Tuesday 23 Jul 2019 | 19:40 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 23 Jul 2019 | 19:40 | SYDNEY

Amphibious ships part of our insurance policy


Mark O'Neill

8 August 2008 17:24

Sam's assertion that labeling the amphibious ships as ‘warships’ is a ‘fiction’, based on the low probability of their use in ‘war', provides a precedent for any number of things. For example, if we recognise the ‘fiction’ of runway safety zones at our international airports, we would have the space to build much needed child care centres (after all, the probability of a plane crash is almost zero, right?) The mind boggles to think of all the uses we might put ambulances to when they are not actually tending to an emergency. The bottom line is that the idea is seriously flawed, and apparently underpinned by several misapprehensions. 

First, the misapprehensions: the idea that the amphibious ships (or any other suitable defence asset) would go unused if the national interest demanded their employment in ‘non-traditional’ roles is fallacious. Australian and ADF history is full of precedent – from the relief effort post Cyclone Tracy in 1974 through to the assistance provided to the people of Banda Aceh post-Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. The ADF has an outstanding record of using its capabilities in ‘non-traditional’ defence roles.  

Secondly, the idea that the ships might be directed better by an interagency Qango does not recognise the comparative advantage that the Royal Australian Navy has in maritime operations. In any national enterprise, the right people must be used to achieve the desired effect. Imagine suggesting the idea that the Australia Council be run by a board of Rear Admirals……

The most serious flaw at the heart of the concept is the idea that the future is knowable, and thus it is appropriate to assume risk with regard to options for the nation’s defence. Of course, the problem for defence and strategic planners is that the future is unknowable. As the strategist Colin S. Gray notes, 'The future is not foreseeable: Nothing dates so rapidly as today’s tomorrow'. This issue has exercised the writers of every Australian Defence White Paper to date, and no doubt is a preoccupation of the current team. The ADF is an unlimited liability insurance policy for the security of the nation. Unnecessarily restricting the comparative advantage it has over all other agencies in the employment and use of military assets to achieve outcomes in the national interest would be poor public policy.