More than submarines: implications of AUKUS in the aviation sector

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Steps taken by the Biden administration to strengthen diplomatic and military ties with Australia by sharing, among other actions, British and US nuclear submarine technology through the establishment of the AUKUS Defense Partnership, have sparked much attention among academics and national security practitioners. Although the trilateral submarine deal has naturally attracted the majority of interest, several tactical and bilateral aspects of the partnership between the United States and Australia could have important implications, especially in the air field. Through cooperative diplomatic actions, the United States will likely improve its ability to compete strategically in the Indo-Pacific.

On September 16, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin described UKUS-associated initiatives “to co-develop advanced defense capabilities” with Australia. Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton amplified strategic intent of the AUKUS agreement by foreshadowing efforts to “improve our cooperation in terms of force posture, increase interoperability and deepen alliance activities in the Indo-Pacific”. These alliance deepening activities will include “rotational deployments of all types of US military aircraft to Australia.” The commander of the US Pacific Air Force also recently affirmed this strategic intent by describing his willingness to send all available US aircraft to the region, including fifth generation F-35 fighter jets, to Australia as part of these expanded rotations. These aircraft deployments will complement the existing Navy Rotational Force Darwin, which is a contingent of 2,500 US Marines on an annual six-month deployment to Australia.

Safer:

Australia

China

Security alliances

Air power and military aircraft

Consistent, rotating deployments of all US aircraft models and variants in Australia have the potential to improve the US position in Indo-Pacific strategic competition in three ways. The first potential effect of the agreement, and perhaps the most important, is to enable the U.S. Air Force to practice and refine the burgeoning concept of Agile Combat Employment (ACE). ACE is a concept designed to scramble the processes of targeting an adversary by using multiple airfields in an area to disperse air forces and project combat power from many locations. These potential airfields range from rugged international airports to austere airstrips. In pursuing a force dispersal capability, the United States tacitly recognizes that the concept of a fixed, centralized air operations center used in post 9/11 conflicts for the past two decades – for example, at Ramstein, in Germany; Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar; and Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan – is likely less effective against current US threats.

The ACE concept, which saw the light of day five years ago to counter the technological advances of close powers like China, relies on networks of willing partner states that favorably welcome coalition training within their own countries. borders. Despite Australia’s considerable air distance from China, Australia offers a range of alternatives from which future ACE operations could be launched against China. Additionally, ACE locations in Australia would offer additional options for logistics resupply that are further away, and therefore less likely to be attacked, than current options in Japan, Korea and Guam. In short, like Derek Solen concluded, “the more countries that host … dispersed units, the greater the dilemma Beijing will face.”

A second potential impact of US aircraft deployments linked to AUKUS in Australia is the improvement of interoperability between the two armies. As the experiences of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have learned, including the conflicts from Libya to Afghanistan, coalition military operations present complex challenges; obstacles to effectiveness persist despite the vigorous training of the NATO coalition. By codifying recurring deployments of aircraft and associated personnel to Australia, the two countries have established a framework to mitigate interoperability issues through exercises and exchanges of tactics and procedures. Additionally, given that the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) inventory includes such a large number of aircraft also operated by the United States, the maintenance and logistical support of these aircraft will benefit from economies of scale. . Interoperability will also serve as a force multiplier for RAAF assets, which now rely heavily on the United States’ air-to-air refueling capability to extend their reach.

A third potentially notable benefit to the US air domain capabilities of the AUKUS agreement is the expansion of access, base and overflight (ABO) clearances in the region. ABO authorizations are a standard assumption in emergency planning; however, as the United States experienced in 2003 when forced to alter plans for a northern assault on Iraq from Turkey, ABO clearances are never guaranteed. By making a “final strategic choice” in ratifying the AUKUS partnership, however, Australia has effectively chosen sides in the escalating competition with China. The move makes US ABO clearances in Australia a reasonable assumption for the future and potentially serves as a deterrent for Beijing’s behavior in the region.

The importance of the agreement to share the technology of American and British nuclear submarines through the creation of the AUKUS partnership should not be underestimated. This technology could eventually create a maritime ally with unique capabilities in the Indo-Pacific. It would also be equally prudent to recognize the deeper and more immediate ties that the AUKUS partnership will facilitate, particularly in the air sector. Collectively, these key elements of the trilateral security agreement represent a major step forward in Washington’s efforts to ensure integrated deterrence in order to prevail in the age of strategic competition.

Safer:

Australia

China

Security alliances

Air power and military aircraft

DISCLAIMER: Opinions, conclusions and recommendations expressed or implied are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Air University, the United States Air Force, the Department of Defense or any other government agency. American.


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