If we're going to change tack from local self defense to having some sort of blue water capability and the ability to self deploy some level of close air support is useful. The other problem is the capability gap that we have now with switching from the F-111 to the F-35.
The F-111 is a plane that could fly to Indonesia from our forward facing air force bases which America is now occupying and back and do some interdiction then go on its merry way. Unfortunately a lot of things happen in 50 years and the F-111 is no longer able to do what it did without close air support.
Let me use the recent conflict between a similar capability level SU-24 Fencer and what happened when Turkish F-16 block D plane flew into Turkish airspace and shot the thing to pieces! We must keep some currency.
This is where the KC-30A tankers come into play I guess, however having a tanker on your front lines and planes that are about as thirsty as your average V8 super car is not good. I guess that's also where the buddy refueling prospect comes from. They can drink from each other.
An aircraft carrier of any sort, and this is the largest one that Australia has ever ordered requires some sort of indigenous close air support. Well, we might say we have some very good capability with the F-35. What the media says about the cost overruns and what have you aside. Once it's operational it's going to be a very good plane, but where my thinking is that you can't just sail a big ship into the middle of the deep blue yonder with everyone blissfully unaware of what it is your doing. But that also ties in to buying new submarines and air warfare destroyers and frigates.
They have had a significant capability alteration though you are right, and much like any other conflict in recent history except the Solomon Islans and East Timor we generally fit into a larger picture which is sort of like a mechano set and that is where the AUSCANNZUKUS agreement comes in and where training excercises and joint capability operations such as the deployment of US soldiers in the northern parts of Australia comes to the fore.
There is the argument that an F-35 carrier group won't make a difference in the long run, but it's not really about that. As any other medium sized nation has to deal with, lets say Israel or whatever by comparison. It's about giving the other party involved a black eye and something to think about until more help can be gathered with hands on deck.
We're living in a time where it is getting more and more expensive to defend ourselves. The last case where we had to defend ourselves by ourselves is World War II. In which American soldiers were hopelessly under-prepared for New Guinea. Unfortunately we no longer possess the brute strength or the financial capability to lift our own weight so it remains that we must be good bed fellows with our traditional allies and when the brown stuff hits the metal thing you had better hope that America responds in turn as we did on September 11.