The need for a new Defence White Paper is fast diminishing. The Government has been busy making big decisions that will shape Defence and the ADF force structure for decades to come.
The latest budget papers set out the steps by which the 2% of GDP funding target will be met. The Air Force's future force structure has been finalised with decisions on buying lots of Joint Strike Fighters and some P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft and Global Hawk surveillance drones (and perhaps more C-17 cargo planes and KC-30 aerial tankers). The Navy's future fleet seems set with new tankers, new patrol boats, an aviation support ship, a $78 million study that effectively locks in a particular eight-ship future frigate solution and the slipping of the Collins submarine replacement. Meanwhile, Army's flagship project, Land400 (Land Combat Vehicle System), is well advanced with tenders expect to be released before year's end.
With little left to discuss about budgets and force structure, the Defence White Paper process now seems to be moving towards becoming efficiency-focused. The two main areas of interest in this are a long-term set-in-concrete shipbuilding plan and a First Principles Review into how to expedite acquisition and sustainment decisions. The new emphasis on these two important but narrow issues reveals the shift underway from a true Defence White Paper to what is steadily becoming a Defence Efficiency Review.
So a new Defence White Paper now seems redundant, except as a compiled listing of recent announcements. But the missing element in all this is strategy. A word search for 'strategy' in the public consultation Defence Issues Paper finds the word only four times in the 65-page document.
In simple terms, strategy is the way that the force structure (the means) is used to achieve desired objectives (the ends). But making strategy is intellectually difficult, and not as much fun as buying new jets, ships and tanks! Devising the ends, and the ways to achieve those ends, is not easy. Giving advice to busy, harassed policymakers on how to develop strategy can be contradictory and confusing.
Even so, it is worth the effort. Good strategy can magnify the effectiveness of a nation's military power. Moreover, efficiency processes are best based around a strategy. The Army, for instance, wants to be quickly adaptable to new and emerging circumstances. This objective might be incompatible with the push for a stable, unwavering acquisition plan that industry can 'bank' on for the next two decades or so. In the absence of a strategy, incoherence is a constant danger.
A new Defence White Paper may still be useful if it sets out a defence strategy, but if not, it is arguably becoming unnecessary. Without strategy, the new Defence White Paper might be better and more accurately reconceived as a Defence Efficiency Review.
Image courtesy of the Department of Defence.