Archive from August, 2012

Strategy, politics and soldiers’ deaths

SGT Blaine Diddams, RAAF Base PearceThe loss of any soldier is terrible. When that death is at the hands of one of the very people they had been sent to mentor, the psychological impact is even more telling.

Late last year I was in Afghanistan at the time of the second ‘green on blue’ attack, when three Australians were killed and others wounded. Because I am a journalist, I wasn’t informed at first; although it didn’t take long to work out what had happened, particularly when I saw soldiers carrying loaded weapons and wearing body armour in the mess. Nevertheless, I respected the army’s desire and didn’t report what had occurred, even though this meant that when the news was initially released back in Australia I’d been comprehensively ‘scooped’.

That was irrelevant. The needs of the families to be informed first far outweighed the requirement to be ‘first’ with the news. It was just a matter of keeping things in perspective. Unfortunately, such perspective appears to increasingly be missing when it comes to dealing with casualties—which are an inevitable cost of the decision to go to war.

This week, Prime Minister Julia Gillard had the awful task of announcing an Afghan National Army soldier had killed three more diggers (although the spin-masters insisted it was a person ‘wearing an ANA uniform’, as if he had infiltrated from the outside). It was quite understandable she held a press conference to convey her sincere regret. Her sober comments were utterly irreproachable. But then she abruptly cancelled her attendance at the Pacific Islands Forum and immediately returned home …  and to do what, exactly? Read more

Defence Minister Stephen Smith and the Chief of the Defence Force General Hurley were in Vietnam conducting important bilateral meetings, but they too flew home at once. The killings were both tragic and unexpected, and the dead soldiers deserve the utmost respect. This doesn’t mean, however, that nothing can be done until they are ‘laid to rest’.

A casual assumption has been made that our broader strategic interests in the Pacific are less important, politically, than the PM’s presence in Canberra. It would be quite different if she could actually do something, but she can’t. Nobody can, unless it’s taking a decision to either reinforce the current deployment or, like the Dutch before us, withdraw. Instead the political class stands vacillating, unable to do either one thing or the other. The demand to show respect for the dead has paralysed the politicians.

Ten months ago the overall force commander gave the soldiers a day without operations so they could recover their equilibrium and cope in their own way with the tragedy. Then he added another day—but inaction was exactly what the troops didn’t need. They wanted to work. They knew that nothing good would come of standing around and moping, no matter how close they’d been to the dead soldiers. Instead they were to lose another day in the barracks, pacing back and forth like a tiger in a cage.

Nobody doubts the need to mark the sacrifice of the dead soldiers. But neither their interests, nor the interests of their families, are being served if we suddenly halt everything. If the PM cannot bear the deaths, the answer is simple: withdraw the forces. If she chooses not to, she needs to understand that tragic, sudden deaths are what war is all about.

Nic Stuart is a columnist with the Canberra Times. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

Malaysian–Australian relations: close to the limit (part I)

Bersama Lima 2011It might actually be said that Australia is Malaysia’s closest military cooperation partner. The close defence relationship between our countries is one that has come about due to various factors, including the common security umbrella of the Five Powers Defence Arrangement (FPDA) and a long legacy of Australian presence and sacrifice on Malaysian soil, in both World War II and the communist emergency. And we can add to that the long period of bilateral military training, exercises and cooperation that the two countries have had.

Australian military officers have long been serving in various training capacities in Malaysia and as such have built close relations with the Malaysian officers they have trained. In 1989, the current Australian Chief of Defence Force, General David Hurley, served a posting as the Mechanised Infantry Adviser, Australian Army Project Team Malaysia. Among the Malaysian Army officers he worked closely with while in Malaysia was the current Malaysian Chief of Defence Force, General Tan Sri Zulkifeli Mohd Zin. As well, numerous Malaysian officers have undergone initial and advanced training and education in Australia, and, at the same time, Australian officers have been regular fixtures in student classes of the Malaysian Staff College. Similar exchanges and training have been carried out for NCOs and enlisted ranks. All this has fostered a strong personal tie and bond between the militaries of both countries. Read more

Australia is one of very few countries (the other being France) which actually has an officer working inside the Malaysian Ministry of Defence (to oversee the operations of the Malaysian Australian Joint Defence Program). Such was the closeness of the ties between the two countries that when Malaysia was preparing to deploy its team in Afghanistan via C-130s of the Royal Malaysian Air Force last year, the Royal Australian Air Force provided the free use of its C-130 mission training simulators in Australia as part of the RMAF pilots’ training. While the RMAF had a C-130 simulator, there was no mission module which replicated expected conditions in Afghanistan.

However, despite the closeness of the ties between the two countries in the military sphere, there remains a limit as to how far it can be taken due to several factors, some of which have the potential to impact upon existing cooperation between the Malaysian and Australian militaries.

One such factor is perhaps the difference in the way the two countries see the application or participation on their military forces on the global stage. Fundamentally, the Australian military has always been structured as an expeditionary and interventionist military force and, from a Malaysian perspective, political decision making to commit the Australian military overseas has been guided in some ways by idealism and moral principles. Conversely, the Malaysian military is a largely territorial and peacekeeping military force with the decision to commit overseas based on a realpolitik estimate of the economic and political value of such to Malaysia. The result is that there is a limit as to how far both countries want to commit towards joint training. Apart from the FPDA, regional peacekeeping deployments like Cambodia and East Timor and HADR operations, these fundamental differences mean that the joint deployment and/or cooperation between Malaysian and Australian military forces in a coalition seems highly unlikely.

It should be noted that in two global areas of operations where both Australia and Malaysia are present—namely, the Gulf of Aden and Afghanistan—neither countries’ military forces deployed there are cooperating on a close basis or are integrated operationally. In Gulf of Aden naval operations, Australia has been operating under the mandate of CTF-151, a multinational task force established for counterpiracy operations. Malaysia in turn opted for a narrow, national mission of escorting ships belonging to Malaysian shipping company (MISC), while rendering assistance where possible to any vessel facing pirate attacks in the vicinity of the RMN ships operating there. In Afghanistan, while both countries operate under the ISAF mandate, the very nature of Australia’s combat oriented mission in a contested sector means that there is no possibility of the 40 plus Malaysian military medical team being stationed with the Australian military, despite the ties and cooperation between the two. Instead, Malaysia deployed alongside the New Zealand PRT in what was then perceived to be a quiet sector of Bamiyan province. So it might not be surprising if neither country wants to deepen the relationship. The factors at work in these two deployments reflect differing outlooks on global military commitments.

In fact, the current strong Malaysian–Australian relations may actually limit future cooperation. Given that military cooperation today often functions as an aid to diplomacy and diplomatic ties between countries, military cooperation with Malaysia may be overridden by the priority for Australia to pursue military cooperation with countries that Australia has a historically more difficult relationship with, such as Indonesia. In my next post I’ll examine some other issues in the Australia–Malaysia defence relationship, such as the asymmetry of the defence budgets of the two countries, and their very different views of national security.

Dzirhan Mahadzir is a defence journalist, Malaysia correspondent for Janes Defence Weekly and former guest lecturer on military history and strategy, Malaysian Armed Forces Defence College. Image courtesy of the Department of Defence.

Reader response: what the Secretary is really saying

Secretary of Defence Duncan Lewis

In his post on Duncan Lewis’ speech to ASPI, Peter Jennings gave us a good round up of the Secretary’s intent. Peter outlines three messages: match aspirations to the government-allocated funds; save and be efficient; and the inadequacy of our current structure and posture given future strategic circumstances. The first two are daily fare for Defence secretaries, and are what you would expect. The third might be the soldier-bureaucrat talking and I would like to offer my own interpretation to balance Peter’s.

Perhaps the Secretary is saying, of course the Department will get on with fitting the ADF and other defence programs into the funding provided, and all the while achieving savings and efficiencies. That is a given, and no one denies any government the right to set defence’s expenditure levels.

The Secretary’s third message, ‘As things stand I don’t think that we are structured or postured appropriately to meet our likely strategic circumstances in the future’ was picked by Peter as very important, and I can only agree. But having stated how important it is for the Secretary to give a not so subtle message against ‘a more worrying set of strategic trends’, Peter then stresses the Secretary’s comments on the Defence Cooperation Program and on some vague statement about reducing ‘… risk by doing business differently’. Read more

This, in my view, is actually the key to what the Secretary is saying: make savings, be efficient, meet Government set funding levels, but be aware that the ability of the ADF supported by the Department to meet the strategic circumstances is ‘inadequate’. Let’s not beat around the bush—the Secretary is saying that the ADF in particular cannot do its job in relation to what is demanded by the worrying set of strategic trends. It then becomes plain silly to say that to overcome such inadequacy we are going to cooperate regionally. It smacks of a level of governmental desperation to say that we have no bullets for the ADF, therefore we are going to be nice to the neighbours, give them a bit of training, do more with less, and so on.

We all know that the best relations with our neighbours are built on a solid basis of national credibility, an important part of which is military credibility.

It is dangerous to take this bloodless policy politeness too far. This government has set the ADF on a path of terminal decline. You can be as clever as you like and make as many saving as you like and be very polite to your neighbours, but at 1.6%, 1.5% or 1.4% of GDP, you are pretty much New Zealand, but still with Australia’s strategic circumstances. The government’s defence plans are duplicitous because what has been pushed out to the out years cannot be achieved bureaucratically, much less with inadequate funding.

May I suggest that Peter’s benign interpretation of the Secretary’s ‘uncompromising message’ is not ‘right on the money’. My bet is that the integrity of the Secretary (and the CDF) and their ability to understand the implications of what this Government is doing to the structure and posture of the ADF by their irrational removal of funding from defence at a time of worrying strategic trends, will be put to the Minister in totally uncompromising terms.

It is even more ridiculous that Peter and I have to interpret what the Secretary means. Our current system denies the voters of Australia the knowledge of what the Secretary and the CDF really think, and we have to play this silly game. We will only ever get to see a politicised white paper from the Minister, and so we cannot judge the magnitude of the risk that the government is taking in our name. This is deeply undemocratic. The only upside for us voters is that the CDF and Secretary are more than likely to tell the Minister exactly what they think the consequences of his policies are. And we will know exactly who to blame. Of course there is no indication that this Minister cares.

Jim Molan is a retired Major General in the Australian Army and is a commentator on defence and security issues.

The dragon in our backyard: the strategic consequences of China’s increased presence in the South Pacific

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s decision to attend the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in the Cook Islands this week signals the growing strategic importance of the South Pacific. Clinton’s attendance may also be a response to China’s increasing presence in the region. The consequences of China’s advance in our immediate neighbourhood are most significant for Australia, which is facing a situation where it may, for the first time in more than 70 years, find itself with a power with interests not necessary aligned to its own in its backyard.

China has been active in the South Pacific for four decades, mostly driven by its competition with Taiwan for diplomatic recognition. Although a truce (of sorts) has held for the last few years, China and Taiwan have engaged in ‘chequebook diplomacy’ to win the favour of South Pacific states. While this competition remains important, China now appears to have strategic interests in demonstrating its ability to project global power via its increasing influence in the region. And, regardless of their small size, each independent South Pacific state has a vote in international organisations, which China can seek to persuade them to use in pursuit of its interests.

China’s efforts to penetrate the South Pacific were given a boost after Australia and New Zealand’s attempt to isolate the Fijian regime after the 2006 coup. The Fijian regime responded by adopting an explicit ‘look north’ policy and sought a closer relationship with China, which other regional states have followed. After Australia and New Zealand supported Fiji’s suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum, the Fijian regime focused its attention on the Melanesian Spearhead Group, from which Australia and New Zealand are excluded. China seized this opportunity to gain influence, sponsoring the creation of the Group’s Secretariat, and building its headquarters in Vanuatu. Read more

China’s most significant strategic interest in the South Pacific is military access, the most important aspect of which is signals intelligence monitoring. For example, China built a satellite tracking station in Kiribati in 1997, although it was subsequently dismantled after Kiribati switched diplomatic recognition to Taiwan. The Chinese fishing fleet operating out of Fiji is also said to provide cover for signals intelligence monitoring, particularly of United States’ bases in Micronesia. China is also seeking naval access to the region’s ports and exclusive economic zones, engages in military assistance programs, and is negotiating access to facilities for maintenance and resupply purposes.

The Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Richard Marles, has said that: ‘China’s increased presence in the Pacific is fundamentally welcomed by Australia’. However, China’s growing military presence may pose several risks to Australia. As China becomes a more assertive international actor it could respond militarily if members of the Chinese diaspora are threatened, as they were during the riots in Solomon Islands and Tonga in 2006 (PDF). Questions then arise about what would happen if Australia also responded to such an eventuality: would the Chinese and Australians cooperate? Or could the situation lead to a stand-off?

The most serious risk is that Australia’s near neighbours could come to owe allegiance to a power with interests that do not necessarily align with those of Australia. Indeed, the 2009 Defence White Paper noted that Australia has a strategic interest in ensuring that Indonesia and South Pacific states ‘are not a source of threat to Australia, and that no major military power that could challenge our control of the air and sea approaches to Australia, has access to bases in our neighbourhood from which to project force against us’. Given the extensive nature of Chinese involvement, it is not beyond the realms of possibility to imagine such a scenario. The vulnerability of Australia to a major power establishing a foothold in the region was graphically illustrated during World War II, when the Japanese managed to penetrate as far as Papua New Guinea.

Australia (often in cooperation with New Zealand and the United States) has belatedly responded to China’s increased presence in the South Pacific. Australia has increased its diplomacy in the region, on top of its already extensive aid, military, policing and governance assistance. Most positively, Australia announced in July that it is restoring full diplomatic relations with Fiji, and easing sanctions it imposed on the military regime. Given the strategic issues at stake, it is vital that Australia continues to devote its energies to this issue in similarly positive ways.

Joanne Wallis is a lecturer in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University, where she also convenes the Bachelor of Asia-Pacific Security program. Image courtesy of Flickr user rumpleteaser.

Indonesia’s problematic defence procurement priorities

The defence budget of the Republic of Indonesia has seen a significant increase in 2012, reaching US$8 billion—an increase of 29.5% from the previous year. The funding increase is intended to meet Indonesia’s minimum essential force (MEF) requirements. One purchase will be the main battle tank (MBT) Leopard 2A6 from Germany. The final purchase of 100 units is the result of tortuous negotiations after an earlier sale of the same type of tank was rejected by the Dutch parliament, leaving the vehicles available for sale elsewhere. Indonesia is determined to boost its armour to the equivalent of the forces of Malaysia and Singapore, who acquired MBTs some years ago.

But behind the purchase of Leopard tanks, there are is a crucial observation; the concept of procurement of military capability by Indonesia is not particularly well-planned. The Indonesian Ministry of Defense and the Indonesian military’s (TNI) headquarters have both expressed interest in buying the MBT, for different reasons. For TNI, it is a step up in capability, as their current armoured vehicles include only light tanks. From the government’s point of view, it’s a chance to implement a government purchase scheme which, by eliminating the role of broker, will reduce the occurrence of corrupt practices.

But as the impact of financial crisis that plagued Europe took hold, Indonesia was offered an opportunity not only in the form of an offer to buy the Dutch Leopards, but also AH-64 Apache helicopters and F-16 Block 52 fighter jets (which would mean TNI would at least have weapon systems comparable to Singapore’s and Malaysia’s). But on the other hand, Indonesia’s military procurement strategies seem to be emotionally driven; Indonesia wants to be seen to be keeping up militarily with neighbouring countries. Read more

The MBT Leopard and Apaches are obviously important to boost Indonesia’s military technology, but I can’t see why they would be high priorities. Indonesia is a country with a large maritime area to police and protect. So the emphasis should be on the acquisition of maritime patrol reconnaissance aircraft, helicopter-based fleet ASW (anti-submarine warfare) and improved shipborne sensor systems for the Navy. ASW is a particular problem. Once a strong part of Indonesia’s capabilities, it was unfortunately left to degrade; for example, Wasp helicopters from Britain were grounded and not replaced. A 2005 plan to acquire over the horizon target radar for its BO-105 helicopters from PT. DI (Dirgantara Indonesia, Indonesia’s indigenous aerospace company), was canceled, leaving the Navy without adequate helicopter reconnaissance.

Maritime patrol reconnaissance aircraft aren’t much better. Although Surveillance Squadron 5 Makassar operates a maritime reconnaissance version of the Boeing 737, it only has three aircraft and the technology is already obsolete. In comparison, the Malaysian Navy has long had a Navy Sea Lynx and Singapore has the Sikorsky SH-60B Seahawk. Both helicopters are equipped with torpedoes, and Singapore’s E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning and control aircraft are able to surveil with very broad coverage.

The acquisition of helicopters and reconnaissance aircraft is obviously vital for Indonesia, because they will help prevent the occurrence of territorial violations of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and allow law enforcement to respond more quickly to incidents at sea. This means that foreign trade and Indonesian produce vital to the pursuit of economic prosperity can be secured in the waters of the archipelago.

Similarly, without a clear concept of its capability development, the Indonesian government has shown hurried interest in the ‘fire sale’ Apache helicopters, and a possible follow-on buy of anti-tank missiles for the aircraft. This is not without risk. The Indonesian government should remember its previous bad experiences of the embargo of parts by the United States. While the proposed tanks and helicopters are from Dutch or German sources, the Apache is an American design, and there is always a possibility that the United States or NATO could cut off the flow of parts and weapons to Indonesia, if the Indonesian military takes action judged to be against the interests of Western countries.

In some ways, it’s good strategy for Indonesia to consider defence equipment from other sources, such as India. That might require some compromises. For example, the replacement Indonesian submarines are required to match the anti-shipping missile capability of Malaysia and Singapore’s new boats, which drives up the cost and limits the possible source countries. Acquiring new submarines is important. They not only play a major role as in open war, but in times of peace submarines can carry out missions in support of broader strategic interests, such as surveillance and monitoring of the ocean. But in a limited defence budget, the ‘high-end’ capabilities might be at too high a price.

Hopefully, the Leopards can be used optimally by the Indonesian military. And it never hurts to accept gifted platforms, such as C-130 Hercules from Australia and the United States, but Indonesia has to consider the cost of upgrading them. And lastly, another priority remains—the production and development of Indonesia’s domestic arms production. And that all has to fit into a budget less than a third of Australia’s. Indonesia needs to think about its priorities and plan very carefully.

Haryo Adjie Nogo Seno is a defence and telecommunications journalist based in Indonesia and chief editor of, a blog on the Indonesian military capabilities.

How are we educating our military?

Current CIA Director and retired US Army officer, General David Petraeus argues that the most powerful tool any soldier carries is not his weapon but his mind. According to Petraeus, promising officers should be sent to first-class universities to undertake PhDs and to learn from and mix with future civilian leaders. Indeed, civilian academics in US military academies and staff colleges have publicly criticised the anti-academic attitudes and policies of their institutions.

But what exactly what kind of professional military education (PME) is required to develop the mind of career military officers? What sort of war should PME prepare officers for? Is preparing our forces for ‘war among the people’ the order of the day or should war between conventional forces remain the cornerstone of defence preparations? For a new ASPI report, we took a look at these questions and more, in the Australian context.

So, how well is the ADF doing in developing the knowledge and expertise required by members of the profession of arms? The question is all the more important as Australia seeks to adjust its policies to both a complex and shifting global power balance and a potentially turbulent regional environment. The ADF needs the know-how to conduct both high-tech operations with top end platforms and low-tech conflicts which require military personnel to deal with local societies and cultures face-to-face. And the austerity surrounding the defence budget isn’t going to make it any easier to fund investment in PME—by definition, its pay-off will be well down the track. Read more

PME in Australia is in reasonably good shape, but there are further steps that could be taken. The Australian Defence College (ADC) is the key PME organisation which includes the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) for entrance level officer candidates, the Australian Command and Staff College (ACSC) for middle-ranking officers and the Centre for Defence and Strategic Studies (CDSS) for senior officers. All three are tri-service and all three have important relationships with universities to provide input into their teaching.

ADFA has a long-established partnership with UNSW (since 1986) to provide bachelor degrees for officer candidates, while ACSC has just signed a 10-year contract with the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at ANU which includes masters degree offerings. CDSS has had a long relationship with Deakin University but is currently re-examining its academic input. The academic partners operate as service providers to the ADF.

While Australia has avoided the pitfalls created of putting independent civilian academics into a military hierarchy, more work could be done to close the civil-military gap. As well as bringing academics to the service personnel, as per Petraeus’ prescription, more ADF officers could be send to undertake research in a one- or two-year master’s degree at a civilian university. As well as their personal development, this will also equip some to teach at PME institutions themselves.

The demands of counterinsurgency and stability operations should also be reflected in officer training; PME could introduce the tools of the disciplines of behavioural science (psychology, sociology and anthropology) to provide officers with an understanding of how societies and cultures work—relevant both to operations in communities overseas and indeed to the ADF itself (whose own culture is undergoing close scrutiny at the present time). Other western military academies have long taught such disciplines. This could take the form of a compulsory one-semester behavioural science course as part of general education and a three-year program as an optional specialisation.

To help build a wider link between the ADF and the Australian community, it’s also important to promote military-related research at universities outside Canberra which at present enjoys a virtual monopoly in this field. Military-related behavioural science could be the focus of, say, three or four Defence-funded centres of excellence, perhaps located at universities near to major military bases.

The ADC also includes other ADF ‘centres of learning’ such as the Capability and Technology Management College and the Centre for Defence Leadership and Ethics. It’s a good model that could be extended. The single services have their own think tanks, so why not the ADF as a whole? In addition to existing centres of learning, we could establish a centre for the study of contemporary warfare at the ADC.

Rethinking the delivery of PME isn’t restricted to full-time commissioned officers; ADF Reserves are playing an increasingly important role in ADF operations and senior non-commissioned officers are also taking on greater responsibilities and need to be catered for. PME should be more available to these groups.

At the moment the defence debate in Australia is largely carried by organisations outside of the ADF (including ASPI). That means that an important voice is missing, and we’d all benefit from contestability from ‘inside the tent’. One way for this to happen is for the Australian Defence Force Journal to be developed into a flagship journal for the profession of arms in Australia. As such it could provide a forum for serious debate about defence and the ADF by members of the profession as well as outside experts and demonstrate to the public the thoughtfulness that characterises many ADF officers.

The machinery is in place to ensure that the key elements of PME can be co-ordinated and that economies of scale, a critical mass of teaching and research staff and more integrated delivery of courses can be achieved.

The planned co-location of all ADC centres on a single site in Canberra should further help this process. But good leadership and adequate funding will be required to realise these goals.

The ADF ultimately depends on the intellect, expertise, ethical character and leadership qualities of its people. PME assists especially in developing expertise in the complex business of using force as an instrument of policy and in ensuring that members of the ADF have the intellectual ‘right stuff’.

Hugh Smith is an associate professor at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, UNSW, and Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI.

Lewis lullaby is tough love for Defence

Secretary of Defence Duncan Lewis

Defence Secretary Duncan Lewis’ speech to ASPI last week was a message (put nicely) to his own organisation to toughen up: stop squealing about spending cuts and start rebuilding the organisation to handle a harder strategic environment. According to Lewis, his speech was a homage to Sir Arthur Tange’s infamous ‘Tange harangue’, a speech delivered in August 1973 which tore strips off the three Services for their ‘triplicated’ ways of doing business. And although the Secretary assured the audience he wouldn’t repeat Tange’s words that is exactly what he did, but in a subtler way.

The Secretary’s speech deserves careful reading for the messages it contains both to Government and to Defence. The first was about money: ‘If you haven’t talked dollars you haven’t talked strategy’ Lewis said, quoting Tange. The speech repeatedly emphasised the need to match strategic aspirations to the available dollars. Australia’s strategy, Lewis said ‘needs to be tempered by reality, affordability, and informed by the thinking and tasking of other Government agencies.’ Frankly, this is a more realistic appreciation of Defence’s position than in Defence Minister Stephen Smith’s recent speeches to ASPI and the Lowy Institute. Lewis knows that it is impossible to keep cutting spending and expect that there will be no loss of capability. His message is that we need a strategy that fits what Government is prepared to spend. Read more

The second message  was about savings and efficiencies and, in content if not in tone, Lewis was every bit as tough as Sir Arthur in calling out duplications in far too many functions across Defence, particularly in acquisition, human resources management, finance and information and communications technology. His aim is to ‘decrease the number of people that we currently have devoted to them.’ The Government’s mantra is that no ADF personnel will be cut, but after years of reform efforts some of the biggest potential efficiencies are in the uniformed ADF—in training and education for example. Lewis was uncompromising in saying that reform would have to happen: ‘if we do nothing our buying power will erode and diminish.’ In effect he is proposing a trade-off: Defence can make radical cuts, but it needs to retain the savings to buy ‘…the capability we assess we need.’ Talk about tough messages! Lewis is saying to Government, get ready to make difficult judgement calls on personnel numbers; to the central agencies, there is no easy harvesting of cash from his department; and to his own organisation (still sulking from the last budget) even deeper reform is necessary.

Duncan Lewis’ third message was about strategy: ‘As things stand I don’t think we are structured or postured appropriately to meet our likely strategic circumstances in future.’ It’s a line worth reading again. And it’s no small thing for a Secretary of Defence to say. Following that, Lewis went on to talk about Chinese defence spending, the US ‘pivot’, regional economic growth and the rise of ‘more outward looking countries.’ He noted the challenges of managing competing economic interests and the region’s rather threadbare security institutions. It is a necessarily restrained presentation of what Defence considers to be a more worrying set of strategic trends.

The solution Lewis proposes is twofold. First, we mitigate risks to our national security by ‘working with regional neighbours and partners, participating in and fostering bilateral, trilateral and multilateral linkages.’ Defence’s posture in the region—that is, what we do with what we have—is emerging as the lead theme for the next white paper. That will be a refreshing break from big talk about capabilities we don’t have and won’t have for several decades (if at all). The challenge for Defence will be to think big about what can be achieved in regional engagement. Just tinkering with the Defence Cooperation Program won’t be enough.

Lewis’ second response is to ‘reduce our risk by doing Defence business differently. … We have come a long way since Tange ‘harangued’ the Services in 1973, but if we don’t go further – much further – we run the risk of becoming irrelevant.’ Defence, irrelevant? I can imagine how that line will go down at the Russell Offices. It’s an uncompromising message for Defence, but, as Tange might have seen it, it’s right on the money.

Peter Jennings is executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Taking a legal approach to Australia’s cyber threat

Most discussions of cyber security are couched in terms of protecting computer systems, especially those belonging to government and managers of civilian infrastructure. No doubt the forthcoming government white paper on cyber security will also include that sort of discussion. Based on the earlier public discussion paper, it will probably also take the opportunity to begin a more nuanced discussion between the government and the wider population about the expected behaviour of each in cyberspace. In most walks of life there is a contract—usually implicit—between the government and the populace regarding service provision and law enforcement. Cyberspace will be no different, and some parts of any compact will be familiar. But the ubiquity of the internet and the zeal with which we’ve all taken to it, there’ll be some important differences.

One interesting proposal of the cyber white paper is the agreement of a social contract tied to the concept of ‘digital citizenship’. It emphasises responsible use of the internet by encouraging people to respect rules of usage—the digital social contract—and assume responsibility for inappropriate behaviour.

Here, I think, we should tread carefully because behind the concept of ‘digital citizenship’ is the complex issue of internet governance. Using laws in the real world as an analogy, I think legal instruments can be created to police the internet to a certain extent, while safeguarding the civil liberties of all Australians; though, this is no easy task, especially now there are clear overlaps and intersections between social, economic, and national cyber security. ISPs and law enforcement agencies could partner to block users who disregard basic rules of usage of the internet. Read more

For the government departments that already have large amounts of sensitive, personal data in their hands, the Cyber White Paper will look at how to make those systems more impregnable to cyber intrusions. This being said, there will be less innovation in the 2012 Cyber White Paper about this; the Privacy Act 1988 already stipulates government’s role in protecting and using people’s personal information. However, additional funding to hire more ICT specialists working for departments could be a simple solution.

Other areas that will definitely draw significant benefits from this white paper are small-to-medium size businesses thanks to the new focus on government and private sector partnerships. I anticipate the creation of liaison groups between organisations like CERT Australia (Computer Emergency Response Team Australia) and private businesses to train them in the basics of risk-based cyber security and how to report cyber attacks to the appropriate authorities.

Unlike the United States and the United Kingdom, Australia lacks the necessary legal tools to document cyber attacks outside the intelligence community, unless they are reported to the appropriate agencies. For instance, IT security specialists recognised that current systems controlling water, electricity, and trains can go offline for a month without being reported.

Finally, in my view, a more robust legal framework is needed to ensure cyber crime is targeted and prosecuted. However, I do acknowledge that there are many caveats to the cyber security problem, and creating effective cyber security strategies is a balancing act. A common understanding about individual responsible behaviour has to be reached to view cyber security as it is: a cooperative effort between government, corporate Australia, not-for-profits, and members of the community.

Bernardo Camejo is a student of International Security and Counter-terrorism at Murdoch University.

Piracy: a solution is possible

In mid-June I chaired an international conference in Perth aimed at developing responses to piracy and related crimes at sea. The meeting was sponsored by the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Defence, and a summary of the deliberations as well as some very useful background papers by Sam Bateman has been released by ASPI today.

Three separate regions accounted for the vast bulk of the 439 actual and attempted piracy attacks in 2011: Southeast Asia, in particular the eastern approaches to the Straits of Malacca; the Horn of Africa; and the Gulf of Guinea. In each region the causes of piracy differ. In Southeast Asia stealing and reselling tug boats is a major problem. Ships left idle and at anchor in the wake of the global financial crisis are easy targets for attacks. Off the Horn of Africa and deeper into the Indian Ocean, piracy is the by-product of political authority breaking down in Somalia. Fishing communities can turn to piracy for a livelihood and become vulnerable to more organised criminal elements looking to make money from ransoming ships and their crew. In the Gulf of Guinea, piracy frequently involves stealing oil from tankers in sophisticated operations built around avoiding tax payments and illegal bunkering.

The causes are varied but the solutions share some common features; tightening up the policing of harbours and ports, and boosting cooperation between national agencies and between regional navies and maritime enforcement bodies. The good news here is that collective action will work to reduce the problem. Close cooperation in Southeast Asia, for example, is reducing the number of serious acts of piracy (although ironically increased reporting of lower-scale incidents seems to obscure the scale of overall reduction). Read more

In a surprisingly low-key way, Australia has been making an important contribution to strengthening regional cooperation on counterpiracy. Apart from the regular deployment of a Royal Australian Navy major fleet unit to operations in the Gulf which include counterpiracy work, Australia has provided significant funding to the United Nations to strengthen anti-piracy legal frameworks in a number of Indian Ocean region countries. One obvious next step would be for Australia to further champion the issue at the United Nations Security Council. A number of UNSC resolutions have dealt with piracy in disparate regions. But the Perth conference shows that there is a lot of value in identifying global lessons by pooling experiences from different regions and identifying common elements and developing shared solutions.

Australia is well-placed to lead in developing a global consensus around counterpiracy strategies and we should further commit to strengthening that global view. Our investment thus far gives us the credibility to lead in such an effort at the United Nations and elsewhere.

Peter Jennings is executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Reader reply: Australia’s reach and the Indo-Pacific

Ben Moles’ post on Australia and the ‘Indo-Pacific’ is lucid and thoughtful. But its perspective may be too narrow. It is true that the physical and diplomatic reach of Australian policy as presently defined are largely confined to the Australian continent, the waters immediately adjacent to it and to diplomatic activity carefully confined to wherever Australian diplomats think they can have greatest impact, that is, the nearest parts of Southeast Asia.

If that were all, how would we explain Australia’s recent participation in military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan? Why would we have acquired fresh links to NATO and why would the government have expanded the use of Australian bases and facilities for allied, especially American, activities with semi-global reach? Why, for that matter, do Australian ministers take it upon themselves to lecture China on issues like ‘human rights’ and African leaders on the wickedness of their inter-tribal wars?

The answer is threefold. Firstly, rhetoric and lecture are largely cost-free, so foreign ministers can pronounce on matters in which their country has no real stake, but voters might feel gratified to see that ‘Australia is making a stand’. Read more

Secondly, real power balances, especially among great powers, nowadays have less to do with ordinary ground forces or even large fleets of aircraft or ships, than with small but highly trained special forces and, above all, high-technology weapons and equipment. A couple of years ago we learned about the Stuxnet virus that caused great damage to the Iranian nuclear programme. It is safe to assume that cyber warfare has progressed a generation or two since then. It seems even safer to assume that the command of space and of space-based communications now carries much the same strategic weight as the Bletchley code-breakers did in 1944 or that nuclear weapons did in 1945.

Our continent is a resource that we and our allies can use, to produce an effect that stretches far beyond our own shores, or even the reach of our own very limited military capacities. The recent announcement of the expansion of American anti-missile capabilities in East and Southeast Asia is only one sign of the times.

Harry Gelber is emeritus professor at the School of Government, University of Tasmania.

Australia’s great expectations in the Indo-Pacific

The term ‘Indo-Pacific’ has recently slipped into the lexicon of Australian policymakers, in quiet supplement to ‘Asian Century’ and ‘Asia–Pacific Century’, with little questioning as to what this semantic shift actually means and achieves in strategic terms.

There’s nothing wrong with placing Australia in the spotlight and geographic centre of these two oceans and vast surrounding region; it cements Australia’s identity and role as a potential key actor in this emerging epoch, yet I would suggest that there is limited utility in defining Australian interests so broadly.

If you accept the broad concept of the ‘Indo-Pacific’—and there would be many that would stumble at this first hurdle—it would be hard to refute the importance of what happens both on land and within the maritime domain encapsulated by its vast boundaries (from the shores of East Africa to the western seaboard of the United States). What is of primary importance when defining our own region and area of strategic interest is our ability to influence and shape what happens within that region, and create favourable outcomes.

Key to this is presence, and presence credibility. Two core tools that enable states to project successfully are reflected in both the strength of their diplomatic representation (and overseas presence), and military strength and capabilities (including actual and perceived ability to have and sustain overseas presence). Geographically characterising and increasing Australia’s strategic region as the ‘Indo-Pacific’ would require quantum shifts, on both these fronts, in both will and capacity; two things that prima facie under the current environment look unlikely to happen. Read more

Australia, on comparative global terms, is diplomatically under-represented, sitting 25th out of 34 OECD states (PDF) on a comparison of overseas diplomatic networks. DFAT’s budget remains modest and despite recent gestures made in the right direction, looks set to remain so for the foreseeable future. With deep cuts to the Australian Defence budget, debate rages on as to defining the ADF’s core capabilities and what we want and expect the ADF to do with them. A shrinking defence budget shouldn’t precipitate increasing expectations of the ADF and a widening of the region’s perimeters within which we expect it to successfully and credibly operate.

Australia has grappled for many years now with both defining what it wants and determining how it can achieve it within our near neighbourhood. As far back as 1964 Donald Horne recognised this as a necessary evil to be overcome in ‘The Lucky country’ and more recently Michael Wesley in 2011 in ‘There goes the neighbourhood’ (in which Wesley also defines Australia’s region as ‘Indo-Pacific’). If we can’t decide what we want and how to exert influence in order to achieve it within an area at relative close proximity to us, how do we then project it further afield in accordance to our increasingly greater defined areas of strategic interest like the ‘Indo-Pacific’?

Australia, as much as we might like it to be, certainly isn’t an ‘Indo-Pacific actor’ nor is the ‘Indo-Pacific’ our strategic region. Our strategic region does, however, lie much closer to these shores but there is clearly still confusion as to exactly what that area is. As Churchill once stated, that it is indeed wise to look forward but foolish to look further than one can see. It might be that the answer also begins with Indo- but sits under our very noses.

Ben Moles holds a Master of International Security from the University of Sydney and was recently an International Security Program intern at the Lowy Institute.

Growler: a big decision with big consequences

Today the government announced that the RAAF will have 12 of its recently acquired fleet of 24 F/A-18F Super Hornet fighter aircraft equipped with the ‘Growler’ electronic warfare jammer package at a cost of $1.5 billion. If all goes to plan, the aircraft will enter service in 2018.

The resulting EA-18G Growler configured aircraft will provide the RAAF with an electronic jamming capability against adversary air defences. Used in either a stand-off or escort jamming role, it will enable the penetration of hostile territory for strike and ground-support missions. Having only entered service with the US Navy in 2009, the Growler is a state-of-the-art system that will benefit from ongoing upgrades in the years ahead.

From an operational perspective, the Growlers will enable the RAAF to independently conduct operations against relatively more advanced adversaries than would otherwise be the case. Strategically, this significantly increases the range of circumstances where Australia can launch operations without the support of the United States. As such, it’s a valuable boost to our freedom of action in circumstances where our ally has conflicted interests or is otherwise distracted. Read more

But everything has a cost, and the Growlers are no exception. In addition to the direct cost of $1.5 billion there will be the ongoing substantial cost of ownership. More importantly, by taking the Growler option the government has dispensed with the fiction that the F/A-18E/F Super Hornets are only an interim fix pending the arrival of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Assuming the F-35 purchase goes ahead, the RAAF will be operating two fleets of combat aircraft over the next couple of decades. To do so, they will have to spend twice as much on the fixed costs of fleet operations as would otherwise have been the case.

And these additional costs will be substantial. Over the long-term, money will have to be found to maintain two types of simulator, two sets of maintenance and test equipment, two types of maintenance training, two types of flight training, two sets of doctrine, two types of software support, two weapons suites, and dual logistical supply arrangements. Moreover, the air-to-air refuelling and AEW&C assets will need to be integrated with not one but two aircraft types. Previously, these duplicated costs were only going to be necessary during a transition period. Now they have been built into the defence budget for at least the next 20 years.

The RAAF must be doubly worried. The most optimistic outcome is that long-term additional cost of operating two fleets will be funded by purchasing fewer F-35 aircraft. Say goodbye to 100 aircraft. More worrying still—from an RAAF perspective at least—is that someone will crunch the numbers and come up with the obvious alternative; cancel the F-35 and use the substantial savings from operating a single aircraft type to build a larger fleet of Super Hornets. Sure, the F/A-18E/F does not have the technical performance (promised) by the F-35, but it’s good enough for the US Navy to be taking new deliveries at the moment. Moreover, a larger fleet of slightly less capable aircraft would be better to have in many circumstances (that is, against other than advanced adversaries). It’s at least worthy of close consideration. Indeed, if the costs and benefits of this alternative are not currently under active consideration, then something is deeply wrong with the way decisions are being made.

Mark Thomson is senior analyst for defence economics at ASPI.