A Full On Invasion of Australia
The "Tomorrow" Series is a story told against the backdrop
of a present day, high intensity invasion and occupation of the
Please keep in mind that this invasion is simply a mechanism via
which the author can create the situations the stories address (which
is where the true power of this series lays) and so it does not
really matter how plausable such an invasion is. That said, Australians
know very little about the threats Australia faces and so this page
(and its companion "Real World Threats")
have been put together to explain a little about where Australia
So, how reasonable is this premise? To paraphrase Ellie "Excuse
me while I choke on my cornies". (1) To be blunt, the invasion
of Australia put forward in the "Tomorrow" series is about
as credible as an invasion by Aliens.
When writing about the "Tomorrow" series, John
Marsden says "[An] issue for me was the security of Australia.
I have no political barrow to push, and I know next to nothing about
our defence and security arrangements, but it amazes me that we
never talk about these issues. We fondly imaging that we live in
a perfectly safe country, but history suggests that we shouldn't
be so complacent. It is a rare country that has gone fifty years
without being invaded. The fact that Australia has had such a long
run without a direct military threat is as much good luck as good
management, but it's not something we can rely on forever"
"I don't want to traumatise anyone, or make anyone paranoid,
but I think we should be realistic and give some thought and attention
to defence. It's likely that during the lifetime of today's teenagers
they will have to face some sort of pressure or threat from somewhere,
so we should be talking about it and making preparations for it."
It is hard to fault the idea that we Australian's as a whole should
consider matters of defence more broadly, and it is certainly true
that we do face today "... some sort of pressure or threat
..." but it is quite different to the threat depicted
in these books. While Australia does face a number of military threats,
an all out high intensity invasion such as depicted in the "Tomorrow"
series is way down the list
The purpose of this page is to explain why.
Interestingly, the lack of public awareness of defence matters
has become a concern to the government and they have set up the
Australian Strategic Policy Institute
to try and address this. For anyone seriously interested in the
Australia's military situation, this is an organisation and website
that cannot be ignored. Well worth a browse.
So why is a full on invasion
of Australia so unlikley at present ?
Put simply, there are four basic reasons.
- This is specifically the threat that the Australian
Army, Navy and Airforce are designed, built and trained to defeat.
- It is just about inconcevable that the US would
not honour its treaty obligations to assist in our defence
- No one in out region has anything approaching the
specialised military forces required to launch a full on overseas
invasion covering a significant distance
- The "Tyrany of Distance" cuts both ways.
To cover the points above in more detail.
is specifically the threat that the Australian Army, Navy and Airforce
are designed, built and trained to defeat.
The defence of continental Australia from invasion is the overriding
mission of the Australian Defence Forces. It is explicitly for
this mission, defence against a "high intensity" invasion
of Australia, that our Army, Navy and Airforce have been designed
(See the the Australian
2000 Defence Whitepaper which states: "The priority
task for the ADF is the defence of Australia. Our approach is
shaped by three principles. First, we must be able to defend Australia
without relying on the combat forces of other countries - self-reliance.
Second, Australia needs to be able to control the air and sea
approaches to our continent - a maritime strategy. Third, although
Australia’s strategic posture is defensive, we would seek
to attack hostile forces as far from our shores as possible -
As a result we happen to have easily the most powerful high tech
military in the region. Whether this is a good idea is very much
open to question (for the negative, see this
ABC "Background Briefing" which starts out being
about the Australia's SAS regiment but eventually moves into discussing
the whole basis of current defence policy and the downsides of
it). For the positive aspects of the current policy, see below:
The threat is very unlikely, but it would also be catastrophic
for Australia if someone managed it or even attempted it.
As such, despite the low probability of such an event, it
is considered worthwhile to build our military to defeat it.
If we don't maintain such an ability, we run the risk of someone
developing the ability to invade faster than we can develop
the ability to resist. The problems the British encountered
in the run up to World War Two are a clear lesson in the risks
of dismissing the possibility of such a threat ever developing.
Interestingly, given the role New Zeland plays in this series,
they have gone the other route. 10 years ago they effectively
withdrew from ANZUS (see point 2 below) and now New Zealand
appears to have decided that one capability they do not need
is the ability to fight a high intensity war. They have scrapped
thair airforces' combat capabilities, declined to buy more
ANZAC class frigates, sold their heavy lift capabilities.
Instead they will rely on distance and diplomacy to keep them
safe (and that anyone who wants to invade New Zealand has
to come through Australa). It is hard to say they are wrong.
For a bit more information, see the Jane's
Defence Weekly article on the scrapping of the airforce
and the speech
by Keith Locke (Green's Party Defence Spokesperson) on
the more general dismantling of New Zealand's ability to engage
in a high intensity war. In 1999 they were intending to build
their "high intensity warfare" military capabilities
up, now they are scapping them. In a few years they may start
to recreate them - good luck if they try - once these capabilities
are gone, they are extremely expensive to rebuild.
So long as we have the ability to defend continental Australia
against a high intensity conventional threat, then there is
no real point in anyone trying to develop the ability to invade
us. The cost and risks of such an invasion would simply be
too high to be worth investing the huge resources needed to
build a military that could pull off such an invasion.
The high tech military that is capable of defending the
"air/sea" gap around Australia while also being
able to engage in a full on land battle with the invading
forces is also useful in many lesser situations. Not all,
however, as the problems with the deployment to East Timor
illustrate, and current defence debate in Australia centres
on how to "flesh out" our abilities in these other
In launching this sort of attack, the "enemy" would
be playing to Australia's strengths. It would be taking on, head
to head, Australia's large (for the region) and powerful airforce
(FA-18s fighter bombers plus F-111 deep strike bombers), it would
open its supply lines to attack by our surface fleet (FFG-7 and
ANZAC class frigates), our hunter/killer submarines (Collins class)
and our maritime anti shipping strike aircraft (F-111 and P-3
Orions). It confronts our Armour (Leopard 1), Artillery and Infantry
forces. It takes on a military that is small, but highly professional
and skilled, acting in the role that they have been designed around
and practiced for.
Real attacks on Australia don't take such a course. You don't
attack strength, you attack weakness. This is well illustrated
by the attack launched via Bali in October 2002.
just about inconcevable that the US would not honour its treaty
obligations to assist in our defence.
- After our own military, the next cornerstone of Australia's
defence is its treaty with the United States (The ANZUS treaty).
This treaty is more than 50 years old and we go to a lot of
trouble to maintain its value to Australia.
Australia has positioned itself as one of the United State's
closest allies in the world (only Great Britain is a more
loyal ally) and this has certain costs for our international
credibility and self-respect but is judged worthwhile to make
sure that America will be there for us if need be.
We also regularly deploy small military forces to fight
in America's wars for the same basic reason. Just today (January
23rd, 2003), we farewelled Army, Navy and Airforce units heading
for the Persian Gulf to assist the United States in its confrontation
with Iraq. Over the years this approach had cost us a significant
number of service men killed and injured, but once again that
price is seen as an acceptable cost of insuring that America
will aid us if need be
A week after writing the above I came across a quote from
Paul Sheehan in the "Sydney Morning Herald" about
why we are sending troops to Iraq. (Link
to full article): 'Don't think the Prime Minister
is not caught by this dilemma. He knows his political capital
is leaking away. As one of his closest advisers told me this
week: "The PM is losing sleep over this. He knows this
policy doesn't have the feathers to fly with the public. But
he thinks it's the right thing to do. He's thinking
long-term. If one day we ever have to face a militant Indonesia,
we've only got one ally who can do the job."'
(Emphasis added) What more can you say? Note: This particular
page is not concerned with this is the best
(or even a good) approach to adopt, simply in demonstrating
this is the one we have taken.
- The low risk (to the US) of intervention. While the threat
of "another Vietnam" always looms over the United
States, none of the circumstances that made that engagement
so difficult would apply in Australia. Vietnam was an infantry
war, a "low tech" war fought in the midst of an alien
and hostile population. Engagement ranges were very short, manouver
was limited, vast numbers of troops were needed on the ground
due to the unreliability of the South Vietnamese Army.
The reverse is true in Australia. The huge size of Australia,
the small size of its population and the open nature of much
of the terrain lends itself to high tech, fast manouvering warfare.
The sort of warfare at which western - equipment heavy - militaries
(including the US and Australian Armies) excel. Any ground war
in Australia must be a war of manouver. The country
is so large and the available troops so few that you can't
hold a meaningful front. The Western Front in WWI (about
the equvalent in length to the NSW/Victorian boarder) required
millions to hold it. No one can deploy millions of
troops into Australia. Given that any widespread war on Australian
soil must be one of manouver, then all the advantages
lay with the high tech, far seeing, air dominating, fast moving
army. In other words, the US and its allies (including Australia).
At the same time, it may well be the case that the US would
not need to land any ground troops at all.
The key vulnerability of anyone invading Australia is their
supply lines. Modern warfare consumes resources at an increadable
rate - far faster than Australia could produce them itself -
and this means that large amounts of equipment would need to
be shipped in. Every single bit of it having to pass over the
ocean and whenever it does it is vulnerable to being attacked
and destroyed by aircraft, ships and submarines. Due to nature
of this operational environment, the United States has the ability
to intervene decisively without risking a single soldier on
the ground (it is in ground fighting that the US is most vulnerable
to casualties). With Australia and New Zealand to provide the
bulk of the forces on the ground, supplied and equiped by the
US, the United States has the ability to deploy its overwhelming
naval and airpower to isolate the battlefield and interdict
and destroy enemy forces pinned by allied (ANZAC) ground troops.
The effectiveness of this model (and the United States' willingness
to apply it) was clearly shown in last stages of the war in
Bosnia and again more recently in Afghanistan, while the need
for effective (allied) ground troops was equally effectively
demonstrated by the problems encountered in Kosovo where such
troops were not available. While all these conflicts post date
"Tomorrow, When The War Began", this approach
has clearly been viable since the Gulf War of 1991.
- The overwhelming ability of the US military to project power.
At the time of writing (2003), the ability of the US military
to project power on a global scale easily exceeds that of all
other nations combined. The power of a single US Carrier battlegroup
exceeds that most other navies, and the US has more than a dozen
such battlegroups. The US Military is a shell compared to what
it was at the peak of the Cold War, but, with the collapse of
the Soviet Union it is so far ahead of the rest of the world's
military's in the area of power projection that there is no
This is not to say that the US can overrun any country they
choose, far from it. That is not what we are talking about.
Instead we are looking at is someone trying to sustain an
invasion and occupation of Australia, and the superiority
of the US in such power projection capabilities means that
anyone who tries to do this in the face of US opposition will
lose - badly.
in out region has anything approaching the specialised military
forces required to launch a full on overseas invasion covering a
There is simply no-one in the region with the ability or interest
in carrying it out. All the rich nations in our region are small
and all the large nations are poor. (South Korea and Japan being
the exceptions, but both have special circumstances that rule them
The forces needed to successfully invade Australia are specialised
and extremely expensive to develop. As such, none of the nations
in the region have been foolish enough to waste the resources
needed to develop such a large offensive capability, plus the
ability to deploy and sustain it over the long distances involved.
Many of the militaries in the region are physically large, but
nearly all such militaries have a focus on internal security.
Only the militaries of India and China are both large and with
an external focus, but neither has any real ability to project
force a significant distance beyond its boarders or any real desire
at present to do so (The Chinese are focused on Taiwan - just
offshore - and the Indians on Pakistan - across a land boarder).
The time taken to develop the ability to launch and sustain large
forces long distances across the sea would be significant and
the effort obvious. Such events would certainly give us time to
prepare, and even then there is another complication
of Distance" cuts both ways.
The fourth reason an all out invasion is not credible is the
shear size and isolation of the Australian mainland.
Australia is a huge country, with its population centers
and military installations widely dispersed. Most of the population
is on the east coast, but there is also a significant military
and civilian presence in the south and the west and a military
presence in the north. The technical challenge of simultanious
invasion of Sydney, Melbourne, the Northern Territory, Adelade
and Perth is comparable to the challenge of taking Madrid, London,
Norway, Athens and Moscow simultaniously, they are that far apart.
Apart from that, there are only so many places it can be launched
from. Anyone who wants to invade Victoria (or most of NSW including
Sydney) basically has to come from New Zealand, anyone who wants
to mount a realistic threat of invasion of Australia need to come
through Indonesia or Papua New Guinea (as the Japanese did in
WWII) and even then you would be invading the Northern Territory
or Queensland, which is not where Australia's population is concentrated.
There is simply no-where to invade Perth or Adelade from while Perth
is the home of our SAS regiment as well as a major naval base and
Adelade is where we build submarines.
The reason you need a nearby base is the limited tactical range
of shipping and aircraft. The United States has the ability to
launch attacks around the world with planes based in the US, but
to do so they require astonishing amounts of support. In the Falklands
War of 1982, when the British wanted to bomb Port Stanley they
used Vulcan bombers. To get a single Vulcan down to the Falklands
(from their base near Africa) they needed no less than eleven
tanker aircraft, and if anything went wrong they lost their aircraft
as it was just too far from home. Through the entire war, the
substantial British Airforce managed to get just 5 bombing raids
in using the Vulcan, and one of the aircraft did not make it home
due to a busted air-to-air refueling probe (it had to land in
Brazil and was out of the war).
The story with shipping is a bit different. The key to mechanised
warfare (and any war in Australia will be mechanised
due to the low troop densities and large areas to be covered)
is logistics. Mechanised forces are very bulky and heavy, worse,
when 'combat loaded' onto ships they are very inefficent uses
of space. The amount of shipping required to move a mechanised
force (even one stored efficently rather than one intended to
assault a hostile country) over any significant distance is astonomical
- so large it strains even the United States when they try. It
took more than 6 months to move the US forces to the gulf in 1991
and 3 months to move a much smaller force to the same region in
2003. These forces were not opposed, lots of equipment was pre-positioned
in the gulf already and the transports were not combat
loaded. Then, once the forces are deployed, you have to supply
them and that is even worse.
It is just not viable to come a long way to launch an invasion
- only the US has anything like the ability to do it and even
for them it would be very dicey
That means the 'enemy' has to be a neighbour or have taken over
a neighbour, then build up a large stockpile of equipment and
supplies. Presuming we would not notice is stretching credibility
You can harm Australia from a long distance. But if
you want to conquer us the rules are very different.
Sorry, a full on, all out, military invasion and occupation of
Australia just lacks credibility.
Thankfully, as I said at the start, this is all irrelevant to the
stories as that is not where their power comes from. The invasion
of Australia that Marsden stages is simply a mechanism via which
he can create the situations the stories address.
With that out of the way, what are the real "...
pressures or threats ..." that Australia faces?
(1) "The Dead of the Night", Epilogue, p269,
Ellie chokes on her Corn Flakes, provoked by something Fi says about
(2) "Marsden on Marsden", p70
(3) "Marsden on Marsden", p71