Thursday 02 Jul 2020 | 23:42 | SYDNEY
Thursday 02 Jul 2020 | 23:42 | SYDNEY

Some questions before we cut defence spending

15 January 2009 11:58

Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan (pictured) is author of Running the War in Iraq. In September 2008 he gave a presentation on his Iraq experiences at the Lowy Institute.

Can Australia cut $3 billion from its $22 billion defence budget, as discussed in The Australian yesterday? Of course it can. It can cut $22 billion from its defence budget if it wants. The question is: What is the effect?

This question is rarely addressed by governments or Defence. The ADF has shied away from internally or publicly stating its mission or its operational concept in a meaningful way. An operational concept states how the ADF will conduct the operations its strategic guidance says it must be able to do. What the ADF can actually do (not what it owns, or what it wants to do, or what it is buying), is stated in such wishy-washy terms that anyone can manoeuvre safely through with a minimum of political embarrassment. 

The US and the UK both state in concrete operational terms what their armed forces can do. Most of our policy is expressed in capability terms: a ship, some planes, some battalions. What we can actually do with all the individual capabilities is left up to everyone’s individual interpretation. So if you want to cut funding, then just delay something, or buy less of something else, or slow down training, or stretch out the purchase of supporting capabilities such as stocks, or mindlessly cut the public service yet again.  

If you never actually state what the ADF has to be able to do (produce a force of a certain size, for certain types of operations against certain opposition, independently or in coalition, concurrent with other activities) then you can never be embarrassed by having to state what the consequence of your cuts are. The trick is to also link the cuts to unspecified inefficiencies and to always quote failed DMO projects.

If the cuts occur at the magnitude mentioned, then in ten years, when I personally had hoped to see an ADF that could actually conduct sophisticated joint combat operations at a meaningful level, the ADF will be very similar to what it is now: an armed force where most things do not work, where readiness except for very small operations is almost non-existent, and where governments and the Australian people are denied legitimate options in reacting to a demanding world.

I hope that the US continues to carry much more than its fair share of the world’s problems, because Australia in ten years time will not be in much of a position to defend itself or help our allies.