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  • Does the RAAF need seaplanes?

    The last time the RAAF operated seaplanes was 1950, but is there an argument to bring back some sort of modern amphibious seaplane? FLGOFF Joakim Siira thinks there are several – from tactical concepts associated with climate change to strategic relationships with key partners in our region. Years ago, before I joined the Royal Australian Air Force, I volunteered at the RAAF Association Aviation Heritage Museum in Bull Creek, Perth (I highly recommend you visit, given the chance). While working front of house selling tickets and gifts to customers, I was taken under the wing of many older veterans with whom I became good friends, whilst also being under the wing – literally – of a Consolidated PBY Catalina, undoubtedly the most famous and celebrated seaplane of all time. The Catalina served with great distinction during the Second World War, performing a range of tasks including reconnaissance, search-and-rescue (SAR) and mine-laying. Their strategic effect was well out of proportion to the number of airframes flying. All that time under the wing of a Catalina got me wondering; can the case be made for a modern-day seaplane capable of conducting strategic level effects? The last seaplane in-service within the RAAF was…the Consolidated PBY Catalina, retiring in 1950 after a decade of service [1]. This coincided with the worldwide decline in seaplane use and development. The rise of the aircraft carrier and naval aviation, long-range missiles as well as the advent of the jet engine combined with the massive increase of land-based airfields built during the war meant water-based aircraft had become largely redundant militarily. The USSR attempted to develop a jet-powered seaplane during the late 1980s, the Lun class ekranoplan, but never saw full-scale production. Maritime reconnaissance and SAR is now conducted by the P-8A Poseidon at 11 Squadron (once employing Catalinas). Based in Adelaide, the aircraft regularly operates from northern Australia and South East Asia for operational tasking. In support of these operations, Cocos Island infrastructure is being upgraded to accommodate the Poseidon, due to be finished in 2023. Nevertheless, land-based aircraft remain victim to one of the central characteristics of air power theory – impermanence [2]. There are two considerations to this worth exploring in the context of modern military seaplanes. The first is impermanence. Simply put, no RAAF aircraft can rescue anyone from the water. A P-8A can deliver life-saving equipment for the crew of a sunken vessel, loiter overhead for hours and relay information to surface vessels, but sooner or later it needs to return to a purpose-built, kilometres-long length of strengthened concrete to land. They can help, but they cannot affect the rescue. The RAN’s Seahawk helicopters can, but they are tied to their frigates, and if said ship is outside the Seahawks maximum range, they are also of no use until getting closer – at the frigate's maximum speed of 27kts. If there is a time-critical element to a situation, speed of response is a decisive factor. This may be either in the case of a downed aircraft, a sinking ship, or in the aftermath of a natural disaster, all where exposure to the elements is a killer. A seaplane combines the mobility of a fixed-wing aircraft with the ability of a ship to operate on the water and remove people from danger. The second consideration is the impermanence of infrastructure. As noted in the Air and Space Centre’s article ‘Airbases: Now. Then. Always’, climate change is a significant risk to not just Australian airports, but those of our allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific. The 2011 and 2022 floods both necessitated RAAF platforms to operate out of RAAF Bases Amberley and Richmond, with extreme weather events and sea levels only predicted to increase by the year 2090. With an increasing frequency of extreme weather events, and consistent flooding of two of six of our operational airbases likely to continue, there will continue to be massive strategic consequences. The RAAF and ADF will not be able to fulfil their obligations to support the nation and the region if critical infrastructure is out of action. It’s possible the aforementioned runway works at Cocos Island may be finished just in time to become redundant. So, is there a place in the modern air force for a modern amphibious seaplane? And where would we get one from? The latter is relatively easy to answer, the former not so much. A seaplane would functionally share a number of roles assigned to the P-8A - maritime reconnaissance and SAR for instance. A seaplane, however, has the benefit of being able to land on both runways and suitable stretches of water, whilst also carrying personnel and cargo. Despite requiring significant financial commitment - at a reported unit cost of USD$156 million, plus sustainment, competing geopolitics in the Indo-Pacific make the investment worthy of consideration. Australian aid is going to be sent following a natural disaster, and if an Indo-Pacific islands’ runways are out of action, a seaplane may still be able to operate out of their naval facilities instead, even if degraded, allowing Australia to execute its foreign policy objectives. So where to source one? There are three military seaplane producers: Russia, China and Japan. With Russia and China being unlikely contenders in the current political climate; Japan seems like a safe choice. It is worth noting however that China has also recently developed a large seaplane, the AVIC AG600 Kunlong; it is currently undergoing flight testing. Japan has a long history of long-range seaplane production pre-dating the Second World War. Their current platform, the amphibious ShinMaywa US-2, first entered service with the Japanese Self Defence Force in 2009, with 6 currently flown by the 71st Kotukai. Significantly, it is also being developed as a water-bomber, with the ability to carry 15 tonnes of water or repellant; a capability that Australia would heavily make use of during the summer fire season. With a reported maximum range of 4700km, a mission radius of 1900km, and the ability to operate on sea or land, (by operating out of Cocos Islands, Guam, Nauru or French Polynesia), it could cover much of the Indo-Pacific in its SAR or reconnaissance capacity. There is again a geopolitical factor; a purchase of this significance would further strengthen Australian-Japanese ties on the back of the signing of the Reciprocal Access Agreement in January, as well as Japan’s attendance at Exercise Pitch Black for the first time this year. In this context, the geopolitical messaging of the first ever RAAF procurement from an Asian nation can have a strategic effect worth more than the sum of its parts – that message being Australia and its allies are stronger than ever; an important message to send to the region in these tense times. For all the current focus on potential conflict in the region and further abroad, one thing we know for sure is that sea levels are rising. As the underlying enablers of Air Force capability change, most notably availability of suitable dry land, it behoves us to adapt to that change. Seaplanes are one option that provide RAAF with a capability that negates a critical disabler – impermanence – and allows RAAF to execute the ADFs mission of Shape, Deter, Respond where it might otherwise not be able to. FLGOFF Joakim Siira is a logistics officer based at RAAF Williamtown, with a background in aviation and intermodal logistics. The views expressed are his alone and do not represent the opinion of the Royal Australian Air Force, the Department of Defence or the Australian government. #AirPower #ClimateChange #infrastructure #procurement [1] Wilson, Stewart. 1994. Military Aircraft Of Australia. Weston Creek, ACT: Aerospace Publications. [2]The Air Power Manual. 2022. 7th ed. Canberra: Air and Space Power Centre, Royal Australian Air Force. Image credits: U.S. Air Force. 2022. US-2A During Cope North. Image. https://theaviationist.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/US-2-top-new-678x381.jpg RAAF. 2013. Warbirds Downunder 2013 Air Show In Temora. Image. http://images.defence.gov.au/20131102raaf8566593_9947.jpg

  • The Next Phase of the Russo-Ukraine War: Impact of Air Force General Sergei Vladimirovich Surovikin

    By Brian Morra 20 October 2022 Link to article Brian Morra, The Next Phase of the Russo-Ukraine War: The Impact of Air Force General Sergei Vladimirovich Surovikin (DefenseInfo) 20 October 2022 Text The Kremlin announced in early October that a new overall theater commander had been appointed to run its ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine. The new commander of the Russian Ukrainian front is four-star Air Force General Sergei Vladimirovich Surovikin, who is also the commander of the Russian Aerospace Force (comprising both the Air Force and Space Force). Previously, Putin had appointed two Army generals as overall commanders. Neither used airpower effectively. General Surovikin is a different story altogether. Almost immediately after his appointment, Russian air attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure targets escalated to levels not seen since February and March of 2022. The renewed October air campaign is clearly Surovikin’s doing. He has unleashed the Russian Air Force on Ukraine’s electrical grid, power generation centers, and other public utilities in Ukraine’s urban centers. His goal seems to be to cripple the Ukrainian economy by denying all industrial sectors the power required to run their businesses. Civilian casualties are mounting as some Russian missiles miss their intended infrastructure targets, probably due to faulty targeting data and failures in terminal guidance systems. The loss of access to electricity and other power sources also means that Ukrainian civilians will struggle to heat their homes and cook their food as wintry weather approaches. Who is General Sergei Surovikin? Ironically, even though he is commander of the Russian Aerospace Force, he spent most of his career in the Army. He is a legend among hardliners, and he famously supported the KGB-led coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991. As a young Army captain, his tank unit attacked Moscow protesters who were marching in the streets in support of Russian President Boris Yeltsin and against the unlawful coup against Gorbachev. Surovikin’s tanks killed three protestors, at least one of whom was a Soviet Army veteran of the war in Afghanistan. After the coup plotters failed to depose Gorbachev, Surovikin was imprisoned for his unit’s deadly actions. Russian President Yeltsin later pardoned him and Surovikin became a hero to hardliners – a status he maintains today. Putin personally called General Surovikin to wish him happy birthday earlier this year. More recently, as a three-star general, Surovikin was the architect of the successful and brutal Russian air campaign in Syria. As a reward for his service in Syria, Putin transferred him to the Air Force, promoted him to four star general, and named him commander of the Aerospace Forces. With the arrival of Surovikin, the war has entered a new and dangerous more phase. Ukraine has inadequate air defenses, and it now faces a serious, sustained air campaign for the first time. In the wake of the new air campaign, Ukrainian President Zelensky has implored NATO and the G7 member nations to supply him with promised air defense equipment. If he has sufficient weapons, Surovikin will wage a relentless campaign. The Aerospace Force that he commands is also the service most likely to employ nuclear weapons should the Kremlin decide to use them.

  • Reliable Supply Chains, Defence, Partners and Allies: Shaping a Way Ahead for Australia

    Dr Robbin Laird 17 October 2022 During my September 2022 trip to Australia in my role as a Research Fellow of the Williams Foundation, I wrote the report for the September 28, 2022 seminar and engaged in discussions during the month focused on the nature of the challenges facing Australia and the need to shape effective approaches to the direct defence of Australia within alliance contexts. I had a chance to discuss a number of aspects of these challenges with my colleague Dr. Ross Babbage who is the Chief Executive Officer of Strategic Forum Pty Ltd and a Non-Resident Senior Fellow of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) in Washington DC. A key issue which combines both defence and alliance issues is the challenge of ensuring reliable supply chains in the context of the digital age. The pandemic certainly brought to public attention the fragility of supply chains for Australia and the entire liberal democratic world. And the war in Ukraine has generated a broader energy crisis, notably in the wake of the aversion of many countries and the U.S. Administration to prioritize energy production during a perceived global “climate crisis.” The first issue which became evident was that the reliance on China for a significant amount of the West’s manufacturing capability left them vulnerable to the 21st century authoritarian states and their political agenda to change the “rules-based order” forged after World War II. With the Western economies eschewing heavy manufacturing in favor of a more environmentally friendly “service economy,” there is a key question of how then the West maintains a viable “arsenal of democracy”? The energy dependence of Europe on Russia has clearly underscored how not having viable alternatives for basic commodities can undercut Western agendas and policies. Although there is currently much focus on building alternatives in Europe, the continued emphasis on the “climate change emergency” clearly conflicts with a realistic long-term geopolitical energy strategy for all of the allies. And the Biden Administration’s rapid move away from the American energy independence reduces America’s ability to help allies in extremis. And indeed, when it comes to critical supplies, given the current U.S. trajectory, how much allied sharing will really be possible during a future crisis? The second issue which we discussed was the way ahead with rare earth minerals and processed metals. Dr. Babbage underscored that Australia has large quantities of many of the key rare earth minerals. But it generally does not process them; that has largely been done in China. This clearly needs to change, but this requires Australia and her partners to shoulder the key processing opportunities and burdens. It also means that Australia, her partners and allies need to work through ways to build and sustain relevant supply chains The third issue is that the Australian government needs to work with a variety of allies and partners, and not just wait for leadership from Washington. This is how he put it: “The slowness on some of the issues in this area means that Australia needs to move rapidly and take the initiative ourselves in developing bilateral or trilateral or multi-lateral alliance or partner relationships.” He underscored that “we need to get the network of allies and partners working effectively together to improve supply chains. In addition to our discussions with agencies in Washington, we’ve been having discussions with our friends in the region, most notably Japan and South Korea, but also with some of the ASEAN countries and India. “We are also focused on discussions in Europe because their industrial base is very significant and could play important roles in future Indo-Pacific contingencies. We have our own independent and close relationships with most of these European countries facilitated in part by our own European-origin populations.” The fourth issue is to expand ways for government to work with industry to ensure that essential supplies are available in a crisis and to ensure that Australia can do all of the important things it needs to do even during a very prolonged crisis. And Dr. Babbage underscored that innovations being generated by industry in a number of areas to strengthen supply chain robustness also can enhance Australian resilience as well. This is the case, for instance, in rare earth materials, as well as in advanced robotic technologies and some types of smart manufacturing. Babbage cited the example of an Australian rare earth minerals company, Lynas Rare Earths. They currently have a processing plant in Malaysia which they are closing in the coming two-to- three years. They are currently building a new plant in Australia and a second with an American partner in Texas. They are also modifying and modernizing the conventional rare earth refining process. He then mentioned another Australian company, Australian Strategic Materials, which has teamed with a South Korean company to develop and put into operation a completely new technology for rare earth mineral processing. This new technology process is much cleaner, less power intensive and cheaper to operate than legacy processing technologies. The first of this new type of processing plants is now fully operational in South Korea and is supplying Korean and other customers. This company is planning an even larger rare earth mining and processing operation in Australia and is also considering licensing their advanced technologies to allied partners. As a result of these and related developments China may lose its dominance of the rare earths industry during the coming decade. Put another way, shaping a way ahead for the defence of Australia is much broader than buying a new platform for the ADF. It is now also about the ecosystem for strengthening the supply chains that foster Australia’s prosperity as a functioning society and also the country’s security and that of its allies and security partners. The pandemic provided a hammer blow; the war in Ukraine triggered a global food and energy crisis; and the two together made it very clear that defense against a multi-domain power like China is not simply about winning the next battle with powerful military forces. It is also about being able to prevail in a struggle for national and allied survival. The featured graphic: Australian Supply Chains: State of Play. AUSTRALIAN CEO SURVEY 2021-2022. Link to article Dr Robbin Laird, Reliable Supply Chains, Defence, Partners and Allies: Shaping a Way Ahead for Australia (DefenseInfo) 17 October 2022

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  • Events | Williams Foundation

    EVENTS Our events are a fusion of influential ideas and powerful networking opportunities Our events attract an influential cross-section of Defence leaders, researchers and industry practitioners to share international and local experiences around future force thinking. Whether it be our day-long conferences, or our popular luncheon series, they're proven to be forums that offer focused, sharp insights that generate crucial ideas for the future. Upcoming Events Errol McCormack Member Lunch with ADM Phil Davidson, USN (ret.) 09 Nov, 12:15 pm – 2:30 pm AEDT The Boathouse By the Lake, Menindee Dr, Barton ACT 2600, Australia Members Lunch event Register Now Errol McCormack Member Lunch with Dr. Steven H. Walker, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Lockheed Martin 28 Nov, 12:15 pm – 2:30 pm AEDT The Boathouse By the Lake, Menindee Dr, Barton ACT 2600, Australia Members Lunch event Register Now Event Proceedings Download presentation packs, speeches and other materials from our previous events. Reliable Supply Chains, Defence, Partners and Allies: Shaping a Way Ahead for Australia Resilient communications in contested environments Preparing for Major Change in Australian Defence: The September 2022 Williams Foundation Seminar MORE PROCEEDINGS

  • Research | Williams Foundation

    RESEARCH Our work has a future strategic focus Our research and conference papers draw on the expertise of leading Defence, Industry and thought leaders in Australia and internationally. Our studies are succinct, future-focused and action-orientated. They assess the challenges ahead and raise policy issues to shape the future. Apr 30, 2020 Williams Paper: The Coming of the Australian Arafura Class Offshore Patrol Vessel: A Case Study The Arafura Class Offshore Patrol Vessel is the first of the new build platforms. It provides the template with regard to the entire reset o Oct 31, 2019 Conference: The Requirements of Fifth Generation Manoeuvre - Final Report ...major presentations and discussions at the Williams Foundation seminar on the requirements for fifth generation manoeuvre Apr 11, 2019 Conference: Hi-Intensity Operations and Sustaining Self Reliance - Final Report The latest Williams Seminar held in Canberra on April 11, 2019 focused on the strategic shift for Australia within the context of the evolvi Sep 7, 2018 Conference: The Imperative for an Independent Deterrent: A Joint Strike Seminar - Final Report Since 2014, the Williams Foundation has held a series of seminars, which have looked at the nature of military transformation enabled by new May 1, 2018 Conference: The Requirements of High Intensity Warfare - Final Report the Foundation is focusing on the new strategic context within which this force will operate and the kinds of further changes necessary for Sep 15, 2017 Conference: A New Approach, and Attitude, to Electronic Warfare In Australia - Final Report In this report, the major presentations at the Williams Foundation seminar on the evolution of electronic warfare, notably from the standpoi Apr 30, 2017 Williams Paper - Integrated Air and Missile Defence Study: The Challenge of Integrated Force Design The Williams Foundation conducted an Integrated Air and Missile Defence (IAMD) study between Sep16 and Feb17 to explore the challenges of bu Apr 27, 2017 Conference: Air / Sea / Land: Integrated Force 2030 - Final Report On April 11, 2017, the Williams Foundation held its latest seminar on shaping a way ahead in the shaping of a 21st century combat force. Thi Apr 30, 2014 Conference: Air Combat Operations 2025 and Beyond - Executive Summary Report The seminar explored the challenges and opportunities afforded by the introduction of 5th generation air combat capabilities. Apr 30, 2014 Conference: Air Combat Operations 2025 and Beyond - Laird Special Report Australia is building out a modest but effective 21st century Air Force built around the best available 21st century platforms and technolog Feb 28, 2014 Williams Paper: Protecting Australia with UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) The capabilities and use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) has grown rapidly over the last decade or so. Australia’s geography is uniquely we Jan 31, 2012 Williams Paper: Flawed Doctrine: The Problem With Centralised Control And Decentralised Execution This paper focuses on two objections to current ADF doctrine. First, reliance on a ‘bumper-sticker’4 as the basis for developing command arr

  • Partnering | Williams Foundation

    PARTNERING We offer unique opportunities to participate and partner in our work. Whether you're seeking to participate on an individual basis, or to align your organisation with our endeavours, we have a range of membership and partnering packages designed to suit your needs. Corporate Partners & Sponsors Read More Membership ​ Read More Knowledge Network ​ Read More

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