Home' Asia Pacific Defence Reporter : APDR_Dec.Jan2013 Contents 4 Asia Pacific Defence Reporter DECEMBER - JANUARY 2013
012 saw a continuation of combat
operations in Afghanistan, with a further
seven deaths and a far greater number
of injuries of ADF personnel. The worst
month was August, when four soldiers lost their lives
in two separate incidents. The primary mission of
training the Fourth Brigade of the Afghan National
Army (ANA) is said to be going well and should be
completed about a year from now. At that time the
responsibility for the security of Uruzgan Province will
be transferred to Afghan military and police forces.
Australian troops are in the process of migrating from
a mentoring role to an advisory one.
In parallel, the Special Operations Task Group
(SOTG) has continued its highly effective work
disrupting insurgent activities – and this pattern will
continue beyond the 2014 date for the withdrawal
of regular Australian forces, possibly for decades
to come. In addition, RAAF personnel are now
responsible for providing base security at Tarin
Kowt, having taken over from Slovakian forces. In
mid-October Australia assumed the leadership role
of Combined Team-Uruzgan.
Whether Australian casualties have been justified
will of course be a judgment for history. Personnel
on the ground in Uruzgan believe that real progress
is being made in improving the security situation of
the province. However, the picture for the remainder
of Afghanistan is less clear and after 2014 the best
guess is that the country will revert in time to a
series of cantonments with the central Government
in Kabul exercising only limited authority. Whether
the country can remain peaceful and stable in such
circumstances is completely unknown.
On the domestic front, the biggest news of 2012
was the May budget, which saw savage cuts in
Defence expenditure for the next two financial years.
Given the way the Department operates, it is not
impossible that there will be yet another hand back
of unspent capital equipment funds this year on top
of the savings already made via cancelled or deferred
acquisitions. All of this has come about because
the Government and the Opposition have locked
themselves into budget surplus fetishism – debunked
by almost every reputable economist in the land – and
the ADF will be the loser as a result.
In addition, the impact on defence industry is
already severe and will get worse. In the heady days
of 2009, the Government calculated that by 2013
more than 30,000 people would be employed in
this sector. The sad reality is that defence industry is
downsizing and by next year will only employ a little
over 20,000 people. The author even remembers
former DMO head Dr Stephen Gumley saying in
mid-2012 that his greatest concern was the ability of
industry to cope with all the projects in the pipeline.
The biggest activity of them all – the Future
Submarine – is slowly creaking forward via a plethora
of studies, though with no real sense of direction or
purpose. The defence community has long accepted
that for items of equipment such as combat and
transport aircraft, major surface ships and weaponry,
we must work with what is available in the marketplace.
The idea of Australia developing our own long-range
fighter aircraft because of our “unique” needs or
doing the same for a naval surface combatant is so
laughable that anyone proposing such a ridiculous
idea would be instantly discredited. But there is still
a view in some quarters that – uniquely – the Future
Submarine should be a bespoke design.
Why this concept still has some traction is
something of a mystery. In the modern era, the
scope of Australian submarine operations has
been defined by the performance of the long-range
Oberons acquired in the 1960s. No one is seriously
suggesting we need even longer range submarines
than those because that would mean we plan to
operate under the polar icecap. Yet the Oberons
were a modest 2,400 tonnes at full displacement.
They were uncomfortable to serve in and needed
progressive sensor upgrades – but they were reliable
and did not suffer from crew shortages.
Given the well-publicised problems of crewing the
Collins fleet, one would think that looking at designs
that need as few personnel to operate them as
possible would be an attractive way to go – but logic
is a commodity sometimes in short supply.
As well as the budget surplus fetishism mentioned
earlier, there also persists a US-equipment fetishism
that was again revealed by Defence Materiel Minister
Jason Clare – perhaps inadvertently – when he
dismissed the idea of nuclear-powered submarines.
His principle reason for knocking the idea on the
head was that the US would not be prepared to lease
Virginia Class boats to Australia. Huh? What about
British or French nuclear submarines? Apparently
the thought did not occur – so once again only a US
solution seems worthy of consideration – and then
When construction of the Future Submarine does
begin it will be interesting to see how much of the
naval construction sector is still around at that distant
point – though to the credit of Minister Smith and the
Department the issue now seems to be resonating.
Hopefully there will be some good news in the near
future about a re-planning of shipbuilding work.
On that hopeful note, APDR would like to wish all
of our readers, our supporters and our detractors a
happy, relaxing and – especially – peaceful Festive
KYM BERGMANN // CANBERRA
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THE YEAR IN REVIEW
On the domestic front, the biggest news of 2012 was
the May budget, which saw savage cuts in Defence
expenditure for the next two financial years
6/12/12 11:34 AM
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