Cover Story: The problem with Defence (Part II)

This is the second article based on a speech to a Rockwell Collins ‘Connected, aware, responsive technology’ Symposium. Having defined the problem with Defence as I see it, it is now time to examine solutions. What I am proposing is a tool that could be used now to improve even a sub-optimal Defence process. It is a tool or methodology that would indicate ministerial leadership and a healthy ministerial interest in real outputs and not only inputs. It is a tool that applies discipline both across the organisation and from top to bottom, as well as a tool that could be understood by a much larger proportion of the population than can currently understand Defence. And what might work against the acceptance of the methodology itself, it is something that creates a highly visible means of assessing the impact of government actions on the effectiveness of the defence force of this nation. But finally, it is a tool that can be used by a minister to truly increase accountability.

28th Oct 2011


 The problem with Defence (Part II)

Byline: Jim Molan / Canberra

This is the second article based on a speech to a Rockwell Collins ‘Connected, aware, responsive technology’ Symposium.

Having defined the problem with Defence as I see it, it is now time to examine solutions. What I am proposing is a tool that could be used now to improve even a sub-optimal Defence process. It is a tool or methodology that would indicate ministerial leadership and a healthy ministerial interest in real outputs and not only inputs. It is a tool that applies discipline both across the organisation and from top to bottom, as well as a tool that could be understood by a much larger proportion of the population than can currently understand Defence. And what might work against the acceptance of the methodology itself, it is something that creates a highly visible means of assessing the impact of government actions on the effectiveness of the defence force of this nation. But finally, it is a tool that can be used by a minister to truly increase accountability.

The methodology I have in mind can be seen in ideal terms - if not truly practical terms - as a compact between the Australian people and their government, although it may be naïve to think that it will be used in this way in its ultimate form.

It requires the Government to state what the ADF can do and how it can do it, in addition to what the ADF has and how many new bits of kit the ADF will get, in terms that could be made understandable at least to the interested and informed layman. “To defend Australia and its interests” is too vague to use as a basis for assessment and accountability, but very comfortable for ministers.

If the Department and the ADF are to be held accountable, and individuals in key position are to be rewarded or sacked as they should be, then governments must also be held accountable for the prime defence output, the operational effectiveness of the ADF. At the moment this is not the case. This is truly a Tuchman Folly that I referred to in Part I - and no one seems to care.

Such an approach requires that we link the military strategy that is expressed or implied in the White Paper, and the military tactics that come from what the ADF is - something which has never been done in recent Australian history.

Such an approach allows “The People” (more likely the think tanks, the media and some in the parliamentary opposition) to assess the steps taken by a government to meet future threats, in a way that may have some chance of resonating with voters. In this world of budget honesty and other “compacts” between governments and the people, I wonder if this might just be achievable.

In considering what this tool should be, we should ask ourselves:

Given the amount of money that we spend on defence, what is it that should not only make us feel secure but actually be secure as a result of the investment in Defence?

My suggestion is that it should not be defined as the continuing survival of the Australian nation because that is too extreme and too vague to be used for immediate accountability purposes. If our very survival is threatened or looks like being threatened, there will be no competing priorities but just a lack of time, resources and skills.

Neither is it the day-to-day prosecution of wars of choice because we can make them variable depending on what we happen to have in our military inventory. Participating is victory. Wars of choice are very important but they do not have the consequences of failure that larger more demanding future scenarios have.

I suggest that what should make us, as a people, both feel and be secure is the knowledge that the investment that we make in Defence creates a force, all parts of which when put together can conduct a sophisticated level of joint operations. Here I go use esoteric language that needs to be modified for general use by the uninitiated: to produce the maximum operational effort short of a fight for national survival culminating within a reasonable period of time and then sustained at various levels until withdrawal, or until expansion of our defence capability to sustain the effort indefinitely.

This is normally where the idea falters in Defence. The military intuitively knows that this is what is required to give any level of integrity to the strategic planning process. Without it, national strategy is not connected to military tactics, and by any definition that is strategic failure. What you are actually doing with this tool is achieving a very basic level of strategic alignment: aligning future contingencies that drive military strategies which create tactical capability in the ADF and that drives requirement and procurement. This is not rocket science, it is Strategy 101. Once you have done that, the only things that need to happen is that the decision is made as to what can be afforded. But you must start with the need.

Within Defence, such an approach falters on two points:

The first is that, if we did this, the results might be very unpalatable for governments because it would show how impotent in relation to modern, demanding joint operations the ADF is, revealing the difference between what the public expects we can do and what we can actually do. This is normally put in the following way: “Don’t be so impractical, don’t you military guys understand politics?”

Of course, this to me sounds like one of the strongest reasons for doing it and for making it public. Our future enemies are likely to do the analysis if at some time in the future they wish to conduct operations against us, and they will know pretty well what we can or cannot do from the equipment that we have. There is probably not an intelligence analyst with even passing responsibility for Australia who is not aware of our lack of capability in amphibious operations or undersea warfare.

So the only result of so-called official “security” is that the public are hoodwinked and the politicians are protected from reality. It is my judgement, and the judgement of many others, that at the moment and into the foreseeable future, the ADF cannot conduct joint operations at any real level of sophistication against an enemy of even moderate capability.

And secondly, in order to not have to implement such an improved process, Defence cynically immediately demands a level of precision between the generalities of strategic guidance and the specific judgements as to how big and how capable a defence force needs to be. My answer is that all of these questions are easy to answer if they are based on strategic and military judgement informed by analysis and debate, and if the analysis and debate is regularly conducted –with as much of it being conducted in public, the better. The government seems more than willing to publicly rely on, sometimes to even shelter behind, the judgement of the CDF in relation to the Government’s policy in Afghanistan, but will not rely on a CDF’s judgement as to how equipment is enough in the future.

The real value in such a tool is that it puts meat on the strategic bones. One of the biggest problems in Defence is that it is not possible to go from strategic guidance of the type that we see in the White Paper back to the numbers and types of capabilities that the ADF should have. For example, how many JSF’s should we have, or should we even have the JSF?

At least we should have a view on the number required and if we cannot afford them, then so be it. But to start with the budget and then justify the numbers might be clever politics, but it is amateurish and dangerous strategy, and it is dishonest. In my view, the tool that I am advocating shows clearly why we need about 100 net-enabled 5th generation fighters. I am still not too sure that in a region possibly dominated by the PAK-FA and J-20 series, if it should be the JSF.

What this tool does is to provide the feedback loop for the entire defence function that is so obviously missing.

So my proposal is that we come up with a statement of the overall operational requirement and then we make both government and defence accountable.

How do we get what might be called an Operational Accountability Statement? Easy!

Start with the force structure that Government claims will exist at some point in time. Apply that force structure, using appropriate doctrine and concepts, to the most demanding generic operational scenario that can be honestly deduced from strategic guidance.

Test the impact on operational effectiveness of changes to the force structure that government is proposing, and that government might be directing through cancelling or delaying projects.

Hold government accountable for the impact on operational effectiveness of its decisions to postpone, cancel or under invest.

It is my suggestion that we start with the force structure that the government is saying the ADF will have at the end of the Defence Capability Plan in 2021. To go outside the DCP - beyond ten years - is really difficult because the government only indicates that it is serious about Defence by allocating monies for that period. To go out past 10 years from now, we start to get into the fantasy world of finance, threat, and technology.

In my view, although I found the 2009 Defence White paper very strange indeed in its lack of logic and internal inconsistencies, the DCP delivers an acceptable (not perfect) force structure leading in to Force 2030. But this is only if, at some stage in the future, the proposed structure can be used together as a joint combat force and if, in fact, we implement it over time and if it actually works as advertised. Those are big “if’s”.

The second step is to apply that Government-blessed force structure to the most demanding, realistic, generic operational scenario, derived from strategic guidance, below the level of a fight for national survival. Because if you can do that, then anything less than that is easy.

This is not hard to come up with. Almost any of us can do it. And the process of doing it, that is, talking and thinking about what strategic guidance means in operational and tactical terms, and what is possible with a given force, is a process that is worth its weight in gold anyhow.

What I need to stress is that this is a process that concerns political leadership, as part of their education and their responsibility, as much as it does military leadership. For a politician to leave this to the military alone, as it does now, ignores hundreds of years of history, and is a cop out. The best civilian leaders of the military have always been those who control their generals the closest. This is what gives ministers ownership and authority, and leads to accountability.

By working through a generic scenario, that is, a scenario that does not include actual places or actual countries but does include other realistic constraints (time, distance, etc) we avoid all the rubbish that goes on about whether or not we would use the amphibious ships to invade China, or whether 100 JSFs are adequate to defeat India, or why can’t we leave all the heavy lifting to the US as we normally do. All of that kind of conjecture we can leave to the think tanks or to the contingency planners. This is a different process.

Also it gets around the out-dated discussion of expeditionary operations versus defence of Australia. This was always a false distinction and still is.

Let’s suppose that a generic scenario might have the following almost standard phases: Preliminary, Deployment, Setting the Strategic Pre-conditions, Entry, Decisive and Transition Phases.
These phases along with essential assumptions relating to distances and times (all of which can be, and must be, deduced from strategic guidance based on informed military judgement and limited by actual capability) represents the generic scenario against which operational effectiveness of a current or future ADF can be publicly assessed.
Here is an example.
The generic scenario commences when government directs the ADF to deploy a force of maximum size over a demanding distance (let’s say 4000km - perhaps it does not matter where or in what direction or against whom except that our enemy is a credible competitor) to a mounting base and be prepared to conduct joint manoeuvre operations as an independent part of a US led coalition.
By saying “an independent part of a US led coalition”, we leave the option open to a future Australian government to actually conduct independent operations, probably the most basic expression of the independence of any sovereign nation.
The “maximum force” is one that, while concurrently maintaining Standing National Commitments, a high readiness reserve, the logistic capability to deploy, support and sustain forces from the National Support Base and the capability over time to replace deployed forces through a rotation (and expansion) force, is still sufficient to conduct sophisticated, 21st century joint manoeuvre operations.
Such an initially deployable force, in my view (and senior ADF commanders would be the ultimate arbiters) could peak, in manpower terms, at approximately 30% of the 80,000 strong, full and part time ADF of 2021 (the end of the DCP). To achieve strategic guidance, it is reasonable to have that force with the logistic capability to conduct intense combat operations for, let’s say, 30 days, and then be able to sustain lower levels of combat for much longer periods of time.
At the same time as the main manoeuvre force is readied for deployment, initial (mainly logistic) deployments are made, a strategic Shaping Campaign and an Intelligence Campaign involving whole of government is initiated or re-focussed, and a Logistic Campaign commences or is re-focussed on the new task.
As the deployed force is establishing itself on and around the mounting base, a Joint Air/Space Campaign and a Joint Maritime Campaign, independently or as part of an overall coalition effort, sets the strategic level pre-conditions for subsequent manoeuvre operations.
With preconditions achieved or being achieved, the air/space and maritime forces are re-assigned as components of the main force, let’s call it the Joint Manoeuvre JTF. The Joint Manoeuvre JTF HQ has simultaneously planned the detail of a Joint Manoeuvre Campaign to lodge a brigade sized force from the air and sea at a distance of, let’s say for the purpose of this presentation, 800km from the mounting base, and now effects that campaign.
By this stage, the mounting base has been developed to support the main manoeuvre force, with access to a coalition secure second airfield for sustaining longer-range aircraft.
The objective of the lodgement by the Joint Manoeuvre JTF is a discrete Australian point of entry within the overall coalition area of operations or theatre. The Joint Manoeuvre JTF conducts a Joint Manoeuvre Campaign to affect the entry from the air and sea and concludes conventional combat operations. The force, at a much-reduced size, then transitions to a Joint Land Campaign to conduct enduring stabilization operations involving counter insurgency.
The generic scenario, as justified under strategic guidance, is Australian led, Australian supported, but US enabled. The level of US enablement should be limited to intelligence support, the provision of explosive ordnance in excess of 30 days, the provision of fuel for ADF long range aircraft at the secondary airfield and the normal provision of logistic support on a commercial basis once the coalition has settled into the enduring (Decisive) phase.
If this sounds daunting, it is only because we do not do it and rarely think about it. It would not sound daunting to a middle level US Marine Corps officer. This is a bread and butter scenario for serious militaries like we claim to be. If we are making the kind of investment in Defence that the government is claiming over the next ten years, and we cannot say when we can do what I have just described, we ought to be nationally and militarily ashamed of ourselves. If this is not what it is all about, why are we buying the alphabet soup: AWD, LHD, JSF, ARH, MRH-90s, AEW&Cs, and MRTT.
The third stage of holding the government accountable is critical and is to test the impact on operational effectiveness in the above generic scenario of changes to the force structure that politicians are proposing through cancelling or delaying projects. If the above scenario is reasonable and can be deduced from strategic guidance, and the government is forced to or wants to make a decision to delay any part of the joint force as is its right (for example delay the amphibious ships or the airwarfare destroyers, or to buy a lesser number of fighters, or to risk the entire operational capability of the ADF for the next 30 years by again chancing the domestic build of submarines) then the impact on operational effectiveness can be immediately demonstrated. A joint force that wishes to use the sea without a capable submarine capability or control of the air, is not a capable force. You must have all parts of the force to get the value from any one part of the force. Delay just the subs, and you lose all capability.

The fourth step is to hold the government to account for the decisions that it makes. No one denies a government’s right to make such decisions, but the consequences should be clear, and they should be accountable. This requires the entire process to be transparent. If a government knows (and this might be the crux of the whole matter) that the strategic guidance that it approves in a White Paper is going to form the basis of a generic scenario which actually links strategy with real world tactics, the capability of the ADF and the equipment that it buys, I suggest that any government will take much more seriously its defence responsibilities, especially the military contents and implications of its White Papers.


 

APDR at a glance