Avalon Airshow a display of militarism

February 28, 2023
Deputy PM Richard Marles enthusiasm for more military hardware was on full display in his address to the industry dinner. Photo: RichardMarlesMP/Twitter

The Avalon air show — a celebration of aeronautical militarism in the southern hemisphere which has been postponed because of the pandemic — is about to open to the public.

Also known as the Australian International Airshow and Aerospace and Defence Exposition, Avalon2023 promises to “showcase” much in the “dynamic world of aviation, aerospace and space, new materials, fuels and ways of flying”.

The program features both a specialist dimension and complimentary conferences “open to any accredited Trade Visitor”.

The specialist aspect will feature presentations from, among others, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), Australian International Aerospace Congress, Australian Association for Unscrewed Systems, Australian Industry Defence Network and the Australian Airports Association.

This military bonanza unfolds on February 28. Defence minister Richard “Call me Deputy Prime Minister” Marles has tooted his justifications for more hardware, more military merchandise and more engagement with the defence industry.

His address to the Avalon 2023 Defence and Industry Dinner revealed a boyish credulity, typical in so many who lead that portfolio. Air forces, he noted, “are the coolest part of any military”. Trying to amuse, he called Top Gun Maverick “an important and insightful documentary”.

Marles then got down to the business of frightening Australians and delighting the military-industrial mandarins.

Australia, he said, faced “the most challenging and complex set of strategic circumstances we’ve seen since the Second World War”. The “global rules-based order” had been placed “under immense pressure”, largely due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“The post-Cold War era — a period of democratic expansion and unprecedented integration of global trade and investment — is now over.”

The speechwriter had evidently gone to sleep in drafting such words. The post-Cold War era has been marked by brutal invasions and interventions (Iraq and Libya to name two), supposedly by the rules-abiding types in Washington, London and Canberra.

The Russian invasion was an imposition of will by a larger state on a smaller neighbour, using “power and might”, just as the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 came from the same stable of thought.

Marles’ speech then followed a familiar pattern. First, call out the Russians. Then highlight the Oriental Armed Scourge to the north. “In the Indo-Pacific, China is driving the largest conventional military build-up we’ve seen anywhere in the world since the Second World War. And much of this build-up is opaque.”

Australia’s security, assured by its remote location and geography, could no longer be taken for granted. “Today we face a range of threats — including longer-range missiles and hypersonics and cyber-attacks — which render our geographic advantages far less relevant,” Marles said.

The enemy could do damage from afar, causing harm “without ever having to enter our territorial waters or our air space”.

It was therefore important to place Australian defence on the footing of “being able to hold any potential adversaries at risk much further from our shores”.

This was a rather devious way of laying the ground for more cash and larger budgets, ignoring the clear point that Australia has no enemies but, as Washington’s obedient deputy, wishes to make them.

One particular product is meant to take centre stage: The Australian Defence Force is lagging in the department of murderous drone technology and one promises to be unveiled at Avalon.

As reported by the ABC: “The unscrewed air system has been developed by BAE Systems Australia and is designed to be stored in shipping containers.” The device is allegedly capable of carrying a lethal payload in excess of 100 kilograms.

Australia’s Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Robert Chipman, has made no secret of his desire for low-cost killer drones.

“We’ve seen a proliferation of low-cost drones and loitering munitions delivering both ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] and fires to great effect,” he told a Melbourne audience of foreign air force chiefs and senior officials. “They don’t replace the roles of contemporary combat aircraft, but they might serve as a useful complement.”

With that in mind, the RAAF was “considering the potential of low-cost drones that bring mass to our air combat system, and we’re considering what new measures are necessary to defend against them”.

Such views thrilled the war-mongering offices at The Australian, which expressed satisfaction that Australia’s military policy was finally “moving in the right direction”.

Chipman has been particularly busy in the lead-up to the Avalon Airshow, walking the tightrope of defence propaganda. Self-praise and capability must be balanced against the fear of achievement on the part of an adversary.

In an interview with the Australian Financial Review on February 22, Chipman revealed the RAAF had also joined the hysteria about targeting high-altitude surveillance balloons. He also defended the merits of the F-35 fighter jet, praising their pilots as having “retained an edge over drones or other unscrewed platforms despite advances in technology”.

China, however, is causing jitters in the area of hypersonic missiles, capable of delivering a warhead at five times the speed of sound with extreme manoeuvrability. “I think China is in front when it comes to hypersonics … and that is something we are actively working to address,” Chipman said.

[Binoy Kampmark currently lectures at RMIT University.]

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