Introduction‎ > ‎Context‎ > ‎

military context

What is the military balance of power in our region?
USAF F-18s similar to those operated by the RAAF

There is a tendency for military analysts to focus on the size and technological attributes of various military forces. Of course this is based on the somewhat unreal assumption of total political and diplomatic collapse. 

Total Unlimited Barbarity (Warfare)

The fact that the world did not collapse into total war during the period 1961 to 1991 (when it was most likely) suggests that unlimited warfare is no longer a realistic scenario.This is confirmed by the latest START treaty.

YouTube Video

documentary on Hiroshima effects

The current extent of nuclear weapons deployment is set out here. The nations which have not signed the Non-proliferation Treaty are considerably more concerning than those that have. The Jericho III missile developed by Israel, The Taepodong 2 developed by North Korea and Iran's Shahab 6 are all destabilising nuclear threats. 

The nations listed here (this site has been updated) have pursued an active nuclear program or are considered nuclear capable. These include Australia.

Biological Warfare

Victor Yushchenko's mysterious illness struck just before elections as he outlined a policy in favour of NATO. The Ukrainian Parliament does not accept a US diagnosis of  dioxin poisoning.  The 2001 Anthrax attacks on the United States have never been completely traced to their source.
Biological warfare is a low-cost and easily hidden alternative to nuclear warfare. It merely requires ordinary food process engineering capability, and a knowledge of diseases and genetic research. It is a nasty weapon in that an attack is easily kept covert. The target may not even be aware that it is being attacked. The effects however are as bad, if not worse, than nuclear attack. Unlike nuclear warfare, biological warfare may become uncontrollable.
Nearly every nation in the world is technically capable of biological warfare - including New Zealand.

War in"Peace" 1945 to the present

Although founded to prevent war, the United Nations, hasn't. Indeed it's even fought a few itself. The list of wars from 1945 to 1989 is long. The list of wars 1990 to the present isn't much shorter. In most cases the wars are the result of border disputes, in many cases, due to borders inherited from the League of Nations which were established by colonial powers. 

It is notable that the United States has been the most powerful protaganist in most of these wars and yet been surprisingly unsuccessful ( Korea 1950-53; Vietnam 1959-75, Kuwait 1991; Somalia 1992-1995; Afghanistan 2001-11; Iraq 2003-11). Of these only Desert Shield/Storm could be said to be a clear military victory. This is ignoring the US actions in tiny Caribbean nations (Grenada, Panama etc) which scarcely constitute much more than a live-fire training exercise. 

By contrast Britain has been surprisingly successful ( Malaya 1948-60; Aden 1955-67; Suez 1956; Northern Ireland 1967-1999; Falklands/Malvinas 1982 Bosnia 1990s) The British won against most of the insurgencies they fought (except Ireland) either by eliminating the insurgency or by extracting themselves from it without appearing defeated and were the clear victors of the war.

Other militarily successful nations have been Israel ( 1967, Yom Kippur 1973; Lebanon invasion; various campaigns against Hamas and PLO); the North Vietnamese/Vietnamese (Vietnam War, invasion of Kampuchea) and the Rawandan Tutsi ( Ugandan civil war, Take-over after the genocide, First and second Congolese wars).

Of these only the desert wars have been predominantly armoured. Most of these wars have involved infantry or mechanised infantry with air support. Anti-shipping missiles are a serious threat for all surface shipping.

What is also clear from these wars is the following:
  1. War is a contest of resolve
  2. Poverty creates more resilience than wealth
  3. Technology is no substitute for determination
  4. Low cost technology can often defeat expensive high technology
  5. Wealthy nations struggle to provide soldiers with compelling causes to risk death for
  6. Corrupt nations may have a professional elite but most soldiers have no loyalty to the ruling oligarchy
  7. Soldiers from wealthy nations in war zones are ready markets for drugs (and sex) as they struggle to cope
  8. The United Nations has frequently been a source of moral failure.

Strategic balance today

(click to enlarge) [orange= state failure, green= border tension, purple=piracy, Chinese military bases in red, US external bases in blue]

The strategic system in Asia-Pacific largely consists of America's aggressive "forward defence" of South Korea and Japan vs North Korea and China. America also supports India, although India is also friendly with Russia. China has occasionally attacked Vietnam but the Vietnamese have been successfully resisting Chinese attacks for over a thousand years. The Vietnamese famously chucked out the Americans after 15 years, which is about as long as it will probably take the Afghans. The Philippines has chucked out the Americans even though they have a border dispute with China over the Spratley Islands and have no military forces compared to China at all. The question is whether America's forward defence creates strategic stability or is simply an extension of an out-of-control military-industrial complex.

The decision of the Australians to host US forces in Northern Australia is curious. An airbase is a long way away from anywhere much while a brigade of Marines is enough to be significant but not enough to be effective. If Indonesia thought this was some sort of signal aimed at them it would seem a strange one. An examination of the table below shows Australia's offensive capacity is hugely greater than Indonesia's. There is no simply no need for Americans to defend Australia from its impoverished northern neighbour.

The risk is the Marine presence in Northern Australia is prepatory towards some sort of initiative to move on Irian Jaya (Indonesian New Guinea). This is the only way such a deployment makes sense. While the move has been the usual 1941-again rhetoric about containing Chinese military expansion it is hard to see how a base in Katherine, Northern Territory will make much difference to Chinese southern interests (if indeed there are any). 

China is most unlikely to play the role of "Yellow Peril" previously ascribed to Japan. China's last naval foray was five hundred years ago and its actual military history is one of internal division and civil war. This is always China's greatest fear. There is simply nothing to be gained from military adventures. However the bell-weather is always Taiwan. Officially a breakaway Province, China has done nothing to invade the island even under maniacs like Mao Zedong. China is infinitely patient and more likely to absorb this territory economically than militarily.

Australia has been playing a very odd game lately. It has started Uranium shipments to India ( a long-time foe of China) and is now hosting US forces. Meanwhile its current economic buoyancy is almost entirely due to its Chinese trade. 

India is perhaps the most important strategic entity in the region. It has tense relations with both China to its East (including Burma which is effectively a Chinese client state) and Pakistan has replaced Russia on the brink of being the world's first failed nuclear state. The division between Pakistan and Afghanistan was shown to be almost non-existent when Osama Bin Laden was found and killed in Pakistan. India is increasingly asserting its role as rule of the Indian Ocean - although it is not exactly stepping up insofar as Somali piracy is concerned. However with Russian, Israeli and U.S military assistance India is becoming a pivotal strategic power in the region.

Comparison between US and People's Republic of China

China has a huge army which is largely there to keep China together. By comparison its capability for international intervention is relatively modest.
This is why China has not invaded Taiwan which it regards as a renegade province and is only 200km from the mainland.
  USA China
 Defence spending  $1,753bn $682 bn
 % GDP 4.4 2.0
 Nuclear warheads 7,700 250
 Aircraft carriers 10 1
 SSBN Submarines 18 4
 Nuclear Submarines 53 7
 Diesel (loud) Submarines 0 51
 Air Superiority Fighters 1783 210

Comparative (technology) Orders of Battle in South East Asia

For non-superpower conflicts a more detailed look at tactical systems is more relevant. Here we see Australia and Singapore dominate.
Comparative Orders of Battle are maintained by Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter. which can be checked against Wikipedia
For those not acquainted with military hardware I have rated equipment on a five star basis






 New Zealand

Air Superiority
54 F/A-18A Hornet****
17 F/A-18B Hornet****
11 F/A-18F Super Hornet (24 ordered, delivery into 2011, 12 to be wired for fitout to EA-18G Growler)*****

6 B737 Wedgetail AEW
33 Hawk 127 LIFT trainers**

10 Sukhoi Su-27/30 fighters*****

29 Hawk jet trainers**

7 F-16 Block 15 fighters***

18 Su-30MKM Flanker.*****

8 F/A-18D Hornet,****

16 F-5E/F Tiger II,**

8 MiG-29SE,****

13 Hawk 208 trainers**

 24 F-15SG, Eagle*****

 74 F-16C/D, Fighting Falcon***

 26 F-5E/S Tiger,
 9 F-5E/T Tiger**

 none  none
Air Strike

17 F-111C ( to be retired 2010)

4 RF-111C (to be retired 2010)

And Hornets above

US B52s ?


 Hornet and Tigers

Tigers above

 11 OV-10 Bronco *
  24 MD500 helicopters
 6 P-3K * Orions (armed with Harpoon)
Air defence

30 RBS70, ***
20 Rapier BX1***

12 Frigates


2 Air defence Regiments
   52 Rapier ** missile launchers
   32 RBS-70 *** missile launchers
   250 S-60 57mm AA guns

6 Ahman Yahni frigates *

 1 Air Defence Regiment
    500 Starburst, 48 Javelin,
   130 Jernas (Rapier), 
    160 Anza,
    36 L/70 40mm, 
    29 Oerlikon 35 mm twin cannon

2 Leklu class frigates


1 Air Defence Battalion with I-Hawk and RBS-70 ****

6 Frigates

6 Corvettes

12 Patrol boats



Mistral very low air defence missile system ***


 6 Collins class ***

to be replaced by 2020

2 old Type 209 Submarines **

to be replaced by

3 new Submarines ****


2 Scorpene submarines ***

4 Challenger class ***

2 Archer class ****

 None  None

4 Adelaide Class Frigates **

8 ANZAC class frigates ***

19 AP-3C Orions ***

16 S-70B2 Seahawk **

6 old frigates *

numerous patrol boats

3 Boeing 737-2X9 Surveiller,

3 CN-235MP

 2 Lekiu class frigates

5 Fokker F50 Enforcer (MPA),

6 Frigates ****


 2 ANZAC frigates ***

6 P-3K Orions

Naval Patrol

 6 Submarines
12 Frigates

14 Patrol boats/Corvettes


Ahman Yahni frigates *
8 Sigma Corvettes
24 Pachim class Corvettes

various smaller vessels

2 submarines

2 Lekiu class frigates

3+3( to come) Kedah (Meko-100) corvettes

6 Submarines

6 Frigates

6 Corvettes

12 Patrol boats


6 gunboats
8 Admirable class corvettes
70 patrol boats

2 ANZAC frigates

2 OPVs

Naval Blockade

 6 submarines

12 frigates


Indonesia is inherently capable of blockade through the Malacca Strait which is no more than 25m deep and 1.5nm (2.8km) at its narrowest so almost any weapon over 30mm could be used to force a blockade.  same as Indonesia  Same as Indonesia  none

 2 ANZAC frigates


Amphibious landing 2 LPA: carrying up to 450 troops, up to 4 S-70 or 3 SeaKing
32 bed hospital
1 HMAS Tobruk
1 incat catamarran

4 Makassar Class LPD

assortment of WW2 vintage landing ships

Marine Corps 29,000 troops

 1 Landing ship tank

100 short-range landing craft

 4 Endurance Class LPDs

30 small landing craft

 7 large landing craft (ex WW2)

30 small craft

 HMNZS Canterbury

2 landing craft

4 NH90s


Mechanised assault

22 Eurocopter ****Tiger helicopters
59 M1A1 Abrams tanks ****
257 ASLAV **
250 M113AS4 **(431 to be modified by end 2011 of 700 M113)

35 M198 155mm artillery **
110 L118/L119 105mm
125 M2A2 105mm
300 81mm mortars

Mi-35 attack helicopters ***

 8 Armoured regiments
    275 AMX-13s * old light tanks
    60 Scorpion

60 PT-76s*

500+ grab bag of 1950- 1980s armoured personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles.

12 artillery regiments

 48 PT-91M Polish main battle tanks ***
 26 Scorpion 90 light tanks
140 AML 60/90 *armoured cars
111 K-200, 260 ACV 300, 184 Sibmas 90 infantry fighting vehicles *

28 G-5 155mm,***

15 FH-70 155mm,***

120 (Pack) 105mm,
18 ASTROS 127mm MRLS
300  81mm mortars

11 A109 LOH,
9 SA316B Alouette
30 S-61 Sea King

20 AH-64D Apache **** helicopters
96 Leopard 2A4,**** 
12 M60 AVLB
350 AMX-13
AMX-10 PAC 90
300 Bionix 25,
300 Bionix 40/50.
200 Terrex
740 M113A1/A2,
250 LAV-150,

Artillery: 200 155mm guns
12 Tampella 160mm mortars ,
40 Soltan 120mm SP,
50 Soltan 81mm SP,
400 Soltan 81mm
1000 Spike antitank missiles,
3000 Matador antitank missiles

1 Light Armoured Division with

30 Scorpion and 100 M113 *

other units

85 AIFV **
100 LAV 150
150 Simba

Marines with

24 LAV-300


26 155mm artillery

160 105mm artillery


105 LAV III ***

34 105mm Hamel guns

81mm mortars


Air Transport

4 C-17, ****
12 C-130H, **
12 C-130J ***

2 KC-30A  air tanker ****

6 CH-47D Chinook ***

14 NH90 (42 on order including 6 for the Navy) ***

14 C-130 Hercules  (old B or H) **

28 Super Pumas *

4 KC-130H Hercules (IFR), tanker **
10 C-130H-30 Hercules, **
8 CN-235-220 **


KC-130B/H  tanker **


4 F-50

22 AS322M Super Puma,**

12 AS532 Cougar,**

20 CH-47SD Chinook,***

12 AS532UL Cougar, ***

6 EC-120

2 C-130H,

1 F27-200,

11 GAF N22 Nomad


 5 C-130Hs **

8 NH90s ***




The TNI (Indonesia's defence force) is by no means an offensive fighting force. It is - according to its own doctrine - clearly designed to maintain the integrity of Indonesia as a sovereign entity against break-away ethnic groups." 
Tomorrow when the war began" is basically a bit of artificial hype designed to support Australia's outsized military industrial complex. Australia is not under threat of invasion. If the Indonesians had wanted to settle in the desert continent to their South they had the capability to do so 13 centuries ago.
Today, in terms of military technology, Singapore is now the leading military power in South East Asia. The days when New Zealand army forces were based in Singapore to protect the city state are now well over.
The military forces of the above nations reflect what they are economically. Singapore is a technology powerhouse, Australia is another technological and industrial power, Malaysia is developing rapidly, Indonesia and the Phillipines are poor and populous. New Zealand is simply tiny.