Australia lacks the resources to protect its vast maritime interests and should consider radically bolstering the navy’s surface fleet.
A report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute calls for an urgent expansion of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) fleet from 11-12 ships to between 16 and 20.
An Australian maritime strategy: resourcing the Royal Australian Navy makes eight recommendations to strengthen prosperity and security amid increasing geostrategic competition.
They also include reducing Australia’s intended nine anti-submarine Hunter-class frigates to six and conducting a review of the RAN’s structure.
“The underappreciation of Australia’s dependence on the maritime domain … has consistently produced an RAN that’s overlooked and underresourced,” report author Jennifer Parker found.
“While the current era of strategic competition calls for expansion of the RAN’s major surface-combatant fleet to meet the needs of an effective maritime strategy, that expanded fleet must be able to effectively provide a range of operation effects as part of a balanced fleet.”
Although not a straight forward transition, the changes required should not be delayed, said Ms Parker, who is a senior adviser with the national security college at Australian National University and an adjunct fellow in naval studies.
“Such a structural review should include consideration of bold changes, including reconsideration of a fleet auxiliary, a coast guard or forward basing of assets to support the workforce requirements of an expanded fleet.”
Tinkering at the edges will not do, she added.
The report also calls on the federal government to articulate an integrated maritime strategy consistent with those of AUKUS partners, highlighting the centrality of the maritime domain to Australia’s national interests.
Earlier this month, the institute also warned Australia needed to respond to changes within the US army to bolster its security in a bid to counter Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific.
This included maritime training between Australian, US and Japanese forces as well as working to ensure watercraft from the three nations could allow troops to be transported around the region in the event of a conflict.
Following a landmark review in September, hundreds of army troops will be relocated and weapons and vehicles will be restationed so the defence force can better utilise northern Australia.