Saturday 22 Sep 2018 | 11:58 | SYDNEY
Saturday 22 Sep 2018 | 11:58 | SYDNEY

Defence strategy still a muddle

2 April 2012 11:35

Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan is author of Running the War in Iraq.

Graeme Dobell is relatively fair to Army by current standards, but remember, it's not paranoia when they really are out to get you! Here are some thoughts, not necessarily against Graeme, just prompted by his post.

Because of a lack of respect for the link between strategy and tactics or capabilities, most commentators are incapable of making coherent comments that link strategy to tactics or capabilities, and so they concentrate on platforms, which is much easier. The first question is not: 'Should we have subs or JSF or tanks?' First you have to figure out what you want to do with them.

Because of the lack of direction and resources by any government, most in the military are so busy fighting each other and coming up with plans for the betterment of their own service that they are incapable of explaining the silliness that enshrouds them, most of which lacks defensible logic.

In a perfect future, those that comment on strategy will understand the impact of strategy on tactics and capabilities, and the military will receive direction from a government that has some coherent idea about defence and is prepared to fund it.

By itself, Army has almost no meaning outside constabulary or niche operations such as in East Timor or in Afghanistan. If constabulary or niche operations is the future of defence in Australia, then let's talk about the future of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force as separate entities. If the future might involve something more substantial, such as the three services fighting together under a joint commander in order to win (as distinct from just being present), then concentrating on one service is pointless.

One of the biggest problems with Defence is the power of the services compared to the centre, and that demands real reform, especially in legislation. But that will not happen until operational failure forces it on us.

If we can be confident that the military future of Australia is related only to the defence of Australia in some Clausewitzian climactic battle in the sea and air approaches to this continent, then we can start to focus down on specific capabilities applicable to that battle, and put our resources into those capabilities (submarines, fighters, surface ships etc).

If we can find an enemy that is so stupid that it attacks us through the sea-air gap without first having months or years or even decades of shaping and destabilisation, then bring it on. Even the combat-incapable ADF might win that one.

If we are afraid that by having an Army we will get ourselves into a land war, then let's come out and say it: 'Our aim is to deny the government the option of using land forces by rendering those land force impotent'. Last time I looked, the Army had never declared war nor ordered its own deployments so it might be a good idea to look at why successive governments order such deployments. Just because commentators don't like our overseas involvements, this may have no impact on the real world need to deploy overseas, nor on governments who want the ADF to deploy overseas. Tactics, the basis of strategy, is all about having options.

I admit to being almost incapable of following the logic of the Defence White Paper 2009 but in some way it led to the Government proposing Force 2030, which I was relatively happy with, and then coming up with a Defence Capability Plan (DCP) that supposedly funded it. If we assume that the strategic assessment in 2009 that underlay the White Paper was correct, has this now changed so that we can justify the removal of vast amounts of money from Defence and the slowing down of the process so that Force 2030 is dead?

If so, then it is worth talking strategy. If not, and the Government is just short of money and so is taking it from Defence regardless of the strategic situation, then let's recognise that strategy is totally irrelevant to this discussion.

Let's remember that, whatever the future of the amphibious capability, it is at best, only a means whereby the land forces get to the scene of the fight. What follows is the hard part, the actual fighting. Is Army never going to find itself needing more than the small forces that the amphibious ships can deliver?

I wish I could answer that question but even I am not so arrogant as to pretend I can tell the future. I know many senior officers and most of them have balls, but none of them are crystal. If you cannot predict the future, then the dominant force structure determinant must be to develop a broad base of capabilities limited only by available funds. Once we can predict how those forces are likely to be used, then we can begin the process of focusing down on specific capabilities. If you narrow down too soon, then potential enemies over time can exploit where you are deficient.

Graeme reminds us that the '70s and '80s was a time of 'short rations'. I remember it as a period where an incoherent strategy based on wishful thinking was foisted on the ADF by people who drew all the wrong conclusions from our defeat in Vietnam, and which was accepted by successive governments who used the idiocy to not fund Defence. This was not just a period of 'short rations' for Army; none of the services could actually function. That period represented the gross failure of military strategy. Those whose job it was to give meaning to the strategy (the ADF) were at no stage capable of doing so.

Let's at least remain a little sceptical about the motives for the Force Posture Review (FPR) and accept that it might have more to do with cruise ship facilities in Sydney than strategic issues that should affect the security of the nation. Let's also question why we are having a review of where the forces will go first (FPR), then a review of what the forces will be (Force Structure Review) and then a White Paper that looks at the strategic environment. Is this not strategic fantasy land?

Finally, did Graeme miss the fact that Force 2030 is dead? Like the parrot, it represents an ex-strategy! At least in that way, Australia moves into the future with strategic consistency.

Photo courtesy of the Defence Department.