Joining up the ADF: why we need a new capability manager
30 Apr 2014|

Special Operations Task Group soldiers and their partners from the Provincial Response Company - Uruzgan (PRC-U) arrive back at Multi National Base - Tarin Kot after conducting a PRC-U led security operation in Uruzgan Province, Southern Afghanistan.

Why is Defence funding like a duck swimming? Because there’s a lot going on underwater. Many defence projects exist that the average newspaper reader never hears about, but these projects are vital for making the ADF function effectively. They include the ‘joining up’ projects—ones that allow different force elements to pass information around in a form that’s usable to the recipients, or that provide pieces of kit required to let the ‘big’ acquisitions work effectively together.

As our new report out today points out, Australia’s Special Operations Forces (SOF) similarly depend on other force elements for transport, intelligence fusion, communications connectivity (including for command and control), fire support and logistics. Operations in Afghanistan saw Australia’s SOF rely heavily on allied assets, particularly tactical aviation. That worked well enough, primarily because the US was in the lead in the operation and had a large number of assets in theatre, as did NATO countries. But our friends and allies might not always be in a position to render such assistance, especially in our near region where Australia’s interests are likely to be more strongly engaged than American or NATO ones.

In the report we make a recommendation about the management of joint capabilities, drawing specifically on issues raised in a special forces context. But a more general point can also be made about other ADF capabilities. To give just one other example, the new amphibious ships coming along under a $3 billion project will transport Army elements, including their new armoured vehicles due to be acquired under a project worth over $10 billion. But being able to ship soldiers and their kit around won’t do much good if they can’t be moved from the ship to the shore, or if the command elements on the ship can’t communicate with the land forces once they disappear over the horizon. Lots of work needs to be done to make sure that the watercraft and communications equipment required to turn disparate Army and Navy capabilities into an integrated amphibious force are in place. If Air Force is along on the mission as well, another set of interoperabilities need to be managed. (This year’s forthcoming ASPI Budget Brief will describe the efforts underway to build an amphibious capability.)

Within Defence, Capability Managers are tasked with both the development of future capability and the management of existing resources. For future capability they’re responsible for both identifying the future need and developing a fully fleshed-out proposal for consideration by government that takes into account the logistics, training, doctrine, personnel and the other things that need to be in place to make things work.

Currently, there are only four Capability Managers:

  • Chief of Navy for maritime capability
  • Chief of Army for land capability
  • Chief of Air Force for aerospace capability, and
  • Deputy Secretary Intelligence and Security (DEPSEC I&S), for Defence intelligence agencies capability.

Missing from this list is a capability manager for joint capabilities. We argue in the report that one (and only one) new Capability Manager for Joint Capability is needed to flesh out the list. The job description would include being responsible for ensuring that C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) capabilities were coordinated across the services, and that the enabling and support capability required by specialised force elements is appropriately managed and developed.

In a way, this isn’t a big departure from existing practice. At the moment, the Vice Chief of the ADF has the role of overseeing joint capability development, and we’ve seen some good work done within Defence HQ to develop ‘road maps’ for the networking of the ADF and for Anti-Submarine Warfare—both of which have resulted in some notable progress.

But joint capability management isn’t getting any easier as individual platforms become ever more complex. Added to that, as I pointed out here recently, the current Defence Capability Plan (DCP) is showing signs of strain, and big platform projects in the form of the F-35, Future Submarine, LAND 400 (protected mobility vehicles for land forces) and future frigates will be resource hungry for decades to come. In what’s bound to be a restrained DCP for the next few years (and possibly well beyond), having a voice at the table for the joint capabilities that have to be fitted into the plan would give the best chance of joining up predominantly single-service items in a way that gives the best return on investment.

As a general principle, if there’s a critical element of a business plan, someone needs to be charged with making it happen. Putting joint capabilities on the same footing as the ‘traditional’ land, sea and air environments by making it someone’s job—with as much accountability as the system can muster—is a natural step.

Andrew Davies is senior analyst for defence capability and director of research at ASPI. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.