Monday 16 Jul 2018 | 20:26 | SYDNEY
Monday 16 Jul 2018 | 20:26 | SYDNEY

Why won't Combet mention the war?

12 October 2009 16:07

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

Sam's astonishing comments about the amphibious ships — that they should not be warships but 'national logistic assets' optimized for humanitarian work — are no more than Defence deserves.

I ignored this suggestion the first time Sam made it as I suspect such comments mark a quiet day in the blogosphere. This time I will make two comments. First, the Australian Department of Defence (or at least their Public Affairs or ministerial staffs) seems to agree with Sam. In a 24 September media release, Minister for Defence Personnel, Material and Science Greg Combet commemorates the keel-laying of the first ship by concentrating on the humanitarian function:

As outlined in the Government’s White Paper, these ships will be able to carry a substantial quantity of equipment, stores and personnel. In terms of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, they will most likely be the best means available to provide assistance in our region.

The view by the Department and successive ministers of all parties that you must not stress the war roles of the ADF in public statements encourages the views that Sam puts.

Secondly, to have a warship that can do humanitarian operations is much more flexible than having a humanitarian ship that cannot do war. Unless, of course, you do not want the government to have a war option. I suggest Sam takes his own advice offered to us only a few days ago in the Afghanistan context: 'As with all strategic policy, this is a question of balancing costs and risks'.

Without getting into arguments about surface ships versus submarines in a modern war (a very important – even critical — discussion), a war-capable amphibious ship may only be used to the full extent of its warfighting capability once in a generation. But if it is used, it is likely to be in a conflict that is of great import to Australia.

The risk of failure to this country in an important conflict is likely to be far greater than the risk of being able to provide Padang with humanitarian supplies from a warship which only uses a small portion of its capability. The humanitarian needs of the region will not suffer with this class of warship and Governments of the future might have more options in a future war than just the Special Forces.

I await with interest how Minister Combet's office will find a non-combat role to justify a JSF purchase – its benefit to Australian industry?