Thoughts anyone? Aren't these problems similar to the ones the CF has experienced before?
Our defenceless force
Cameron Stewart | March 31, 2009
IF there were a moment when the fragile relationship between Joel Fitzgibbon and the defence establishment finally snapped, it might have been the surprise attack the minister launched on his own flock in Brisbane last October. On that day Fitzgibbon did what previous defence ministers have rarely done: he gave his own defence force a blunt public spray about its big-picture priorities and its lack of preparedness for battle. Fitzgibbon was angry about not having the option of deploying the army's Black Hawk helicopters into Afghanistan. The minister had been taking political heat over an inadequate number of NATO medical evacuation choppers available for Australian troops at their base in Tarin Kowt, in Oruzgan province.
"If we do see a strategic and tactical justification for sending Black Hawks to Afghanistan tomorrow, we would be unable to do so as they lack the electronic warfare self-protection they require," Fitzgibbon lamented. "We spend a lot of time thinking and talking about important capability as we look far out into the future, but we seem to spend much less time talking about the capability we need to do the things we do right now and on a regular basis."
The minister's comments broke the rules of keeping such criticism in-house. Defence likes to see its ministers keep a stiff upper lip in public, confining any criticism to private meetings. Fitzgibbon put his department offside on that day, but he also made a telling point. Few Australians are fully aware that tens of billions of dollars' worth of front-line weaponry from the navy, air force and army cannot be sent to war today unless it is a low-level, low-risk operation.
As the Government puts the finishing touches to the new defence white paper, it is gearing up for a public relations blitz about the futuristic, sleek and powerful Australian Defence Force of tomorrow.
What the Defence Department won't tell you is that, as things stand, most of Australia's warplanes and ships cannot be sent to any conflict involving an opponent with a half-decent air defence system and modern anti-ship missiles.Across the entire ADF, an alarming amount of expensive military equipment is not in a suitable upgraded condition to be sent to war. This is the legacy of project mismanagement and a Defence Department mindset that focuses more heavily on the defence force of tomorrow than on the force of today.
"It really is amazing how little (equipment) can be actually deployed overseas when we have a defence budget of more than $22billion," says Andrew Davies, an analyst withthe country's premier independent military think tank, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
Former senior defence official Allan Behm agrees: "I think the public would be absolutely astonished and gobsmacked to think we spend so much on defence every year and yet we can't send much (of) it into harm's way because it won't work or will not survive in acontest."
As the Government considers its military options for an increased role in Afghanistan, the frustration of the Rudd Government at the depleted state of the ADF is growing.
An investigation by The Australian reveals just how ill-prepared the ADF is for an immediate crisis. It finds much of the defence force's most powerful weaponry is awaiting future upgrades or promised replacements and is useful only for training purposes or deployment on operations where there is little or no risk of high-level conflict.
This problem needs to be seen in context. No defence force keeps its entire inventory on war footing; such a practice would be prohibitively expensive and pointless when no enemy is apparent.
All Western defence forces, including the ADF, are in a constant state of transition with armoury being upgraded and replaced as it becomes obsolete. But this long-term upgrading process must be balanced against existing requirements and future short-term contingencies. Experts say this balance has been lost.
"The problem with readiness planning has arisen because of peacekeeping and other short-notice commitments (that) have seen us having to deploy assets quickly and put them in harm's way," says Daniel Cotterill, a defence analyst with Hill and Knowlton and until recently Fitzgibbon's chief of staff.
"There is a bias within defence towards investing in the future force rather than giving government the fully functioning options they really need today." For example, if Australia were asked to provide warplanes for an immediate operation against a country with a functioning air defence system, it could not do so.
The F-111 strike bomber, which will be retired next year, can't be deployed to a hot war zone because it has insufficient electronic warfare self-protection and is too easily detected by enemy radar. "The F-111 has the radar cross-section of a house and (it) would have great survivability issues in a modern threat environment," Cotterill says. "I don't think the Government would deploy one of those to a hot fighting war."
That conclusion has precedents. In the 1990s the F-111s were not able to deploy to Operation Desert Fox (against Iraq) because they lacked the required radar warning systems. Similarly, most of the air force's 71 F/A-18 Hornets can't be deployed against modern air defence systems because they have not yet been upgraded with a mature electronic warfare capability.
Defence says only 16 F/A-18s have received electronic warfare upgrades and even these have been given only an "interim electronic warfare capability", raising doubts about theirdeployability.
"Most ADF aircraft could not operate in an environment where there was a radar-based air defence because of electronic warfare self-protection issues," ASPI's Davies says.
The navy also would be largely impotent if it were asked to sail to a high-operations war today. "The surface combatant fleet comprises two classes of frigates and is ill-equipped for high-level operations," says Davies. "A plan to upgrade the Anzac class frigates into a capable air defence platform was abandoned, although an air-surface missile defence upgrade will provide a self-defence capability."
Says Cotterill: "The Anzacs stem from a time when there was zero real growth in the defence budget and they were fitted 'for but not with' a lot of systems and so they can't be sent to hot zones by themselves."
Those Anzac class ships that have deployed to the low-threat environment of the Persian Gulf in recent years have enjoyed the protection of US air defence systems. Meanwhile, the navy still has none of its four guided-missile frigates available for active service because they have not been cleared for operations after a bungled upgrade was delayed for five years, blowing the total cost out to $1.5 billion. Even if both classes of ship could be deployed, they would be an easy target for enemy submarines because the navy's anti-submarine warfare capabilities are negligible.
"Our ability to actively search for submarines is very limited to short-range technologies and we have little or no ability to successfully fire a weapon at a modern submarine," Davies says.
This is not a new development. In the late '90s a suspected foreign submarine was detected off East Timor during the ADF's deployment there, causing concern in Canberra because of the known deficiencies in the navy's anti-submarine warfare capabilities.
The navy's helicopter capability is also in disarray, especially following the cancellation last year of the troubled Seasprite project.
"The current fleet of helicopters suitable for embarked operations is limited in numbers, availability and capability," says Davies, who has written recent capability assessments on all three services. "With the cancellation of the Seasprites and the limited war-fighting capability of the Sea Kings, the only helicopter suitable for embarked war-like operations at the moment is the Seahawk."
But he says these do not have an anti-surface warfare capability. "In other words, they have no ability to fire a missile at any surface target whether it is a warship or not."
The navy's submarine fleet is also poorly equipped for immediate and sustained operations, given that half of its six-boat fleet is in dry dock for maintenance. In any case, a critical shortage of qualified submariners means there are only enough crews to staff three boats at any one time.
If one of those submarines were to be damaged in action, the crew would almost certainly die because the navy's only Australian-based submarine rescue vehicle, the Remora, is non-operational.
The army is the best placed of the services to send troops to a hot war zone at relatively short notice, but in surprisingly small numbers and only with air protection from allies such as the US. "We can't really send the army to any place where they have to provide their own protection from hostile air attack," Davies says.
An army insider says that despite having 27,000 members, 15,000 of which are in the combat force, the army would struggle to deploy more than 1000 extra troops overseas on a sustained basis on top of its deployments in Afghanistan, the Middle East, East Timor and Solomon Islands.
"Despite official denials, the army remains stretched," one insider says. Another defence insider says there are other problems with army deployment capabilities.
"The army also has a shortage of blue force tracking transponders, which allow friendly forces to know where our troops are and help avoid friendly-fire incidents. This would limit the number of elements we could deploy into a coalition environment."
In the field, Australian troops cannot be supported by the army's Black Hawks because they do not have infrared shields over their exhausts, making them vulnerable to shoulder-launched missiles. The entire fleet of 33 choppers - a core part of the army's capability - cannot be safely deployed to Afghanistan, much less to a more intense war.
This means Australian troops deployed in Oruzgan province are still relying on NATO helicopters rather than their own Black Hawks to evacuate wounded soldiers.
The army's ability to provide armoured personnel carriers for its troops in a war zone also has been undermined because of doubts about the deployability of one of its three types of armoured vehicles: the M113 armoured personnel carrier.
Defence has spent almost $500 million refurbishing the more than 400 of the Vietnam War-era M113s, only to find that they may be vulnerable to roadside bombs, rockets and mines used by insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"While the upgraded vehicles will protect occupants against small arms, anti-personnel mines, light anti-armour weapons, and shrapnel, the vehicle will remain vulnerable to 12.5mm or larger projectiles, medium to heavy anti-armour weapons, large improvised explosive devices and anti-armour mines," Davies says.
For more than 25 years, successive Australian governments have talked up futuristic visions of a more powerful, capable and modern defence force.
The same promise will be made by the Rudd Government in its forthcoming white paper. But the Government needs to focus more clearly on the reality of today, rather than the elusive armada of tomorrow.
Cameron Stewart is associate editor of The Australian and Australian Journalist of the Year for 2008.
Military not ready for war as fighter jets, choppers and submarines unfit for frontline
Cameron Stewart | March 31, 2009
Article from: The Australian BILLIONS of dollars of fighter jets, warships and military equipment cannot be used in their current state because they would be too vulnerable to enemy fire.
A critical lack of upgraded weaponry has left the Australian Defence Force unable to deploy most of its frontline fighters or warships at short notice against any enemy with modern air defence systems or anti-ship missiles.
An investigation by The Australian reveals much of the ADF's most powerful weaponry is awaiting upgrades or promised replacements and is useful only for training purposes or deployment on operations where there is little or no risk of high-level conflict.
As such, the ADF, which receives $22 billion in taxpayer funds each year, cannot conduct any high-level operations without substantial support from coalition forces such as the US.
Former Defence official Allan Behm said: "I think the public would be absolutely astonished and gobsmacked to think we spend so much on defence every year and yet we can't send much of it into harm's way because it won't work or it will not survive in a contest."
Defence experts say none of the RAAF's soon-to-be-retired F-111 strike bombers nor the majority of the 71 F/A-18 Hornet fighters can be used against modern air defences because they lack sufficient electronic protection.
Similarly, they say the navy's eight Anzac frigates cannot be sent into a hotly contested war zone because of a lack of defensive weaponry, while the four other frigates, the FFGs, are still unavailable after a bungled and delayed $1.5 billion upgrade.
Experts say the problem reflects a litany of delayed equipment upgrades as well as a Defence Department mindset that focuses more heavily on future purchases than on current operations. They say the proper balance between current and future defence needs has been lost.
Daniel Cotterill, former chief of staff for Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon, told The Australian: "There is a bias within Defence towards investing in the future force rather than giving government the fully functioning options they really need today."
The Government is in the final stages of preparing a Defence white paper that will outline a multi-billion-dollar shopping list of new planes, ships and hi-tech weaponry. But the ADF is in a parlous state of readiness for serious conflict.
A deficiency in anti-submarine warfare capabilities means the navy would be unlikely to risk sending surface ships into zones where enemy subs were present.
Andrew Davies, an analyst with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said: "Our ability to actively search for submarines is very limited to short-range technologies and we have little or no ability to successfully fire a weapon at a modern submarine."
Only half of the six-boat Collins-Class submarine fleet is available and a shortage of crew would make it impossible to sustain operations for long.
The army cannot deploy any of its 33 Blackhawk helicopters into warzones, including Afghanistan, because they remain vulnerable to shoulder-launched missiles.
It is also considered unlikely to deploy its M113 armoured personnel carriers because, despite receiving a $500 million upgrade, the M113s are considered vulnerable to large improvised explosive devices, such as those used by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Experts say the Government needs to pressure the ADF to make its existing equipment more operationally effective rather than wait for future replacements.