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Numerous US allies contribute forces to
coalition operations. There is no question that
Australia ranks highly in this regard, having
participated alongside the US in Korea, Vietnam,
the Cold War, both Iraq wars and Afghanistan. But
its contribution is smaller than others; Australia
has only 1550 personnel in Afghanistan, the tenth
Military exercises are an important activity that
the US undertakes with partner nations. They
assist in fostering government-to-government
and military-to-military strategic relationships,
and at the operational and tactical level. In the
submarine domain, the USN exercise with a
variety of operators; Argentina, Australia, Canada,
Chile, Peru, Italy, Japan, Singapore, South Korea,
Sweden and the UK. Australia’s interaction with
the USN submarine community is less than
others, for a variety of reasons, not the least being
poor availability of Collins Class submarines.
In a similar vein, military exchanges are another
area of cooperation undertaken by the US and
Australia. This activity is, however, not “special”.
The US has numerous exchange arrangements
with its allies, but it has fewer exchanges with
Australia than it does with many of them.
Then there is the issue of information exchange.
The US’ Treaties in Force list reveals that most
countries have information exchanges with them.
Australia isn’t privy to the nature of exchanges
the US has with these other countries. What can
be said is that Australia has been a member of
the “Five Eyes” (AUSCANNZUKUS) intelligence
sharing community for over sixty years. Perhaps
this is the one area where Australian might
consider itself “special”.
Finally, some argue that we are special on
account of the armaments cooperation programs
(ACP) that exist between the US and Australia.
But this isn’t special. The United States has ACPs
with numerous nations, initiated on the basis of
mutual benefit. It is worth mentioning that all
ACP programs are “pay to play”; US legislation
regarding defence cooperation with formal and
economically developed allies is clear; they must
pay. These programs are not initiated because
of the alliance and agreements; rather they are
facilitated by them.
Australia is certainly considered a good US
ally. As US strategic interests change to counter a
rising China, there is an argument that Australia’s
alliance role might become more important for the
US. However, we should be wary of commentators
who state that the alliance is “special”; objective
analysis would cast reasonable doubt on this.
SUBMARINE SELECTION AND THE
The second premise touted when discussing why
foreign designed submarines might adversely
affect the US relationship relates to the perception
that submarine cooperation we currently enjoy is
coupled to Australia’s submarine procurement
But is this perception correct?
What would the effect be on US/Australian
cooperation if a French submarine with a
SUBTICs combat system were selected, or a
German, Spanish or Swedish submarine with
their respective combat systems?
Australia currently enjoys close cooperation
with respect to submarine related crew training.
There are a number of warfare related courses
that Australian submariners attend in the US.
These courses are, however, predominantly
non-equipment specific, conducted in the past
and present without regard to the submarine
type Australia operates. There is also reasonable
interaction between the RAN and USN submarine
forces with respect to at-sea training. USN and
RAN personnel have been cross decking on their
respective submarines. These arrangements have
been equipment independent. For example,
USN sonar operators have been operating
French, Australian and US sonars on Australian
submarines whilst RAN sonar operators have
been operating the AN/BQQ-10 sonar on US
submarines. Co-operation with respect to
training would likely continue irrespective of the
SEA 1000 choices Australia makes.
EXERCISES WITH THE USN
Exercises between Australian and US submarines
are of value to Australia’s submarine capability.
However, it is worth pointing out that some
suggest the RAN places too much emphasis
on these exercises, arguing they may be
counterproductive. Wherever possible, training
scenarios should be designed so they exercise
the tactics that will be used in an operation,
in places similar to where the operation will
take place and under conditions that would exist
when the fighting starts. A 1986 ANU ANZUS
Alliance paper highlighted “it is the SS and
SSK which is a more probable threat and the
more difficult target, especially because of its
quietness relative to SSNs. The ADF, therefore,
would be better exercised testing itself against
conventional boats rather than chasing American
nuclear attack submarines off Hawaii.” It went
on to highlight that many of the exercises
organised “are superfluous to ADF requirements
and represents an example of exercise planning
dictated not by national defence priorities, but
by the availability of the US as a partner and the
need to be seen exercising frequently with that
country to prove once more our enthusiasm
for the alliance”. This author supports the view
that whilst there are advantages in exercising
with US submarines, our submariners should be
exercising more against regional SSKs. That aside,
exercises RAN submarines conducts against the
USN are not submarine or equipment dependant.
They occurred through the Oberon era, take
place with the Collins boats, and are unlikely to
stop, irrespective of the future submarine type
Exchange postings between the Australian and
Sailors aboard the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Helena (SSN 725)
Credit: USN / Heather M. Paape
Australia’s interaction with the USN submarine community is
less than others, for a variety of reasons, not the least being poor
availability of Collins Class submarines.
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