Sunday 10 Oct 2021 | 09:08 | SYDNEY
Sunday 10 Oct 2021 | 09:08 | SYDNEY

The looming transformation of the ADF


James Brown


1 February 2012 15:20

Listening to the three service chiefs speak at the Seapower Conference* yesterday, three things seem clear. Firstly, the ADF of five years from now will look very little like the one we have today. Secondly, the service chiefs are well aware of the challenge they face in transitioning the ADF towards being a joint, expeditionary, amphibious force. Finally, these three men will not be seeing much of their families in the next few years.

The Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, described the shift to amphibious operations that will occur with the arrival of the RAN's LHDs as a 'quantum leap' for the ADF (photo, courtesy of the RAN, shows ADF officers inspecting the Spanish LHD, Juan Carlos I, on which the Canberra-class LHDs are based).

The scale of change occurring in the ADF was best detailed in Chief of Army LT GEN David Morrison's speech. It was a frank appraisal of the shortcomings Australia has in conducting amphibious operations – something that in his opinion we now need to 'relearn from first principles' after a 70-year hiatus. He outlined the need for a conceptual shift in Army away from viewing the Navy and Air Force purely as strategic lift, to understanding how to fight with all three services in a truly joint battle-space.

The Chief of Army also said that the recently launched Plan Beersheba will for the first time allow the Australian Army to achieve the objectives of the 2000 Defence White Paper, by overcoming the 'penny-packeting' of capability in the past that has made achieving joint interoperability so difficult in Army.

To understand how complex the shift to amphibious operations will be, consider that, as GEN Morrison notes, the force will need to learn how to operate every aviation and armoured platform it has from the LHDs, and then understand how to maintain and repair them at sea. The Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) is currently modeling how to support these operations, assessing things like the way airflow over the decks of the LHDs will effect Army's helicopter operations.

There is a healthy scepticism among the service chiefs about the ADF's ability to handle complexity. The Chief of Army reminded the audience yesterday that East Timor in 1999 was a strategic shock for which the ADF was unprepared, and a 'triumph of improvisation rather than professional mastery'.

At the Seapower Conference there are references everywhere to the Navy's newest ship, HMAS Choules. The Royal Australian Navy is rightly proud that it has trained a crew for HMAS Choules in a short period and transitioned the vessel to Australia ready for amphibious operations – a reminder that a simple and timely solution well executed can be better than a complex one.

* The conference is organised by the Sea Power Centre, which is headed by Lowy Institute Naval Associate Justin Jones.