The Australian Defence Minister Visits the UK: July 2019

07/10/2019

Recently, the new Australian Defence Minister visited the UK to discuss common ground as the two regional powers discussed ways to enhance their collaboration in the period ahead.

In an article by Stephen Kuper published on July 10, 2019, the focus of the Minister’s visit to the UK was the focus of attention.

The Australia-UK relationship is such an important one for cultural, government and defence reasons … There is no question that we are currently seeing the biggest realignment of the strategic landscape since World War II,” Minister Reynolds said. 

This focus on the rapidly shifting geo-political, strategic and economic paradigm – particularly the increasingly unstable nature of the US – has prompted a major realignment for both nations, with the UK beginning to embrace its traditional role of ‘great power’ and Australia beginning to embark on a recapitalisation and modernisation program that will see a quantum leap in the nation’s defence capabilities. 

For the UK, this realignment towards ‘great power’ status has seen the former global power commit to a range of capability acquisitions and force structure developments, including: 

  • Recapitalisation and modernisation of the Royal Navy – including the acquisition of the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers, the Type 26 Global Combat Ships and the planned development and acquisition of the Type 31e frigates to supplement the capability delivered by the Type 45 Daring Class guided missile destroyers and the Astute Class fast attack submarines.
  • The restructuring of the British Army to focus power projection and rapid expeditionary capability as part of the Army 2020 plan – this plan is designed support concurrent deployments in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Indo-Pacific. 
  • Modernisation of the Royal Air Force to include fifth-generation air combat capabilities in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the E-7A Wedgetail and upgrades for the Eurofighter Typhoon – while supporting increased airlift capabilities and a focus on the future, including the beginning of development on the sixth-generation Tempest air superiority fighter. 
  • A modernisation of the British nuclear deterrence force – with the planned construction of the Dreadnought Class ballistic missile submarines. 

For Australia, a nation increasingly dependent upon the enduring stability, prosperity and security of the Indo-Pacific, the resurgence of the UK and its renewed focus on the Indo-Pacific empowers the nation to more broadly and directly support the long-term rules based order of the region, something Minister Reynolds was vocal about. 

“We are also seeing an explosion in new technologies that means that our world is increasingly unshackled from geography. All of that means that the international order in which we operate, and has delivered great benefits to Australia, is more important than ever. And the rules-based global order that came into being at the end of World War Two and has been built upon since, is now under pressure,” Minister Reynolds articulated.

“We are seeing grey zone tactics being used to undermine the foundation of the current international rules-based system and, I would argue, of democracy itself. It is incumbent on all nations to work together to strengthen and adapt the global order and an international system that allows all nations to thrive, and to do so in peace. We need one that is fit for purpose in the 21st century. So that leads to the first question for us both – where do we start? As we look to that task of defining an international order in an evolving context, Australia is committed to working closely with traditional partners like the United Kingdom.”

The rapidly deteriorating state of the contemporary geo-political and strategic environment, driven by a resurgent Russia and increasingly assertive China, combined with the rising threat of asymmetric threats, serve to challenge the capacity of both nations to support the continuation of the ‘rules based order’ without a commitment to deepening the bonds between the two nations and, more broadly, the Five Eyes network. 

“Together, working with other trusted partners, particularly Canada, New Zealand and the United States, we can do much more to provide security for ourselves and stability for the world. And few countries can claim ties as close as those that Australia shares with the United Kingdom. When I visit the United Kingdom I am reminded in a very personal way of the values we share; and our shared commitment to meeting challenges,” Minister Reynolds said.

“But the question we need to ask ourselves now is whether our close and longstanding partnership is up to the challenges that lie ahead – challenges that pose new risks for the integrity of the global order. It is worth reminding ourselves of just how profoundly some of these challenges are impacting the strategic environment and, in very direct ways, contesting our values.

“Our response to these challenges will test our ingenuity as well as our resolve in charting new directions for our partnership. Directions that better prepare us for the future – a future that has already arrived. Let me share some thoughts on five ways we might go about doing this together.

“Through closer engagement; capability co-operation; industry and innovation; defence co-operation; and a whole-of-government approach.”

Other stories highlighted different aspects of her visit.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald,  “Linda Reynolds has used her first visit to the UK as Defence Minister to urge Britain to copy Australia’s ban on involving Huawei in the 5G rollout.

“Issuing a blueprint for how the two countries can cooperate better to combat hybrid warfare, Senator Reynolds told the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London that the two countries needed to do more together across the whole of government.”

According to The Telegraph, the Minister argued that Britain needed to be more militarily engaged in the Asia-Pacific region.

This is something which the French are clearly doing in part due to their submarine deal with France.

Ms Reynolds said the “unique and very precious” Five-Powers Defence Arrangements between Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore and Britain should be used to counter the growing threats from China’s military rise.

“The longer they are unchecked, the bolder they become”

Paying tribute to the historically close relationship between Australia and the UK, she welcomed the deployment last year of Royal Navy ships to the Indo-Pacific and called for a greater presence in the region from the British military. Australia stood ready to facilitate such an engagement, she said.

“Few countries can claim ties as close as those between Australia and the UK. We operate and fight together, whether in Afghanistan and Iraq,” she said. 

“In short, we trust each other”.

And BAE Systems reported that the Australian Minister came to Glasgow to witness progress on building the first Type 26 frigates.

During her visit, she announced the latest Type 26 supplier contract with Airspeed, an Adelaide-based company specialising in ‘design and build’ applications of composite materials for aerospace, maritime and energy-related projects.

Airspeed has been awarded the contract to provide the replenishment at sea stump mast (RASSM) for the first batch of three Type 26 ships which will run until 2023. The RASSM allows for the resupply of ammunition and small of amounts of stores whilst the ship is at sea.

This is the second supplier from South Australia to supply into the Type 26 programme as part of our Global Access Program, joining: Electro Optic Systems, Liferaft Systems Australia, Thales Australia, Mackay Consolidated Rubber, Rowlands Metalworks and CBG Systems (Moonraker).

Steve Barlow, Airspeed Managing Director, said; “In recent years, we have evolved our aerospace background to roll out lightweight structural composites for the Collins class submarines and local warship programmes. This latest contract with BAE Systems to design and build a lightweight replenishment at sea stump mast (RASSM) for the Type 26 is a great opportunity to showcase the talent and technology innovation we have in our company.”

BAE Systems Australia’s new subsidiary ASC Shipbuilding has been awarded a contract by the Australian Government that provides the framework for the design and build of nine Hunter Class frigates for the Royal Australian Navy.

Work has already begun to mobilise the Hunter Class Frigate Program, and the Head Contract signed earlier this year incorporates detailed scope for the design and engineering work necessary to allow prototyping to commence in 2020, and to ensure steel is cut on the first ship at South Australia’s Osborne Naval Shipyard in 2022.

Nadia Savage, Type 26 Programme Director, said; “This latest contract announcement demonstrates that the Type 26 Global Combat Ship is a truly global programme, pulling on the best technology and companies from around the world to ensure the Global Combat Ship remains relevant to future maritime demands and delivers an adaptable design meeting the needs of our customers.”

Minister for Defence, Senator the Hon Linda Reynolds CSC, said: “It was fantastic to be hosted by BAE Systems today at Govan shipyard where I witnessed the progress of GLASGOW, first in class Type 26.

“Airspeed is the latest Australian company to win an export opportunity to supply the UK’s Type 26 frigate programme, and will design and build the replenishment at sea stump mast for the UK’s newest warships. I’m delighted that another home-grown company is able to benefit from the Type 26 programme.

“I look forward to continuing to work closely with the UK Government and industry in both countries on further deepening our defence relationship.”

We recently published a special report which directly addresses the question of UK and Australian defense cooperation as they each pursue overlapping but different military transformation strategies.

Fifth-Generation Enabled Military Transformation: Australia, the UK and Shaping a Way Ahead