One of the things most coveted by the U.S. military leaders about our relationship has been the growing level of access to Australian ranges and training facilities, which are considered some of the finest and largest presently available. Does Australia plan to continue their programs of sharing range access with allies, and what are the long-term prospects for increasing their use?
Australia is an island nation, but it is blessed with very large tracts of land and it is becoming somewhat unique in having weapons ranges and training ranges that allow fully effective and unconstrained training to occur, including the testing of stand-off weapons with very long ranges. Australia has had a very long history of weapons testing and allowing exercises with participation by U.S. and other allied nations. At the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] Woomera Test Range, weapons testing has been under way for a long time. At Woomera, we had the British conducting testing there in the ’60s and ’70s, and the U.S. has conducted significant tests there since the 1980s. This has included many tests and activities being conducted in collaboration with Australia and also the ability for the U.S. to conduct the dropping of some conventional munitions there, as well as part of their ongoing [training and test] programs, such as B-52 training.
There’s also substantial U.S. training that’s been going on and conducted at places such as Tindal, which is an air base in northern Australia, and at the nearby Delamere Air Weapons Range. The use of Tindal and the use of the Delamere Air Weapons Range by Marine and United States Air Force aircraft have been going on for almost two decades. A premier event is the Talisman Saber series of exercises where every two years, we have something like a total of 25,000 Army, Navy, and Air Force participants from the U.S. and Australia get together in the various training areas. In the past it has been conducted at Shoalwater Bay Training Area and more recently at Bradshaw Training Ranges up in the Northern Territories and at Delamere Range, where they conduct realistic training operations and practice their interoperability.
In conjunction with that Talisman Saber exercise, we’ve also commenced an initiative, the Joint Combined Training Capability/Center [JCTC], where Australia and the U.S. can work together to use our technology to improve the quality of training and reduce costs. This JCTC allows for the integration of virtual and real training activities, so for example we might have an AC-130 crew in a simulator in the U.S. being linked through the telecommunications cables to Australia where it is then integrated into the training picture there and enhances the real-time training of the U.S. and Australians participating in Talisman Saber.
Also, we’ve had more than 30 years of Pitch Black Air Exercises; that’s our premier Australian air exercises over northern Australia where we use our excellent ranges and our very clear airspace to great advantage. I personally remember flying against United States Air Force aircraft in the early 1980s. I was in an F-111, so I will say we managed to get away from the F-4s, but certainly it was a great training exercise – and has been so for many decades. In recent years, it has really gone from strength to strength and expanded to include other regional nations.
Australia expects that these close relations between the U.S. and Australia will continue in the area of training and exercises. We’re already planning for Talisman Saber 2011 and every time we have one, they get better and better.
It is a two-way street. Australians also come to America and we train in the Red Flag series of exercises, which are excellent training opportunities. The Australian Navy and Air Force participate in the Rim of the Pacific [RIMPAC] series of exercises that are normally held out in Hawaii. Various other Australian Defence Force members are involved in exercises in the U.S. and other locations.
Now, the U.S. is planning to train many U.S. military [units] in the Asia Pacific [region] over the next decade or two. They need to be able to train in larger training areas for some activities, and so I think the importance of Australia’s training areas will continue. You can expect that the Australian military and U.S. Pacific Command [PACOM] will obviously continue to work on how we can best use those training ranges in Australia for both our own forces and to assist the U.S. where appropriate.
Looking ahead to the near term, what are the big-ticket procurement items for the Australian DoD? Obviously the F-35 Lightning II comes to mind, but what others are of critical interest to the Australian military?
Well, I’ve already mentioned the future submarine and the air warfare destroyer with the Aegis combat system on board. These assets are very important to us and certainly they will be critical to the overall capability that we’ve presented for 2030. In addition, we are also acquiring strategic sealift ships, notably two large amphibious ships that were announced before our 2009 White Paper came out, that can be used for transporting troops within the region and for also operating helicopters from – but can also be used for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
I’ve mentioned the planned procurement of about 100 F-35s already. In addition to that, we’re procuring 24 F/A-18F [Super Hornet fighter bomber] aircraft for interim replacement of the F-111 fleet that we’ll retire at the end of 2010. The intention is to replace these F/A-18Fs at sometime in the future and to move to an all [F-35] Joint Strike Fighter fleet to ensure we can provide the most economical life of type support. By 2030, our aerial maritime support capability will be a mix of manned and unmanned platforms and the government intends to acquire the maritime patrol aircraft to replace the AP-3C Orion fleet and to procure up to seven high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned air vehicles to give us that persistent intelligence and reconnaissance capability that we need.
From the land force side, there will be many programs that will be implemented. The Army is acquiring new artillery [systems]. And they’re looking at new armored fighting vehicles. We have already procured new tanks, the [U.S.] M1A1 Abrams, and also we’re looking at other initiatives such as the acquisition of two new battalions under the enhanced land force initiative and also will be restructuring the Army to combine its combat and combat-support units to generate 10 battle groups, each of them battalion size.