Shaping A Way Ahead for 21st Century Military Transformation: UK and Australian Collaborative Opportunities

By Robbin Laird

The recent visit of the Australian Defence Minister to the UK highlighted the question of how might the UK and Australia work more effectively together in the defense sector?

Recently, I published a report on the UK and Australia and their overlapping but also different approaches to defense transformation.

I closed the report with an assessment of what might be considered their core collaborative opportunities.

In that conclusion I argued that obviously, there is a long history between Australia and the United Kingdom.

But the defeat of the British and Australian forces in the Fall of Singapore led to Australia working much more closely with the United States during World War II and after.

And the entrance of the United Kingdom into the European Union led the British to change significantly their relationship with the Commonwealth.

This means that at least thirty years of history has seen the UK-Australian relationship as hardly the central one in their respective histories, but this could well be changing as the strategic threats change as well as the alliance relationships for each in the context of a very dynamically changing world of global liberal democracies.

For the British, the change is very clear.

Brexit will pose the challenge of fundamentally reworking the UK’s relationship with Europe as well as the broader world. And it almost certainly will challenge how “United” the Kingdom will actually become.

For the Australians, the change is less dramatic but significant as well. At the heart of the change is the rise of China, and the need to have a more significant role in their own defense rather than being an input to a global American strategic policy.

The rise of China piece is as much about the role of the Chinese reach into the Australian polity and economy as it is about any direct military threat.

And the challenge of reworking the relationship with the United States is really three Administration’s in the making.

George W. Bush led an invasion of Iraq and changed the face of Middle Eastern policies.

The Obama Administration pursued a globalization policy without teeth, and the experience of watching wavering Red Lines during that Administration left the Aussies puzzled over what exactly the Administration would really do.

Now with the Trump Presidency, I am not using the term Administration, because it is precisely because it is not an Administration in any classic sense which creates significant challenges for America’s allies. The President is the center of his own initiatives; and the relationship between those initiatives and anyone employed by the US government let alone at a senior level is never quite clear.

I am making this broader point about the evolution of American simply because the shift I think is significant and something way beyond the question of the Trump Presidency. This means that the Australians need to rethink how to rework their own defense in a broader alliance context, where the United States is the central ally but not the only one that matters in terms of shaping their defense and security policy going forward.

The well-known and experienced Australian strategist, Brendan Sargeant, put the challenge this way with regard to Australian and the reworking of alliances.

“Great powers like the United States are more interested in totalizing alliance arrangements than their alliance partners are likely to accept.  Australians like other regional allies of the United States will seek working arrangements with a variety of regional partners to provide for our interests and work through different sorts of working arrangements to deal with our strategic challenges.”

“The shift is clearly from followership to engagement in working relationships where leadership is shouldered or shared differently from the great power followership role which Australia has followed first with Britain and then with the United States.

“Working relationships with regional or global partners around specific issues and challenges are becoming “the real alliances.  They are being built in response to specific crisis or specific problems.”

For Australia, the challenge will be how to deal with global and regional crisis management.  For defense, this means shaping capability which can be leveraged in a crisis and effectively used by political leadership effectively to meet the national interest.

This means taking a hard look at the kind of defense force which Australia has and is developing and determining which tools are available to decision makers.

It also means building a more durable and sustainable force through a crisis period.

“The ability to deploy force creates more decision space in a crisis.  But you need to do that over time.  That requires a robust logistical and industrial base that can give you more confidence that you can scale up during a crisis.”

“From a policy perspective, you want to give yourself more strategic options by giving yourself more time. Which means that you will need to have a more sustainable force during a crisis.”

And the crisis management challenge requires thinking through partnerships and working relationships with allies.

“When do you exercise leadership? When do you exercise followership?”

Comparing the Paths of the RAAF and the RAF

A presentation at the Williams Foundation seminar in August 2018 by Air Marshal S D Atha, Deputy Commander of Operations for the RAF provides a good baseline from which to understand overlaps and differences between the RAAF and the RAF.

What he focused on was the strategic shift from the land wars to engaging with peer competitors.  He underscored how the flexibility demonstrated by Western airpower over the past decade and a half in the counter-terrorism operations in the Middle East actually has led to a de-emphasis on the core function from a national point of view, which is deterrence of a peer competitor, and in the British case this was clearly Russia.

He noted that with the celebration of the 100thanniversary of the RAF, the refocus on the deterrence mission was central to British thinking.  The RAF is engaged in a number of Article V activities such as air policing in the Baltics and most recently in Romania.  He underscored that the ability to forward deploy and support allies provided for a key deterrent function, mainly, to deflect adversary actions.

He argued that deterrence obviously required have a punishment capability associated with it, and although he did not use the term crisis management, he clearly had in mind the key role of an ability to deny adversary objectives. Airpower played a crucial role in this function because of its ability to operate rapidly and over distance.

He argued that the RAF and the RAAF now flying common platforms, notably the F-35 and the P-8, could enhance their interoperability.  The two Air Forces had much in common, including historically.  But moving forward they shared some common approaches to deterrence as well.

He did distinguish between the two air forces with regard to the question of building a fifth-generation force.  The Aussies are clearly moving from 4thto 5thgeneration and rebuilding their force around the new F-35 capabilities; according to the Air Marshal, they thought this put too much emphasis on a single platform and they will be flying Typhoons for several years as well as working on building a new air platform as well.

The Air Marshal emphasized a number of key capabilities which needed to be enhanced in the period ahead to have a more effective deterrent structure.

First was an ability to have much more effective mobile basing.  With the coming of the F-35B as well as the Queen Elizabeth carriers, a new approach to mobility was being injected into the RAF.

Second, how best to interconnect 5thgeneration aircraft with 4thgeneration aircraft?

The RAF clearly has an approach evolving between Typhoon and F-35 but the overall challenge will be to shape ways for overall force capabilities to be enhanced as the new air system is introduced.

Third, from a deterrent perspective, how best to ensure that coalition forces can work together in a networked environment?

He did not put it quite this way but the question on the table certainly with regard to crisis management is how does C2 work with a coalition force of variant possibilities?

Personally, I think this question is a key one, but I also think that the fifth-generation forces will do operations separate from those allies which simply do not have those capabilities, not the least of which such a force can deliver much more lethal impact with significantly less deployed force than can a legacy one.

Despite the similarities between the RAF and the RAAF, there is a clear difference with regard to their approach to fifth generation aircraft, at least in terms of how policy is stated.

For the RAAF, the F-35 is being leveraged to configure a very different force and they are not looking to the next generation tactical aircraft.  They may well consider ways to deploy longer range strike on a new platform, whether it be a bomber or something like an A400M.  There focus is clearly on fifth-generation enablement of an offensive-defensive strike enterprise.

For the RAF, the government is already shaping a new air combat strategy built around another tactical fighter.  This will be challenging on several dimensions, but the Aussies prefer to invest in ADF force integration and development rather than a next generation fighter.

The newly announced air combat strategy raises a number of questions for Britain, for the RAF and for working relationships with the RAAF as well.

With Brexit and the current European dynamics, how will the UK air combat strategy interact with European initiatives?

How will the UK leverage Typhoon and shape a post-Typhoon strategy?

How will the UK leverage the launch of its new carrier and the coming of the F-35 to shape a way ahead for a 21stcentury air combat strategy?

Will the new Air Combat Strategy live up to the legacy of Air Marshal Dowding and his focus on the right concepts of operations for the RAF to deal with evolving threats and challenges?

Which global partners might join this project and what manner?

In short, given the strategic context, how realistic is the project as announced?

Put in stark terms, the Aussies are retiring their fourth-generation aircraft; the RAF is modernizing them.

The RAF and RAAF are on complimentary path in some dimensions but a divergent one on others.

Britain is a nuclear power; Australia is not and this has an impact as well on approaches to deterrence of an authoritarian adversary.

Nonetheless, there are several areas where collaboration is already occurring and could be deepened to ensure that the UK and Australia could help each other more effectively in the reshaping of their defense forces in era of change both in terms of the alliance dynamics for the liberal democracies as well as the nature of the threats being posed by the 21stcentury authoritarian powers.

A Plan Jericho Initiative

The Aussies have been very open to working with a variety of nations and to buying platforms to reshape their combat force. They are clearly now reworking their defense industrial policy but they have not been forced by powerful prime contractors as in the UK to buy a particular capability.

This means that the Aussies have been able to have a broader reexamination and process of change to reshape the integrated force not on legacy defense industrial lines but with a much more open aperture on the way ahead with regard to how to build out a defense industrial structure which can better support transformation and self-reliance.

The five-year process of working Plan Jericho type of thinking in Australia would be a good place for the UK MoD to start in coming up with a more integrated approach to their defense transformation and guide Team Tempest rather than being driven by the industrial interests underlying Team Tempest.

The F-35 Global Enterprise

The F-35 global enterprise is clearly a very significant domain within which both the UK and Australia can generate common initiatives as well as to help organize nations within the global user groups to drive the kind of changes in the air system which can benefit both countries.

Clearly, both have a key stake in making regional support structures work with the UK being able to leverage European support structures to plus up a regional support approach which clearly the Aussies are on track to replicate in their region as well.

Significant cross-learning as well as common lobbying of the USAF and DoD can facilitate change favorable to a regional support structure approach.

Another example is collaboration on the mission data system underlying the aircraft its threat identification capabilities.

In article published by Australian Defence and Business Review on their January-February 2019 issue, Andrew McLaughlin provided a look at how the Aussies, the Canadians and the Uk are working common solutions.

But an EW system is only as good as the data library from which it draws its information. While the ASQ-239 may be able to provide information on threats to the pilot faster than previous systems, the old adage of ‘rubbish in – rubbish out’ remains as pertinent today as it was with older analogue systems.

To this end, dedicated data reprogramming laboratories have been established by the US, partner nations, and FMS customers to generate mission data files that will ensure the F-35 EW system’s data library is not only of sufficient fidelity for its advanced systems, but that it remains tactically relevant for the F-35’s life of type.

There are several reprogramming labs (RL) for the F-35 for which the various partner nations and FMS operators are patrons, and these are generally aligned with levels of capability or access. The US maintains its own RL at Eglin AFB in Florida, and an FMS customer lab has been established at Naval Air Warfare Center (NAWC) Pt Mugu, Ventura County north of Los Angeles.

Australia has teamed with two other non-US ‘five-eyes’ JSF program partners to establish the Australia Canada UK Reprogramming Lab (ACURL). The three nations share common geo-political and strategic interests, and are generally subject to similar US export and security requirements. And while Canada has paused its F-35 acquisition pending a competitive evaluation of other air combat capabilities, it remains an ACURL partner for the time being.

“There’s a number of different laboratories being established,” Australia’s JSF Program Manager, AVM Leigh Gordon told ADBR. “There’s one for the Norwegians and the Italians (the NIRL), there’s the US complex (USRL), and there’s the ACURL. There’s also a lab at Point Mugu that looks after FMS customers and other partners who haven’t built or contributed to their own sovereign reprogramming laboratories.”

The ACURL hardware was initially established at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth factory in Texas, but is in the final stages of being moved to a purpose-designed 2,300 sqm facility adjacent to the USRL at Eglin AFB in Florida and which comes under the USAF’s 53rd Electronic Warfare Group (EWG).

“The ACURL has two meanings – one is the building and the name on the building. But it’s also the capability,” JSF Division Project Director Support Systems, GPCAPT Guy Adams told us.

“The reprogramming capability consists of hardware and software tools to build the MDFs, and additional hardware and software to test the performance of the MDFs once they’re produced,” GPCAPT Adams said. “It also includes the people – that capability will consist of up to about 115 people by the time we get to IOC (initial operational capability) which includes Australian plus Royal Air Force and Royal Navy personnel as well. It also includes US partner support complex personnel and a number of US contractor personnel.”

The hardware component of the ACURL consists of radio frequency stimulators and simulators, as well as actual aircraft hardware that can inject threats to test how mission data files will respond using hardware-in-the-loop testing procedures. While no date has publicly been set for IOC, it is planned to be later this year.

“The ACURL is an absolute joint arrangement between us and the UK – we are tied at the hip to the UK,” explained GPCAPT Adams. “The ACURL is jointly managed and operated by Australia and the UK, with operators of both nations joined in dedicated reprogramming teams,” he added. “We really appreciate the experience the UK brings to the table from their reprogramming background.”

The mission data files generated by ACURL will be far more sophisticated than those used by 3rd and 4th generation combat aircraft.

“I won’t go too far into that, but with respect to the complexity associated with reprogramming this aircraft, compared to the EW library you would see in a classic Hornet or even a Super Hornet there are substantially more components to the JSF,” GPCAPT Adams explained.

“For the 5th generation, data is the king and shared awareness is the force multiplier,” he added. “In the mission data file space, it’s all about recognising that the real capability in the F-35 is the complex sensors and the way in which that information is integrated and passed not only to the pilot, but to other platforms as required.”

Much like the myriad of ingredients a chef needs to source to be prepared, cooked and presented for a menu in a Michelin star restaurant, the raw data for ACURL comes from a wide variety of sources. “They come from multiple sources, given the multiple parts of data that we need to program this aircraft,” said AVM Gordon.

“They come out of a number of intel shops, depending on whether it’s EW-related data or any of the other boxes that needed to be filled. But they generally come out of the intel shops both here in Australia, and from the five-eyes community.”

Fortunately for all F-35 operators, it hasn’t been necessary to start with an empty pantry for the Michelin star ACURL. Data that has been gleaned over decades for previous generations of air combat capabilities such as the classic and Super Hornet, can also be integrated with the F-35’s EW library. “The legacy data can be used and what we’re finding is it’s effective, it works,” AVM Gordon said. “But the F-35 would like more detail, so to speak.”

And it is the ACURL that provides that higher level of detail. In the past the ADF’s Joint Electronic Warfare Operational Support Unit (JEWOSU) – which is now part of the Edinburgh-based Air Warfare Centre – has been tasked with developing EW data files for the ADF, and this will continue.

“From an organisational perspective, the Australian people that work at ACURL will also belong to the Air Warfare Centre,” explained GPCAPT Adams. “So, ACURL does for F-35 what JEWOSU does for the remainder of the ADF platforms, but they work for the same organisation.”

“Whilst outside of the JSF Program of Record, one of the other aspects of the mission data capability that we’ve been working on is the Ghosthawk tool set,” said AVM Gordon.

“Ghosthawk is a tool to allow us to better manage intelligence data, and helps us get it into the right format in a way that it can feed into things like ACURL. However, Ghosthawk is intended to be entirely platform agnostic with an ability to support a wide range of ADF platforms as well as the JSF.

“It’s not just having the data, it’s got to be in the right spot in the data base in the right order to be able to be sucked up by the next step in the system,” he added. “JEWOSU already has a database, and Ghosthawk will replace that with a far more ‘5th gen’ paradigm. The current database is very ‘mandraulic’, and limited in the data types it supports.

“Ghosthawk will provide the ability to store digital models of various threats and responses. The level of specificity that this whole system allows us to bring to the game, makes that data absolutely critical when it comes to joint warfighting with coalition partners.”

The installation of the ACURL hardware in the loop test facility at Eglin AFB is due to be completed at time of writing, after which the lab will be integrated and tested, and the ACURL staff will commence their training on the new systems. Following that, a verification and validation program will be conducted to ensure the ACURL can meet the operational rate of effort requirement of the UK and Australia. IOC is scheduled for the second half of 2019.

The five-eyes arrangement and Australia and the UK’s agility provides an opportunity for the ACURL to contribute better ways of managing and presenting mission data files to the wider JSF enterprise.

Flying Common Platforms

The RAF and RAAF are flying other common platforms than the F-35 as well.

Notably, they are both operating P-8s and working with the US Navy on reworking their ASW approaches with the systems onboard. And the performance of the Australian E-7 significantly influenced an MoD decision to replace their AWACS with the E-7 as well.

These are both American air systems, but is clearly the UK and Australia have common requirements for operating the two aircraft, both as smaller air forces and in terms of the geography which they are prioritizing regionally.

They will want software modifications for sure to support capabilities which they will prioritize. It will benefit both to work together to enhance the ability of both to ensure that the US will be receptive to prioritizing their upgrades, which of course, the two countries could both financially contribute to.

With the arrival of software upgradeable aircraft as the new norm for 21stcentury air combat systems, the question of an ability to cross learn and to prioritize specific platforms for upgrades for specific missions for particular platforms is clearly something that would make a great deal of sense, notably for smaller Air Forces.

I had a chance to discuss this during a visit to RAF Waddington in 2016 with the Commander of the ISTAR force. And it is clear that if the RAF and the RAAF could get on the same page with software upgrades they both felt were priorities their ability to both afford and get then would be significantly enhanced.

“Both the F35 and P8-A are hugely software driven, which offers tremendous opportunity for connected computer generated training in federated systems – perhaps linked together as spokes to an overall ISTAR synthetic training hub which includes all of the other capabilities in the ISTAR Force.”

We discussed the idea that as the core platforms are replaced by an all software upgradeable fleet, the possibility could exist to put the platforms in competition with one another for modernization upgrades.

“Which upgrade gets the priority for which platform to make the greatest contribution to the integrated ISTAR capability are the sort of decisions that should lie with the ISTAR Force in the future – it is at Force level, not within individual programmes and projects that the overall capability benefit can be seen and prioritized.”

Kill Web Training

An ability to actually have a kill web force requires the training to actually do it.

Training will need to occur on two levels.

First, in the live environment, working the physical pieces of operating ADA with Naval Systems with Air Systems and working the C2 architecture to put the pieces In place to cross-leverage and to worked distributed C2, on the one hand, and strategic level command of a distributed force on the other.

And such training will require significant ops space, of the sort the US, Canada and Australia have available.

Second, the virtual environment is crucial in order to use a number of the fifth gen capabilities, associated with tron warfare and other cross leveraging means which one would not like the adversary to be able to see in the operational space.

This means then that the preparation for kill web ops requires combining live and virtual training either at the same tie or separately.

What a kill web allows you to do is to operate a force appropriate to the full spectrum crisis management environment which the liberal democracies face.

Obviously, the RAAF and the RAF are already undergoing fifth generation training in the United States, at various locations, including Red Flag.  But the Aussies face a significant opportunity to turn their test and training areas into real allied friendly capabilities.

This requires investment by the Commonwealth, but it is clear that the very air and sea spaces in which to practice and develop kill web combat capabilities are in short supply among the liberal democracies.  Australia has a real opportunity to build out capabilities in this area.

This is an area where the desire to shape 21stcentury defense industrial capabilities could be clearly be built and prioritized. And given the UK investments in simulated training, it would be very probable that UK companies could be part of this effort in Australia as well.

It is not just a question of the wide area needed to do training, it is also the question of the security of training as well. Operating from Guam is not exactly a hard challenge for the Russians and Chinese to observe closely.

And US training ranges clearly need to be complemented by Canadian and Australian ranges which European allies need to become regular contributors to.

Here operating common platforms provides an opportunity for not having to fly your own physical asset across the long distance from Europe to an Australian test range.

It is also a question of how to train for the various air and sea platforms can cross leverage one another and to train to do so.

In an interview I did with former head of the RAAF, Air Marshal (Retired) Geoff Brown, we discussed the strategic shift necessary to do kill web training. Notably, we had this discussion shortly after he presented at a training conference held in the UK.

Brown noted: “Today’s Western military is an information-dependent force, one that is wholly reliant on information communication technology (ICT) for current and future military operations.

“The adaptation and integration of ICTs into weapons platforms, military systems,  and in concepts of operation has put the battle for information control at the heart of what we do!

“Now while the use of ICT exponentially increases the Western military’s lethality,

“The dependence on these technologies, in many ways, is also a vulnerability. Competitors and adversaries— most notably Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea—recognize this reality.

“Each state plans to employ a range of cyber capabilities to undermine the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of Western allied information in competition and combat.”

Because of this situation several key training questions need to addressed and answered.

The three key questions for Brown are as follows:

How to train in Battlespace saturated by adversary cyber and Information attacks?

How to exploit the advantages of cyber in multi-domain operations

Do we have the tools and key infrastructure to train in an appropriate manner?

“I believe it’s safe to say it is impossible to deny an adversary entirely of the ability to shape aspects of the information environment, whether it’s  through spoofing or sabotaging ICT-based warfighting systems.  As a result, our goal should be to sustain military operations in spite of a denied, disrupted, or subverted information environment.”

He underscored the challenge this way:

“The requirement is that warfighters need to be able to fight as an integrated whole in and through an increasingly contested and complex battlespace saturated by adversary cyber and information operations.  But how to do this so that we are shaping our con-ops but not sharing them with adversary in advance of operations?”

“The battle for information control needs to drive our training needs much more than it does at the moment.  We need to provide warfighters withthe right kind of combat learning.”

Clearly, this is an area where the UK and Australia are going to invest in – why not emphasize collaborative technologies and approaches and open up the ability to use Australian training ranges?

Weapons and Remotes

There is no area where the UK working Australia makes more sense than in the weapons and unmanned systems or remotes area. Australia has test ranges and very innovative small companies already supporting an indigenous UAV business area, and the UK has a clear to diversity where its UK weapons complex can work.

The last Williams Foundation Seminar held on April 11, 2019, discussed these issues at some length and I followed these up with a number of interviews and the report for that seminar, including the appendices can be read as a compliment to this one.

The collaborative opportunity with regard to weapons was underscored by Air Marshal (Retired) Brown in an interview held shortly after the seminar.

“Cleary, we need to hold bigger stocks of expendables and weapons, to take one key example.

“I think that operational support and repair capabilities need to be clearly done in Australia and we are on the way to achieve that goal.

“It may cost us a little more because the scale will be smaller, but we probably just should do it for self-reliance.

“There was a good presentation by MBDA  in terms of how the British have developed modular weapons which has allowed them to  reduce their logistics footprint and kept their developmental and manufacturing capability as well.

“Looking back at the seminar, I believe it was just the start of the conversation and it’s one that we need to continue.

“But I think we are raising the right questions.”

And if Australia were to become a key development, testing and manufacturing hub for weapons, there is a clear opportunity for the Japanese who are seeking new collaborative defense technology opportunities to become a key player in such an inter-allied effort. And all of this is clearly facilitated by flying the same combat aircraft which can provide for common software solutions for a weapon which could fly on the air systems of the three air forces as well.

And given that MBDA is clearly focused on working a legacy-fifth gen enterprise, this would expand the global exportability for Australia as well.

With regard to remotes, the Brits are using test ranges already for the development of the remotes business area.

One example is the Airbus Defence and Space high altitude UAV called the Zephyr.

According to Airbus, the Zephyr S can provide a number of potential applications for users.

The Zephyr S is a solar-powered aircraft, providing a wide scope of applications, ranging for example from maritime surveillance and services, border patrol missions, communications, forest fire detection and monitoring, or navigation. 

Operating in the stratosphere at an average altitude of 70,000 feet / 21 kilometers, the ultra-lightweight Zephyr has a wingspan of 25 meters and a weigh of less than 75kg, and flies above weather (clouds, jet streams) and above regular air traffic, covering local or regional footprints. Ideally suited for “local persistence” (ISR/Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance), the Zephyr has the ability to stay focused on a specific area of interest (which can be hundreds of miles wide) while providing it with satellite-like communications and Earth observation services (with greater imagery granularity) over long periods of time without interruption. 

Not quite an aircraft and not quite a satellite, but incorporating aspects of both, the Zephyr has the persistence of a satellite with the flexibility of a UAV. 

The only civil aircraft that used to fly at this altitude was Concorde and only the famous military U2 and SR-71 Blackbird could operate at similar levels. 

The Zephyr successfully achieved several world records, including the longest flight duration without refueling.

Unfortunately, this aircraft crashed earlier this year in Western Australia.

Another was the BAE Systems Taranis. The test flights of the Taranis were held at the Woomera test range. The Taranis program provided inputs into an Anglo-French Future Combat Air system (AFFCAS) which is no on hold. But it does show that a UK-generated project with Australian could feed into FCAS or Tempest or other global efforts.

And a clear focus of common interest would be variants of the loyal wingman.

The British can bring relevant industrial capacity to the challenge along with Boeing Australia capabilities which can then leverage Australian test and development areas to shape a range of loyal wingman, some designed to fly with the F-35 and its fusion sensor enabled C2 capability and some designed to work with differently configured manned systems.

The Frigate Case

As the Chinese challenge grows, Australia is clearly concerned about expanded Chinese influence within Australia and with regard to Chinese efforts to reshape the external environment to expand the influence and power of the Chinese authoritarian state.

Clearly the United States remains Australia’s core ally in dealing with the Chinese challenge, but as Australia modernizes its forces, it is broadening as well its working relationships with other key allies

The case of dealing with the region’s growing submarine threat provides a good case study of how the Aussies are working their alliance relationships. With the P-8 and F-35, the Aussies are working closely with the US to add new multi-domain warfighting capabilities to the force. The Aussies just stood up their own training facilities for the P-8, have eight P-8s already at RAAF Edinburgh and are moving ahead with this new capability. They are concurrently working to stand up their F-35 squadrons in rapid succession as well.

The Royal Australian Navy has worked hard to rebuild their once-flawed Collins class submarines and to generate higher availability rates as part of their response to the growing submarine threat in the Pacific. With the P-8 working with Collins, and with the F-35s working with P-8s as well, the RAAF and RAN will shape a new template with the United States to work anti-submarine warfare over the next few years, one in which their reach and capabilities are extended.

The next round of naval capability is being worked with the Brits and the French in terms of platforms, though the US is slated to play a continuing role in terms of force integration.

As Britain faces a post-Brexit world, working with the Aussies is seen as a key political objective, in addition to any technological relationship.

Australia decided to buy the new UK Global Combat Ship frigate at the end of June 2018, a key touchstone of how London sees its new role. It also is a good indicator of the Aussie point of view on what it needs for a new approach to shipbuilding.

On 29 June 2018, BAE Systems Australia were announced as the successful bid to design the Global Combat Ship – Australia Hunter Class frigates, to be built by ASC Shipbuilding at the Osborne Naval Shipyard in Adelaide, South Australia. SEA 5000 Phase 1 Future Frigate Program will deliver anti-submarine warfare frigates, the Hunter class. 

The Hunter class enters service in the late 2020s replacing the eight Anzac frigates, which have been in service since 1996.

 The Hunter class will have the capability to conduct a variety of missions independently, or as part of a task group, with sufficient range and endurance to operate effectively throughout the region. 

The frigates will also have the flexibility to support non-warfare roles such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Incorporating the leading-edge Australian-developed CEA Phased-Array Radar and the US Navy’s Aegis combat management system, with an Australian interface developed by Saab Australia Australian interface, the Hunter class will be one of the most capable warships in the world.

The Australian anti-submarine frigates will be known as the Hunter Class and will be built by ASC Shipbuilding at the Osborne Naval Shipyard in Adelaide, South Australia. The Hunter class should enter service in the late 2020s. They replace eight Anzac frigates, which have been in service since 1996.

The ships will carry the Australian-developed CEA Phased-Array Radar and the US Navy’s Aegis combat management system.

The UK and Australia are shaping a wide-ranging set of agreements on working together as well as determining what Aussie assets might go onto the UK version as well.

There is a clear design and build strategy already agreed to and a key focus is upon the manufacturing process and facility to be set up at the Osborne shipyards.

The priority is upon creating a digital build process.

According to a top BAE Systemsofficial involved in the process, the benefits will be significant.

“Having a single point of truth in the design phase will mean that each of the nine ships will be replicated, which hasn’t been done in Australia previously, and which will benefit every stage of the program, including the upgrading and maintenance of the ships during service,’’

Glynn Phillips, CEO of BAE Systems Australia, said. “It will also be the first time in Australia where a ship’s systems will have the intelligence to report on its own performance and maintenance needs and have the ability to order both the maintenance and parts required prior to docking.”

With the coming of the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers and the new UK frigates, and with extensive collaboration to build the Aussie frigates, a key foundation is being laid for working the UK-Australian strategic relationship in the years ahead.

But the frigate program comes with a significant challenge to the UK and its approach to program leadership. The Canadians have also selected the frigate which means that Australia and Canada will buy the large majority of the frigates in the program, while the Royal Navy only a segment of the total buy.

This will certainly mean that the Australians and Canadians will expect their own national content on the overall frigate build as well.

In short, UK and Australian collaborative opportunities can clearly go up in the period ahead, but there will remain significant differences in approaches as well as in their respective strategic situations. But both will be sorting out new relationships with allies, including the United States.

And that process will clearly be one where UK and Australian approaches will clearly be cross cutting.

The Australian Defence Minister Visits the UK: July 2019