Sunday 03 Jul 2022 | 09:36 | SYDNEY
Sunday 03 Jul 2022 | 09:36 | SYDNEY

The whiter, brighter, joined-up ADF


Graeme Dobell

22 March 2012 12:34

The coming era for Australian defence has a back-to-the-future feel – but with lots of shiny new add-ons.

If the Australian Defence Force was a washing powder known as ADF, the advertisement would sing about the promise of a better and brighter DoA (Defence of Australia), with extra regional power. And for those added enzymes, we give you even more jointery.

'Jointery' is the less than novel idea that the Army, Navy and Air Force should actually be able to work with each other. When DoA was driving all before it in the 1980s, jointery was just the thing. It was necessary because of the rather uncomfortable fact that the history of the three services meant they rarely had to think too deeply about each other.

The Australian military served in eight conflicts in the 20th century, but in none of these did Australia's Army, Navy and Air Force perform together as an integrated force.* Australia's armed forces have served under the strategic and sometimes even the operational command of allies, but not together. Iraq and Afghanistan were new conflicts that spoke to those old Australian habits.

To consider the retro elements in our new era, turn to one of our smarter military thinkers and an important moderniser of the ADF, Peter Gration, who served as Chief of the Defence Force from 1987 to 1993. Here is Gration in 1988, talking about injecting jointery into a single service culture: 

Australia's military leaders trained and practised the lessons of military art in conjunction with the forces of major allies against international rather than national threats...Separate army, naval and air forces could be sent to serve overseas as part of larger allied formations without necessarily relying on other Australian forces for support...a higher priority was placed on interoperability with allies than on interoperability between our own Army, Navy and Air Force.

Consider that as prologue for the looming transformation of the ADF 'towards being a joint, expeditionary, amphibious force.' The transformation aim is well explained by James Brown, supporting his view that 'the ADF of five years from now will look very little like the one we have today.'

As usual with Defence, the planning conveyor belt is already rolling towards the new era. The completed version of the Hawke-Smith Force Posture Review is due to go to the Minister by 31 March and then on to the National Security Committee of Cabinet. The Force Posture Review will set the scene for the Force Structure Review and then the next Defence White Paper, which is on the horizon for 2014. Transformation gets done step by step.

After Vietnam, Australia turned toward Defence of Australia. After Iraq and Afghanistan, similar responses are in prospect: lash Army, Navy and Air Force much closer together and move more resources (and devote more thinking) to the north and west of the continent. 

The history, of course, doesn't offer all the answers. The post-Vietnam strategy was deeply influenced by an understanding that there would no longer be any US 'boots on the ground' in our part of the world. Today, the first of the US Marines are about to arrive in Darwin as part of the new US military posture towards Southeast Asia.

*The eight 20th century conflicts were the Boer War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Malayan Emergency, Confrontation with Indonesia, the Vietnam War, and the Gulf War of 1990-91.

Photo by Flickr user lissame.