Bombers Could Help Australia During Transition to Nuclear-Powered Submarines

Bombers, long-range strike missiles and large undersea unmanned systems could help Canberra until it has nuclear-powered attack submarines, an Australian and American security expert agreed Wednesday. “Bombers are a possibility,” said Marcus Hellyer of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, speaking at a Hudson Institute event. Mark Gunzinger, of the Mitchell Institute of Aerospace Studies at the […]

Bombers, long-range strike missiles and large undersea unmanned systems could help Canberra until it has nuclear-powered attack submarines, an Australian and American security expert agreed Wednesday.

“Bombers are a possibility,” said Marcus Hellyer of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, speaking at a Hudson Institute event.

Mark Gunzinger, of the Mitchell Institute of Aerospace Studies at the Air and Space Force Association, said “the B-21 is part of a family of systems for long-range strike” that includes missiles and unmanned systems. The Air Force has taken delivery of six of these bombers and some can be operational soon.

He added, “you really don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket” when it comes to deterring a competitor like China. The goal should be “to build a much more resilient capability.” Bombers, in addition to having the ability to fly multiple long-range strike sorties, can also keep sea lanes of communication open and perform sea-mining.

Building a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines is the centerpiece of the technology agreement – known as AUKUS – that Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States reached a little more than a year ago. Canberra is expected to make a decision early next year on whether to use an American or U.K. design for the submarine. But that is only the first step in the submarine program, which also must train Australian crews in nuclear operations and create a skilled shipyard workforce in South Australia to build, repair and maintain the nuclear attack boats.

“There’s no use getting SSNs unless you can maintain them,” said Hellyer, adding that the nuclear-powered submarines require about three times as much maintenance time as conventional boats.

It could be 2040 before Australia has the first submarine deliver, with the Royal Australian Navy projected to have four boats by 2050, Hellyer said. 

While in the transition period, Canberra needs to determine what operations it wants its defense forces to be able to do, Hellyer said. It also needs to figure out what it can get from its allies and what it can provide for itself.

Submarines are just one option to carry out a number of maritime missions, Gunzinger said.

Australia is “already embarked on two high-risk [naval] activities,” Hellyer said.

He was referring to Canberra’s plan to extend the service life of some of its six Collins-class conventional submarines to ease the transition, while also launching an ambitious modernization program for its surface fleet.

Both programs are long-term and costly. They also will fill Australian shipyards to capacity at a time when American and U.K. yards also are stretched to the limit, Hellyer said.

“Maybe the best interim capability we could have is the B-21 bomber,” he said.

Both agreed that using modified F-35A Lightning II Strike Fighters and F/A-18F Super Hornets armed with 1,000-kilometer range missiles would have limited reach in deterring China in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait.

New systems like hypersonics are extremely costly and usable only once, Hellyer and Gunzinger said.

Unmanned systems, however, can play an increasingly important role in the transition. Hellyer noted that the Royal Australian Navy is also now partnering with Anduril to build and use extra large autonomous undersea unmanned vessels.

“It’s all about China,” Hellyer said in explaining Australia’s decision last year to break its contract with France to build extended range conventional submarines.

Australia’s relations with China “changed significantly” within a year, said Hellyer.

Factors included Beijing’s crackdown on democratic dissent in Hong Kong, its increasingly belligerent stance toward Taiwan and stiff tariffs and embargoes placed on Australian products after Canberra demanded an investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When it broke the contract last year and decided to pursue building a nuclear-powered submarine, Australia was looking for “a high-end conventional deterrent,” he said.

Hellyer added that AUKUS for Canberra also “is about keeping the U.S. engaged in the Western Pacific.”

USS Higgins Joins Canadian Warship to Transit Taiwan Strait

USS Higgins (DDG-76) conducted a Taiwan Strait transit on Tuesday, the Navy announced. Higgins performed the transit in cooperation with Royal Canadian Navy Halifax-class frigate HMCS Vancouver (FFH-331), according to a Tuesday Navy news release. The strait transit was done outside of any territorial waters, Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said during a Tuesday press […]

USS Higgins conducted a Taiwan Strait transit on Sept. 20. US Navy Photo

USS Higgins (DDG-76) conducted a Taiwan Strait transit on Tuesday, the Navy announced.

Higgins performed the transit in cooperation with Royal Canadian Navy Halifax-class frigate HMCS Vancouver (FFH-331), according to a Tuesday Navy news release.

The strait transit was done outside of any territorial waters, Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said during a Tuesday press briefing.

Higgins and Vancouver conducted a routine transit “in accordance with international law,” according to the Navy release.

“Higgins’ and Vancouver’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the commitment of the United States and our allies and partners to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” according to the release. “Cooperation like this represents the centerpiece of our approach to a secure and prosperous region.”

This is the second Taiwan Strait transit since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) visited the island. The last transit took place on Aug. 29, when USS Antietam (CG-54) and USS Chancellorsville (CG-62) sailed through the strait.

China criticized the strait transit at the time and called the two Ticonderoga-class cruisers old. China has not yet commented on Higgins‘ transit.

However, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning warned the U.S. against overt support for Taiwan after President Joe Biden said the U.S. would defend Taiwan.

“China deplores and firmly opposes the remarks made by the US president and has made stern representations with the US,” Mao said, according to an article in state-run People’s Daily.

China Criticizes U.S. Navy Taiwan Strait Transits, F-35B ‘Lightning Carrier’ USS Tripoli Now in South China Sea

Two U.S.warships sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Sunday — the first since Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) visited Taiwan, sparking increased tensions between Washington and Beijing. USS Antietam (CG-54) and USS Chancellorsville (CG-62) sailed through the Taiwan Strait, according to a Saturday press release from 7th Fleet. The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers are […]

Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG-62) transits the East China Sea during routine underway operations on Aug. 28. US Navy Photo

Two U.S.warships sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Sunday — the first since Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) visited Taiwan, sparking increased tensions between Washington and Beijing.

USS Antietam (CG-54) and USS Chancellorsville (CG-62) sailed through the Taiwan Strait, according to a Saturday press release from 7th Fleet. The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers are both homeported in Yokosuka, Japan.

“The ship’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the United States’ commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” reads a statement from U.S. 7th Fleet.
“The United States military flies, sails, and operates anywhere international law allows.”

The People’s Liberation Army tracked the two cruisers during the transit, according to a Monday statement from the Chinese foreign ministry.

“The Eastern Theater Command conducted security tracking and monitoring of the US warships’ passage in the whole course, and had all movements of the U.S. warships under control,” spokesman Zhao Lijian said.
“U.S. warships frequently flex muscles in the name of exercising freedom of navigation. This is not about keeping the region free and open. This is provocation aimed at ‘freedom of trespassing’ and it constitutes deliberate sabotage of regional peace and stability.”

Meanwhile, amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli (LHA-7) is also in the South China Sea, along with its fleet of F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters, which are onboard as the Navy and Marine Corps test out the “lightning carrier” concept,” according to Monday’s USNI News Fleet and Marine Tracker. The amphibious warship left San Diego, Calif., on its first deployment in May.

The cruiser transits were criticized in Chinese state-controlled media, which called the cruiser pair “old” in a post. While the two warships, which were commissioned in the late 80s, are older, Tripoli commissioned in 2020 and is on its first deployment.

The Taiwan Strait transits were routine, according to the 7th Fleet press release. Both ships sailed in waters the U.S. does not consider to be territorial sea.

Antietam recently was underway as part of the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group.

U.S. Warships Transit Taiwan Strait, First Since Pelosi Visit

By Idrees Ali WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two U.S. Navy warships sailed through international waters in the Taiwan Strait on Sunday, the first such operation since a visit to Taiwan by U.S. House Speaker Nancy…

By Idrees Ali WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two U.S. Navy warships sailed through international waters in the Taiwan Strait on Sunday, the first such operation since a visit to Taiwan by U.S. House Speaker Nancy...

China Moves To Erase Taiwan Strait Line

By Yimou Lee and Greg Torode (Reuters) For nearly 70 years an imagined line running down the Taiwan Strait between Taiwan and China has helped keep the peace but the so-called…

By Yimou Lee and Greg Torode (Reuters) For nearly 70 years an imagined line running down the Taiwan Strait between Taiwan and China has helped keep the peace but the so-called...

Chinese And Taiwanese Warships Eye Each Other As Drills Come To An End

By Yimou Lee and David Brunnstrom TAIPEI, Aug 7 (Reuters) – Chinese and Taiwanese warships played high-seas “cat and mouse” on Sunday, hours before the scheduled end of four days of unprecedented…

By Yimou Lee and David Brunnstrom TAIPEI, Aug 7 (Reuters) – Chinese and Taiwanese warships played high-seas “cat and mouse” on Sunday, hours before the scheduled end of four days of unprecedented...

McMaster: Taiwan Could Prove Difficult for China to Invade

Despite China’s recent aggression toward Taiwan, former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster argued this week that Taiwan “not an easy military problem” for Beijing to solve. Speaking during a Hudson Institute online forum on Thursday, the retired Army lieutenant general added that Taipei could be difficult to attack across the 100-mile wide, often stormy Taiwan […]

Despite China’s recent aggression toward Taiwan, former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster argued this week that Taiwan “not an easy military problem” for Beijing to solve.

Speaking during a Hudson Institute online forum on Thursday, the retired Army lieutenant general added that Taipei could be difficult to attack across the 100-mile wide, often stormy Taiwan Strait. It’s a matter of “capability and will.”

To protest House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) 19-hour visit this week to the self-governing island, Beijing fired missiles into Japanese waters, sent military aircraft into Taipei’s air defense identification zone and conducted large-scale live-fire exercises in the Taiwan Strait.

But all these escalating military moves from the People’s Republic of China is a “signal to the world” that Beijing could blockade or invade Taiwan, said Patrick Cronin, Hudson’s Asia-Pacific chair. He mentioned threats by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi that Pelosi’s visit could lead to a slippery slope of conflict as a means of intimidating other nations.

Wang, speaking at an Association of South East Asians Nations event on Wednesday, termed Pelosi’s visit “manic, irresponsible and highly irrational.”

McMaster said he hopes that the Chinese actions give the United States a “sense of urgency when it comes to Taiwan’s future and how important the Indo-Pacific is to the United States militarily and economically.

Steps that Taiwan can take – like lengthening the time Taiwanese conscripted reservists spend on active duty, creating a territorial defense force and improving joint training for active and reserve forces – would improve Taiwan’s deterrence by denial, McMaster said.

Two years ago, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said her administration increased defense spending to 2.3 percent of its gross domestic product and was very interested in buying asymmetric defense systems ranging from mines to anti-ship missiles, as well as modernizing force structure. In the past, Taiwan had looked to the U.S. for big-ticket items like fighter aircraft to block Chinese ambitions. Its parliament approved a special $8.6 billion appropriation earlier this year in the face of Chinese naval and air incursions during the winter.

Rebeccah Heinrichs, a senior fellow at Hudson, said the time for Taipei to spend on military equipment and receive it is now. It would be far more difficult to supply Taiwan if the Chinese invaded the island, as it has been to come to Ukraine’s aid using highways and rail following the Russian invasion earlier this year, she said.

So far, McMaster has been encouraged by “Taiwan’s will” in resisting escalating pressures of a possible blockade of the island. He added that such a blockade would disrupt not only the island’s economy but also global trade in the Indo-Pacific. McMaster said a key Chinese objective is to isolate Japan from its allies and partners, which could happen under a Beijing-controlled Taiwan.

“Japan has been a real source of strength” in standing up to China over Taiwan’s future, he said. McMaster said nations in ASEAN could learn from Tokyo’s example. “The choice they’re facing is sovereignty or servitude” if they accept China as the final arbiter regionally.

Not surprisingly, “Russia has come to China’s position in this” escalation of tensions, Heinrichs added.

McMaster compared it to the 1930s, “almost like Hitler’s playbook” of authoritarian coercion in Europe and the Pacific. He said Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin believe that together “we will rewrite the rules” because the U.S. and its allies are weak.

For the U.S. and its allies, “it is a period of trial … to maintain resolve” as they are showing in Ukraine, he said.

Heinrichs added that Pelosi’s visit should be a “reassurance to allies” of America’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific. She added that Taipei welcomed the speaker “with open arms” and a bipartisan Congress at home supported her visit. Newt Gingrich visited Taiwan when he was speaker in the late 1990s.

The Trump Administration opened the door for more high-level U.S. official visits to Taiwan after decades following U.S. recognition of the People’s Republic of China in the 1970s.

She added that the speaker’s stopover was not the rejection of the United States’ “One China Policy,” as Beijing claimed.

“The Biden administration must embrace this visit” and “make sure there is no appearance of daylight” between the speaker and the White House and Pentagon, she said. Earlier, President Joe Biden warned of consequences that might arise over such a visit.

Heinrichs said Pelosi “holds a critical office” and showed courage in visiting Taiwan that can help Americans understand what is at stake in the Indo-Pacific for democracy and the world’s economy.

Chinese Military Drills and Missile Tests Set to Encircle Taiwan During Pelosi Visit

By Sarah Zheng 1(Bloomberg) — China will conduct large-scale military drills and missile tests around Taiwan in a defiant show of force after House speaker Nancy Pelosi became the highest-ranking US…

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Chinese Warplanes Buzz Line Dividing Taiwan Strait

Tensions rise ahead of Nancy Pelosi’s trip after a US Aircraft Carrier group positioned itself east of Taiwan and several Chinese warplanes flew close to the median line dividing the…

Tensions rise ahead of Nancy Pelosi’s trip after a US Aircraft Carrier group positioned itself east of Taiwan and several Chinese warplanes flew close to the median line dividing the...

USS Benfold Transits Taiwan Strait Following South China Sea Freedom of Navigation Ops

USS Benfold (DDG-65) transited the Taiwan Strait Tuesday, less than a week after its freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea irked the Chinese government. Benfold‘s transit comes three days after it sailed near the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea as part of a freedom of navigation operation, U.S. 7th Fleet […]

Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold (DDG-65) on June 24, 2022

USS Benfold (DDG-65) transited the Taiwan Strait Tuesday, less than a week after its freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea irked the Chinese government.

Benfold‘s transit comes three days after it sailed near the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea as part of a freedom of navigation operation, U.S. 7th Fleet said in a press release last week.

“This freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”) upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging restrictions on innocent passage imposed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Vietnam, and Taiwan,” according to the 7th Fleet statement.

Benfold sailed near the Paracel Islands last week, prompting ire from Beijing, which sent People’s Liberation Army Navy frigate Xianning (500) to monitor the U.S. destroyer, USNI News previously reported.

It is not clear if Beijing monitored Benfold again.

The warship’s operations in the South China Sea have caused China to claim the U.S. is being hypocritical in their policies, according to a People’s Daily story on the recent operations. China is holding maritime exercises in the South China Sea from Sunday to Wednesday, according to the same story.

Benfold followed international law in operating around the Spratly Islands, according to the 7th Fleet statement.

“Unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea pose a serious threat to the freedom of the seas, including the freedoms of navigation and overflight, free trade and unimpeded commerce, and freedom of economic opportunity for South China Sea littoral nations,” according to the statement.

Benfold is part of the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group, which was operating in the South China Sea, according to USNI News’ Fleet Tracker.