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Journal of the Australian Naval Institute

Australia's Strategic Policy

A speech by The Honourable Ian McLachlan AO MP, Minister for Defence


e main focus of my talk today will be the strategic review. Australia's Strategic Policy.

I also want to talk about the Asian economic crisis, and about our commitment to provide military forces for possible coalition operations against Iraq.

Obviously, these last two issues are the most important immediate challenges for Australian strategic policy.

Therefore it is important to understand how our broader strategic policy handles these issues.

In December last year I tabled in Parliament a review of our strategic outlook, tilled Australia's Strategic Policy.

The review does three key things; It gives an up-to-date assessment of our strategic environment; it sets clear priorities for the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and it defines the shape of the force into the next century.

Key Policy Areas

There are a number of important differences between Australia's Strategic Policy and preceding reviews.

First, the review describes a maritime strategy for defending Australia and our interests.

It moves beyond a planning emphasis on low-level contingencies, arguing that we need the capacity to defend Australia in a wider range of circumstances.

The review outlines a policy to build cooperation with our neighbours in the Asia -Pacific, showing the link between our territorial defence and wider regional security.

Perhaps the biggest change from previous reviews is that Australia's Strategic Policy also details rigorous priorities for force development and equipment acquisition.

The challenge ahead

The Strategic Review was not an exercise in hunting for threats. It identifies no immediate threat to Australia.

But defence planning is about the long term. The review analyses the potential for developments to cause security problems in the future, unlike our largely benign environment today.

In the past Australia benefited from being the most developed economy in our region, holding the most advanced military equipment and weapons.

In some defence areas, that is no longer the case.

To stay confident of our ability to defend Australia, we must be more efficient and smarter in using resources.

A Secure country in a secure region

While the focus of our policy is on defence of the homeland, it would be a serious mistake to think we could adopt a 'fortress Australia' strategy.

The 1994 Defence White Paper did not recognise how changing strategic circumstances were changing the levels of demand which could be put on our forces in such operations.

We can no longer assume that forces able to meet low* level contingencies in the defence of Australia will be sufficient to handle conflict beyond our territory.

We must make sure that the forces we develop do indeed give options for handling crises in which vital interests may be threatened.

Wherever they are called to operate, our forces must have the capacity to survive against - and defeat modern weapons.

The Government, therefore, rejects the argument that we must choose between a defence force to defend Australia and one able - within realistic limitations -to operate overseas.

Debate about forward defence'

I think our commitment to a broader defence approach has generally been well received, both in the Defence community and more widely.

There is wide agreement that Australian security cannot just focus on defence of the coastline and our immediate maritime surrounds.

The community understands Ihe point that our security is tied to the wider security of our region.

Some commentators have said our policy marks a return to forward defence. It does not.

Forward defence was a policy in the l°f>()s. It was about Australia planning its defence against Asia.

July/September I99H


Journal oj the Ausirojian Naval Institute

We have moved on a generation since then. Now our approach is built around promoting our defence interests with Asia.

Our policy reflects a fundamental change in strategic thinking since that earlier era.

I have often said Australia cannot be secure if our region is insecure.

The Strategic Review recognises this, emphasising the ADK"s role in working with our neighbours to promote regional stability.

That is a different approach to what happened in the 1960s, One hopes that sections of the media will come to realise that point.

East Asian financial crisis.

Notwithstanding the financial crisis in some regional countries, few people would question the Strategic Rev iew's judgement that, in the medium to long-term. Asia will resume strong economic growth.

hi the short term the financial crisis will make some countries slow their weapons buying programs.

Reacting to that, some commentators suggest that Australia's defence planning challenges have diminished - saying in effect that we don't need to modernise our own forces.

In the past, high levels of economic growth have been a foundation for strategic stability in the Asia-Pacific.

A pause in economic growth should not. of itself, be destabilising.

But the potential security impact of the crisis cannot be lightly dismissed.

One should not overlook the possibility that the financial crisis could have flow-on effects into political, economic and social stability.

Given a choice. 1 would prefer that Australia has to deal with the security challenges of a region enjoying stable growth, as opposed to a region where economic difficulties might threaten to undermine political stability.

But the essential point is that our defence force must be able to handle whatever security problems arise -be they the result of low economic growth or high growth.

So. in the longer term, the challenge for Australia - to remain a highly capable, high-technology, front rank. regional defence power - remains unchanged.

Even with the regional economic slow-down. Australia should not vary the pace or scale of the defence force modernisation program outlined in the Strategic Review.

That program is based on our enduring strategic realities - exploiting our geography and making the most of developments in technology.

Keeping up the pace of our force modernisation also reinforces Australia's position as an partner for military training and exercising.

The Southeast Asian countries realise this. It is not just a coincidence that many ASEAN countries have more substantial defence co-operation with Australia than they do with each other.

Australia has developed such close security relations with our neighbours precisely because our military is worth co-operating with.

The Strategic Review's key judgements about the need for the Defence Force to emphasise high-technology, a maritime defence approach and co­operation with friends and neighbours do not need to be changed.

New Strategies

The review identifies from its assessment of the strategic environment, the following key strategic interests:

  • avoiding destabilising strategic competition between the region's major powers:

  • preventing the emergence of a region dominated by any power which might wish to damage Australia's interests:

  • keeping Southeast Asia free from destabilising disputes;

  • working with neighbours to strengthen their security: and

  • preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The US alliance is our most important strategic relationship. America's continued defence presence in the Asia-Pacific is fundamental to regional stability.

Elsewhere in the region, our longstanding defence links with most of the countries in Southeast Asia and the Southwest Pacific lay the foundation for further strategic co-operation.

Our aim is to promote among the Southeast Asian countries a sense of shared strategic objectives with Australia.

We recognise, however, that the region's strategic centre lies in Northeast Asia. To that end. we are expanding links with Northeast Asia, particularly with Japan and China.

July/September iwx

Journal of the Australian Naval Institute


Future Capabilities

Having set out an assessment of the strategic environment, and outlining Australia's key strategic interests, the review then identifies capability priorities lor the ADF to 2(120 and beyond.

To maintain our relative strategic position, our forces must measure up to two key benchmarks:

  • First, we must maintain a very strong regional presence as a maritime power:

  • Second, we must have the capability to deny our air and sea approaches to any credible force.

The review follows through the logic of this strategic analysis by setting four priorities for Defence capabilities.

Priority One: The Knowledge edge.

We have called our highest capability priority the

'knowledge edge', that is. exploiting information

technology so we can use our relatively small forces
to maximum effect.

Increasingly, the knowledge edge can be the decisive factor in combat.

It is a big challenge to integrate intelligence, command systems and surveillance into a unified system giving commanders a complete picture of the battlefield, and enhancing their control of forces.

The acquisition of airborne early warning and control aircraft is one of the most important know ledge-edge projects currently under way.

Priority Two: Maritime capabilities.

Our second priority is to develop military capabilities to defeat threats in our maritime approaches.

In this area, we are upgrading the weapons and sensor tits in our surface combatants and starting a project to assess submarine technology and design developments for a possible.

This project will give the government a basis for considering the option of a further Collins submarine purchase.

The government is also starting to look at fighter aircraft replacement options.

We are years away from having to make a decision -that will be some time in the first decade of the next century.

But when it comes, the acquisition of a fighter aircraft replacement will probably be the single most

expensive defence project ever undertaken by Australia.

A lot of elements will go into making sure we make the right decision - not least the extent of the upgrading necessary to sustain the F/A-IX until it needs replacing.

But I also want to make sure that Defence looks at all the options - including unmanned aerial vehicles and other technologies still in their developmental stages.

it is also vital that Governments take time to explain

to the people the need for a fighter replacement acquisition.

Priority Three: Strike Capability

Our third priority is strike capability.

The reality of our strategic geography dictates that we should plan on operations which concentrate on defeating attackers in our air and maritime approaches, before they reach our territory.

In defending Australia, we need to think about the way we would use our forces, broadly differentiating between reactive and pro-active operations.

Pro-active operations carry some risks. But they do offer the opportunity to seize the initiative, while imposing important constraints on an adversary's freedom of action.

Maintaining the F-l 11 in service to 2015 or 2020 is a key part of thinking in the strike area.

After the release of the Strategic Review, a number of commentators expressed concerns about (he age of the airframe.

It certainly is a remarkable aircraft.

Defence people will know that what matters most is the avionics, weapons systems and sensors in the aircraft.

We have spent hundreds of millions updating these crucial parts in the F-l 11 - applying knowledge edge technology to give the aircraft capabilities not even thought of when it first came into service.

Priority Four: Defeating threats on Australian territory.

Our fourth priority is land forces to defeat threats on our territory.

The priorities for land force development include building highly-mobile joint task forces, reinvigorating an amphibious capability, and providing extra air and land mobility lor ground forces.

July/September 1998

Ji'iiimii of the Australian Naval Institute

Together these initiatives will enhance the ADF's war lighting capabilities.

But upgrades and acquisitions do not come cheaply.

We need the Defence Reform Program, over the next few years, to realise one-off savings of $500 million, and mature annual savings of $900 and $1000 million.

Nevertheless this will not be enough to implement all the priority developments outlined - particularly lighter aircraft replacements, surface combatants and (most probably) future submarine options after Collins.

Flexibility an essential requirement

One of the essential requirements any Australian Government will have of the ADF is that it is as flexible as it can possibly be.

The focus on low-level contingencies which drove Defence planning for a decade in the 19$0s and '90s had great value.

It forced Defence to work out what its priorities were. It made the Department take a serious and long-overdue look at what was needed for operations in northern Australia. It gave discipline to the equipment acquisition process.

All these were necessary steps. But one unintended consequence was that the focus on low-level contingencies was reducing the ADF's llexibility to undertake other operations.

Followed to its logical conclusions (although Defence did not gel to this point) low level contingencies was turning the ADF into a one-scenario defence force.

A scenario, moreover, which most people thought was the one least likely to ever involve us in military operations.

The last twelve months of ADF activity underline the importance of having the maximum possible llexibility within Defence.

The ADF has been involved in:

  • the Southern ocean rescue of two round the world sailors;

  • airlift of Australian citizens and others out of Cambodia;

  • operations against (alleged) illegal fishing in sub-Antarctic waters;

  • drought relief in Papua New Guinea;

substantial participation in the Bougainville Truce Monitoring Group;

Hood relief operations in the Northern Territory:

and now. possibly, operations against Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

It has been a busy and demanding period - one which shows the need for maintaining a capability to operate in a very wide range of possible contingencies.

Crisis in Iraq

I want to turn to our agreement last week to participate in a military coalition against Iraq - should that become necessary.

The Strategic Review recognises the need for Australia to be prepared to contribute forces in support of global security interests.

Last week's decision, that we would support an international coalition against Iraq, is one such circumstance.

Australia's security interests go well beyond the physical protection of Australian territory. Global issues can have significant security implications for us too.

Prominent among the threats to global security is the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Saddam Hussein has already shown he will use chemical and/or biological weapons against neighbours and even his own people.

Preventing the proliferation of these weapons is not just a concern for the United States, it is a global concern.

As the Prime Minister made clear, the Government sincerely hopes that military force will not be necessary, and that Iraq will meet its United Nations obligation.

However, if Iraq continues to flout its international obligations and fails to allow full inspections by UNSCOM. a grave risk is posed to regional and global security.

We have an interest in promoting stability in the Middle East.

We have an interest in stopping rogue states from threatening their neighbours and the regional peace.

We have an interest in ensuring that countries do what the United Nations asks them to do. The UN must not go the way of the League of Nations.

We have an interest in supporting the United Stales -helping America to remain a strong force for global stability.

Above all. we have an interest in stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.


My/September 1998

Journal of the Australian Naval Institute



I would like to reiterate that Australia's Strategic Policy is more than just a frank and thorough analysis of the strategic environment we are facing.

The review details our national and strategic interests and set an appropriate strategic posture.

It sets the intellectual framework within which important decisions about military capabilities will be made by the Government.

The Strategic Review is not a static policy - waiting to become out-of-date. The Defence Department is constantly reviewing our strategic outlook lo ensure that the document's judgements remain valid.

In taking the long view, it argues that the ADF must have the capabilities to be a highly flexible instrument of national policy.

And we make a eomnnlment to ensuring the ADF can Undertake and sustain military operations in support of strategic interests.

(Continued from page r>)

above three characteristics will quickly reveal why this generally cannot happen.

Of the three characteristics, Communication Skills can probably be regarded as portable between Service and civilian workplaces, however this is generally the only one.

The other two, that of vision and knowledge, will typically first require exposure and experience to be gained in the new environment of choice before leadership qualities will emerge.

History shows that high profile leaders both in and out the Armed Forces are often 'people of the moment'. In the military environment, superior leadership demonstrated in a particular combative situation is often anti-elimaxed by inappropriate behaviour and inadequate performance in the subsequent State-of peace, where leadership qualities of a different type are required in order to. 'move forward'.

In the corporate world similar evidence exists. High profile CEOs, recruited to take companies lo new plateaus of performance and profitability on the buck of a particular vision, typically fade, or deliberately exit the role when the targets are achieved.

Professional leaders are transportable nonetheless between one working environment ami another dissimilar one. provided that they spend time researching their intended new working environment and develop the levels of know ledge which will instil confidence in those around them, and which when combined with vision and superior communication skills, will facilitate their new leadership role.

These thoughts are submitted in the spirit of your column. 'From the President ...'. where a more participative approach is requested from the ANI Membership.

Doug Stevens

(Commander RANR)

International Business Development Manager

Television New Zealand Satellite Services

July/September IWS


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