Monday, 1 October 2012

Guest post: generalised naval strategies for a transition Navy

This is the second in my twin’s naval posts (once a fortnight)

For the Transition, our main maritime goals will be the protection of nearby trade routes and the securing of our territorial integrity, especially in the North (roughly Townsville to Broome). The challenges to achieving both of these goals will be great, as our ability to meet them will be degraded from the disruptions of the post peak world as well as the increasing difficulty of meeting those goals.

The increased difficulties in achieving these aims come from the increased affects of population pressure and failing economies and states. The main way piracy has been combated in modern times is through economic prosperity and state building. Economic stability and state building works in two ways, increasing the amount of legitimate and safe ways to earn a living and hence making piracy unattractive, it also increasing the ability and motive of the local government to deal with piracy by shutting them out of ports or taxing them heavily as they can now wield the power needed to do so, as well as motive through the taxing of trade through the ports, an activity that is threatened by pirates. With the reversal of economic fortunes, a Somalia like situation could become increasingly likely in numerous locations as governments and economies weaken or even become pirate states. This would mean that the main piracy problems would likely come from or centered on weakened or failed states. The other sources of piracy would be privateers or state backed pirates but they primarily have political causes and solutions.

The problems from population pressures would follow from the decrease in food production worldwide, creating overpopulation problems rapidly. This would threaten our territorial integrity as an invasion could begin to look like an attractive solution (especially for Indonesia with almost 250 million people) primarily of the sparsely populated north. Population pressures could also lead to mass migrations; changing significantly the demographic make ups of parts of Australia, probably only in the North. This threatens our territorial integrity as the North could quite easily become non-Australian and secede from the rest of the country permanently. The ruggedness of the terrain would prevent or slow down any movements south but would also make any reversal of the situation unlikely. This would cause permanent problems, especially if the seceding territory is under the control of Indonesia or some other nation, even if the seceding territory is limited to the coast. It would limit our ability to project force North for Anti-piracy operations through the loss of strategic ports (Darwin) into the Asia-Pacific as well as representing a potential threat to our trade routes into Asia.

The Navy required to combat these challenges would need to be both cheap, numerous and able to operate away from our shores. This would mean small warships (frigates and destroyers). These ships would primarily patrol and sweep trade routes for pirates as well as escort cargo ships in order to reduce and combat piracy. Their task would be crucial in order to stop the threat of piracy spreading as piracy could easily create a positive feedback loop where piracy reduces the economic health of a region (from pirates in said region) leading to an increase or appearance of piracy in that region, causing the problem to get worse and spread geographically. Cruisers would potentially be needed if pirate kingdoms or sultanates form and the turreted cannon returns as the main ship weapon. They would be needed due to the increased firepower and armor needed to destroy the pirate ships and fortifications. They would however be much more expensive than the smaller ships and so few, if any would be built.

The responses to the threat of Invasion and/or mass migration are more complex. The threat of mass migration has multiple possible responses ranging from the heavily isolationist response of turning back or sinking the boats to the multiculturalists’ approach of integrating the migrants into our society. All of these solutions would require ships and could be handled by the ships designed for anti-piracy operations and easily and cheaply supplemented by small patrol ships. Their roles could vary from the sinking of vessels to the detection and escorting of boats to proper ports to prevent illegal/undocumented migrants. The threat of invasion makes any response critical as certain changes in the demographics of the North could make invasion both easier and more attractive. While Australia has complete control over the North the threat of invasion can be countered with a strong naval presence. Mass migration threatens this as an invader could have significant local support, even %10 of the population supporting an invader would be a serious problem. Thus an important way to deal with the threat of an invader would be to deal with mass migration. The ability to fight or deter an invasion would still be important as a successful invasion could easily open the way for mass migration (if none was present before), permanently changing the demographics of the North. To do this would require the ability to keep some form of naval presence in the Timor, Arafura and the Coral seas despite a potentially larger enemy fleet. One way this could be done is through the fortifying of Darwin and small ports and coastal towns along the North such as Weipa and port Douglas, both against naval and land assaults, as well as connecting those places through railroad to the rest of Australia. This would allow us to supply the North, potentially cut or disrupt enemy armies form supply or even stop the invasion outright through deterrence or power. Adding to the ability to disrupt and/or deter an invasion could be through a small force of subs as well as strong/strategic allies such as Papua New Guinea and China.

One major problem in the anti-piracy operations and the strategy for dealing with mass migration is the sheer size of the areas we would be dealing with. This limits the effectiveness of anti-piracy patrols as the pirates could more easily hide as well as attack shipping unhindered. It would also make any migrant boats harder to detect before they land on our shores and disrupting whatever strategies we are using to deal with mass migration. One way to deal with this would be to build a massive amount of ships but this would be expensive and likely unfeasible. One way to get around this would be the use of airplanes for reconnaissance, World War I & II prop planes rather than modern jets due to fuel and cost considerations. These could operate from land bases, dedicated carrier ships or even modified warships. If Carrier’s are used they will be closer to the escort carriers of WWII and Australia’s previous carriers previous carries, with fewer aircraft and smaller size than modern fleet carriers. They would most likely be converted commercial ships which is what many escort carriers were. Another option would be adding limited launch capability to the warships, as was done for the HMAS Australia, this would give the navy limited aerial reconnaissance capabilities at a reduced cost compared to dedicated carriers. All of this would take significant capital to start and maintain, so depending on the intricacies of the transition they may not be feasible.

One of the larger problems with dealing with these threats is that of feedback. As the economic situation worsens, all of the threats will become larger as piracy increases and population problems become worse, causing the situation to become even worse. This would also limit our ability to deal with the problems as it would reduce our ability to support and maintain a significant navy. This could easily spark of a self reinforcing loop ending in disaster unless it can be checked. This means that one of the key strategies to dealing with these problems would be to limit the economic devastation of transition in the countries of the Asia-Pacific; this can not be solely done through a naval response. There would also be sharp limits in our ability to slow the economic devastation and it would take enormous political will to attempt anything sufficient when our economy also starts feeling that devastation.


  1. Hey dudes,

    Dunno. It is tough to make a living up North. Agriculture has been and still is being tried / tested, like the Ord River Dam Project up in Kununurra, WA but despite the huge stores of water, they seem to not be able to support a huge human population. I travelled through that area back in 98 and the fresh food wasn't good, despite the massive availability of irrigation water. Dunno, I'd reckon they wouldn't do well.

    Pirates may be on land too, like the bushrangers in the mid to late 1800's in Victoria.

    Engineering is a very respectable profession. Have you thought about any particular stream of engineering (civil, mechanical, electrical, structural etc.)? I did Business at RMIT, however, in my early years back during the recession in the early 90's I was employed for a few years by Sinclair Knight Merz. They were nice employers.

  2. The problem is they will try and in doing so hurt the land, to the detriment of those living their now and to themselves. the problem is was talking about was that they would control the North and its ports, the problem for us is not about our populations being threatened or their being large population centers with land borders but more long term problems about trade routes to Asia and limited/threatened access to nearby countries minus new Zealand.

    The environmental problems however are another reason to manage any mass migration to limit or prevent said destruction.

  3. @ Cherokee Organics

    So far the focus is mechanical, though i'll most likely go through a common year and choose later. The two main backup options are either maritime at AMC and enviromental or sustainable systems engineering at RMIT. Its sort of becoming a tradition since both my granddads were civil engineers and my dad was a chemical engineer.

    My parents mentioned the 90s recession, not sure what fully happened then, just that it caused my parents to change to teachers and wasn't the brightest of times. But as my parents always say about economic troubles, people adapt.