Part 2 - the Sea War
In a previous article I speculated that global financial difficulties could impose severe hardship on poor countries that are not self-sufficient in food or fuel. This could, given the right circumstances, lead to war on our doorstep and even invasion.
Most recently Dr Robert O’Neill of the Australian National University Strategic and Defence Studies Centre warned of a “growing threat from large nations with huge populations but diminishing food and resources.” See here.
While no one knows the future we can make real world predictions about how a conflict with our northern neighbour might play out based on the current known strategy and the military acquisition paths of both nations.
The first article considered the air war and found that, based on a review of the open source technical literature; the RAAF would be wiped out by the Indonesian forces in little time. This article considers the sea war.
These pictures show what happens when a medium sized vessel such as a frigate or an air warfare destroyer is hit with a torpedo. Similar results are obtained with air launched anti ship missiles.
Take Control of Strategic Sea Approaches
With the RAAF out of the way (see previous article) Indonesian pilots, while grieving some losses, continue their busy day. The Sukhoi carries the Russian Moskit and the Indo/Russian Brahmos anti-ship missiles. These are released at wave top height just as the Sukhoi pops over the horizon at around 30 nautical miles from the target vessel. The missile advances at supersonic speed allowing just seconds for missile defence systems to track and engage. According to standard Russian military doctrine a number of Sukhoi’s would release salvos to overwhelm ship defences.
Take out RAN surface vessels
No Australian vessel could realistically survive a sustained aerial assault in this fashion. Our air warfare destroyers are not designed to. The AWDs were developed as a force multiplier to operate under continuous air cover, either from shore based aircraft, or as part of an aircraft carrier battle group. In this scenario their powerful tracking radars and long range missiles provide theatre defence while friendly aircraft patrol against sneak attacks. A couple of vessels sitting like ducks in the open ocean without air cover are highly exposed. They have to contend against ‘pop-up’ attacks from just over the horizon that render their radar effectively useless because no radar can track a target once it retreats back below the horizon.
The critical issue therefore in this engagement is who sees who first. If the Indonesian pilots flying at height are picked up by the AWD’s they will likely be shot down. However, once they get a fix on where the AWD is, an attack can be coordinated. Some aircraft losses are acceptable if the RAN can be wiped out. Getting a fix on the AWDs is a matter of coordinating HUMINT, SIGINT, ELINT, submarine tracking, and direct observation from air patrols. Air power may also be supplemented by up to 10 Indonesian frigates which may well be armed with the cutting edge Indo/Russian Brahmos missile.
In all likelihood with the RAAF wiped out, the AWDs will park themselves as close as possible to northern military bases, or to population centres such as Cairns, in an attempt to provide some sort of air defence. They would be observed and informed on pretty quickly and Indonesian forces deployed accordingly. For a recent article on the AWDs see here.
Submarines – what submarines?
With RAN surface vessels sunk the only military impediment to a seaborne invasion is then Australia’s submarine fleet -at this point queue derisive laughter. Officially Australia will build 12 state of the art bespoke long range, quiet conventional submarines. These will lurk around key waterways, discharging special-forces and raining cruise missiles on our enemies, before slipping away. That is Department of Defence pornography. In the real world the RAN is struggling to crew six vessels. How they will crew the new air warfare destroyers and another six submarines is an open and unanswered question. Submarine crews are not easy to find.
In the last 30 years Australia has proven itself unable to build or maintain an operational submarine force capable of sustained engagement in a high intensity conflict. That is the politest possible way to say it. On one occasion the entire fleet was laid up for repairs. By 2030 our current fleet will either be retired or struggling to maintain operational readiness. The obvious solution of purchasing an off-the shelf replacement fleet has been ruled out in favour of a make-work welfare program for Australia’s domestic industry. There is no reason to believe therefore that by 2030 (or at any future time) Australia will have a credible submarine force. Indonesia in contrast has only two submarines currently but will increase their fleet to between six and ten quiet conventional off-the shelf vessels. See further here: http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/Submarines-for-Indonesia-07004/
Large, expensive, and seldom operational – Australia’s Collins class submarine
Australian defence planners feel the need to have a machine that can take part in coalition operations in the northern hemisphere, and, seeing lots of water around Australia, see a need for a machine with great range and endurance. That means bigger, costlier and noisier and hence less survivable subs. Indonesia sees things rather differently. Without global ambition the shallow seas of the island arc to Australia’s north are perfectly suited to submarine warfare by small quiet European and Russian subs. Quite affordable. Very deadly. No problem.
What About Stealth?
What About Stealth?
In all likelihood Indonesia will acquire the stealth version of the Sukhoi, known as the PAK-FA, within relevant time-frames. This aircraft is a joint project between India and Russia designed for export and to compete with the American F-22 stealth fighter. It will be a natural follow-on purchase for local Sukhoi customers - Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam.
The PAK-FA is a genuine stealth design meaning that it will be invisible to ship borne radar, including the aegis radar on Australia's Air Warfare Destroyers.
In order to remain undetected by radar all ordinance must be carried internally which will likely preclude carriage of anti-ship missiles. However the PAK-FA will carry guided bombs which can be released from altitude above the target vessel. Effective stealth means that the TNI will be able to largely replicate the very successful strategy used by the Americans in the Pacific win WWII in which Dauntless dive bombers devastated Japanese combat vessels. Curiously Defence has made no public acknowledgement of the existence of the PAK-FA that I am aware of despite wide publicity surrounding trials of mature prototypes.
The details of using stealth aircraft in the naval strike role are discussed here http://www.ausairpower.net/Raptor-ASuW.html
In the multi-polar stealth-on-stealth world of the Pacific Rim circa 2025 purchasing air warfare destroyers is about as sensible as investing in more cavalry before the outbreak of WWII.
With the Australian airforce and navy out of the way expect a deadly bombing campaign. I will spare you the technical detail. Modern combat aircraft carry lots and lots of nasty things that fall from the sky. As Saddam Hussein discovered, ground forces cannot survive long if the enemy owns the skies. The Australian Army has no indigenous air defence apart from the RBS 70 shoulder fired missile. This weapon is designed for point defence against helicopters and poses no threat to tactical aircraft. After a few days of bombardment the Australian army would be forced to retreat south or surrender. Most likely they would pull back to Sydney out of Sukhoi range. Given sufficient will they might attempted ‘scorched earth’ and then use guerrilla tactics to try and interrupt the TNI’s supply line. On any scenario, Northern Australia will be over-run. Once over-run the TNI can build or capture airfields to provide deeper air cover to their advancing forces.
Next article: what happens to the army – how do we fare fighting on our own soil?
Indonesian Marines conducting a beach landing during combat duty in Ache
For further reading on the debacle that passes for a sea power strategy these days I recommend the following sponsored link: http://newaustralia.net/defence_navy.html