Monday, September 10, 2007

Mr Downer is right

The ABC has got terribly excited about a A$1.2 billion arms deal between Indonesia and Russia.
It suggests that the two Kilo Class submarines included in the deal could pose a threat to Australian surface ships. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer is rightly not worried.

The Kilo Class is a 4,000 tonne boat designed for shallow water operations, first coming into service in 1982. They are being replaced by the unfortunately named Lada class submarine. While a Kilo class boat is a submarine and thus always potentially a threat it is scarcely anything for the Australians to wet their pants over. The technology is 25 years old and in terms of the high-tech world of submarine warfare completely obsolete - which is why the Russians don't use them much anymore themselves. If the Indonesians were buying high-tech fuel-cell boats from Sweden or Germany then Australia might have something to worry about.

Meanwhile the Australians are buying the Poseidon P-8 ASW aircraft to replace the P-3 Orion, Aegis class frigates and upgrading its Collins Class submarines tactical systems for considerably more than $1.2 billion. The RAAF and RAN will be well placed to spear these fish should they ever prove a nuisance.

Mr Downer is actually being very polite about the Russian subs and Indonesias tendency to shop for weapons at bargain basement vendors. While the military will nod their heads gravely and pretend this constitutes in threat in order to justify their outrageous budgets in real terms two or even eight Kilos don't amount to a threat that would last more than five minutes in open combat.

Strategically the Indonesian boats are largely there to provide the ability to surrepticiously convey people and equipment among its own islands and, if required, create an international incident in the Asian-Middle East sea lane which runs through their 'backyard' north of Sumatra. They want a boat that won't show up on satellite surveillance so they can do sneaky things in their own country without anyone else peering over their shoulder. To a certain extent this capability is really more a function of geo-politics than whether they buy 25-year old submarines to carry it out with.

As for New Zealand, with a range of 7,500 miles, an Indonesian Kilo would have to sneak around the Australian continent, and rendez-vous with a friendly tanker, if it were to have any hope of attacking our shipping. It just ain't going to happen.