(Apologies that I cannot, as I usually do, right justify todays piece)
What follows is mainly taken from various published reports over the past few days covering publication last week of the Australian Defence Review.
Hitherto, apart from maritime shipbuilding where the UK in the form of BAE Systems in Australia is now heavily involved developing the Hunter class future frigate programme for the Australian Navy, as one of the three AUKUS partners it is in my view increasingly important that we in the UK should have better understanding of the process and intent behind what is a hugely significant Australian Defence Strategic Review and defence procurement intentions. I for one will certainly be doing that from now on:
Australian Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese together with Richard Marles who is Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence together with the Minister for Defence Industry, Pat Conroy last week released the pivotal Defence Strategic Review. They later held a press conference in the Prime Minister’s courtyard of Parliament House.
Billed by the Prime Minister as the “most significant” defence report since the Second World War, the Review lists six new priority areas for Australia’s national security while promising a “reshaping of the Australian Army. Speaking to reporters, the Deputy PM and Minister of Defence said that Australia’s national security policy was “no longer fit for purpose.”
The 110-page unclassified Review spans posture, acquisition, supply chain resilience, energy security as well as international cooperation. It is expected to shape Australia’s defence policy and national security posture for decades to come.
The six priority areas for Defence as identified in the Defence Strategic Review include:
- The acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines;
- 2. Enhancing the Australian Defence Force’s long-range strike capability and the domestic manufacture of munitions;
- Developing the military’s capability to work out of Australia’s northern bases;
- Advancing the recruitment and retention of ADF personnel;
- Expediting the introduction of new and innovative technologies into the ADF;
- Improving our cooperation with Australia’s Pacific neighbours.
The government was direct in acknowledging that some defence projects will face the axe:
“The Government is making the hard decisions necessary to cancel or reprioritise Defence projects or activities that are no longer suited to our strategic circumstances, as outlined in the Review,” a release from the Commonwealth read. Of the government’s re-prioritisation efforts, DPM and MINDEF Marles explained that the landmark report would “provide for the reshaping of the Australian Army.” (Source: Defence Connect)
The Defence Strategic Review confirms that the Australian Defence Force (ADF) must evolve into a genuine Integrated Force which harnesses effects across all five domains: maritime, land, air, space and cyber. The Review says that investing in the critical capabilities required in these domains will require divesting, delaying, or re-scoping other activities that do not advance the attributes of the Integrated Force. And its operational success will depend on that Force’s ability to apply what the Review describes as critical capabilities:
undersea warfare capabilities (crewed and uncrewed) optimised for persistent, long-range sub-surface intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike
• an enhanced integrated targeting capability
• an enhanced long-range strike capability in all domains
• a fully enabled, integrated amphibious-capable combined-arms land system;
• enhanced, all-domain, maritime capabilities for sea denial operations and localised sea control
• a networked expeditionary air operations capability
• an enhanced, all-domain, integrated air and missile defence capability
• a joint, expeditionary theatre logistics system with strategic depth and mobility
• a theatre command and control framework that enables an enhanced Integrated Force
• a developed network of northern bases to provide a platform for logistics support, denial and deterrence.
The Review strongly supports both the acquisition of the previously announced nuclear-powered submarine and the establishment of an Australian Submarine Agency; and it also recommends ongoing commitment to a continuous naval shipbuilding program, though another review later this year may result in significant changes to Navy’s build program and Order of Battle.
National Defence also states the Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG) and the new Advanced Strategic Capabilities Accelerator (ASCA) must enable Australia’s research and industry sectors to focus their work on the development of advanced and asymmetric capabilities in key technological areas. To enable all this, the Minister for Defence, Richard Marles, and the Minister for Defence Industry, Mr Pat Conroy, confirmed that the Government has directed Defence to immediately begin work to:
- Remove unnecessary barriers to acquisitions
• Streamline strategically important projects and low-complexity procurements
• Make faster decisions in the delivery of Defence projects
• Develop practical solutions in close consultation with defence industry
These reforms will cut red tape and see Defence become a better partner with industry, which will help to deliver the capability the Australian Defence Force needs, when they need it.”
Later this year the Australian government will also release a Defence Industry Development Strategy that will set out:
- The strategic rationale for a sovereign defence industrial base
• More targeted and detailed Sovereign Industrial Capability Priorities
• A plan to grow industry’s workforce to deliver a viable industrial base and increase Australia’s defence exports
• Reforms to defence procurement to support the development of Australian defence industry and respond to the Review
• Mechanisms to improve security within defence businesses
• A detailed implementation plan
The AUKUS Pillar 2 section of Chapter 9 notes the ‘trilateral delivery’ – in other words, joint R&D and acquisition – of enhanced capabilities: undersea warfare; hypersonics; autonomy and robotics; cyber warfare; and electronic warfare.
The National Defence strategic review paper states these will contribute to strengthening all of the AUKUS partners’ industrial bases and eliminate barriers to information sharing and technological cooperation. Commentators note that this may suggest that change can be expected in the US government’s notorious ITAR (International Transfer in Arms Regulations) Regime.
Other quick points:
“To enable Australian defence industry to deliver capability the report suggests that acquisition processes must minimise the burden of working with Defence, particularly for small and medium enterprises,” the Review adds. “This will have the advantage of faster capability delivery while building depth in Australian defence industry where required.”
However, it says also that Defence must consider Australian industry content when it makes sense and delivers capability outcomes on time. “It is essential to ensure Australian sovereign defence industry capability is supported where it makes strategic sense.” One of its recommendations is that Australian industry content and domestic production should be balanced against timely capability acquisition.
So, the Defence Strategic Review argues for a Science and Technology (S&T) base that can develop asymmetric capability quickly, both on a sovereign basis and as part of AUKUS Pillar 2, and get this into service faster thanks to a significantly enhanced capability development and acquisition process.
Apparently, there are no dollar figures attached to any of these proposals. “We’ll need to wait until the Federal Budget on May 9 to see dollars allocated to specific programs – and the Navy will need to wait until an independent analysis of its surface combatant fleet is completed nearer the end of this year before it discovers what (probably major) changes are in its future. (Source: Rumour Control)
Yesterday, in my quoting words published off the BBC running Sudan webpage commentary and that had purported to have been given in a BBC Radio 5 Live interview, I appear to have upset the interviewee, Sean Bell. That was certainly not my intent. What was said in the actual interview itself I have no idea as I do not listen to that particular BBC radio channel. But, for the record, what follows was what was actually written up on the BBC webpage following the interview:
“Sean Bell is a retired fighter pilot air vice marshal, and says airlifts sound “simple” but are actually “incredibly complicated”.
“A big aircraft is very vulnerable, particularly to gunfire, ” he tells Radio 5 Live’s Nicky Campbell.
“There’s a 72-hour ceasefire, there’s a 24-hour window and what they’re going to try and do is get some military transport aircraft in.
“The Royal Air Force is relatively small; it’s deployed on operations around the world at the moment – you don’t have these aircrafts at an airport just waiting to fly into Sudan… they’re going to be taken off live operations.”
He says there is “huge complexity” in working out who is a priority for evacuating and how they will get to the airfield.
“Trying to identify where they are, get them to one place through enemy fighting and then get them safely out – that is not a simple undertaking.”
Whether or not the words ‘the RAF is relatively small’ as quoted on the BBC Sudan webpage were said in the actual interview or not, I have no idea. That I chose to use them in context to my argument that for the RAF to dispose of its fleet of C-130J aircraft prematurely is unchanged although if the words were not said or implied in the original interview and if I have relied on poor internal reporting by the BBC, I can only apologise.
CHW (London – 26th April 2023)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785