Coral sea ghosts

In 1942, before the battle of Midway, the Japanese sent a large naval force towards the Australian coast.

It was met with firm US and Australian resolve, the allies had seen it coming.

They were lucky the Japanese hadn’t sailed south sooner, if they did they would have likely met an unprepared, underarmed Australian resistance.

Once dispatched, our cities would have laid defenceless.

But, as the fairytale ending tells us, the Americans saved the day.

Again.

It was luck, more than anything, that won the allies the battle.

Both sides sustained significant losses and were forced to withdraw from the engagement.

But, importantly, the Japanese were forced to abandon their invasion of Port Moresby.

They went overland instead, so we fought them in the jungles of Kokoda.

And we won.

A strong navy was all that stood between us and and oblivion.

So Australia put its trust in America to save it in future, instead of the United Kingdom which had failed them at Singapore.

From one far away great and powerful friend to another, who’s navy was still half a world away.

And still is.

To this day Australia’s entire battle plan in the event of a naval attack is to maintain an adequate holding fleet until the Americans can dispatch theirs.

Area denial, not superiority.

It’s simply economy on the cheap, absolving Australian governments of the responsibility to maintain one of its own.

A lot of good has come out of relying on America’s navy instead of building one of our own, like greater expenditure on health, infrastructure and education, but the changing geopolitical landscape dictates that this should end.

With China’s navy rearming at breakneck pace, building a planned six carrier strong force and a nuclear submarine deterrent, it’s time Australia stopped relying on great and powerful friends.

Australia and New Zealand collectively govern great swathes of contested space in the world’s oceans.

From the Ross Sea to the Antarctic, the modest size of our navies renders us impotent to defend it.

Most nations don’t even recognise our territorial claims, which makes the need to enforce them all the more pressing.

Already, illegal fishermen are plundering endangered fish stocks and other nations – notably China – are actively searching for minerals in the Antarctic with no regard for the sovereignty Australia and New Zealand claim over it.

To make matters worse, in the South China Sea, Beijing is darkly redrawing maritime borders in its favour, yet Australia is reduced to watch on impotently and do nothing about it.

That’s just poor public policy.

We need a navy strong enough to defend our interests on the high seas, deploy to the areas that are currently under siege, and stare down the communist menace head on.

Poachers need capturing and China needs to be stopped, to do that properly we need to increase our defence budget to about 4 per cent of GDP and build an adequate naval deterrent.

Currently it’s only at 2 per cent.

It’s not good enough to rely on the Americans to do Australia’s – and New Zealand’s – job.

In 1942 we were lucky, America came to save the day.

There’s no guarantee that they can do it again.

In increasing the size of the fleet, it is important to look at interoperability and economies of scale.

Currently Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and soon New Zealand are tendering or building dozens of new frigates.

If these allies worked together and built the same model, such as BAE System’s Type 26, you would have the ability to operate the four navies as one – making it the second largest navy in the world.

The UK also has two aircraft carriers under construction which, if deployed, would provide a check on China’s ambit territorial ambitions.

So, open up Australia’s ports to allied shipping, double the defence budget to build an adequate naval deterrent and create a unified allied command, focused on supporting the United States’ defence of the status quo in the Pacific.

Simple.

It will mean higher taxes, or a higher deficit, but unless Australia wants a future dictated to it by Beijing, it’s worth every penny.

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