Australia does indecision and incompetence rather well. The latest example of that is that the choice of which infantry fighting vehicle to replace our ancient MII3s has been delayed until after the strategic review is completed.

If our luck holds then that further six months delay won’t result in Australian blood being shed needlessly, or battles being lost. The M113 dates from 1960. Australia, with a then population of 12 million, bought 840 of them. If we become involved in a war, then an Australian soldier aged 20 will be riding into battle in a vehicle three times older than him. The Russians have put even older T-55 tanks into battle in the current Ukraine War so we are in good company. But that was only after they ran out of tanks made in the 1970s and 1980s.

Australia, now with a population of 25 million, is contemplating buying 300 new infantry fighting vehicles to replace the M113s. On a per capita basis we are replacing at one sixth the rate. There are two contenders for the replacement: Rheinmetal’s Lynx and Hanwha’s Redback.

Both are probably good, and likely much the same. Hungary put in an order for the Lynx in 2020 and is getting its first delivery in 2023.

The previous Liberal government could have made the decision of which one to proceed with but were too hopeless to do anything. The main interest in life of the then assistant minister, now shadow minister for defence, Andrew Hastie, is maligning Ben Roberts-Smith. Our current Defence Minister, Richard Marles, isn’t any better.

The background to that is that the main preoccupation of the upper ranks of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) is virtue-signalling. The chief of the ADF, General Angus Campbell, had wanted to strip the medals from 3,000 soldiers who had served in Afghanistan, ostensibly over the findings of the Brereton Report released in 2020.

The most significant passage in the Brereton Report is on page 120:

After squirters were ‘dealt’ with, Special Forces would then cordon off a whole village, taking men and boys to guesthouses, which are typically on the edge of a village. There they would be tied up and tortured by Special Forces, sometimes for days. When the Special Forces left, the men and boys would be found dead: shot in the head or blindfolded and with throats slit.

General Campbell believed this of the troops under his command. We know this because he didn’t denounce the report for including this passage in it. It also means that he doesn’t have any understanding of Australian troops. A previous head of the ADF, with a prediliction for wearing women’s shoes, once said “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.” By that standard, General Campbell’s silence on the Brereton Report’s more idiotic passages means that he is unfit for command.

General Campbell had tried to strip medals from veterans of Afghanistan last year but was stopped by the then Defence Minister, Peter Dutton. Dutton’s failure was not following through to the logical conclusion of sacking General Campbell. Richard Marles has given General Campbell the green light to proceed.

It must be a sign that war is coming because our ADF doesn’t have much in the way of weaponry. Esprit de corps is about all we are armed with and there is no surer way of crushing that than impressing on our soldiers that there is no honour in their undertaking. Napoleon had said “Give me enough ribbons to place on the tunics of my soldiers and I can conquer the world.” Giving medals to the worthy is the most cost-efficient defence expenditure we can make.

The virtue-signalling is just as bad in the other arms of the ADF. The new Offshore Patrol Vessels, the Arafura class, for the RAN weigh 1,640 tonnes but are only armed with a 25 mm gun. It was originally going be armed with something slightly larger, a 40 mm gun, but this was considered too frightening and not peace-loving enough, so the size was reduced. I am not making this up — this is the real reason the gun size was shrunk.

Our $300 million (each) boats are effectively unarmed. Most vessels this size would have at least a 76 mm main gun on the foredeck, that could reach to the horizon, plus missiles and the rest of it. Bear in mind that the infantry fighting vehicles above are armed with 30 mm guns.

The system has lost the competence to be self-correcting. Cathartic event coming. Brace yourselves for impact.

David Archibald is the author of The Anticancer Garden in Australia