Less is not always better: in defence of Force 2030
16 Aug 2012|

Mark Thomson thinks that the recent irrational and irresponsible reduction in defence funding is retrievable. He thinks that we do not need a larger or stronger force than we have at the moment. He says that we can afford to spend more on defence, but he does not believe that we should because the ‘modernisation and expansion’ of the ADF was so great over the last few years that it is in really good shape to conduct regional, bigger regional or UN operations, and anyway, there is nothing that we could do to influence anything bigger.

Mark has my greatest respect as an analyst of the financial side of defence, and is a bloody good bloke. But I think that he is too trusting a soul, obviously gained from years in FDA (Force Development and Analysis).

Being a trusting soul, he must believe that if we ‘expanded’ the Army over the last few years, it must all work, it must have the right equipment and it must be at an appropriate standard or even wastefully too big. If we have a plan to get more ships, then they will all work and always be available, they will not need anything but the current totally inadequate level of sustainment, and they can do everything that we need in a maritime environment. A small number of F-18s will be good enough for PNG, and will never have to fight anything smarter or in any more demanding scenario.

If we allocated more resources to the ADF some years ago, despite the fact that any improvement to the ADF needs sustained investment not just for a few years, then what we had before must have been perfectly right and we have now over-allocated resources, therefore we should now reduce.

If the minister says it’s all hunky-dory, then it must be so, because he would never gild the lily to avoid political embarrassment. Mark must believe that it does not matter what happens in other parts of the world because our prosperity and security come from our local area. And if something does go wrong, Mark obviously believes that the United States will always be there—always, regardless of what we do, and always riotously happy and deeply thankful to receive the tiny bit of military capability that we might throw their way. And, of course the United States has fabulous resources and does not ever need any of its allies. Its interests will always correspond to ours, it will never be busy in any other part of the world except our region, and does not mind being the world policeman as long as it enables all of its allies to live in lotus land.

And given that the ADF is working so well, of course we could take a reduction in defence expenditure, because the international situation is so clear and predictable that we know exactly what we are going to need to do out in the future. Mark can even predict what future governments will want to do in a military sense if they see it as in the interests of Australia.

Fortunately, if there emerges a few problems with the ADF’s ability to fight and win at 1.4% of GDP—and we actually find that it is a toothless tiger with no logistics or supporting defence industry—then all we need to do is to downplay the size of any potential enemy until this imaginary enemy is within the ability of the ADF to really give it a good whacking, like the small-size incursions in northern Australia of past years which had half of the Army looking for shade somewhere in the Northern Territory.

And, of course there is no obligation on Australia, in a moral sense or as an effective ally, to ever have a defence force that reflects anything like our economic strength. Proportionality in warfare must always mean less to Mark, not the ‘right’ sized force. We Aussies should just keep on consuming and when things get tough, we can always turn to New Zealand for help. And the United States will be forever polite.

And finally, I can rest easy knowing that Mark has some inside information that we will not need an ADF that can actually fight and win, because there will be no miscalculation on our part or on the part of any ally or potential enemy, either in our region or anywhere else in the world. All powers are status quo powers, and any regional increase in military capability is just for internal security or for parades.

This may all sound remarkably familiar. Not they we could ever get ourselves once again into the kind of strategy based on self-delusion that we suffered under after 1986. This self-delusion ended when Howard actually wanted to use the ADF and realised its impotence. He then started to reinvest (note the use of ‘started’, military perfection may not have actually been reached in the period of the Howard government).

And I thought strategy was difficult! Mark obviously thinks that the most difficult thing that Defence has to do at this time is to fit the obviously bloated force structure of the ADF into 1% or 1.4% of GDP.

That’s not difficult, it is remarkably easy. You just cut.

What is difficult is figuring out what the ADF needs to be, based on the world as it is and not the world as you want it to be, honestly assessing the current capability of the ADF not as you imagine it might be, but from actual operational output. And then you can start to fit it into whatever the government is prepared to pay. Strangely, the last time this was thoroughly done, the force structure that came out was called Force 2030.

The only thing that I agree with Mark on is that Force 2030 was not aligned with the 2009 Defence White Paper. But why is it that Mark thinks that Force 2030 was so obviously wrong? Could it have been that the political white paper was wrong and not the force that came out of it? And what exactly was the connection of Force 2030 with China? Could not Force 2030 have been a very good force structure to carry Australia into a very uncertain future? The attempt to say that Force 2030 was related to some imagined conflict with China, and then put Force 2030 down by saying that it could not make a valid contribution to big challenges, is very hard to understand.

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

Editor of Australian Defence Magazine and The Strategist contributor Katherine Ziesing also has a reply to Mark Thomson over at the Sir Richard Williams Foundation blog here.