The Army has shouldered the bulk of the Australian Defence Force’s operational workload and casualties over the last decade or so. While there has been a range of equipment acquisitions which has left Army far more capable than when it initially deployed to East Timor in late 1999, there has been little sustained discussion or debate about the type of capabilities that will influence the Army’s force structure over the coming decades. This is certainly not a criticism of the Army. A quick search of the Army website will unearth a depth of material produced; from quality historical work, to operational concepts and blogs on future equipment. It offers a rich foundation of thought. ASPI has also contributed to the debate in recent months here and longer term here.
Nevertheless, unlike topics such as shipbuilding, submarines choices or fighter aircraft which generate a broad range of options; land equipment seems less attractive – although there is always emotional views on the quality of boots and personal equipment and, of course, anything to do with Armour!
Yet helicopters—which are now an assumed and critical element of land operations—seem to warrant little in the way of debate. The aircraft decisions that were made in the first decade of this century have generated little discussion, yet the ANAO certainly made a range of telling judgments in their 2014 report here and reviewed by Andrew Davies here.
While it was assumed that Europe’s defence sector would continue the level of investment necessary to sustain a strong R&D roadmap in capabilities such as the Tiger ARH, this has not occurred. Equally the new MRH 90 troop lift helicopter is well behind schedule with the New Zealand version facing some challenges. Do these shortcomings create operational issues, and if so, are there alternatives?
The Bushmaster vehicle has been a revelation on operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and has proven to be one of the capability ‘finds’ of the decade. But its evolution as a capability is not widely understood. What lessons are to be learned from the experience and again what impact does this have on the significant decisions that will be before Government over the coming years?
Government has announced a number of Army reform initiatives since 2004 from Hardening and Networking the Army to Plan Beersheba. This reform journey has been largely successful but well out of sight of the broader Australian community. But has the reform journey resulted in a more capable and cost effective Army or has it simply added cost without a capability dividend?
Submarines and aircraft are topics that draw a wide range of opinions—informed or otherwise. Army on the other hand seems to attract far less by comparison. There are of course the hardy few who will be fast to re-invigorate the ‘anti-tank’ banter. This is not a bad thing – because if the logic of capabilities such as the tank can’t be explained simply they deserve to face criticism.
We need to bring a sharper focus to the debate on Army force structure and capability issues. We at ASPI wish to do our part to invigorate the discussion and examine the issues we believe warrant attention.
To this end, the 2015 Land Conference ‘Army’s Future Force Structure Options’ which is to be conducted in Canberra from 24 June will focus on:
- The Strategic Issues which may shape Army’s force structure options.
- The Challenge of modernising a force in being.
- Industry Policy—is it different to support the land force?
- The technology and integration challenges facing the Australian Army.
- Aviation its current status and options for the future.
- And of course Land 400 and what needs to be done to ensure its success. Registrations are now open and we will continue to add more points of view on the Strategist site and other fora over the coming weeks.
For updates on the conference, along with the ticket release date and lineup, please see here.