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Defence rescues Swan's budget

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This post is part of the Australian budget debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

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12 May 2010 14:53


This post is part of the Australian budget debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan is author of Running the War in Iraq.

Here's a new slant on Treasurer Wayne Swan's new budget — this is a Defence-based budget!

If it was not for Defence — specifically the $8.8 billion that was deferred in last year's budget from the 2009 Defence White Paper only ten days after the White Paper was published (see p.13 of this ASPI report) and which does not appear to have been put back into this budget — no way could we be back in surplus in three years' time.

In truth, though, it is getting harder to come to any conclusion on Defence's financials, because the process is even murkier than usual.

We chat about the budget and the equipment being bought, but none of us can really make a judgement on efficacy. The four things that make it so difficult are: the wide bands of time in which projects are to be delivered; the lack of correlation between strategy, money spent and capability delivered; the lack of any expression of how all the capability might be used at any one time over the next thirty years; and the use of what are delightfully called 'savings'.

So there is no link from strategy down to the tactical level of capability, perpetual deferments are facilitated because there is no importance put on having equipment all working at the same time to achieve a joint effect, and it is very difficult to strictly differentiate between 'savings' and money gained from just lowering operating costs (ie. not doing things).

The result seems to be that the ADF is forever in the procurement or acquisition phase (that is, buying and bringing equipment into service) but rarely does it all come together in a way that equates to anything like an ability to fight jointly.

At some stage in the next ten to twenty years, it would be nice to have everything the government says will be procured in existence and working at the same time. Then we will have a defence force that can do something. Surely, this is what lies behind the 2009 Defence White Paper.

At the moment and for the foreseeable future, for all the money that we spend, I cannot see when we are going to have a defence force that can conduct a sophisticated joint fight. The only way we know bits of the ADF can fight as individual Services is because we take individual units and put them under our allies' control.

The headline expenditure on defence was that $1.1 billion was to be spent to protect our soldiers. That is great. It would also be really good if the Government now set about to protect the people of Uruzgan in Afghanistan. Protection of the population is the essence of counter-insurgency, and the concept of 'population protection' is used repeatedly, but quite erroneously, in Defence media releases.

But I challenge anyone to show that Australian forces, even in their half of Uruzgan, can protect anything but a tiny proportion of the population at any one time, and then only for very short periods of time, so that even some levels of intimidation are prevented. 

To support the ISAF war strategy of 'disrupt, dismantle and defeat' using the ISAF tactical techniques of 'shape-clear-hold-build-transition', we have certainly got to protect our own soldiers, but we must also protect the Afghan people in our part of the province. One is pointless without the other.

 Photo by Flickr user GustavoG, used under a Creative Commons license.

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