Misguided war games as strategic direction changes
This article by Professor Peter Dean and Professor Stephen Smith of the UWA Defense and Security Institute, originally appeared in The Australian.
It’s time to rethink Talisman Saber through an updated strategic lens.
Australia’s largest and most important military exercise is in its ninth year in the past fortnight.
There is no doubt about its growing importance to both Australia and our alliance partner, the United States. It helps improve interoperability with the United States and certify Australian capability.
Our state-of-the-art bilateral exercise has also become increasingly multilateral since its inception in 2005.
This year, despite the pandemic, the exercise will involve 17,000 soldiers, including Canada, Japan, New Zealand,
South Korea and Great Britain, as well as observers from India, Indonesia, France and Germany. Its growing importance has also been recognized by the People’s Republic of China.
The People’s Liberation Army Navy these days honors the exercise through an intelligence vessel, effectively doubling its engagement this year with a second surveillance vessel.
The exercise has become a familiar model in terms of location and approach: mid-year, every two years, in and around the Shoalwater Bay military training area in North Queensland and in the Coral Sea.
It typically follows a defined pattern of testing and evaluating key military capabilities, built on a blueprint where friendly forces always win in an environment where they can generally dominate at sea, in the air and on land, outdoing their adversary.
The exercise includes cross-domain operations, including cyber operations, and often includes an amphibious landing. In 2017, the
the amphibious landing was the largest Australian force since World War II.
Since 2005, the number of exercise participants has increased, with an expansion of advanced capabilities, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the US High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, and the MIM- surface-to-air missile. 104 Patriot. systems.
But is this progressive model of expansion enough? Is Talisman Saber fit for Australia’s current strategic goal?
If you look through the lens of last year’s Defense Strategic Update and recent Indo-Pacific strategic and geopolitical developments, the answer must be clearly no. Last year’s update resulted in a much needed reassessment of Australia’s strategic environment.
Most importantly, he ended the 10-year warning period for a major conflict in our region. He underlined the rise in power and aggressiveness of China, as well as the growing strategic importance of the Indian Ocean and the Indo-Pacific. As such, the update is a premonitory call for strategic change. In light of this major reassessment, now is the time to recalibrate Talisman Saber through the strategic focus of Update 2020. The next iteration of Talisman Saber must change drastically – to reflect the shift in strategic focus.
The first change must be a redesign of the geography of exercises. As the update actually noted, these days geography rules strategy. A glance at the Australian Defense Force’s Australia-India land bridge map, which shows our post-update strategic environment, tells you that Talisman Saber is looking in the wrong direction. It must look north and west, moving away from its former anchor point in Shoalwater Bay and northern Queensland.
The northwest approaches to the Indian Ocean and Australia are at the gateway to five of Australia’s top 15 trading partners (India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand) and some of the world’s most dynamic economies . Forty percent of international offshore oil production comes from the Indian Ocean. It is through this region that our strategic oil and energy supplies transit. The Indian Ocean carries half of the world’s container traffic, one-third of the transport of bulk goods and about two-thirds of the world’s maritime oil shipments. The Gorgon and Northwest Plateau oil and gas deposits, most of the country’s iron ore, as well as the location of significant deposits of rare earth minerals that are critical to diversifying global markets today. dominated by China, are here.
Australia has strategically important Indian Ocean territories in the Christmas and Cocos Islands, both of which lie straddling major trade routes and close to major sea choke points. Significantly, this zone is the outlet for almost half of Australian exports. If any nation or non-state actor were to coerce or ban Australia’s oil supply or our exports, it would be in our approaches to the northwest.
Northwest Australia is also home to important military training areas that can support exercises.
focused on high-end conventional military scenarios. It includes the RAAF bases at Learmonth and Curtin, and the Pilbara regiment. In any up-to-date and realistic strategic analysis, these strengths are essential.
Almost a decade ago, in an era before the heightened geostrategic competition we see today, the latest posture review of the ADF noted the importance of our northwest approaches to the security of our nation. Today, this requires an even deeper commitment from the ADF in this region. This review called for high levels of ADF presence in Northwest Australia, both for deterrence and reassurance … increasing aircraft and ship visits to airfields and airports. ports… (and more) joint exercises ”.
Yet few or none of these initiatives have been achieved. Along with this review was the agreement with the Obama administration for enhanced alliance practical cooperation measures which included the Marine Rotational Force – Darwin, and enhanced air cooperation focused on northern Australia.
While Defense Minister Peter Dutton called for more Marines in Darwin, what has been lost from this debate are previously agreed measures for an increased US Navy presence in the Indian Ocean with rotations of US Navy ships via HMAS Stirling, south of Perth. With a Talisman Saber location reset, there should be a new look at how to engage our partners. Basically, Talisman Saber is an Australian-American bilateral exercise. This shouldn’t change.
However, the increasingly multilateral nature of the exercise needs to be reshaped to place more emphasis on our key partners in South and Southeast Asia. The focus here should be India, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, in addition to Japan and South Korea from Northeast Asia.
Beyond this restricted circle, a focus on the Indian Ocean would make more sense for the engagement of the United Kingdom, with its British Indian Ocean territory, of France with the Indo-Pacific territories. and the EU itself, which now has an Indo-Pacific strategy.
Such a refocusing of the exercise would also allow Australia to take advantage of the Australia-India Comprehensive Strategic Partnership 2020, which included two “historic defense arrangements” and the enhanced quadrilateral cooperation between Australia, India, Japan. and the United States. Including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in the early stages of such a revamped exercise, with scenarios based, for example, on the rapidly worsening effects of climate change, would allow Australia and the United States. United to engage regional partners at different levels, while supporting these partners own geostrategic situation.
A humanitarian and disaster relief exercise with Indonesia, first suggested by then Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, following the announcement in 2011 of a rotation of Marines via Darwin , would be a good start.
Such a revamped Talisman Saber would focus on key aspects of Australia’s defense update for 2020 – shaping the region, deterrence and readiness to respond to high-end military contingencies. It must address more directly the practical aspects of confronting a competitor with advanced capabilities, in realistic scenarios that test our vital interests, our joint combat skills, our operational concepts and doctrine, as well as our interoperability. with our American ally and our most important Indo-Pacific partners.
Our national economic, diplomatic and defense strategies recognize the changing direction and priorities of the Indo-Pacific.
It is time for our most important military exercise to do so too.