Last year, the Defence White Paper expert advisory panel set out to gauge public attitudes to Defence. The community made it clear to the expert panel, chaired by ASPI’s Executive Director Peter Jennings, that they wanted the ADF to carry out a number of peacetime missions.
In addition to its core war fighting roles, there were a number of domestic tasks, including several that involve an overlap of responsibility with other government agencies, which were frequently mentioned by the public as roles they expected the ADF to play.
The White Paper specifically notes protecting sovereign rights in our exclusive economic zone, providing specialist domestic counterterrorism support, protecting our offshore infrastructure, contributing to security at major events, responding to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear response operations, and providing specialist equipment to state and territory emergency response services as domestic responsibilities of the ADF.
The community rationale for Defence to undertake those homeland missions is clear: the ADF possesses specialised capabilities on a scale and of a kind available from no other Australian agency.
Sometimes the ADF will be the head agency in those tasks, (where, for example, there might be a need to employ military force). But in most cases Defence won’t be taking the lead.
The DWP acknowledges the importance of those ADF peacetime tasks. It points out that our most basic strategic defence interest is a secure and resilient Australia, where we’re ‘resilient to unexpected shocks, whether natural or man-made, and strong enough to recover quickly when the unexpected happens’.
The DWP states that we ‘cannot afford to equip, train and prepare our military forces solely for the unlikely event of a major attack on our territory’. But the paper doesn’t go so far as to suggest those peacetime roles should determine the force structure.
One issue that was frequently referred to the White Paper expert advisory panel was the security consequences of climate change, with many suggesting it would lead to an increased need for disaster relief activities, including by the ADF.
I was pleased to see the repeated references to climate change and its deleterious effect on both the strategic environment and on Australia’s defence infrastructure. (See pp. 16, 41, 48, 55-56 and 102.) The Paper clearly acknowledges that climate change has national security consequences for Australia.
There’s no doubt that some of our new capabilities such as the Canberra-class LHDs, future frigates, offshore patrol vessels and our air transport fleet will find climate change and its effects a key driver of activity over the coming decades.
The treatment of climate change in the DWP brings us into line with our biggest security ally, the United States, which has ‘normalised’ climate change across its military operations.
If you doubt this, then read last month’s short but clear US DoD Directive on Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience. The Directive dictates that climate change be incorporated into every aspect of US military training and preparedness. The document states:
‘The DoD must be able to adapt current and future operations to address the impacts of climate change in order to maintain an effective and efficient US military’ to include:
1. Identifying and assessing the effects of climate change on the DoD mission;
2. Taking those effects into consideration when developing plans and implementing procedures;
3. Anticipating and managing risks that develop as a result of climate change to build resilience.’
A fairly direct message here: adapt to the climate impacts seen today and projected for tomorrow and anticipate and manage climate-related risks to ensure the US DoD can continue to successfully carry out its missions. A particular point of interest for Australia is that the Directive says the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will work with US allies and partners to ‘optimize joint exercises and war games incorporating climate change considerations’.
On Antarctica, the DWP expert advisory panel recommended the Paper give adequate consideration to Defence’s role in supporting Australian interests in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.
The DWP has something genuinely new to say about the Defence role in the South. It states that Defence will provide niche support for our polar operations, including Air Force heavy air lift to support our Antarctic stations. There’s no ‘ifs, buts, or maybes’ here: Defence will provide that support. That’s a real game-changer for our Antarctic logistic and science program.
Since November 2015, the C-17A Globemaster III has touched down in Antarctica at Wilkins Aerodrome five times, successfully moving over 109 tonnes of machinery and cargo both in and out of Antarctica.
It’s a pity, however, that the DWP didn’t raise the need to invest in an ice strengthened capable seagoing platform in the context of acquiring patrol vessels capable of more extended operations than our Armidale-class patrol boats.
Of interest, however, is that the DWP announced for the first time that Defence has acquired a new large-hulled multi-purpose patrol vessel, the Ocean Protector.
Curiously, there was no announcement of that purchase for Navy in January this year. Maritime Border Command, part of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, operated the vessel under contract for four years, but the contract came to an end in 2014.
Defence purchased the vessel last month, so technically it’s an Australian Defence Vessel, and not an Australian Border Force Cutter. It’s owned by Defence, but assigned to Maritime Border Command, and run by a contractor with a civilian crew. Enforcement operations will be carried out by the Australian Border Force, not the ADF.
While overall the DWP has good things to say about the ADF’s peacetime missions, it leaves open the question whether Defence is doing enough to build inter-agency linkages and what priority Defence should afford to national missions where there’s an overlap of responsibility with other government agencies.