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Australia is no longer a middle size military power and should behave accordingly

By Murray Hunter - posted Wednesday, 21 June 2023

Back in May 2022, an RAAF P8 Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft was tracking across disputed Chinese airspace in the South China Sea. A Chinese PLA J16 jet fighter, believed to have been dispatched from the Paracel Islands, intercepted the P8 issuing repeated warnings to leave the area. When the P8 did not change course, the PLA J16 released chaff (aluminium flakes), generally used to create a decoy image on enemy radar, in the path of the P8. Some of the chaff was ingested into the P8’s jet engines, which led to a loss of power. The P8 quickly returned to Clark Airforce Base in the Philippines, where it initially began its journey.

Since this encounter with the Chinese J16, the RAAF has stayed clear of the disputed Chinese territories, where their missions reverted to the east and south of the Philippines, monitoring fishing areas, and ISIS positions and movements in Mindanao. The RAAF is in the Philippines on the pretext it is assisting the Philippines armed forces monitor ISIS presence in the south.

Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese has said he is working diplomatically on the Julian Assange case, with both Britain and the United States. However, after one year in government, Albanese has nothing to show for his efforts. Australia is a very close ally of both Britain and the US, being members of AUKUS, formed last year, which was created to share technologies that are not available to other allies.


Both events above indicate the reality and stature of Australia on the world stage today. Australia is involved in incidents with China in a region, where countries located along the South China Sea tend to avoid. There is no direct threat to Australia in that region, so there is no need for any provocations. This is nonsensical, when Australian assets should be monitoring ISIS in cooperation with the Philippines armed forces. This is just counterproductive with the nation’s largest trading partner.

The US is able to undertake quicker deals with Russia, China, and North Korea on returning US citizens from prison, than Australia is doing with the US on the Assange case. The Assange case shows Australia’s special relationship with the US maybe more mythical than reality.

Consequently, Australia must come to a critical determination of its real place in the world reality. Australia can no longer be called a middle power with armed forces that can project into theatres of war, far from its shores. The aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne, once the pride of Australia’s naval fleet and its small armada, has long been scrapped. Overseas deployments require other nations to host their presence. Australia no longer has troops who can fight protracted conflicts. Australia no longer has the equipment needed for national defence, while prepared to make a massive investment in nuclear powered submarines to play war games off the coast of faraway foreign countries.

At present, Australian forces would not be able to repel any prolonged incursion into its territory. The armed forces would not be able to prevent air and missile attacks on the major cities. The vast coastal waters around Australia are sparsely patrolled, while limited assets are sent to the Philippines, on matters irrelevant to the security of Australia.

Its necessary for Australia to have an armed forces directly relevant to the immediate defence of Australia. Australia shouldn’t be involved in the South China Sea, when the Arafura Sea is sparsely patrolled. Détente in the South China should not be a top priority. Let China and the US do that. Australia should take the position of others nations along the rim of the South China Sea, and work along with all. Participating in a game for primacy is a delusion that will cost Australia dearly.

The AUD 368 billion allocated to the procurement of submarines that would arrive long after strategic scenario to the north may have drastically changed, would be better spent on items and personnel directly associated with Australia’s coastal defence. Good stealthy small coastal tactical submarines could potentially give a much nastier sting, than a strategic nuclear submarine far away. Investing in indigenous UAVs and missiles would enhance Australia’s local technology. There are alternatives to what the nation’s leaders have signed the country up to.


Australia must spend to meet its own requirement, not those of the UK and Britain. The P8 Poseidon flight last year has shown other, Australia is not prepared to stand ground, or more correctly put, can’t stand its own ground. The Assange case shows just how weak Australia is diplomatically. The failure to learn from other countries defence position in our own region, shows Australia’s ignorance.

As the US is encircling China, and China is robustly expanding its military in the same region, friction is sure to step up. Australia just can’t afford to participate. Any politician that advocates Australia’s participation is just not rational.

Australia’s greatest protection is the large Chinese diaspora in Australia. This has never been factored in. This is a massive deterrent for Chinese aggression on Australian territory. Canberra must realise, it’s not in China’s interests to militarily intervene in Australia. China has many other means through investment. Australia joining BRIC would be a better investment than purchasing nuclear submarines.

Yes, there are frictions. Many will jump onto human rights. Many will point to Chinese espionage within Australian shores. Many will point to Australian technology been stolen from universities. Many will point to the number of Australian politicians who have been bought over. That’s why Australia has domestic intelligence services. AUKUS and the QUAD wont assist Australia dealing with these issues.

If Australia can develop a clear perception of its own reality, then Australia’s view of the world will be vastly different, than it is presently. Australia’s ranking as a military power is akin to its ranking in World Cup Soccer. Australia must learn to live with this reality, rather than the visions of grandeur of 65 years ago.


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About the Author

Murray Hunter is an associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis. He blogs at Murray Hunter.

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