DEFENCE: by Peter CoatesNews Weekly
Australia in biggest Indian Ocean exercise
, September 1, 2007
Australian is about to take part in a major multinational naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal, with the United States, India and Japan. Peter Coates reports.
In early September 2007, while many Australians focus on the APEC summit in Sydney, Australians will be participating in another major multinational event to the northwest of Australia.
This later event, taking place from September 4 to 9, 2007, is known as Malabar 07
, perhaps the largest naval exercise seen in the Indian Ocean. More than 20 vessels, from India, the US, Japan, Australia and Singapore will be participating.Malabar 07
is the latest in a series of Malabar
exercises, held between the US and Indian navies, which began in 1993, were suspended in the wake of India's 1998 nuclear tests and resumed in 2002.
The forthcoming exercise will be held in the Bay of Bengal, midway between India's east coast and her Andaman Islands territories. The term "Malabar" derives from the coastal strip in southwest India, near to where some previous Malabar
exercises have been held.
This is the first time a Malabar
naval exercise is being conducted on India's eastern seaboard.China's strategic objective
India (the host) is concerned about China's increasing closeness to Burma's military government. China's strategic objective appears to be to gain direct access to the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea through Burma, bypassing the narrow Strait of Malacca.
China has therefore established close military cooperation with Burma and is subsidising the development of access roads, naval facilities and airfields there. It also has established four signals-stations in Burma around the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea to intercept Indian and Thai communications traffic.
Hence India may have so situated Malabar 07
in order to remind Burma not to get too close to China while reminding China of the potential international drawbacks of coveting Burma.
More broadly, US, Indian, Japanese and Australian participation in a key quadrilateral meeting (Manila, May 24-25, 2007) seems, despite many denials, to have been aimed at forming a preliminary alliance to contain China. China sees Malabar 07
as another example of three powerful regional countries and the US using an event to "gang up" on China.
Australia, according to current reports, will be represented by the guided-missile frigate HMAS Adelaide
and the replenishment ship HMAS Sirius
India will be fielding its one operational carrier, Indian Navy Ship (INS) Viraat
(formerly HMS Hermes
of Falklands War fame) as well as destroyers, frigates, a corvette and a tanker.
The US will be fielding the largest fleet, 13 vessels in all. These include the nuclear-powered aircraft-carrier USS Nimitz
and the conventionally-powered carrier USS Kitty Hawk
. Two American cruisers, several destroyers and tankers and the nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Chicago
will also participate.
Singapore will field its brand new stealth frigate Republic of Singapore Ship (RSS) Formidable
and Japan, two destroyers.Modern naval warfare dangers
The five-day timeframe of Malabar 07
in no way reflects how fast and furious a real naval battle might be. In a medium-intensity battle (with conventional weapons, between major combatants) or high-intensity battle (nuclear), most of the surface ships would not survive five days. Several may only last five minutes.
However, the emphasis at Malabar 07
will be on participants interacting step by step, rather than rapidly and permanently "destroying" each other.
Some lessons and dangers of modern naval warfare of which crews are more than aware are as follows:
• Naval warfare has moved from being platform-centric
, where vessels are largely self-reliant, to being network-centric
, where all the ships, submarines, aircraft (piloted and pilotless), satellites or land-based stations benefit from sharing information to detect or destroy opponents.
• It's better to detect the enemy before he detects you.
• The most dangerous weapons are usually missiles, which can move at speeds up to Mach 4 (i.e., four times the speed of sound).
• Large vessels, such as carriers, can be easily seen by radar out to 400 km. Carriers, however, have a wide screen of aircraft and escorts that few opponents can penetrate in order to strike them.
• If your vessel displays anything (down to, and including, a periscope), spy satellites might see you. For example, a US geostationary KH-12 ("Advanced Key Hole") satellite could focus on certain parts of the Malabar 07
exercise area and adjust some of its digital-imaging sensors to (perhaps) find a periscope at night.
• In naval exercises, armed projectiles will not be fired, but Electronic Warfare (EW) occurs closer to reality. A fictitious example is that a veiled conversation takes place between the bridge and the fire-control area of a Japanese destroyer. The USS Nimitz
uses its powerful receivers to pick up emissions from old wiring on the Japanese vessel. Japanese translators aboard the Nimitz
provide real-time translations of Japanese intentions to Nimitz's
tactical intelligence people.
• To successfully avoid such revelations, the Japanese Navy probably encodes conversations sufficiently. However, the inability to decode transmissions does not prevent traffic analysis (the art of recognising patters in signals that indicate a current or future action). From the above example, the Nimitz's
EW technicians may determine that the Japanese destroyer is about to attempt "long shots" with anti-shipping missiles. The Nimitz
might instruct the outermost destroyers in the carrier battle group to: 1) fire first to sink the Japanese vessel; 2) calibrate defensive missiles and Phalanx guns to shoot down any incoming Japanese missiles; while 3) readying decoys to draw incoming missiles away.
• EW ability is also crucial for crews of smaller vessels. In a submarine an EW technician might be responsible for the interception and exploitation of electronic emissions of potential target ships. This means he might use sophisticated search-receivers to analyse intercepted radio, sonic and radar transmissions.
• One shot could sink your vessel because most naval weapons can carry nuclear warheads.
• A destroyed opponent may have already fired a missile (or torpedo) and that missile/torpedo may still destroy you because it may well have sufficient electronic "intelligence" to guide itself onto you.
• Hence, the key to successful defence or attack is to destroy the launching platform before
it fires.Blue-water navies
Both India and China have aspirations to develop blue-water navies which can project national power into the Indian or other oceans.
The Indian Navy has advanced further down that path. It is planning a significant naval-building program that may yield three aircraft-carriers by 2020.
India also intends to deploy some of its nuclear ballistic missiles onto submarines. It is likely such submarines will be nuclear-powered, as was the INS Chakra
which India leased from Russia from 1988 to 1991. In 2004, the Indian Government may have agreed with Russia to eventually lease another nuclear-powered submarine.
That Chinese naval doctrine is in a state of flux is reflected in its confusing name "the People's Liberation Army Navy".
China is slowly converting the old Russian cruiser/carrier Varyag
into an aircraft-carrier, but progress is so slow and tentative that Chinese intentions appear to be more experimental than operational. China appears to be concentrating its naval program in two areas:
• a small to medium vessel amphibious capability for invading Taiwan or other contentious islands; and
• submarines to defend itself against the larger US and Japanese navies as well as building nuclear-missile submarines.
So India may have a blue-water navy in 15 years, and China may consider it once Taiwan's fate is clarified.Recognising realities
In view of the realities of modern naval warfare, Australia has probably been wise in its choice of vessels.
In June 2007, the Australian Government announced the Spanish F100 as the winning design for three air-warfare destroyers (AWD) to be completed before 2018. The F100 is already in service (with the Spanish Navy), which should reduce the cost and schedule risks traditionally associated with defence purchases.
The AWDs' greatest strength is that they'll feature the Aegis fully integrated combat system which uses powerful computers and radars to track and destroy air, surface and submarine targets. The Aegis system has a land attack capability and may have the ability (under development in the US) to shoot down short and intermediate range (nuclear) ballistic missiles.
In terms of development and maturity, the Collins-class submarine is a recent acquisition, with six possessed by the Royal Australian Navy and all based near Perth. Along with torpedoes they are capable of carrying mines and Harpoon missiles (for anti-shipping and land attack). Whether a Collins will be "watching" Malabar 07
from afar for practice is unknown.
The Collins has had more than its share of bad press. However, the comments of Dr Vijay Sakhuja (a retired Indian naval officer and now a research fellow) are encouraging. In South Asia Analysis Group Paper No. 1372
(May 12, 2005), he wrote:
"… Australian Collins class … have managed to penetrate US battle-group defences and simulated attacks on surface ships, including aircraft carriers, often without ever being detected. In 2002, during the biennial RIMPAC, exercises involving the navies of the US, South Korea, Canada, Japan, Chile, Peru, and Australia, an Australian Collins-class diesel-electric submarine was able to score multiple kills against two US Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered attack submarines…"
While APEC dominates the newspapers in early September, spare a thought for the crews of HMAS Adelaide
and HMAS Sirius
as they "fight" on the physical and electronic battlefield in the Bay of Bengal.- Peter Coates is an independent researcher who formerly worked for the Australian Government on intelligence and policy issues. His website is Pete's Blog.