In a period of limited and increasingly constrained defense resources, both the United States and Australia need to be looking for defense options that promise especially high leverage in the context of the changing military balance in the Asia–Pacific region. Four such options stand out: developing an integrated ISR network in the Western Pacific, bolstering allied undersea warfare, expanding munitions interoperability, and investing selectively in high-payoff capabilities.
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In light of the changing military balance in the Western Pacific, it makes sense for the United States to seek new ways of reassuring allies and friends and generating collective responses to crisis and aggression. An integrated Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) network represents a promising approach to do just that. First, the United States is stepping up its ISR assets in the region and recently deployed Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance UAVs to Guam. Second, a growing number of U.S. allies and friends in the region are interested in acquiring new ISR assets. As part of its ongoing force posture review, for example, Australia is exploring the use of the Cocos Island for maritime air patrol and surveillance activities.
Although Washington and Canberra have for decades enjoyed extensive information-sharing agreements, it makes sense to complement them with an arrangement to share less sensitive information with a wider set of partners. Indeed, an integrated ISR architecture would in principle be designed to be open to all: states would contribute ISR assets and would in return receive the common operating picture the network generated.
An integrated ISR architecture in the Western Pacific would have several advantages. First, it would provide the United States, its regional allies and friends a common picture of activity in the Western Pacific. Such a shared understanding may be a necessary precondition to collective action. Second, such an approach could represent a significant deterrent to hostile action. It would be harder for an aggressor to act without being caught, and an attack on the network would amount to an attack on all its members.