One promises to be unveiled at Avalon. As reported by the national broadcaster, “The unscrewed air system has been developed by BAE Systems Australia and is designed to be stored in shipping containers.” The device is allegedly capable of carrying a lethal payload in excess of 100 kilograms.
Australia’s Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Robert Chipman, has made no secret of his desire for low-cost killer drones. “We’ve seen a proliferation of low-cost drones and loitering munitions delivering both ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] and fires to great effect,” he told a Melbourne audience filled with foreign air force chiefs and senior officials, “they don’t replace the roles of contemporary combat aircraft, but they might serve as a useful complement.”
With that in mind, the RAAF was “considering the potential of low-cost drones that bring mass to our air combat system, and we’re considering what new measures are necessary to defend against them.” Such views thrilled the war mongering offices at The Australian, which expressed satisfaction that Australian military policy was finally “moving in the right direction.”
Chapman has been particularly busy in the leadup to the Avalon airshow, walking the tightrope of defence propaganda. Self-praise and capability must be balanced against a fear of achievement on the part of an adversary.
In an interview with the Australian Financial Review last week, the Air Marshal revealed that the RAAF had also joined the hysteria about targeting high altitude surveillance balloons. He also defended the merits of the F-35 fighter jet, praising their pilots as having “retained an edge over drones or other unscrewed platforms despite advances in technology.”
China, however, was causing jitters in the area of hypersonic missiles, capable of delivering a warhead at five times the speed of sound with extreme manoeuvrability. “I think China is in front when it comes to hypersonics […] and that is something we are actively working to address.” Thank goodness, then, for the Avalon Air Show, even if the organisers were not sagacious enough to invite both Chinese and Russian manufacturers.
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Trying again. The system would not accept my first comment
Loved your elegant skewering of our not very bright Defence Minister
Another incisive and disturbing bit of intel from Mr Kampmark.
The perspicacious eye spots the unintended addition and asks, what could that be? I refer to the Australian Association for Unscrewed Systems, likely crunched down to AAUS for those in the know; however, the curious brain was puzzled, what on earth is an unscrewed system, and does it have a spin partner, a screwed system, and what do these screwed and unscrewed systems get up to anyway? Why the arcane nature of the terminology? And isn’t the term ‘screwed’ somewhat of a loaded reference?
Turns out that it’s a simple matter of Binoy’s nimble fingers striking a key too many, a bit like Sussan Ley but without the mumbo jumbo and voodoo beliefs. That extra ‘s’ made all the difference!
And yes, nothing like a noisy, thrilling aerial display to stir the emotions and pump the patriotism in the endeavour to squeeze a few extra billion out of general revenue on behalf of the hawks.
Meanwhile, back in Lismore, Mullumbimby, Gympie, Katherine, north-west WA, south coast NSW, and all those other places devastated by natural and unnatural disasters….
Here we go again…back to the 50’s era of fear and loathing,but with a whole new pandora’s box of killing machines.The megadeath merchants have escaped the asylum and are once again in the ascendant.Malleable Marles the ideal patsy for some shiny new toys. It’s all good… we have learned nothing.The pursuit of the material is fucking the planet….again.
Slaughtering demands concentration of investment, invention, ambition, money, planning, profiteering, taxing. Great resources are siphoned off and so preventable diseases, life preserving practices, sensible plans, planet enhancing and repair, all this marginal stuff iof s short moneyed, under funded, optional. Some brilliant schemer and manipulator, otherwise an arsehole unwiped and self focussed, gets to make huge decisions about money waste, with space race waste so BIG. These are of the EM family, Fark, Stuff, Up, In, and Kil…But, weapons are our only hope aren’t they? If we remove the correctly charged and mentioned crooked ones, improvement may occur.., Ho Ho.
Dr Kampmark: Australia doesn’t have a competent anti-missile defense system – any old cruise/ballistic missile would reach its intended target – no need for an aggressor to use expensive hyper-sonic missiles. While on the subject of hyper-sonic missiles, where do you get the “with extreme maneuverability” concept from? The hype has gotten to you.
At Mach 5, the missile is doing its best to not melt as it is flying surrounded by plasma. It cannot use GPS for positioning or receive alternate target info or use radar because the plasma stops RF, so positioning relies on inertial methods and “maneuverability” is pre-programmed. Expensive to build, they are not the most precise but really hard to shoot down and when armed with nukes, get the job done. Please take time to understand the technology rather than propagating “alternative facts”.
Fred, we have an article here full of interesting facts and opinions, and you home in on an adjective. Sounds like nit-picking to me.
From the BBC report “Russia deploys Avangard hypersonic missile system” : “It is not so much the speed of the hypersonic weapon alone that counts. It is its extraordinary manoeuvrability as it glides towards its target.”
Extreme or extraordinary – take your pick, there’s really no difference. Your final sentence was totally lacking in respect for a regular contributor of quality articles.
Also from the BBC; “Russia looks to be ahead in the hypersonic stakes. China is also developing such systems; while the US appears to be somewhat behind.” That’s not a good look for a nation that in 2021 had a defence budget of $778 billion to Russia $62 billion. What can we assume from this? That the US, desperate to fool its people that they are getting value for money, will be spreading all sorts of misinformation about missile developments. Because that’s what they do, as they admit themselves.
So Russia gets more value for its $pend, petrol @ $0.70 USD/litre helps. The USA Military Industrial Industrial Complex as a sink hole of corruption has more beggar contractors $iphoning more profit$. Does Aust need to be involved in more or less destructive technology? Why are we setting the country up as a target for war? We could have gone the route of providing medical assistance and sanctions only. Stupid politicians & media.
SD: Have a look at: https://thebulletin.org/premium/2020-01/cool-your-jets-some-perspective-on-the-hyping-of-hypersonic-weapons/ and/or https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-physics-and-hype-of-hypersonic-weapons/ Turn radius measured in hundreds of kilometers is hardly “extraordinary manoeuvrability”.
There is nothing in the two articles you linked to justify your lack of respect to the author.
The first article quoted a US general who gave an example of maneuverability and seemed impressed. “If you’re going Mach 13 at the very northern edge of Hudson Bay, you have enough residual velocity to hit all 48 of the continental United States. . . . You can choose . . . to make a right or a left turn and hit Maine or Alaska, or you can hit San Diego or Key West. That’s a monstrous problem”
The second article spoke about the difficulty of a missile traveling at Mach 15 (4.5 km/sec) doing a 30 degree turn. I would not call that extreme or extraordinary. I would call it miraculous.
You stated “Turn radius measured in hundreds of kilometers is hardly “extraordinary maneuverability”. But to a missile engineer that might well be extraordinary for a missile at that speed.
It’s clear to any thinking person that the greater the speed the less the maneuverability, so keep in mind that the author used the word “extreme” for missiles at only Mach 5 speed, which is nothing like the Mach 15 to Mach 20 of which they are capable.
A polite person, if troubled by this, would have simply asked the author to explain “extreme maneuverability.” So Fred, why the sarcasm and “talking down” ?
SD: The links provided were “light”, viz. “easy to read”. I have become jaded by the (variable) amount of BS included in many of articles about hypersonics. It is the hype that irritates and if mildly paranoid one could begin to wonder if the war-toy industry is working to an agenda. If hypersonics lived up to their hype, everybody would be making them at a prodigious rate and abandoning ballistic/conventional cruise missiles etc., however…
For a more detailed technical review, viz. “a hard read” see: https://scienceandglobalsecurity.org/archive/sgs28tracy.pdf To skip the science go to “Misperceptions of hypersonic missile capabilities” (p20) through the end of “Conclusions” (p26).
This document has coloured my views on hypersonics the most. As for Dr Kampmark, I feel the issue of hypersonics was treated with contempt and reinforces the hype. Why would we invite the Russians or Chinese to display their war-toys at our air-power gloat knowing full well we would never buy any of their hardware?
Fred said “…if mildly paranoid one could begin to wonder if the war-toy industry is working to an agenda.”
Stop wondering Fred – they are working to an agenda.
“If hypersonics lived up to their hype, everybody would be making them at a prodigious rate…”
As I understand it, hypersonics require a level of technical expertise that is in short supply. The US allowed Russia and China to get the jump on them with this, and are now struggling to catch up. Have been struggling for quite some time. If they do not have specialist technicians on hand they will continue to struggle. This is the sort of dilemma that occurs when you turn the focus of your economy from industry to financial services.
“As for Dr Kampmark, I feel the issue of hypersonics was treated with contempt and reinforces the hype.”
Come on now.
He only mentioned it passing, and only to have a dig at the Air Marshall. And as for his dig at the organisers of the air show not being sagacious enough to invite Russian and Chinese manufacturers, perhaps his barb was mis-directed. Perhaps the organisers actually were wise to not have their products exposed to competition.
Let’s be honest Fred, you have a bee in your bonnet over hypersonics, but a focus on details is not good for peace of mind, and prevents one from enjoying the beauty of the big picture.
SD: Unfortunately, if I heard correctly, one of objectives of AUKUS is to collaborate on the development of hypersonics. As much as the nuke powered submarine acquisition will significantly impact Australia’s finances for questionable “improvement in security”, so too will the waste of money of hypersonics development. We would be better off developing a defense capability against hypersonics. Knowing the detail of a new technology is important for sensible discussion.
We have to stop getting sucked in by the USA and cancel AUKUS.
On May 10 2022, the US Navy’s Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) unveiled its first-ever Orca Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (XLUUV). It is designed to conduct mine countermeasures, anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, and electronic warfare missions. It has a top speed of eight knots (14.8 kilometers/9.2 miles per hour) and a maximum range of 6,500 nautical miles (12,038 kilometers). They are going diesel/electric unmanned and we are going large weapons grade nuclear – I think we have been sold a pup.
Fred, I could hardly agree more.
My only quibble would be that if we had hypersonic missiles we would be close to impossible to invade, being an island.
But the downside of us having any advanced hardware is that it will be used offensively in the service of the US Empire, as we will find to our cost if we ever get the subs.
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