[The] Australian plan is still a big bet on big submarines. So why such a commitment?
When the dozen-submarines idea was first suggested years ago, I had that question for a few Australian colleagues. But as I have followed the debate on naval power in The Strategist, the Web publication of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, I have noticed discussions of the serious question of the survivability of any surface ship in high-intensity modern warfare. As Andrew Krepinevich of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis wrote in a long report last year, the Chinese “precision-strike regime” is potentially very lethal. As Sydney Freedberg of Breaking Defense then termed it, parts of the western Pacific could become a “no-man’s sea”. If that’s so, those long-range submarines might be the only really survivable part of the allied fleet, at least at the beginning of the war. If the brewing disputes with China get nasty, the submarines—including their commandos and cruise missiles—might be one of the few parts of the Australian Defence Force to take the fight forward. And if the Australians have settled on that as military strategy, the rest of us might wonder whether they know something we don’t.
This really isn't anything new. A small force of surface ships can be overwhelmed by a larger navy supported by air power. Going under water is safer under those circumstances whether you are speaking of the near future or 100 years ago.
As I wrote 7 years ago, for Australia, subs and air power have to be the core of keeping enemies at bay.