Defining the capability issue
15 Dec 2014|

Defence is big on definitions. If you can define something, you have a better chance of being able to manage it appropriately. So much of the documentation produced by Defence has pages dedicated to the definition and subsequent sub-definitions of concepts. One case in point is Fundamental Inputs to Capability (FICs).

In the spirit of definitions, let’s turn first to the Defence Capability Development Handbook 2012 (PDF):

  • In the Defence context, capability is the capacity or ability to achieve an operational effect.
  • An operational effect may be defined or described in terms of the nature of the effect and of how, when, where and for how long it is produced.
  • Capability is therefore viewed as the effects provided by a ‘system’ of interlocking and interdependent FIC.

Defence has gone further in breaking down what the FICs are in the capability development process. They are:

  1. Personnel
  2. Organisation
  3. Collective training
  4. Major Systems
  5. Supplies
  6. Facilities and training areas
  7. Support
  8. Command and management

And then each of those elements is broken down into its various definitions. At the end of the day, the issue is well defined. I heartily recommend the Defence Capability Development Handbook 2012 to you as some light holiday reading. It outlines how the system works in a perfect world. But as you may have noticed, that perfect world is far from the one we currently inhabit.

The existence of a platform seems to have become the definition of a capability when speaking to people not in the defence community. We have a platform so we can do stuff, right?

A raft of new Defence documentation is under development in the form of a new White Paper, First Principles Review, updated Defence Capability Plan, Defence Industry Policy Statement and Force Structure Review. They’ll aim to shape the Defence organisation going forward. But will they deliver? As I’ve mentioned before, Defence is the most reviewed department in the land.

The key FIC that Defence would do well to focus on is a blend of personnel and organisation; the right people in the right organisational structure. Those inside the defence community know that a platform does not a capability make. A Super Hornet or an Abrams tank isn’t much good without properly-trained operators, maintainers, support crew, and access to spares and fuel. All the FICs need to be in place to deliver an operational effect.

Having a senior leadership team, both in the public service and in uniform, that’s hamstrung by process and definitions that don’t lead to an operational effect isn’t an effective organisation. The capability just isn’t there. The FICs aren’t in place to allow a true capability to be established.

But this isn’t a question of dollars. This is a question of structure. A badly-built house will always be a badly-built house, no matter how much you renovate it. Sometimes it’s better to start over with an outcome in mind rather than a design.

What does that mean in practice? Australia has the potential to be involved in another war of decision—defined as an interstate conflict involving vital strategic interests that affect the survival of the nation. Those kinds of wars tend to happen every 50–100 years. Reflect for a moment on the timing of the last war of decision that Australia was involved in.

It’s all too easy to fight the next war with last year’s wars capability. The century this far for Australia has been nothing like the last in terms of operations. Let’s get the FICs right for the next war rather than the last.

Katherine Ziesing is the editor of Australian Defence Magazine, an independently published magazine on Defence capability and procurement. She is also a board member of the Sir Richard Williams Foundation, an air power think tank and a founding member of the Defence and Security Media Association. Image courtesy of Flickr user John Keogh.