Wednesday 08 Apr 2020 | 23:34 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 08 Apr 2020 | 23:34 | SYDNEY

How not to do defence planning (part 3)

13 April 2009 05:14

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

This is the third in a series (here are parts one and two) concerning defence planning, which maintains that the parlous state of the ADF reflects incoherence in defence planning, failed implementation and lack of transparent outcomes. The bureaucratic/political process and money are disproportionately more important than clear guidance and accountable outcomes, and unless we change the way we run defence planning and implementation, we will transfer current ADF impotence directly to the ADF of the next 10 years.

I do not delude myself that we are going to change the way White Papers are prepared and delivered or the money to be allocated to defence — White Papers are justification of what was going to be spent anyway.  But regardless of the money allocated, what I suggest can dramatically improve our ability to understand the outcomes or consequences of the White Paper process, and whether we are getting value for money.

I maintain that we should focus on operational outcomes by linking strategic policies (White Paper, procurement and financial) with the tactical level (where you actually do things – buy equipment and fight wars) by a clear statement of what the ADF is operationally capable of doing as a result of those policies — a feedback and verification/alignment/responsibility link.

There will be a plethora of counter-arguments, ranging from security to political embarrassment. I do not accept that there is a security problem in stating what the ADF is capable of doing, except for certain parts of certain capabilities. The main fear is political embarrassment. I produced such statements over my last few years in the ADF, but they were far too highly classified, and therefore I cannot go too far into specifics. Such work can and should be unclassified.

The methodology of my proposed link between strategic policy and the tactical level is as follows: 

  • Analyse and then state the realistic upper limit of defence capability at any one time based on Australia’s operational constants (which I will come back to). State it in terms of a credible, once in a generation campaign, based on current strategic guidance. This would be a generic scenario not linked to a specific geographic area, opponent or specific contingency, and answers the question: 'What can the ADF actually do in its most demanding yet credible scenario in 20XX, as a result of these policies?' The operational constants are: get ready to go somewhere (prepare the force to deploy concurrent with other activities), go somewhere (deploy the force, normally done through a forward operating base), do something (conduct and sustain some kind of joint maritime, joint land or joint air/aerospace operation), and come home. 
  • Set this first analysis a decade into the future when we should have acquired some actual joint operational capability, which should be the focus of our force development. 
  • To complete the picture, re-do the analysis for the current force (what capability does the current force have if it had to work in such a demanding scenario?) and for a number of points in time (every two years might be enough – what could the ADF actually do in 2011, 2013, 2015 etc), based on what capabilities the force might have introduced in each period as it develops to the end of the ten-year Defence Capability Plan (DCP).

In the end we will have a statement of operational outcomes (as well as a list of equipment) for the ADF now, and for the ADF at the end of the DCP, as well as at certain points over the ten-year development timeframe. This allows you to compare the metrics of times, distance and size over the development period, to ensure that policy is taking the ADF in the right directions.

Power projection should be the ADF’s conceptual operational touchstone. I would define this is having an amphibious task force at the centre followed by other forces deployed by other means, deployed over some distance in certain time periods, to conduct both conventional joint air/aerospace and joint maritime operations, followed by a force lodgement (with or without allies), the purpose of which is to then conduct joint land operations,

Remember, military operations in defence of the continent are as much to do with power projection as operations in the Gulf with our allies – this is not an expeditionary operations concept versus defence of Australia issue. If we can do real joint power projection ops, then single service niche deployments, or any of our other essential on-going operations (the ADFs bread and butter), will always be possible.

Focussing conceptually on power projection operations is the only thing that will force the ADF to be joint. The ADF is only joint at the moment in Canberra, which is better than nothing and a great improvement. But we cannot fight joint. Our Navy and our Air Force have enormous problems and our Army, outside the tiny SF, is not much better. We need to have something against which we can judge joint performance.

The technique I have suggested also allows us to truly match one capability against another. We argue for an air defence capability in the navy (AWD), in the air force (F-18/JSF) and in the army (GBAD). Only if you have an agreed concept of operations can you make logical decisions about AWD against JSF against GBAD. 

As well, deficiencies in one area can be made up by how a skilled joint commander might use the whole force, which is what an operational concept explains. You cannot develop skilled joint commanders, the single critical point of failure, until you have a concept of operations against which to prepare, train and educate. Finally, no discussion can logically occur about single dominant capability approach to defence planning (a large submarine force, for example) unless there is an operational concept which puts that force into a comprehensive campaign framework.

If money is going to be even tighter, it is critical that we understand exactly what we are buying, and what the trade-offs should be. This linking operational concept will allow you to do this, but I concede that it might be embarrassing to see exactly what the ADF can or cannot do.