Underwater drones may make Australia’s new submarines ‘obsolete’

Australia needs to re-think about Next-Generation Drone-based Warfare

A key Pentagon adviser has warned Australia that its new submarine fleet will become obsolete as a result of game-changing technology breakthroughs in drone warfare.

Despite the intense political debate over procurement of submarines in Australia, former US military naval adviser and submarine expert Bryan Clark said he had not been contacted by Government officials here.

Australian Government is planning to build a fleet of 12 new submarines, thought to be worth tens of billions of dollars.

Mr Clark told Lateline the next class of submarines would arrive in the 2020s, and said he did not know whether the Government was looking at the new detection technologies being developed.

“It is something that should impact the design of the next class of [Australian] submarines,” he said.

“I’ve certainly been in contact with the US government in terms of what it might imply for how the next generation of US submarines needs to evolve.”

Mr Clark said new technologies, particularly developments in acoustic techniques, meant quiet submarines could be easily detected by the enemy, rendering them ineffective.

“In the future we may find submarines, instead of being the fighter aircraft of the undersea world … they may have to operate more like an aircraft carrier where they stay offshore some distance to stay away from the threat,” he said.

“We will see a pull-back in terms of where we can operate submarines safely or with impunity and we will have to be deploying unmanned systems from submarines to get that last few hundred miles into the coast.”

Australian Defence Force 20 years behind US in preparing for drone-based warfare, expert says

According to one of the Defence Department’s own consultants, Australia’s Defence Force is up to 20 years behind the United States in preparing for a future conflict that will likely involve attacks from swarms of drones from the air and the sea.

Jai Galliott, a researcher at the University of New South Wales, said future war would also demand sophisticated satellite and cyber strategies to counter attacks on energy and communications infrastructure.

He said the planned purchase of the Joint Strike Fighter jet and new submarines is “last generation”.

“By the time we get the new order of subs they will be outdated definitely”.

“Australia needs to think about the next generation of warfare and the fact that our enemies are already deploying highly sophisticated drone technology, said Mr Galliott, who is contracted to the Department of Defence to study the future of war in the Indo-Pacific.

“We need to have drones in the air, under the water and on the ground.”

At a recent future of war conference in the US, former fighter pilot and drone expert Mary Cummings questioned whether the Pentagon was also too focused on big weapons systems.

“Now we have 3D printers and I have students who over a weekend can build a drone,” she said.

“When you can put a million drones in the air for let’s just say, a couple of hundred thousand dollars — and China could easily do that — you have to start thinking about a whole new way of fighting a war.

“It’s not the big monolithic platforms, but it’s these very cheap drones that can just keep coming.”

Submersive drones predicted to change role of submarines

Peter W Singer, a strategist at the New America Foundation and former senior fellow at the Brookings Institute in Washington, said 80 different countries already equipped their militaries with drones, plus they were being used by non-state actors like Islamic State, paparazzi and farmers.

He said the human role in controlling drones was also changing.

“They can do things like take off and land on their own, fly mission waypoints on their own, ID targets on their own,” he said.

“They’re not able to put it all together and carry out the entire mission on its own — but that’s coming.”

Mr Singer has co-authored a novel, Ghost Fleet, imagining what armed conflict could look like between China and the US.

“Unlike World War II, we’ll see battles in these two new places — outerspace and cyberspace,” he said.

“Whoever wins those battles, whoever controls the heavens, and by that I mean communication satellites, surveillance, navigation and GPS, all of the wars on land and sea depend on that.


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About the Author: Akhtar Jamal

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