Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 09:55 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 09:55 | SYDNEY

Defence White Paper debate: Round 9


Rodger Shanahan


26 September 2008 10:36

I felt moved to make a few observations on Lachlan McGoldrick’s post; in particular on the balance between theoretical policy development and practical realities. While our Army is relatively small, Lachlan’s absolutist view that the Australian Army is too small to make significant contributions to any land campaign outside Australia ignores the achievements during Interfet, when it both led and was the major contributor to stabilisation operations in a country outside Australia.

The Army of today is larger, better equipped and more operationally experienced than it was in 1999 and consequently could be considered to make an even more significant contribution today. In addition, 'significant' is a relative term and our land forces in Oruzgun are making a more significant contribution to the effort in Afghanistan than larger forces in less contested areas. Significance in this case is the role, not the size.

What history has taught defence planners is that the future can rarely if ever be predicted, so any force must provide flexibility, which is the result of a balanced force structure. Lachlan’s recommendations are anything but balanced. Exactly what is meant by weighting the Army towards special forces with infantry as ‘back-up’ is unclear, ignores the different roles of the two and takes no regard of the fact that the larger you make special forces, the less special they become.

As far as the creation of a new force with ‘light military training’, it would appear to show that Lachlan thinks armies are for fighting only. Professional armies provide two great strengths that Lachlan’s new age gendarmerie never can; they provide flexibility in uncertain situations by being able to conduct a wide variety of operations (including offensive action that lesser forces cannot), and they bring with them the critical enablers (logistics, communications, medical, aviation etc) that other organisations do not.

I would normally ignore the rather odd final suggestion of transferring 'excess' aircraft and submarines etc to the reserves (as if there is an excess of major capital equipment because Defence buys too much!), but would just like to ask where Lachlan thinks the reservists are to operate and maintain these high technology pieces of equipment? If the regular navy is having a hard enough time keeping submarines crewed, then how difficult would reservists find it (even if they had enough time to maintain trade competencies)? Well done to Lachlan on joining the debate, but hopefully as he progresses in his career he can marry much more of the practical with the theoretical.