One of the reasons countries support indigenous defence industries is to ensure their sovereign control over defence capabilities. The argument is that by having the ability to design, manufacture and sustain military equipment, a country won’t be reliant on others in times of crisis.
The problem for small and medium-sized powers (and increasingly even major ones) is that modern military systems are so complex that it’s beyond the ability of their economies to design and build them (though countries like Australia are capable of sustaining them). So even small countries with highly developed defence industries, such as Israel, buy complex platforms on the global market and focus their own efforts on specific, high-value systems that they can’t source from elsewhere.
This makes sense provided the sovereign risks can be managed. In recent history, Australia has acquired advanced military platforms from the United States, which is a pretty safe bet because there’s a relatively low probability that the US will cut off supplies. But when the number of players in a program multiplies, so do the risks, particularly at a time when longstanding alliances appear to be unravelling.
The F-35 joint strike fighter (JSF) program, which is a consortium of nine countries, is a useful case study. Turkey has been a member of the consortium from the beginning and is planning on acquiring around 100 aircraft, potentially making it the third biggest operator globally. As part of its membership, Turkey also receives opportunities for industrial participation and 10 Turkish companies have been involved in development and/or production of the jet.
Consequently, the meltdown in relations between Turkey and the US presents a number of risks to other consortium members, including Australia. There are number of reasons for the precipitous decline. In part, it’s due to US President Donald Trump’s personal sense of betrayal that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reneged on a ‘deal’ to release an American pastor imprisoned in Turkey. It’s also related to Turkey’s overall slide from democracy to strongman authoritarianism, as well as Turkey’s military action against Syrian Kurds who are supported by the US.
But another reason is that the US Congress is concerned about Turkey’s plans to buy Russia’s S-400 long-range air-defence system—a remarkable thing for a NATO member to do, considering it can’t be integrated into NATO air-defence networks. It’s a sign of the parlous state of relations between Turkey and its Western allies. As part of the US defence funding bill just signed by Trump, Congress blocked exports (section 1283) of JSFs to Turkey while the Pentagon assesses the impact of Turkey’s acquisition.
This imbroglio raises three risks for Australia. (end of excerpt)
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