Friday 23 Feb 2018 | 23:39 | SYDNEY
Friday 23 Feb 2018 | 23:39 | SYDNEY

Defence's suspiciously round number



17 June 2010 10:48

I'm always a bit suspicious when big public policy projects have round numbers attached. While ministerial and political statements love round numbers, nature and real project management normally don't.

Which brings me to the number 100. When I was in Army HQ in the late 1990s, the new ministerial team swept in, bringing with it the Defence Efficiency Review and the Defence Reform Program. In an effort to 'speed up decision-making' and get uniformed personnel into combat formations, all Service HQs were told to pare themselves down to 100 people. I have been suspicious of round numbers applied to defence decision-making ever since.

This arbitrary number was obviously arrived at in some policy wonk's office with no idea of the  second- and third-order effects of such a poorly thought-through decision. But at least in these staffing cases, the organisation just waits out the inevitable turnover/departure of the minister and his staff, and then repairs the damage over time.

But very expensive equipment decisions can't be turned around so readily, as contracts are signed with long delivery lead times. So when I look at the savings pressures on Defence and I see that we need 100 Joint Strike Fighters at US$112 million (and counting) each, I wonder who came up with this awfully neat number.

The army bought 59 refurbished Abrams tanks from the US. Now, 59 is an strange sort of number and not one likely to make for a hard-hitting policy announcement, so I can only assume that someone did their sums and determined that 59 is the required basis of provisioning for operational and training purposes. Similarly, 22 Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopters for the army and 46 multi-role helicopters for the army and navy both indicate that some degree of detailed research has gone into arriving at these figures.

So when the Strategic Reform Program is looking for $20 billion in savings, I think it's fair to ask why the Air Force needs exactly 100 JSFs? And how was this very neat total arrived at?

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

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