The recently released Defence Strategic Review is a high level document – a jumble of buzz words with little detail on what actually to do and why. It was put together by people with little personal interest in defence and thus not much knowledge or understanding.
The likely reason the review was commissioned is because defence is a can that has been kicked down the road for decades and the new Labor government would have started getting briefings on what China is doing. Using WW2 as the analogy, Ukraine is the Spanish Civil War, Taiwan is the new Czechoslovakia and Vietnam is our generation’s Poland. We are in 1937 with a big, painful, grinding, destructive war coming.
None of our politicians have an understanding of defence. Even the ones who had senior rank in the Australian Defence Force, such has Senator Molan, had no interest in the relative merit of weapons systems such as the F-35. He was as silent as the grave on all choices of weapons systems. And because our politicians have taken no interest, the people running the department have had no adult supervision. They don’t think in terms of cost-effectiveness and just want bright and shiny stuff with features that no other country has bothered to add to similar systems. That tendency is noted in this sentence from page 69 of the review:
The program is not structured to deliver a minimum viable capability in the shortest period of time but is pursuing a long-term near perfect solution at an unaffordable cost.
That could be said of most things that the Department of Defence touches.
It seems that the authors of the review were told that it is time to panic and were tasked to advise on what we could do to prepare without spending any more money. These are the recommendations the review got right:
- The emphasis on antiship cruise missiles. We will use a lot of these in a war with China and the more we have in stock, the safer we will be. In theory, if we have enough, we cannot defeat China at sea and they won’t be able to invade anyone. The two types mentioned in the report – the Long Range Antiship Missile produced by Lockheed and the Joint Strike Missile produced by Kongsberg – are exquisite weapons. As well as those we need more general purpose cruise missiles against land targets and less well-defended ships such as tankers and ships already disabled by high-end missiles.
Both Taiwan and Japan produce cruise missiles and we should produce a variety of those under licence. Cruise missiles are the bread and butter of modern maritime warfare and we need to produce our own in Australia.
We also need the aircraft to deliver them. The F-35s and the Super Hornets are too short range. Our best option is to convert Boeing 737s to dropping cruise missiles. We can buy used ones of these for as little as $4 million a pop. In peacetime they would only have to fly once or twice a year.
2. Cancelling the second tranche of self-propelled howitzers. What the war in Ukraine has shown is that self-propelled howitzers are better than towed artillery in avoiding counter-battery fire but break down too much. Wheeled howitzers on a truck body are the best solution. But the review didn’t mention wheeled howitzers.
3. The review says we should get more HIMARS missiles. The concept is good but we should shop around. The Korean Chunmoo system may be better value for money in terms of the cost effectiveness of delivering high explosive on the battlefield. There are also Israeli systems. Also most HIMARS have the wrong type of warhead. We should go back to a cluster munition warhead which is four times as effective as the alternate warhead the US currently uses.
The review says that we should be making missiles in Australia. Artillery is the basis of war and with a mix of missiles we can outrange the enemy’s tube artillery and save a lot of Australian lives.
4. The review recommends expanding the reserves and upgrading ports and bases in the north. This is obvious stuff that was going to happen for years now but nothing has ever happened.
5. The review also recommends reducing the average size of the ships of our surface fleet. It didn’t mention tonnage but there is no point these days in anything larger than a frigate. If enemy ships are going to be so easy to sink that also holds true for our own.
And this is what the review got wrong:
1. The review mentioned global warming as a threat, which is laughable, and sad. And because of their belief in global warming, they didn’t mention the elephant in the room which is Australia’s fuel security. Twenty years ago Australia had seven oil refineries and we are now down to two. Even if we had our own oil supply we couldn’t refine it. Most of the petrol and diesel we use comes from the future war zone.
2. We should make all of our liquid fuel needs in Australia. But to do so would mean increasing our carbon emissions. It could be that Australia ends up being defeated in war and invaded because of that idiotic belief in global warming. The review recommends setting up a Fuel Council. But the only thing a Fuel Council could do is recommend is building stocks of petrol, diesel and jet fuel in Australia and someone would have to pay for that. There is not much point in stockpiling oil because we wouldn’t be able to refine it. NSW, our biggest state, doesn’t have a refinery now. There is no oil refinery west of Geelong.
3. The next big mistake is cutting the buy of infantry fighting vehicles from 450 to 129. The war in Ukraine shows that the era of armoured warfare isn’t over. You just need to spend about $1 million per vehicle for an Active Protection System such as the Israeli Trophy system to reduce the threat from antitank guided missiles (ATGM).
Instead we should be tripling the order to at least 1,400. It seems the authors of the review were told to improve our defence without spending any more money. It would be better if we spent more money.
4. The next big mistake is to cut the number of combined arms brigades from three to one. This is another idiotic mistake. The era of armoured warfare isn’t over. To get anywhere on the modern battlefield you need tanks and infantry fighting vehicles supported by plenty of artillery. Trying to advance without armour results in three times the number of casualties.
In terms of actual combat effectiveness this decision will make Australia one of the smallest armies on the planet. The bigger the land army we have, the bigger the invading force has to be. If we have only one combined arms brigade, they only have to land three to defeat us. If we have 10 combined arms brigades, they have to land 30 to defeat us. We should go the other way and have at least ten combined arms brigades.
There is a lot that the review omitted. One example is that we have no way of plucking survivors from the open ocean. We need flying boats for that. We have thousands of kilometres of coastline but no way of getting there unless we send a ship off on a trip that will last weeks. In the meantime anyone needing rescuing will have died.
The biggest problem in defence wasn’t touched. And that is that the people running the Department of Defence don’t like the profession of arms. Defending Australia involves killing the people who want to kill us, and they would rather not. The people running our Department of Defence would rather be running drag queen story hour at a petting zoo.
If you think that is a bit over the top, consider that a former chief of the army, now retired, has been seen wearing women’s shoes in public. The current Chief of Army is considered to be an intellectual because he converted a Bushmaster to electric batteries, making it useless. They are considering towing a generator behind that Bushmaster so it can get anywhere. And if you would like to see the intellectual in action, here he is in an Army video.
It is not an inspiring performance for the troops under his command; rather it is unnerving. Humans blink on average every five seconds. He doesn’t blink until 65 seconds in. Seemingly reading text from a screen took so much brainpower that parts of his autonomic system shut down to cope.
The first public sign of the rot in the Department of Defence was when they started persecuting our most decorated soldier, Ben Roberts-Smith, in about 2010. The senior staff may have been jealous of his medals but they would have also been offended by his sheer bravery. Also remember that the infamous Brereton Report contained a passage in which it said that Australian special forces in Afghanistan had a habit of surrounding a village, shooting anyone who tried to escape, rounding up the men and boys, torturing them for three days and then slitting their throats. Here’s the section from page 120:
The implication was that there are a lot of villages in Afghanistan with only women and girls because Australian soldiers killed all the males. But no such village was named in the report. And none have been found since. The fact that the Department’s senior management believed that, means that they have no understanding of the troops they are commanding, and precious little grip on reality otherwise. And most likely loathe the troops under their command.
The ethos of the Brereton report was that officers are saintly creatures who can do no wrong and not even think a bad thought, that ordinary soldiers were dumb meat, simple creatures who are easily led astray, and that NCOs are evil, conniving, nasty men who enforce a code of silence on their criminal acts. Brereton couldn’t get the stories on atrocities that he wanted until he started paying Afghans to tell them. None of the senior leaders of the Australian Defence Force thought this was strange.
Not surprisingly, people who are so dangerously deluded are very easy to scare. There is a parallel with WW2. Australia’s management of the war was going badly until a Hudson bomber carrying our high command crashed on approach to Canberra airport in August 1940. New people were appointed and Australia’s conduct of the war improved dramatically. We need a modern day version of that crash but before the war starts. It might take a couple of planeloads of 737s to do it. Morale in our troops would improve out of sight.
What should have the Review said? Well the first thing to do is to name your enemy and state the best way of defeating them. The Review talked about the threat from global warming before it mentioned the existence of China. China wants to rule the world and make all our lives miserable, even more than the Albanese Government does. In this it will be a rerun of WW2 in that the Japanese had a plan to defeat the United States and rule the world.