Monday, 15 October 2012

Guest Post: Preparing For a Transition navy

The Transition will cause great problems and difficulties for the Australian Navy however; these difficulties can be mitigated somewhat by preparation. This preparation would have to be in many ways psychological as well as physical. This preparation would also likely, due to current circumstances, have to take part at least partly during the early stages of the collapse. Such preparations could only happen if Australia begins feeling the affects of the collapse after most other nations begin to be affected
A very important preparation would be accepting the fact that their will be very harsh limits on how many ships can be fielded and how much wealth can be spent on the navy and hence what it can accomplish. Failure to acknowledge these limits could cause massive strategic missteps. Today such missteps, such as this British one on Afghan Infrastructure, do not generally cause major damage or problems. However, in a world of very limited and declining resources such as Transition, any misstep has the potential to cause massive and irrevocable damage. The damage could range from massive loss of economic activity due to the withdrawal of wealth to maintain too large a fleet, to having most of our fleet unable to function due to a lack of maintenance.
Coupled with the accepting of limits is the discussion of what the navy will attempt to accomplish out of all that it could try to accomplish. This means that the navy’s goals must be clearly laid out, as well as having sustained discourse on the possible ways to achieve these goals and which ones are more important than the others are. Needed as well is the ability not to attempt things when we are already at the limits of our capabilities.

Another form of preparation would be working out the fundamentals of Transition in military terms of capabilities and complexity, discussed in the ADF journal article Lasers or Longbows? A Paradox of Military Technology. This means keeping as high a level of capability as possible while simultaneously reducing complexity. For the Navy this will be even more important and difficult, due to the inherently high complexity of warships, than for other branches. This could be done through small-scale experimentation of simplifying warship equipment before resources get scarce, allowing for more avenues of research to be explored. And if some successful methods are found soon enough, changing the existing equipment on current warships before the Transition begins.
            Tying in with this would be figuring out how to retrofit beforehand, what ships would be suitable for retrofitting, what roles they could fulfill, and what problems will be encountered when attempting to do so.

Other forms of preparation would also be maintaining both a general industrial base as well as specific industries, despite globalization and cheap labor in China and loss of energy. This along with becoming more self sufficient in military hardware would help reduce complexity (through reduction in supply line length) as well as reduce vulnerability to foreign instability. These could all be done through government policy and of defense force procurement strategies focused on local production. The basic industrial capacity would primarily be based on maintaining metalworking, especially steel, and at least a small level of electronics or computing (possibly mechanical, like the original battleships). The specific industries would be shipbuilding, limited levels of chemical production and high precision engineering. The location of these industries in Australia would also increase our ability to retool said industries for the Transition; more quickly refit/retrofit our ships. This would also prevent our navy being held hostage to other nation’s circumstances such as a civil war destroying their ability to export to us vital equipment or from seizing our equipment in their docks.

Connecting deeply with the local region now, before the collapse starts affecting our relations, on as many levels as possible is a vital step, one that is already being taken due to the belief in the ‘Asian century’ as well as our increasing economic ties to the region. This would focus particularly on our neighboring island nations such as Indonesia, New Caledonia, and New Zealand (already very close). This could involve anything from sending more students to these countries, increasing our diplomatic efforts to those countries, and creating military ties and treaties with those nations. These ties would be critical as those island nations in geographical terms form a shield protecting our valuable east coast and to a lesser extent the north coast. These islands would only serve to defend Australia if they were not hostile to us, if they were hostile, an invasion from an imperial power becomes possible, or even from the island nations. Other important reasons include their closeness to us and the potential for important and prosperous trade between us. These ties will become strained once the Transition begins but if they are, close enough they can remain unbroken and allow us to cooperate with them both during and after the Transition.

Much of the preparation that can be done for Transition includes psychologically preparing for the realities of Transition on a national scale, this however will have limited effectiveness unless it also includes a sustained discussion on how to respond as well as concrete physical steps to prepare for the Transition. Problems for preparing for Post-collapse stem from the closeness of the beginning of the collapse, or even that it has already begun by certain measures limiting the amount of preparation time available and the resources accessible to do so.


  1. Hey guys,

    Were you thinking about doing a degree through the ADF? I considered this option for a bit, although they didn't offer business.

    You two always provide insightful thoughts and commentary.

    I'll give you two something to think about though in relation to transition as I reckon you are right about the psychological side being as important - if not more important - than the actual physical work side of it.

    Since a young age, I've always had access to video games of one sort or another (Intellivision game console was the first) and I've noticed this: In gaming you can level up, stagnate, stop playing or die, but you don't normally see games that lower the player’s levels.

    I reckon transition suffers from this problem in the real world. Many people can imagine the future looking the same as today. Some can imagine a future better than today. Whilst others imagine a dystopian future. Very few however imagine a slow decline.

    I reckon games reflect our society’s aspirations? Dunno, really.


  2. It was an option at one point, i've met people who have done so, are going to do so or when travelling from the north to the south of Australia met a New Zealand sniper (served in Timor and somewhere else) who was studying mechanical engineering, great guy.

    I fully expect to work either for or along the military at some point, hopefully in more transition stuff (renewables, using less, cradle-to-cradle manufacturing etc) since these can easily move to civilian side, lots of military innovations have (assembly line manufacturing had its nucleas in military armories for guns). Joinging the reserve is also an option.

    I actually read a sketch of a game where you do lose your powers as you go along, by a game reviewer/maker (small platformers). Games and art in general do, no idea where the idea comes from 'you can learn a lot from the stories a culture tells itself', from the original (of that phrase) art was included.
    Dad just showed this to me, i've been going through it slowly and there's some relavent talks, such as biochar or a former monash lecturer making an equivalent fertilizer to triple phosphate with pigs and straw.

  3. You're probably right about the transition stuff. Engineers are usually pretty decent people.

    "you can learn a lot from the stories a culture tells itself" - very true.

    Beware of biochar claims in temperate climates like down here. I've been mucking around with it for a few years now after reading about it and thinking it may be a silver bullet. You know that after all these years, it still looks like charcoal in the ground! Very unimpressive.

    I reckon it really works in tropical climates though because they mostly have sandy well drained soils and high seasonal rainfall. The charcoal works there in the soil by providing housing for all of the bacteria, fungi, nematodes etc. when they otherwise may be leached away by the rainfall and sandy soils. This improves the access for plant roots to plant soluble minerals (bacteria poo etc.) that would otherwise not be there.

    The problem I reckon with soils this far south is the lack of the organisms in the first place due to our poor treatment of them.

    Thanks for the link.


  4. When i was reading the biochar solution mine main thought was, it worked really well in the amazon but the amazon is very different. The useful thing is that as far as a i can tell its still characoal.

    Meaning once local blacksmiths start turning up its a trade good. All those new charcoal stoves will be useful, just not for their intended use.

    Chances are your right about the soils, the only real way to tell is microscopes or indirect reference (like seeing the effects).