The news media is all agog about today’s release of the Australian Defence White Paper . Very little critical thinking has been done by the news media on this effort. They just don’t know. If they were to do their job, they would find that most of the new Defence White Paper is unworkable.

About all this Defence White Paper amounts to is some guys sitting around and coming up with a product that over-reaches so much that you would have to question their sanity.

This piece of alternate reality starts out with the Defence Ministers preface.

“The 2009 White Paper was developed in the midst of a global recession. The Government has demonstrated the premium it puts on our national security by not allowing the financial impact of the global recession on its Budget to affect its commitment to our Defence needs.”

This is yet to be proven. So far the government has thrown down over $10 billion and counting on government stimulus packages in an effort to counter the results of the global economic meltdown. The verdict isn’t in. One of many big impacts is China which is buying less of the stuff Australia digs up out of the ground (coal). The hit politicians might take on altering a defence budget will be less than the hit taken for not propping up other parts of government programs (especially entitlements). Even the opening comments by Defence Minister Fitzgibbon make one wonder if he knows anything about what is obtainable for Defence. It is a quick one page to move the document along with no real substance.

The “Executive Summary” is next. It starts out with some good words.

“The global economic crisis is the most fundamental economic challenge facing this Government. At times such as these, the Government must be fiscally responsible. It would be reckless to commit substantial new resources to Defence while uncertainty surrounding the crisis remains. “

Yet the paper will press on into a magical mystery tour adventure that suggests that Australian taxpayer should back a troubled Defence establishment that is prepared to take on several “reckless” procurements.

“From the outset, we need to have a clear view of how much strategic risk Australia is prepared to bear, and hence how much military power we should seek to develop. The more Australia aspires to have greater strategic influence beyond our immediate neighbourhood – that is to say the ability to exert policy influence that is underpinned by military power – the greater the level of spending on defence we need to be prepared to undertake. If we want to back up strategic influence with military power, we have to be prepared to invest the resources required, and to be confident that the security benefits outweigh those costs.”

Beautiful and correct words. However the rubber stamp of risky weapons systems purchase combined with poor weapons system procurement and sustainment events will destroy these goals quicker than you can say “cost blow-out” or “delay”.

“Australia’s most basic strategic interest remains the defence of Australia against direct armed attack. This includes armed attacks by other states and by non-state actors with the capacity to employ strategic capabilities, including weapons of mass destruction (WMD). This most basic strategic interest abides irrespective of the perceived intentions of others, and is a function of our geography and levels of current and future capability in the region around us. Before we attend to anything else, we must secure this strategic interest.”

That is the most important foundation of the whole document. If what ever is proposed does not support this, then it must be eliminated. I submit to you that for all practical purposes, Australia only has enough ability and resources to support this goal. Anything after this drains limited taxpayer resources. 

Australia is not a world military power. A defence framework should be built more on a robust Singapore defence management process and eliminate worldwide commitments. As seen already, even small expeditionary efforts take resources away from the prime defence of Australia. For example, the idea that an Afghanistan expeditionary force contributes to the security of Australia is ridiculous. When you dig into the document on topic of Afghanistan, (for example section 4.4) the words are good but the coalition involved in this effort makes any kind of “victory” impossible. Yet money should still be shovelled into this fools errand. National security interest is relative to what you believe Australia should be involved in and not just what some talking head on the TV says it is. For example section 6.15 addresses this subject.

“However, we must never put ourselves in a position where the price of our own security is a requirement to put Australian troops at risk in distant theatres of war where we have no direct interests at stake.”

Here is some more hopes and dreams thinking.

“The principal task for the ADF is to deter and defeat armed attacks on Australia by conducting independent military operations without relying on the combat or combat support forces of other countries.”

Until there is a major clean-up of dysfunctional senior Defence leadership and procurement practice, the above sentence is impossible to perform.

Section 4.53 is a kicker. In describing regional military capability, the authors unknowingly describe a big part of the Australian Defence management problem.

“However, and particularly in the light of the global economic crisis, most regional nations will be constrained in their military development programs by fiscal and technological factors. Many regional militaries will continue to be hampered by uneven supporting skills, logistics, infrastructure and sustainment. Most are only slowly developing the military, industrial and management skills necessary to convert new systems into effective capability, especially that required for the projection of military power.”

When the topic of military hardware is brought up in the White Paper, the result seems to be that the authors are masturbating at their crucifixion. The list of war toys is so extensive that it defies any way to pay for it.

Did anyone expect that a supposedly rigorous analysis of Australian defence needs could leave out the Air Warfare Destroyer, the Canberra amphibious flat-tops, and the so unproven, risky and expensive F-35 Joint Strike Fighter? Given the troubled Defence circles that are Australia, these had to be included even if Micky Mouse and Daffy Duck were appointed by this Defence Minister to author the paper .

I admit that I like the idea of the new frigates. This is the right size of warship to do a lot of good. The authors and even Defence planners make some wild assumptions on the topic of naval power. Since the Air Warfare Destroyer has the world “Air Warfare” in it, they assume that it can fend off an air attack. This dangerous thought has been hinted to more than once over the years. Unless you have a strong air umbrella over a naval task force, warships are just targets that will eventually get killed by enemy air power.

What ever the air power solution ends up being, the fleet won’t be able to go too far from land based air or a U.S. Navy carrier air group at best. The pretty graphics of a Canberra class amphibious ship full of all kinds of land force equipment will be an inviting target that can send a lot of diggers and tankies to a watery grave if these ships aren’t well protected. Given the size of the ADF, don’t expect hard war power projection using the Canberra class/Air Warfare Destroyer class method to go very far by themselves unless the campaign planner is an utter fool.

Submarines. Insert joke here. Until senior Defence leadership displays a long track record of being able to get more than three of the current submarines to sea, the idea of having the taxpayer cough up the money for 12 new submarines should be rejected. Defence has to first show that it can consistently crew all the current subs for a long period of time.

The White Paper recommends an even longer range sub than the Collins class yet doesn’t recommend nuclear power. I don’t have an opinion on nuclear power at this time, yet the idea of what the next sub should be for the RAN is Looney Tunes. So far the RAN can only get X amount of sub sailors. Yet, there are off the shelf solutions from Europe that offer a sub that is deadly and uses around half the crew of a Collins class sub. These off the shelf subs would have less range than the Collins but would certainly do the job of defending Australia. The procurement process that involved the home-grown Collins class was a disaster. And the White Paper authors recommend that the Australian taxpayer double their pain with the follow-on 12 sub replacement. Unexecutable. Unrealistic. Mad.

The White Paper authors suggestions for air power solutions are equally unworkable. They recommend procurement of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, yet they ignore the huge risk behind the program. It is nowhere near proving its capability, cost or delivery date. As it is, it will be hugely expensive. It’s survivability is questionable and the authors assumptions about its worth are not supportable by any known fact.

The same is brought up about the Boeing Wedgetail airborne early warning aircraft. It is way late and is still under a review that may find it needs more work. Until a pending report on it is finished, stating in a Defence White Paper that it is the way of the future, like other topics, brings the authors credibility into question.

Net-Centric Warfare, (NCW). The authors are confident that this ability will be the “system of systems” approach where every weapon system is a node on a network. This theory forgets that the United States, the most experienced user of NCW knows that it is seriously limited by frequency availability and bandwidth. This is no small detail and bringing up all the NCW hype without bringing up its many limitations shows that the authors are out of their depth on this topic.

That isn’t everything but it is enough. The White Paper goes down hill from there. Chapter 13 and on bring up all those messy details that show by reading between the lines the missing pieces of the puzzle. The plans, programs, policy and procedure and skilled leadership to run a Defence Department at the senior management level don’t exist at this time. Until the gross mismanagement of the dysfunctional Defence bureaucracy can be seriously fixed, nothing else is very workable.

That folks, is the newly released Defence White Paper. A sham. A rubber stamp for numerous things the taxpayer can ill afford. A business plan for trying to make a poorly run hamburger joint into a five star restaurant. Dead on arrival.


  1. Beefing up ground forces is a good idea, but like you, I see little of this actually happening. The platform-centric militaries of the last century is becoming increasingly untenable even for the richest nations. Warfare off the shelf will be the norm, added to new “gadget” weapons which can be easily replaced as they become obsolete. Considering the lifespan of computer software, this will become quite often. The platforms won’t be able to keep up so they better become redundant and cheap.

  2. Re NCW; how do they envisage this being workable in 200 feet high triple layer wet tropical jungle canopy that abounds throughout Australia’s regional area of potential military interest?

  3. ELP,

    it can’t be *that* hard to fill the subs. It’s not like they talk about thousands of men, more like under 300 for 12 (single-crewed).

    Stealthy forward presence (under water) is a good thing. If anything should have been reviewed it was the Canberra amphibs, as their BCT-sized expeditionary character is questionable for the overall setup of the AUS forces. I would see kinetic forward action more for commandos, not for larger combat formations. Do not deploy what you can’t afford to loose!

    Re Bushranger71’s statement about NCW: Yes that, and the vast distances. Very hard without relais, preferably orbital.
    What about an Australian Skynet 5 at 120 east? I think that should be on that long-term spendings list.

  4. Hmm 3 x air forces (all 3 fly something), 3 x navies (surface and subsurface and army landing craft) and 2 x armies (SAS/Commando and the rest),a proven record of purchasing the unnecessary,the never to work (properly or at all),the broken and a willingness to upgrade, past use by date, equipment and purchase the unknown in cost and capability and waste billions in the process. All that’s military capability evident, after all this, is an ability to deploy reasonably equipped and well trained foot soldiers into a combat zone providing somebody else provides the critical support structures and equipment, other than tents,food and ammunition. With the new dollar promises, a line will have to formed, so there are enough shoulders, to throw these $billions$ over.

  5. ELP, I disagree with one thing you’ve said – I don’t think the Scandinavian sub designs are suitable for Australia “off the shelf”. The problem is range – the Baltic and littoral areas in the North Sea are pretty damn small, in real terms, compared with the territory that Australian subs will need to cover.

    But the rest of what you say makes sense. If we can’t get 6 subs in action, the prospects for 12 don’t look too good…

  6. Hey Bern, just because Swedes operate close to their ports doesn’t mean their subs have less endurance than those that don’t.

    AIP-equipped Gotland was known to STAY SUBMERGED FOR < HREF="" REL="nofollow">3 WEEKS<> during war game exercise with USN Carrier Group off coast of California, and emerged victorious.

    Moreover, Västergötland subs received climatisation upgrade (from < HREF="" REL="nofollow">Kockums AB<>) for use in tropical waters before being handed over to Republic of Singapore Navy.

  7. The Australian military has operated extensively throughout the neighbouring archipelago for 60 plus years but our defence planners seem not to have learned the lessons.

    The logistics of deploying large expeditionary forces would require extensive intra-theatre transportation and support penalties that are prohibitive. Many airfields around the region are rudimentary, aviation fuel availability limited and port facilities very minimal.

    To operate cost-effectively in this region, there has to be reliance on longish range and endurance aircraft like the C17 and C130 to deploy company groups and light armour into rough airfields close to where they are needed. But shedding of 12 x C130H seems intended with acquisition of only another 2 x C130J, thus substantially reducing air mobility capacity.

    Long range/endurance all weather aerial firepower is also needed like the AC130 to support the very versatile air deployable M113 APCs. Abrams tanks would be a huge logistic encumbrance for dubious operational value. Like former RAAF C130A and C130E, the C130H might foreseeably be acquired by the USAF for conversion to AC130 and/or other invaluable special operations roles.

    The lessons of amphibious operations during WW2 and the Falklands War seem unrecognized and the 2 x LPD aircraft carriers and 46 x MRH90 will in my view prove to be hugely inappropriate and expensive planning blunders. An appropriate level of amphib capability might be Rotterdam or Galicia class vessels around 13,000tonnes displacement (about half that of the intended Canberra class LPDs), perhaps acquired over 20 plus years.

    The architects of the White Paper from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute really seem to have little military appreciation.

  8. Bushranger – you’ve fervently got to hope that the white paper achitects put this hotch-potch together without any input from the ADF, or that they just cherry picked the politically sexy bits. There are some good bits in the paper, I agree with the subs and the frigates, would have liked to have seen a couple more army battalions, the F35’s still verge on the edge of fantasy and I just can’t see where they fit in our strategic needs.
    Finally I just don’t see how the whole thing is affordable, $20 billion in operational savings is even more fantisizing. Sad thing is that in 20 years we’ll probably have half of the proposed inventory with most of it unable to be deployed because we haven’t bought the right bits. Oh, and NCW will be a fad condemned to history, like you I don’t see where it fits in our region.

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