Air defence strategy (in the Australian context)

cdxbow

Active Member
Dispersal of our prime assets would seem to be a simple strategy that plays to our strength as a big open country. Making assets as mobile as possible would aid this. Add deception to that, with lots of potential hangars or bunkers spread widely where aircraft might be located, then add in decoys (meet the polystyrene F35p), may be an effective strategy and perhaps cheaper than going for enough 'hardening' to withstand an initial attack. It seem to me the faster and more accurate weapons become the higher the cost of adequate hardening becomes. Dispersal and deception are more effective against these factors. Not saying you wouldn't harden some prime real estate, but hardening wouldn't be your primary strategy.
They are all projects that would contribute to national infrastructure.
 

ngatimozart

Super Moderator
Staff member
Verified Defense Pro
Dispersal of our prime assets would seem to be a simple strategy that plays to our strength as a big open country. Making assets as mobile as possible would aid this. Add deception to that, with lots of potential hangars or bunkers spread widely where aircraft might be located, then add in decoys (meet the polystyrene F35p), may be an effective strategy and perhaps cheaper than going for enough 'hardening' to withstand an initial attack. It seem to me the faster and more accurate weapons become the higher the cost of adequate hardening becomes. Dispersal and deception are more effective against these factors. Not saying you wouldn't harden some prime real estate, but hardening wouldn't be your primary strategy.
They are all projects that would contribute to national infrastructure.
That is one possibility, but you have to make the facilities look like they are operational 24/7/365 because of satellite surveillance. That means people, aircraft and vehicle movements, IR and EM signatures etc., that would be cognizant with an operational facility.
 

Todjaeger

Potstirrer
That is one possibility, but you have to make the facilities look like they are operational 24/7/365 because of satellite surveillance. That means people, aircraft and vehicle movements, IR and EM signatures etc., that would be cognizant with an operational facility.
Not necessarily though, as sat surveillance would more likely be for short periods of time as a satellite or a constellation orbits. If Oz can work out which bird or birds would likely be getting used, it could then work out what their respective coverage windows were. Activities might only need to be simulated/spoofed for a period of 15 minutes, every six hours or so depending on the orbits.

As for some of the prior posts which suggested building hardened aircraft shelters and similar efforts to build resiliency in the face of an attack, that IMO would likely be an expensive and overall ineffective strategy as such an approach is much like trying to build a better mouse trap. Yes, hardened shelters can be designed and built which can provide better protection for aircraft stored inside, but then new munitions can then be designed which are better able to overcome a hardened shelter, leading to another wave of shelter design and production, and so on. Further, a hostile force has a range potential alternate ways to neutralize aircraft aside from their outright destruction while in hangars. If an airfield's fuel tank farm is damaged or destroyed, that would seriously hinder aircraft ops until it is repaired or replaced, and lost fuel stocks replenished, as combat aircraft need go juice to sortie. Also, if the runways and taxiways for an airfield are damaged, the hangars and their protected aircraft inside can be neutralized because the aircraft can no longer take off. Anti-runway munitions like the BLU-107/B Durandal were developed specifically for such usage.
 
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  • #24
As for some of the prior posts which suggested building hardened aircraft shelters and similar efforts to build resiliency in the face of an attack, that IMO would likely be an expensive and overall ineffective strategy as such an approach is much like trying to build a better mouse trap. Yes, hardened shelters can be designed and built which can provide better protection for aircraft stored inside, but then new munitions can then be designed which are better able to overcome a hardened shelter, leading to another wave of shelter design and production, and so on. Further, a hostile force has a range potential alternate ways to neutralize aircraft aside from their outright destruction while in hangars. If an airfield's fuel tank farm is damaged or destroyed, that would seriously hinder aircraft ops until it is repaired or replaced, and lost fuel stocks replenished, as combat aircraft need go juice to sortie. Also, if the runways and taxiways for an airfield are damaged, the hangars and their protected aircraft inside can be neutralized because the aircraft can no longer take off. Anti-runway munitions like the BLU-107/B Durandal were developed specifically for such usage.
I guess this whole argument for/against HAS comes all the way back to the fundamental question, how to defend against air attacks on RAAF bases.

To me it seems like various (mainly non-western) countries have tried various strategies to counter the US centric advantage in air power.
- Iraq had a relatively well equipped network including designing airfields to withstand attack (multiple runways/taxiways/HAS).
- Sweden had a comprehensive strategy of distribution to multiple remote bases and even highway runways.
- Russia tends to place a lot of emphasis on SAM systems
- China has both hardened shelters/airbases combined with various SAM systems

It’s pretty clear the design of bases like Tindal incorporate some of these elements. There are at least 4 “runways” that could be used for fighter ops and enough hardstands to disperse the fighter force currently based there. Scherger, Curtin and Learmonth also incorporate some of these elements, although they haven’t been developed as far.

Australia has the advantage of lots and lots of space. So a “distributed operations” style of strategy could definitely be used to our advantage (in lieu of base hardening).

I think a combination of both could provide good resilience for the RAAF.
- Hardened shelters to a point. Like I said, up to the limits of SLCM. This should also limit the cost of said structures
- Further dispersal and development of current active and bare bases. Eg Tindal has a major highway running nearby, upgrading a 2km section to the SE and linking via road to the current base could provide a 5th “emergency strip” available at short notice. Likewise, Curtin is close to Derby civil aerodrome. So some upgrades to Derby (Eg 2km runway plus parallel taxiway) would at least provide a backup strip within driving distance of RAAF Curtin.

As has been mentioned, any particular defence infrastructure can be countered by any follow on weapon. The story of Fort Eben Emael provides a cautionary tale against “fortress” type defences. But I think some form of limited hardening can be of benefit, when combined with a well thought out dispersal strategy. It appears that the USAF and US Marines are starting to apply this sort of strategy within the Pacific theatre. Developments on Guam in particular suggest the USAF is taking this threat seriously.

 

Todjaeger

Potstirrer
I guess this whole argument for/against HAS comes all the way back to the fundamental question, how to defend against air attacks on RAAF bases.

To me it seems like various (mainly non-western) countries have tried various strategies to counter the US centric advantage in air power.
- Iraq had a relatively well equipped network including designing airfields to withstand attack (multiple runways/taxiways/HAS).
- Sweden had a comprehensive strategy of distribution to multiple remote bases and even highway runways.
- Russia tends to place a lot of emphasis on SAM systems
- China has both hardened shelters/airbases combined with various SAM systems

It’s pretty clear the design of bases like Tindal incorporate some of these elements. There are at least 4 “runways” that could be used for fighter ops and enough hardstands to disperse the fighter force currently based there. Scherger, Curtin and Learmonth also incorporate some of these elements, although they haven’t been developed as far.

Australia has the advantage of lots and lots of space. So a “distributed operations” style of strategy could definitely be used to our advantage (in lieu of base hardening).

I think a combination of both could provide good resilience for the RAAF.
- Hardened shelters to a point. Like I said, up to the limits of SLCM. This should also limit the cost of said structures
- Further dispersal and development of current active and bare bases. Eg Tindal has a major highway running nearby, upgrading a 2km section to the SE and linking via road to the current base could provide a 5th “emergency strip” available at short notice. Likewise, Curtin is close to Derby civil aerodrome. So some upgrades to Derby (Eg 2km runway plus parallel taxiway) would at least provide a backup strip within driving distance of RAAF Curtin.

As has been mentioned, any particular defence infrastructure can be countered by any follow on weapon. The story of Fort Eben Emael provides a cautionary tale against “fortress” type defences. But I think some form of limited hardening can be of benefit, when combined with a well thought out dispersal strategy. It appears that the USAF and US Marines are starting to apply this sort of strategy within the Pacific theatre. Developments on Guam in particular suggest the USAF is taking this threat seriously.

I do think that building aircraft shelters which have been hardened to resist weather events (like a tropical cyclone if the region is prone to them) would be a sensible precaution. Trying to harden hangars to the point that they can survive a SLCM strike IMO is an expensive and quite easily losing strategy.

Using a SLCM like the UGM-109 Tomahawk as a guide, one would be looking at attempting to design and build a useable structure which can withstand a 450 kg warhead which could also be designed to penetrate/overcome structural hardening. For instance, a portion of the missile or warhead could actually be a hardened penetrator to pierce the shell of a hangar or building so that the explosives detonate within the structure. Even if such a SLCM cost twice what the current pricing for Tomahawks cost, that would only be ~USD$3 mil. per missile. Realistically does anyone think an aircraft hangar could be designed and built with sufficient hardened features to withstand up to a 450 kg warhead for only USD$3 mil. in Australia?

Furthermore, the continued focus on the aircraft hangars being hardened manages to ignore all the other aspects of an airbase which could be targeted to neutralize the base and/or units which operate or are stationed there. Looking at aerial maps of RAAF Curtin as an example, it appears to me that the aircraft hangars are located in the SSE portion of the base. It also appears that there are only two taxiways which connect immediately to those hangars and ultimately the runway and rest of the base. Precision strikes using a Durandal-like anti-runway penetrator could potentially keep any RAAF aircraft that had been in those hangars grounded until repairs could be made to those taxiways. Given that anti-runway ordnance are specifically designed to cause damage which is not easily repaired quickly, that could keep aircraft out of service for some time.

With that in mind, it would be far better for the ADF to either engage inbound attacks before they manage to reach their targets, or better still, to engage the launching platform(s) prior to a strike launch.

IMO it would also be worth keeping in mind that if the scenario is some nation launching a surprise first strike upon Australia, that might not just be air and/or sub-launched strikes. It could also potentially involve infiltrated intel and/or special forces troops, in which case too much dispersal of aircraft could make it more difficult for base security personnel to secure them. Honestly IMO it would make sense for a nation planning a strike upon RAAF bases to have personnel infiltrated in advance of the strike to gather information on the ground. At this point, Australian security personnel would need to be able to detect and realize that Defence bases were under surveillance.

Therefore, from my perspective a better use of resources would be to make improvements to ADF SA (situational awareness) capabilities to detect an impending attack prior to it being launched, so that ADF assets can act, vs. reacting...
 

Redlands18

Well-Known Member
IMO it would also be worth keeping in mind that if the scenario is some nation launching a surprise first strike upon Australia, that might not just be air and/or sub-launched strikes. It could also potentially involve infiltrated intel and/or special forces troops, in which case too much dispersal of aircraft could make it more difficult for base security personnel to secure them. Honestly IMO it would make sense for a nation planning a strike upon RAAF bases to have personnel infiltrated in advance of the strike to gather information on the ground. At this point, Australian security personnel would need to be able to detect and realize that Defence bases were under surveillance.

Therefore, from my perspective a better use of resources would be to make improvements to ADF SA (situational awareness) capabilities to detect an impending attack prior to it being launched, so that ADF assets can act, vs. reacting...
One of the best known results of getting it wrong was Pearl Harbour, the Americans thought that the most likely threat was infiltration by Saboteurs, so they parked their Aircraft closely together making it easier to be guarded. Of course this turned them into perfect targets for an Air Attack.
Its a conundrum that doesn’t have a straightforward answer. disperse your assets and make them harder to protect from Ground Forces, don’t and they are more vulnerable to Air Attack.
 

Todjaeger

Potstirrer
One of the best known results of getting it wrong was Pearl Harbour, the Americans thought that the most likely threat was infiltration by Saboteurs, so they parked their Aircraft closely together making it easier to be guarded. Of course this turned them into perfect targets for an Air Attack.
Its a conundrum that doesn’t have a straightforward answer. disperse your assets and make them harder to protect from Ground Forces, don’t and they are more vulnerable to Air Attack.
Essentially the same happened in the Philippines too IIRC. Of course though, parts of the situation in Hawai'i back then were/are quite different from around some of the more remote RAAF bases. I would need to go back through some of my materials, but I seem to recall that Japan had been in the habit of sending officers to the US to "work" regular civilian jobs for a period of time prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. IIRC this was done to accomplish several objectives.

These were:
  1. Intel gathering especially of Pacific-based military/naval facilities
  2. Increase foreign language proficiency
  3. Provide cultural exposure and establishment of cultural knowledge of the US
  4. Establish or maintain ties to expatriate ethnic Japanese groups in the US
As evidenced by the large scale internment of Japanese immigrants, and Japanese-American citizens on the West Coast, there was a fairly widespread fear and distrust of ethnic Japanese and their descendants in major potions of the US population.

In a modern, Australian context, it would be more important to have sufficient base security personnel who are trained for surveillance awareness, which might not be very difficult to accomplish for some of the more isolated facilities. If personnel notice one particular vehicle stopping or slowly driving past areas of the base where they could view aircraft/facilities on a repeated basis, or differing vehicles but the same driver or drivers... That should clue personnel that someone is interested in the base and therefore something could be getting planned.

The other issue with defence against air attack is that so far it seems a number of the responses have focused on defending aircraft from attacks. That is a problematic approach IMO, as it keeps ignoring the fact that those aircraft (or vehicles, ships, etc.) can be neutralized without themselves being directly attacked, by attacking and taking out other base facilities which are required to support the aircraft.

Fighters safely sheltered in "bombproof" hangars which are unable to access runways due to cracking, cratering and displacement of taxiways are not of much more use (at least in the short term) than fighters which were destroyed on the ground. An otherwise completely intact airbase cannot successfully support aircraft if the tank farm and/or fuel distribution systems have been knocked out or destroyed outright. It would not be long before virtually every capability at an airbase had to be hardened, in an effort to try and deny attackers a vulnerability to target. This rapidly would get both very expensive, and also quite awkward, as some of the systems and facilities would become harder to use if they were hardened.
 
Excuse the possibly silly question but if you destroy an HAS how can you be sure that the plane was inside at the time,? Can a satellite confirm it?
 
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  • #29
The other issue with defence against air attack is that so far it seems a number of the responses have focused on defending aircraft from attacks. That is a problematic approach IMO, as it keeps ignoring the fact that those aircraft (or vehicles, ships, etc.) can be neutralized without themselves being directly attacked, by attacking and taking out other base facilities which are required to support the aircraft.
Ok take the layout and design of RAAF Tindal as a start point. (Learmonth, Scherger and Curtin are not developed to the same degree). Tindal is also the most forward base and has clearly been designed against air attack from the outset, unlike Williamtown/Amberley etc.

As mentioned, Tindal has access to 4 fighter capable “runway” surfaces. With potential upgrades, the parallel taxiway could be upgrad to provide dual KC-30 capable surfaces. As I mentioned previously the highway to the south could be incorporated to include a 5th emergency strip for fighters if needed.

The fuel farm is underground as far as I remember. The recently announced upgrades are also adding a second storage facility (mainly for the USAF). They’re also adding more large aircraft parking areas, which will by default allow for dispersal of these assets.

The current fighter parking provides room for 2 squadrons in dispersed areas. There’s also multiple taxiways to allow access to runway surfaces. However with 2 squadrons on site, every hangar would contain 1-2 aircraft, so hitting any hangar will guarantee a target.

In summary there are reasonable defensive elements built into Tindal already. I’d imagine if we went to war, the other bare bases across the north would be developed in a similar fashion.

My focus on some limited Hardening (mainly shelters) comes from the risk I see with the small Air Force we currently have. Yes fuel farms, taxiways and maintenance facilities are also critical to getting an aircraft functional, but if the RAAF lost the majority of 75 Squadron in one attack, that’s a huge loss percentage wise for the total RAAF. If we are getting attacked, most likely the US/Japan will be engaged in other parts of Asia, so our access to replacement aircraft may be severely limited. We can repair taxiways, fuel farms etc ourselves with the capabilities on Australian soil, but we can’t build new fighters.
 

Todjaeger

Potstirrer
Ok take the layout and design of RAAF Tindal as a start point. (Learmonth, Scherger and Curtin are not developed to the same degree). Tindal is also the most forward base and has clearly been designed against air attack from the outset, unlike Williamtown/Amberley etc.

As mentioned, Tindal has access to 4 fighter capable “runway” surfaces. With potential upgrades, the parallel taxiway could be upgrad to provide dual KC-30 capable surfaces. As I mentioned previously the highway to the south could be incorporated to include a 5th emergency strip for fighters if needed.

The fuel farm is underground as far as I remember. The recently announced upgrades are also adding a second storage facility (mainly for the USAF). They’re also adding more large aircraft parking areas, which will by default allow for dispersal of these assets.

The current fighter parking provides room for 2 squadrons in dispersed areas. There’s also multiple taxiways to allow access to runway surfaces. However with 2 squadrons on site, every hangar would contain 1-2 aircraft, so hitting any hangar will guarantee a target.

In summary there are reasonable defensive elements built into Tindal already. I’d imagine if we went to war, the other bare bases across the north would be developed in a similar fashion.

My focus on some limited Hardening (mainly shelters) comes from the risk I see with the small Air Force we currently have. Yes fuel farms, taxiways and maintenance facilities are also critical to getting an aircraft functional, but if the RAAF lost the majority of 75 Squadron in one attack, that’s a huge loss percentage wise for the total RAAF. If we are getting attacked, most likely the US/Japan will be engaged in other parts of Asia, so our access to replacement aircraft may be severely limited. We can repair taxiways, fuel farms etc ourselves with the capabilities on Australian soil, but we can’t build new fighters.
Having looked at RAAF Tindal, it appears that there are aircraft hangars in three different locations with taxiways to the runway. Depending on the surface construction of the taxiways/roadways around what appear to be hangar structures, then eight anti-surface/runway PGM's could potentially cut the hangars and any aircraft they contain off from accessing the runway as well as the lengths of taxiway which might permit takeoff and landings. This would effectively neutralize any aircraft that had been operating from RAAF Tindal already, at least for a period of time until the damaged road and taxiway surfaces could be repaired or replaced. This could potentially be accomplished without needing to target anything else at RAAF Tindal.

The fuel infrastructure IMO would still be a target, even if the tanks are underground, simply because infrastructure would have to exist to extract the fuel stored underground and get it into aircraft. I expect whatever point of transfer exists or is used at Tindal for transferring fuel would be a priority target for a surprise strike. Even if fuel remains safely stored at Tindal or another RAAF base following a strike, if the fuel cannot be extracted, it would remain useless for the time being.

Also, the questions remain on how much it would actually cost to build hardened structures, and whether or not those structures would really provide protection in the event of a strike. Looking back at GWI (which was nearly 30 years ago...) while the coalition forces did indeed take control of the air and so could launch strikes with impunity, they did manage to hit and take out about half the hardened aircraft structures that Iraq had. With the expanded availability of PGM's, I would expect that a prospective attacker targeting Australia would make use of such ordnance, which would then mean the structures would either need to be reinforced to a greater degree than normal for a hardened structure, or the hardened structure itself would be of little more use than a regular hangar. To provide a bit more context, the Iraqi structures hit in GW1 were built to a higher standard than the then-typical NATO hardened aircraft structures. With that in mind, direct hits by 2,000 lb LGB's would penetrate and detonate within the structures. As a note of interest, if one looks at a Google Maps image of Ahmad al-Jaber Air Base in Kuwait, one can see what appear to be five hardened aircraft hangars which had been penetrated, presumably by ordnance dropped by coalition aircraft during GW1.

What this leads back to, is how much it would actually cost to design and build such hardened structures? Looking back at RAAF Tindal, it appears that there might be 24 or much hangar structures. The best, very rough guestimate I have, is that it would cost upwards of AUD$144 mil. to build hardened aircraft structures at Tindal. Carrying out such a construction programme across all the RAAF bases would likely become quite capital intensive, while delivering a product which would likely be insufficient to withstand a dedicated, preplanned attack.

My POV remains unchanged, in that it would be better if Australia detected and responded to the theoretical strike before impacts hit, or better still before the striking platform(s) could initiate such a strike.

If forgot to add this final thought. Given the time and costs involved, I doubt any power, even the US, would be up to the task of rapidly replacing combat attrition losses by building new aircraft. Current aircraft are too complicated and require too many parts to really enable a rapid increase in production capability.
 
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  • #31
If forgot to add this final thought. Given the time and costs involved, I doubt any power, even the US, would be up to the task of rapidly replacing combat attrition losses by building new aircraft. Current aircraft are too complicated and require too many parts to really enable a rapid increase in production capability.
My point in this regard was more related to the fact the US has more to fall back on by virtue of a large Air Force. The RAAF does not, so any delay replacing early attrition would have a much bigger effect. Hence the higher importance on securing the aircraft themselves (either dispersal or physical protection).

The Kuwait base you linked is interesting because it looks like they replaced them with something similar to the standard NATO hangar. Even something like that would be better than what currently exists on RAAF bases. The threat of man portable drones carrying explosives can’t be dismissed either, when you’re talking about special forces being used in country. An ISIS style asymmetric attack using drones could wipe out large numbers of ground based aircraft from well outside the base limits. My commercial off the shelf drone will easily fly 3 km with good visual guidance available at that distance. I can only imagine what a military version could achieve.

As for the $$$ to build VS protection argument, I’ll leave you with this thought. The price of replacing the aircraft being stored also comes into the equation. If the enemy can destroy a $100 million aircraft with a $2 million (or less) weapon, then some form of protection (even a NATO hangar) raises the cost of the weapon that needs to be used (or the delivery method). More expensive weapons are generally less “abundant”. So if we take the context of Tindal again, yes you could ground all the aircraft with 8x PGM (probably 16x PGM if you want to guarantee the outcome). But that sort of damage is easy to repair. Then the attack on fuel the installation, again a dozen or so PGM should ensure significant damage to these assets. Longer to replace but still quicker than replacing aircraft.

Now comes the aircraft themselves. There are 22 options for parking fighters at Tindal. A strike as detailed above only does half the job, whereas if you target the aircraft directly with the 28 PGM’s that were already going to be used, now the RAAF has potentially lost 30% of its fighter capability.

The first Gulf War provides many lessons for airfield defence. However it was IMHO also very one sided, given the overwhelming force on the coalition side and no attacks by Iraq on Coalition airfields in Saudi etc. In that sort of conflict any sort of base design (dispersal, hardening etc) is going to be overwhelmed anyway and not easily repaired due to the short time the conflict lasted.

To me a comprehensive dispersal strategy/design philosophy is better overall. Better bang for buck and less resources required when the “front” is moving (aka WW2 in the Pacific). But if we are talking the opening days/weeks of a conflict, then some better peacetime protections may allow us to still be functioning after the opening salvos.
 

Todjaeger

Potstirrer
I will be honest and state that I still find your ideas/arguments rather unconvincing, because it seems from my POV that you are automatically making certain assumptions which I believe to be false and/or are unsupportable.

My point in this regard was more related to the fact the US has more to fall back on by virtue of a large Air Force. The RAAF does not, so any delay replacing early attrition would have a much bigger effect. Hence the higher importance on securing the aircraft themselves (either dispersal or physical protection).

The Kuwait base you linked is interesting because it looks like they replaced them with something similar to the standard NATO hangar. Even something like that would be better than what currently exists on RAAF bases. The threat of man portable drones carrying explosives can’t be dismissed either, when you’re talking about special forces being used in country. An ISIS style asymmetric attack using drones could wipe out large numbers of ground based aircraft from well outside the base limits. My commercial off the shelf drone will easily fly 3 km with good visual guidance available at that distance. I can only imagine what a military version could achieve.

As for the $$$ to build VS protection argument, I’ll leave you with this thought. The price of replacing the aircraft being stored also comes into the equation. If the enemy can destroy a $100 million aircraft with a $2 million (or less) weapon, then some form of protection (even a NATO hangar) raises the cost of the weapon that needs to be used (or the delivery method). More expensive weapons are generally less “abundant”. So if we take the context of Tindal again, yes you could ground all the aircraft with 8x PGM (probably 16x PGM if you want to guarantee the outcome). But that sort of damage is easy to repair. Then the attack on fuel the installation, again a dozen or so PGM should ensure significant damage to these assets. Longer to replace but still quicker than replacing aircraft.

Now comes the aircraft themselves. There are 22 options for parking fighters at Tindal. A strike as detailed above only does half the job, whereas if you target the aircraft directly with the 28 PGM’s that were already going to be used, now the RAAF has potentially lost 30% of its fighter capability.

The first Gulf War provides many lessons for airfield defence. However it was IMHO also very one sided, given the overwhelming force on the coalition side and no attacks by Iraq on Coalition airfields in Saudi etc. In that sort of conflict any sort of base design (dispersal, hardening etc) is going to be overwhelmed anyway and not easily repaired due to the short time the conflict lasted.

To me a comprehensive dispersal strategy/design philosophy is better overall. Better bang for buck and less resources required when the “front” is moving (aka WW2 in the Pacific). But if we are talking the opening days/weeks of a conflict, then some better peacetime protections may allow us to still be functioning after the opening salvos.
For me, one of the areas where the proposed value of HAS (hardened aircraft structures) to protect RAAF aircraft fails is, short of building HAS in the side of a mountain, HAS has not demonstrated that it provides significantly 'better' protection vs. dedicated strikes. Going back to numerous examples from ~30 years ago during GWI, 2000 lb. Paveway LGB's, costing around USD$25,000 each, amply demonstrated their ability to penetrate HAS and damage/destroy the contents thereof. It would be one thing if a HAS costing a few million was able to successfully protect a fighter stored inside from a standard PGM, however that has not been found to be the case.

Now in the case of a surprise attack upon a RAAF base like Tindal, I do believe that it would require more expensive, standoff munitions. Much of that expense though would be coming from the standoff requirements and need for accurate targeting at range, as opposed to being caused by specific warhead design requirements a la GBU-28 or even more so GBU-57.

With the reality that much of the hardening of structures can be fairly easily defeated by ordnance which costs significantly less than the hardening does, it makes more sense to me for defence planning to attempt to work out plans to detect and interrupt attacks upon RAAF bases, rather than try and fortify the bases to survive an attack.
 

Julian 82

New Member
I will be honest and state that I still find your ideas/arguments rather unconvincing, because it seems from my POV that you are automatically making certain assumptions which I believe to be false and/or are unsupportable.



For me, one of the areas where the proposed value of HAS (hardened aircraft structures) to protect RAAF aircraft fails is, short of building HAS in the side of a mountain, HAS has not demonstrated that it provides significantly 'better' protection vs. dedicated strikes. Going back to numerous examples from ~30 years ago during GWI, 2000 lb. Paveway LGB's, costing around USD$25,000 each, amply demonstrated their ability to penetrate HAS and damage/destroy the contents thereof. It would be one thing if a HAS costing a few million was able to successfully protect a fighter stored inside from a standard PGM, however that has not been found to be the case.

Now in the case of a surprise attack upon a RAAF base like Tindal, I do believe that it would require more expensive, standoff munitions. Much of that expense though would be coming from the standoff requirements and need for accurate targeting at range, as opposed to being caused by specific warhead design requirements a la GBU-28 or even more so GBU-57.

With the reality that much of the hardening of structures can be fairly easily defeated by ordnance which costs significantly less than the hardening does, it makes more sense to me for defence planning to attempt to work out plans to detect and interrupt attacks upon RAAF bases, rather than try and fortify the bases to survive an attack.
The Israeli Air Force has underground hangars constructed on an air base in the Negev Desert. Would that be a feasible option for Tindal?

For Learmonth you could build underground hangars in the nearby Cape Range.

I realise this would be expensive but more survivable than hardened aircraft shelters and would only be at risk from the biggest bunker busting bombs.

It could provide a survivable option to any surprise SLCM or ballistic missile strike (assuming they only use submunitions).
 

Todjaeger

Potstirrer
The Israeli Air Force has underground hangars constructed on an air base in the Negev Desert. Would that be a feasible option for Tindal?

For Learmonth you could build underground hangars in the nearby Cape Range.

I realise this would be expensive but more survivable than hardened aircraft shelters and would only be at risk from the biggest bunker busting bombs.

It could provide a survivable option to any surprise SLCM or ballistic missile strike (assuming they only use submunitions).
At some point, people would need to really look at the threat matrix to determine the risk, and then consider the costs associated with mitigating that risk.

If RAAF Learmouth directly abutted high hills or mountains, then digging/boring underground shelters might have been an option. Looking on a map it appears as though the start of the rise in terrain is ~5 km from the current base and airport, which means that the appropriate connecting road and taxiways would need to be built, in addition to all work for underground shelters. That would likely run into the hundreds of millions of dollars if not higher.

Meanwhile the threat the underground hangars are to help protect against has not been identified, or the likelihood of an attack upon Australia from this threat, or the background circumstances. There is one nation which definitely possesses the breathe and reach in striking power to hit Australian bases, but honestly the US are Australian allies and the overmatch is such that Australia could likely only make it a bit harder and/or more expensive if the US decided to engage in such strikes.

There are several other nations which either might have the capability now, or be able to develop it in the near future. My position remains unchanged though, as I do believe Australia would be better served putting more coin into improving detection/SA and response systems, to detect and prevent/interrupt a strike, rather than attempting to harden systems sufficiently to survive a hypothetical strike.
 
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  • #35
I will be honest and state that I still find your ideas/arguments rather unconvincing, because it seems from my POV that you are automatically making certain assumptions which I believe to be false and/or are unsupportable.
And that is one of the great things about this site, the ability to have a functional debate! Fair enough if I can’t convince you.

Yes some of my perceived threats may be unlikely or far fetched, but any threat to Australia is currently unlikely or far fetched. Give it another 10 years and that may change.

I will agree with you on one area, dispersal and other cheaper options should be pursued first. Further development of Scherger, Learmonth and Curtin to incorporate more of the redundant elements (extra taxiways, runway surfaces, fuel farms etc) present at Tindal would be a good start. Perhaps Federal Government funding of certain civil airfields across the north would also provide useful facilities in war time plus an additional civil benefit during peacetime.

Likewise, as you stated, further investment in warning systems (JORN, P-8/Triton etc) would be worthwhile spending. We have such a huge area to monitor, this is always an area the ADF should be pouring resources into.
 

ngatimozart

Super Moderator
Staff member
Verified Defense Pro
@aviation_enthus Todjaeger is a member of long standing here and is quite knowledgeable. He may not carry the blue tag of Defence Professional, but he does have a good knowledge base. Hardened areas would not survive modern day precision weapons and that has been proved many times. How do you defend Australia? Well there was a strategy called Defence of Australia that was in vogue I believe until about 15 years ago, maybe longer. But my own view the flaw with that is it lets the enemy wreck your place, whereas if you defend well away from Australia, you can wreck him on the high seas and in his back yard. That makes far more sense to me. The object of all military in war, is to kill the enemy and wreck his place before he can do the same unto you.
 
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@aviation_enthus Todjaeger is a member of long standing here and is quite knowledgeable. He may not carry the blue tag of Defence Professional, but he does have a good knowledge base. Hardened areas would not survive modern day precision weapons and that has been proved many times. How do you defend Australia? Well there was a strategy called Defence of Australia that was in vogue I believe until about 15 years ago, maybe longer. But my own view the flaw with that is it lets the enemy wreck your place, whereas if you defend well away from Australia, you can wreck him on the high seas and in his back yard. That makes far more sense to me. The object of all military in war, is to kill the enemy and wreck his place before he can do the same unto you.
To be honest I have been enjoying the discussion. I don’t have a military background, only a long interest in history and various military subjects. I’m well aware there are plenty of members on here with vast knowledge (far exceeding my own), that’s why I joined this site in the first place.

In this case I’m happy to defer to his points and I’d happily concede he’s won the debate.

I started this thread to discuss various realistic ideas, both to expand my own knowledge and have an interesting debate.

How to defend Australia indeed! Part of me thinks the old “forward defence” doctrine has some merit with the current future outlook. Not necessarily forward deployed like they used to have at Butterworth, but we should certainly have the ability to deploy a squadron or two forward to assist with our Five Power allies (or Indonesia for that matter).

I’d imagine this would require a bigger airforce to ensure we still had sufficient capability at home, like we did when the Mirages were deployed north.
 

Todjaeger

Potstirrer
And that is one of the great things about this site, the ability to have a functional debate! Fair enough if I can’t convince you.

Yes some of my perceived threats may be unlikely or far fetched, but any threat to Australia is currently unlikely or far fetched. Give it another 10 years and that may change.

I will agree with you on one area, dispersal and other cheaper options should be pursued first. Further development of Scherger, Learmonth and Curtin to incorporate more of the redundant elements (extra taxiways, runway surfaces, fuel farms etc) present at Tindal would be a good start. Perhaps Federal Government funding of certain civil airfields across the north would also provide useful facilities in war time plus an additional civil benefit during peacetime.

Likewise, as you stated, further investment in warning systems (JORN, P-8/Triton etc) would be worthwhile spending. We have such a huge area to monitor, this is always an area the ADF should be pouring resources into.
My issue has not been with the threat perception, but rather the perception I have formed about what you seem to think would make a difference in outcome.

For example, if an aircraft hangar were to be built with sufficient hardening to require what is commonly referred to as a "bunker buster" penetrator as opposed to just a regular bomb or PGM, then one would be taking about a structure where the ordnance had to penetrate through 50+ metres of earth, or 5+ metres of reinforced concrete. Now consider the engineering and construction difficulties and costs involved with building numerous aircraft hangars where the outer wall/roof is 5 metres thick. In fact, such construction would likely complicate it's function as an aircraft hangar because the hangar doors would need to be reinforced to a similar standard, otherwise attacks would target the doors to damage what is inside. BTW that was the original tactic used in GWI by coalition strike aircraft to attack Iraqi HAS, hit the hangar door first, then send a second munition though the now opened hangar door. Now try to imagine the steps and kit required to open and close doors the size of an aviation hangar bay door, that are heavy/hard/strong enough to be the equivalent of 5 metres of concrete...

In the past hardened aircraft structures made a bit more sense, because they could provide protection from indirect hits as well as shell fragments and splinters. It also used to be much more difficult in getting a direct hit on a target, even a fixed stationary target like a building. Now though, it would be reasonable to assume that a hardened military structure is likely to be hit, possibly multiple times, by PGM's which have become both more plentiful and inexpensive.
 

OPSSG

Super Moderator
Staff member
@aviation_enthus, can you give this discussion a rest for 2 days (and reply only if you have done more research on the threat matrix) as yours and other replies are getting too detailed and they contain too many assumptions, for my comfort. See this 101 page RAND pdf: Air Base Attacks and Defensive Counters: Historical Lessons and Future Challenges

1. As part of any war planning, most professionals assume that their own air bases will be under attack at some point and will need xxx minutes to repair before air operations resume at a yy sortie generation rate (that recovers and launches zz aircraft per hour).
(a) There is a trade-off in investing too much on base infrastructure (vs just buying more fighters). As some have pointed out that any hardened hangar can be destroyed by any missile large enough.​
(b) I would assume that unless the hanger is built into a mountain, an IRBM would certainly do the job of destroying even a HAS.​
(c) ALL capable air forces need to retain the ability of their squadrons to generate a large number of air missions—ISR, strike, close air support, air refueling, airlift, and aeromedical evacuation—day and night without minimal interruption.​

2. The US Department of Defense is moving ahead with plans to formally build a backup air base at Tinian Island, located just 100 miles to the north of its giant and highly strategic U.S. military airbase on Guam, known as Andersen Air Force Base. This is because the Americans assume that any forward air base will be under attack at some point and will need xxx minutes to repair. And expect the enemy to do this at intervals. IMO, it’s up to Australia’s defence professionals and their policy shops to decide how much of their actual capability for dispersal and runway repair they want to declassify.

3. Sweden established the manpower intensive road runways (as alternative bases with the introduction of the Bas 60 system in the late 1950s). The Six-Day War in 1967 (where the Egyptian Air Force was grounded by a quick surprise attack on air bases) and the introduction of long range attack aircraft (primarily the Su-24) inspired further development, resulting in the Bas 90 system. Improvements in the Bas 90 system included construction of short backup runways in the direct vicinity of the air bases and further dispersion of ground operations. Like Sweden, Taiwan also plans for dispersals to generate air power when under attack; hardening is just a small part of the discussion.
My issue has not been with the threat perception, but rather the perception I have formed about what you seem to think would make a difference in outcome.

For example, if an aircraft hangar were to be built with sufficient hardening to require what is commonly referred to as a "bunker buster" penetrator as opposed to just a regular bomb or PGM, then one would be taking about a structure where the ordnance had to penetrate through 50+ metres of earth, or 5+ metres of reinforced concrete. Now consider the engineering and construction difficulties and costs involved with building numerous aircraft hangars where the outer wall/roof is 5 metres thick. In fact, such construction would likely complicate it's function as an aircraft hangar because the hangar doors would need to be reinforced to a similar standard, otherwise attacks would target the doors to damage what is inside. BTW that was the original tactic used in GWI by coalition strike aircraft to attack Iraqi HAS, hit the hangar door first, then send a second munition though the now opened hangar door. Now try to imagine the steps and kit required to open and close doors the size of an aviation hangar bay door, that are heavy/hard/strong enough to be the equivalent of 5 metres of concrete...

In the past hardened aircraft structures made a bit more sense, because they could provide protection from indirect hits as well as shell fragments and splinters. It also used to be much more difficult in getting a direct hit on a target, even a fixed stationary target like a building. Now though, it would be reasonable to assume that a hardened military structure is likely to be hit, possibly multiple times, by PGM's which have become both more plentiful and inexpensive.
4. Agreed. As some in DT have pointed out, there are too many parts of an airbase (given its huge size that can be a target). Australia just needs to have a sensible plan for runway repair and dispersal as a risk reduction measure.
(a) In any air campaign, Australians would execute a runway repair and dispersal plan. But the threat matrix is different between Australia, Taiwan, Sweden or Singapore.​
(b) With its KC-30A tankers and C-17s, Australia has some ability to deploy fighters relatively quickly to air bases in Malaysia and Singapore over long distances is unique to a middle power. The ADF executes this mission with such skill and apparent ease that Australians and many others within ASEAN largely take it for granted.​

5. IMHO, some limited hardening of select aircraft shelters may make sense (if your airbase is within mortar range of the enemy, like Singapore). The majority of Singapore’s hangers are not hardened against bunker buskers, as precision munitions are pretty common these days.

6. Singapore’s 505 Squadron, Air Base Civil Engineering Squadron, works closely with the national agencies to convert public roads into alternate runways. Singapore also operates on the assumption that our air traffic control towers will be destroyed; which is why we have Mobile Air Traffic Control (MATC) Towers and Mobile Arrestor Gears for the roads we will convert to runways.

7. Camouflage, decoys and deception plans are almost as important as hardened shelters — as cost effective alternatives (if the threat matrix allows).

8. And Singapore is a country that regularly practices dispersed fighter operations from alternate runways, like public roads (especially with the new F-35Bs); and has a known C- RAM capability (but the exact nature of its intended use in operations is classified). Setting up alternate runways is time consuming but we do practice that at regular intervals.

9. Singapore’s use of the Elta EL/M-2084 Multi-Mission Radar is a declared capability — the classified part is range and types of interceptors to be used in these defensive systems.
 
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Boagrius

Well-Known Member
I spotted the following from ASPI and thought it was relevant:

Of particular note was the following excerpt about JORN:

The precision of Jindalee is an extraordinarily important but secret issue. We can at least say that, if these high-frequency radars cannot directly cue fighters or surface-to-air systems, they can cue other sensors; these, being closer to the target, might achieve a precision track and complete the kill chain.

So the Jindalee system, already crucial for observing Australia’s continental approaches, will become even more important in the age of the H-20. And knocking out Jindalee becomes correspondingly important to Chinese planners.

Sad to say, the surveillance system looks vulnerable. The arrays, emplaced in remote sites in the outback, appear to be modular and may be hard to shut down by knocking out segments, but they send their data to a hub that controls them at RAAF Edinburgh near Adelaide. That’s a single point of failure if ever there was one. Yes, cruise missiles are expensive, but there’s good value for money in firing a few from a submarine in the Great Australian Bight after dialling in the coordinates of that facility.
Wasn't aware of this if true. Now, to be fair Edinburgh is a very long way from China, and the PRC's only way of striking the site would be via SLCM. Given the composition of their sub fleet, you'd have to think that this would be a very difficult undertaking for them. That said, the PLAN Tang Class (Type 095) SSN appears to be taking shape, so this may not remain the case forever. Perhaps building additional redundancy into the JORN network may help to alleviate the problem.
 
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