Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Climate Change and War

Greetings from the Australian National University, Strategic and Defence Center, where Dr Albert Palazzo (Director of Research in Strategic Plans, Australian Army Headquarters) is speaking on "Climate Change and the Future Character of War". Dr Palazzo emphasized that these were his own views and may not represent Army or Government policy. He has also written extensively on military topics.

Dr Palazzo argued that Australia had a stable government, "non-fragile" educated society an surplus food and energy. However, if carbon emissions are taken into account, Australia has a large energy deficit (most of the energy is in the form of highly polluting coal and slightly less polluting gas and may be rendered unusable). Also the education Australian society has may not suit severe climatic conditions brought about by climate change. A society which is used to dealing with food and energy shortages may be able to cope with hardships due directly to climate change, or indirectly from war caused by climate change. When staying in India and Indonesia, I noticed blackouts were a frequent occurrence (as were interruptions to town water supply). In an Australian city this would bring day to day activities to a halt, but where a common occurrence the population has learned to deal with it.

Dr Palazzo argues climate change will result in a time when wars are more frequent, longer, larger and lethal. However, he seemed to assume that wars will still be between nation states.

Dr Palazzo argued the Australian Defence Force (ADF) would need to be more self contained. That perhaps fits with his paper "Towards a Marine Force" on how the ADF needs to relearn the amphibious operations skills it had during WW2, to utilize the Australia's Landing Helicopter Dock Ships (LHDs).

Dr Palazzo  says the ADF has to become simpler and larger. I am not sure this is the case. Cyber-operations can use small numbers of highly skilled personnel to fight a war on-line. It may well be that the future is energy, food and water constrained, but there will be an abundance of information (and mis-information). As an example it is preferable to convince the enemy they have lost the war by hacking their information systems, rather than dropping bombs on them.

Sophisticated sensor based warfare will be possible at low cost using "commercial off the shelf" equipment. An example is that a smart phone can be put in a protective case and make a very sophisticated C4I device which each soldier can carry. The Raspberry PI 2 makes a very usable embeddable computer for military operations for $35. I asked Dr Palazzo about this and he agreed that such systems could be sued but would require a change in military culture and solving some technical issues.

One example which Australia could follow is Taiwan's locally developed Tuo Chiang class corvettes (沱江). These are relatively small, high speed, stealth wave piercing catamarans. They are intended to counter much larger vessels through guns, missiles and electronic warfare. Australia is a world leader in the production of high speed multi-hull warships, with both Incat and Austal 
making them for the US military. Australia is also a leader in the development of active phased array radar, at CEA Technologies in Canberra. These could be combined to make small, low cost, locally produced hi-tech warships. In a border dispute such vessels would have the advantage of looking less threatening in the media that a large warship and being able to disable an opponent using electronic warfare, without causing causalities.

One of the audience asked about Australia's dependency on fuel from Singapore (and the lesson of the Fall of Singapore in 1942).
The future of human civilisation requires mankind to solve two intersecting challenges. The first is to meet our sustainment, a requirement that grows more difficult as population continues to grow. The second is climate change and the changes it is causing in the earth environment. In combination, both of these challenges are destabilising the efficient and productive operation of the natural and built systems that humans exploit to meet their needs.
This presentation will propose that if humanity is unable to adapt to these changes in the natural and built  systems then the collapse of states or their descent into chaos is likely. This process appears already underway in the Middle East. Such destabilisation will mark an end to a period of relative tranquillity that mankind has enjoyed, and will herald the arrival of a future that will be defined by increasing violence and a more primitive fight for survival.
The presentation will highlight the role of the military in meeting these challenges. It will  also identify the societal characteristics that will help societies survive. Lastly, it will explain how the character of future wars will be different from those Australia has waged in the past.

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