Read quickly, one could walk away satisfied with how the Government has dealt with Army’s role and force structure in the recently released Defence White Paper. There are some new and frankly exciting additions to the force structure: Armed ISR unmanned aircraft, riverine patrol craft, replacement for the ARH, a new light deployable helicopter for Special Forces, a medium range air defence system and a long range rocket system. Notably, upgrade programs are included in the investment decisions to properly sustain the current force.
The retention of Phase 3 of LAND 400, the infantry fighting vehicle project, the upgrade of the tanks and the continuation of the protected vehicle programs, battlefield communications, the soldier systems and Phase 2 of LAND 400 will significantly improve Army.
But the overall Integrated Investment Plan is predicated on each element of the plan rolling out on schedule and within budget. A slippage in either will place the Army component of the plan at particular risk.
Shipbuilding is for political and capability reasons very much at the forefront of the 2016 DWP. Any change in the budget and schedule for those ships would lead to the unavoidable consequence of the back end of the plan slipping or being cut.
All of Army’s new capabilities and their critically important—and to date, neglected—areas, such as the deployable battlefield logistics systems, are scheduled for well into the next decade. Chapter 4 of the DWP explicitly allocates 18% of the investment plan to the Land Warfare and Amphibious Warfare capability stream; this offers one small comfort in the new world of contestability, where words will be bullets. Paragraph 4.51 and 4.52 make the Government’s vison of Army clear, albeit it’s more the 2000 DWP than a vison shaped by the 2016 DWP tasks, increased threats and the operational experience of the last decade or so.
To quote the DWP, ‘…the soldier is at the heart of the land capability’. Para 4.51 goes on to make the point that the Government has invested a significant amount of money in the current soldier combat system and they will sustain it. Laudable—there’s no doubt that the Australian soldier is one of the best equipped soldiers on today’s battlefield. The DWP continues by saying that the soldier will be supported by vehicles, aircraft, and logistics systems.
Frankly this isn’t a vision for the Army we should expect in 2030, it’s status quo at best. Certainly it isn’t a part of the future ADF proclaimed by the Minister. Where’s the description of the Land Force System where the soldier is at the centre of an integrated whole which will be fundamental to the Army and its ability to fulfil the Government’s expectations beyond 2030?
That’s the ‘but’, and the real risk to Army in this DWP. Without a clear description of the modern land system—especially its critical interdependencies—any budget risk will flow like a magnet to the land warfare capability stream as individual elements of it are picked off to fit a changing budget envelope. Sadly, Army would then be in danger of reverting to a pre-Timor force, not the fully integrated land system needed to face the strategic challenges of beyond 2030.