2008 Vernon Parker Oration – Kim Beazley


The Vernon Parker Oration 2008 The Navy & the White Paper

By now the skeleton and a lot of the sinew of this government’s first White Paper on defence should be completed. What remains would be the task of establishing the blood flow – timetables on the acquisition and replacement of capabilities and, above all, the long term funding.

The writers of it have a decade of background behind them of coping with appalling government indiscipline. Featured heavily have been mammoth budget busting acquisitions with no properly thought through military/strategic justifications nor consideration given to their place in the queue alongside programmes to deal with glaring inadequacies in our force structure. On the testimony of Hugh White, the author of the last White Paper, his competent effort was ruined by a Prime Ministerial directive that no capabilities were to be dropped or diminished, rendering impossible the timely incorporation into the Defence Capability Plan of new capabilities to address new circumstances. The White Paper was followed by a series of Defence. Updates which until the last, completely undermined the strategic rationale for the long term planning of our defence forces. Only last year’s paper attempted to rein in the horses. What a tragedy in an era of relative defence plenty. What a danger in a region where slowly but surely the drift in the distribution of power is against Australia.

In some ways the confusion is understandable. We face a complex world. As US Secretary for Defense, Robert Gates, said in the National Defense Strategy he released in June: “The United States, our allies and our partners face a spectrum of challenges, including violent transnational extremist networks, hostile states armed with weapons of mass destruction, rising regional powers, emerging space and cyber threats, natural and pandemic disasters, and a growing competition for resources’.

Plan a force structure around that! The answer of course is you don’t have to. What you have to do is to peel the threat away to arrive at core elements that permit rational planning for defence forces. Discern what is primarily a problem for diplomats, governance experts, civilian specialists, law enforcement authorities and intelligence agencies. Establish what the defence force is uniquely equipped to respond to and separate that out from where it can lend a hand.

Lending a hand is not a force structure determinant.

Again, Robert Gates is helpful: ‘in the long run the Department of Defense is neither the best source of resources and capabilities nor the appropriate authority to shoulder these tasks. The comparative advantage, and applicable authorities for action reside elsewhere in the US Government, at other levels of government, in the private sector and with partner nations.

DoD should expect and plan to play a key supporting role in an interagency effort to combat these threats and to help develop new capacities and capabilities, while protecting its own vulnerabilities.’ In recent times the immediate challenge of transnational terrorist threats and criminality, particularly when intersecting with the problems or strategies of failed and rogue states and the spectre of WMD proliferation, has gripped the imagination of Defence planners. Throw natural disasters and pandemic threats into the mix and you have a witch’s brew that would tax the lifetime of most defence planners. A bit of thought, however, would walk such a planner back to Gates’ position. Here defence helps out but its force structure must be determined by other factors.

The last couple of years have started to draw us back to the problem that has always been the primary commitment of defence forces – employment in interstate conflict with capacities drawn down for these broader purposes from a force structure built around national defence against a structured enemy.

George W. Bush, as he sought to refocus the still shocked American people after the 9/11 atrocity, spoke of a Western Cold War triumph in his 2002 US National Security Strategy. The West’s victory provided ‘a single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy and free enterprise.’ Paul Kelly drew attention to this quote in an excellent short article recently which pointed out there was a more authoritarian model on the rise in Russia and China. We may thank our lucky stars that neither has an interest in transnational Islamic fundamentalist terror or in the spread of WMD.

But the rise of this alternative model does refocus us on state structures.

Whatever internal weaknesses exist, it is the nation state which is likely to sustain capable defence forces with power projection capabilities and nationalism which is likely to be used to enforce state cohesion. Two characteristics may be discerned among the states of our region of strategic interest. One is that they, along with the Africans, are the last bastions of the Treaty of Westphalia.

They take their neighbours, the borders and their internal right against external interference very seriously. The second is that we inhabit a religious environment in which Islamic belief is very strong either as a majority or a large minority component of the state populations.

This should be pause for thought, not nervous atrophy. Be they enticed by an authoritarian model, nationalist in outlook or the locus of religious fervour, they want to be peaceful and wealthy, whether or not their claims on each other might contradict this interest. They are energy hungry and as the Minister for Resources has pointed out, we are an energy superpower and a resources bank. There is much ice to skate on for our politicians, diplomats, businesses and our internationally oriented service providers, in a way which would guarantee our security.

Their efforts may from time to time fail, and here the question of the region’s military capabilities come into play. To avoid provocation our ally now defines its force structure around threatening capabilities, not threatening states. We pioneered this approach in the 1987 White Paper. What gave it discipline was the close interrelationship between general strategy – self-reliance within the framework of alliances; threat measured by regional capabilities; military strategy, defence in depth focussed first on our approaches; force structure; affordability – realistic guidance.

Those who write this White Paper must come back to our maritime capabilities and the new field of cyber warfare. The key difference now as opposed to 1987 is that regional capabilities are improving at a faster rate than ours, making careful selection more important. New capabilities mean that in geographic terms, regional capabilities have to be measured even further out for our identification of the area in which we need to be able to assert strategic dominance or at least denial. Usefully diplomatically we could stop short of the archipelago: I am not sure we could do that now. One thing we can be certain of is that a properly devised force structure will again give us plenty of scope to collaborate both with our main ally and those in our region. It will also give us plenty of options in dealing with the defence component of that multiplicity of threats I described earlier in the supportive manner that Secretary Gates describes for the role of American forces.

The yawning gap in our maritime capabilities is anti-submarine warfare.

This will be critical when new submarines are considered, helicopters for our surface vessels, networked battle space and our Orion P-3. I will deal with some of this later in the lecture. We will have the capacity to embark half the Army’s combat capability on the new LHDs but with the underwater environment developing in the region, a government would be foolhardy to put them to sea in anything other than the softest of circumstances.

The critics of our 1987 White Paper pondered whether it left us sufficiently engaged with our allies. This was not a question that troubled our American ally in the aftermath of the White Paper’s presentation (it did before).

Secretaries Schultz and Weinberger in Sydney in June 1987 ticked off on a force structure which provided plenty of options for the independent advancing of Western interests in the eastern Indian Ocean and South East Asian littoral and collaboration with the US further afield.

In the second Vernon Parker oration I reported these facts to you all on 6 September 1989, in a speech entitled Key Concepts in Australia’s Strategy. I said then: ‘It is evident we are coming to terms with the fact that our maritime strategy has two distinct but completely interrelated aspects: the self-reliant defence of our maritime approaches, and the cooperative promotion of our maritime interests’.

Far from assuming a benign environment in our region, I pointed out that it would be subject to great change: ‘there has been strong economic growth among a number of medium sized powers bordering the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It has been accompanied by the emergence of greater confidence in their national strength and, in some cases a concern to exert more comprehensive influence beyond their immediate borders.

Importantly from the point of view of Australia and our neighbours, it is in the maritime environment that this newfound confidence is being displayed. We are looking at a system of multiple centres of power not dissimilar, except for its scale and geographic character, from the European State system of the early 19th century! I identified those states as India, China and Japan. But also ‘Regional force structures, which have traditionally given priority to ground forces, are changing emphasis. Among the ASEAN nations, Indonesia has recently acquired four Harpoon-firing frigates and two mine counter measures vessels. Malaysia is purchasing more than $2.5 billion of defence equipment from Britain, including an Oberon class submarine for crew familiarisation and ASW training, WASP helicopters and maritime strike aircraft. Thailand took delivery in 1987 of two US- built Harpoon equipped frigates, mine counter measures vessels and ASW Corvettes. Regional air defence capabilities are similarly being upgraded! Not bad for 1989. Everyone talks of a multipolar system now. This was before the end of the Soviet Union. In fact the paper contained something of an underestimate of the role of expanding Chinese capability and a slight overestimate of the pace of change in South East Asia, but the world described is with us now.

I did not mention one development which predated the speech. That was the proposed (it did not eventuate) commitment to the Persian Gulf of a clearance diving team, though I had plenty to say about collaboration with the US. That had occurred at the end of 1987. It was made during the later phases of the ‘tanker war’ component of the Iran/Iraq War, in support of British efforts to escort Australian merchant ships operating in the Gulf. It was a commitment informally sought by the US. It foreshadowed twenty years of commitment alongside the US in the Gulf and its hinterland. In the speech, I did foreshadow the types of independent commitment we have made in the South Pacific and South East Asia for crisis stabilisation and capacity building.

Ironically for an alliance built around troubles in the Pacific, for the last 20 years our engagement with our ally has fo cussed on the Persian Gulf. In that time, we have seen the Navy deploy DDGs, FFGs, ANZACs, amphibious ships, supply ships and clearance diving teams. The Army has committed SAS, commandos, infantry elements, engineers, communicators, elements of mechanised forces, transport capabilities, rapier air defence batteries, and even some artillerists, but without their guns. RAAF has committed FA-18s, in-flight refuellers, C-130s, P3Cs, airfield defence guards and air traffic controllers. All three services have committed personnel to command arrangements and logisticians. They have been in wars, blockading arrangements and peace- keeping forces. They have filled niches in the rear and the front-end. While not necessarily providing all our allied armed forces might have liked, the commitment has been completely to the satisfaction of the leadership of our ally.

I recollect with great enjoyment a day and night on board HMAS Arunta and HMAS Melbourne during the blockade phase of the sanctions on Iraq. One of the highlights was a visit to the USS Hopper, an Arleigh Burke class destroyer from whence an Australian captain commanded the allied operation at the head of the Gulf. This situation still exists, though now the task is protecting Iraq’s oil terminals. If ever I needed an education in the value of AWDs, I got it then. Their broad area surveillance capabilities provided an effective centre for a networked operation.

It was good to see first hand the effectiveness of the ANZACs in the close waters of the Gulf. I was not surprised to read later of their substantial role in the Iraq war. The waters are ideal for mining. Counter mining measures are another Western navy weakness. Though not in 1987 but subsequently, our clearance divers played a significant role.

I worry about one thing. That is the situation of our ships, should the current dispute with Iran over the development of their nuclear systems turn to war. As they did in the 1980s, the Iranians would attempt to shut the Gulf down. They have been preparing submarines, land-based missiles, legions of small rocket craft and much upgraded mines for a reprise of their littoral guerrilla warfare of the 1980s.

The Americans would eliminate the threat but there would be some nasty days before that happened. I don’t think our ships would necessarily cope too readily in the environment so I hope serious contingency plans have been developed.

All this has been done with the force structure planned for the defence of Australia’s approaches in 1987, augmented slightly by the amphibious component incorporated in the 1994 White Paper. The type of’out of area’ collaboration was completely anticipated in the White Paper, if not the intensity in its ultimate location.

Having said that, when the services are examined, the Navy looks least like the one anticipated in 1987.

Then we expected the surface fleet to exist in three tiers. The top tier was to be the DDGs and the FFGs, the second tier the ANZACs, and the third patrol boats and MCMs.

The submarines were the main strike element. Combining the top tiers, we expected 17 ships. We hoped for eight submarines. The AWDs were to replace the DDGs, not as has happened, the DDGs and FFGs. We expected the ANZACs to be ASW work horses. We tried to sell four to the New Zealanders on the same basis.

The 1987 White Paper structure for the Navy was carefully planned. As I said in the 1989 Vernon Parker oration: The importance of maintaining our superiority together with the possession of significant maritime and some strategic strike capabilities is clearly acknowledged. So too is the priority accorded to the protection of maritime focal areas and choke points.

It is there that an adversary would have the greatest opportunity and capability to threaten our trade and to strike at strategically significant targets in the adjacent littoral area.

Given the vastness of our maritime approaches and the range of interests we may need to protect, the implementation of an effective maritime strategy imposes great demands on the ADF. The absolutely prime requirement is the ability of the navy and the airforce to operate together in a completely integrated way, reflecting the fact that the sea and the air constitute a single operating environment in the sorts of contingencies which we might credibly face.’ That requirement remains as valid today as it was then. If anything, recent shifts in US strategy have made it even more relevant. The 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review redefined the task for USN in modern warfare from a blue water strategy to a green water one. Action on the littoral where weaker nations could build a local asymmetrical challenge to US dominance was perceived as a key force structure determinant. The main littoral to be contested was a line from the Bay of Bengal through the South East Asian archipelago to north of the Japanese seas, highly coincident with some of the areas we identify.

Like the US, we see the region as friendly with a determination diplomatically to keep it that way.

Like the US, however, we have to plan on the basis of the capabilities being developed in the area against a day when things are not so politically benign. This is a very difficult task politically.

We should note that our region is shot through with maritime and land border disagreements. Almost every state has some point of difference with its neighbour. By and large, the nations of the region contain these points of disagreement and long may that continue. However, there are flash points now on the Thai border and endemic disagreement in the South China Sea, not to mention issues in the Taiwan Strait.

One example close to home is interesting. In its annual report to Congress on the Military Power of the PRC, the Pentagon reported: In December 2007, China announced the elevation of Hainan Province’s Xisha Islands office to a county-level office named ‘Sansha City’ which would hold administrative jurisdiction over the Paracel and Spratly island groups, and Macclesfield Bank – claims disputed by Brunei, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam. A PRC spokesperson asserted that China has ‘indisputable sovereignty’ and effective jurisdiction over the islands of the South China Sea and ‘the adjacent waterways’.

In reaction to China’s declaration, hundreds of Vietnamese protestors demonstrated outside the Chinese embassy in Hanoi.

Most nations in the region are upgrading capabilities for surveillance, air and sea, to pursue at least denial if not control capacities over substantial maritime areas. Most interesting are submarines. Bangladesh, China, India, Journal of the Australian Naval Institute Issue 130 23 Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Singapore, South Korea and Vietnam all have or are acquiring submarine capabilities.

Generally speaking, acquisition of submarines upgrades a nation’s intelligence gathering and the preparation of battle zones containing not only a torpedo and missile threat but also capacities for clandestine mining. Submarines, even in peace time, are used very aggressively.

As the Cold War demonstrated, their operations are replete with opportunities for clashes with submarines and other nations’ surface vessels. There seems to be a licence for submarine operations not dissimilar to that extended to intelligence services.

When combined with more effective aviation in maritime contexts, a very different picture emerges from the benign one of waters plied by massive numbers of merchant ships, fishing fleets and coastal boats.

As has been pointed out by Andrew Davies of ASPI, Australia’s ASW capability has not advanced in the last decade or so, if anything it has retreated. The Seahawk helicopters have not been given dunking sonar.

Towed array has not been put on the ANZACs though it is on their New Zealand version. Hull-mounted sonars, essential though not sufficient in themselves, are not up to date.

Thankfully, the Sea Sprite has been abandoned. It was not optimised for ASW. A replacement that is, is essential for the ANZACs, the new AWDs, and the LHDs. To which you could add the P3Cs are doing magnificent surveillance in the Gulf, but it is not ASW.

We have reached a critical point.

Andrew Davies’ paper of last year, “The Enemy Below: Anti-Submarine Warfare,’ will have been read by most people here. He lays out a convincing scenario for layered defence of our LHDs and AWDs in which they are active participants themselves. He lays down requirements for hull-mounted sonar I hope are being incorporated in the new ships. We can say with certainty however that the helicopter component and its equipment is a long way down the track in the Defence Capability Plan. This is unsustainable.

We are entitled to be worried now. By the time the AWDs and LHDs come into service, we will be frozen with fright.

I want to conclude with a discussion of our best ASW platform – obviously the submarine. But before I do, I want to discuss one other matter which if not addressed, will collapse the best outcome we might envisage in all these areas. It is a matter that would have been close to Vernon Parker’s heart.

That is the question of recruitment and retention. It is appalling to think we cannot man all our submarines.

The USN can double crew some of theirs. The position in the surface fleet is not much better. We are paying off ships before we need to because of crewing difficulties. Part of the reason for acquiring the LHDs, which I think are too big for our requirements and don’t give us enough amphibious platforms, was that it would reduce Navy’s crewing requirements against that wider capability. I’ll lay London to a brick we will start thinking about AUSTAL’s littoral ships to fill that gap if we solve the crewing issue.

Navy experiences similar recruitment and retention challenges to industry but the stakes are higher.

Navy is often competing with the demanding mining sector. The lustre of the life-long career that the military offers is dimming. Recently Ernst and Young, in which I chair its Defence practice, completed a study into the drivers of retention performance in Navy, using the technique of’choice modelling’. While I won’t comment on this study, EYs work in this area reveals common threads, that may be worthy of consideration equally by Navy and its Defence industry providers.

Lirst, it is evident that many policies, processes and procedures in large enterprises work against retention.

These are often cumbersome, discriminatory and often based on ‘one size fits all! Secondly adopting a life-stages approach can dramatically improve the situation. By life-stages approach, I mean having policies that recognise the different stages that people go through during their working life. The lesson in the above two points is that many things that can improve retention performance are in our control and ability to change. Currently, half the defence force shifts every year. Apart from the disruption to life, each move costs Defence $30,000.

Thirdly, data is important. All of us have theories about why people might leave or stay and which levers to pull or push to improve retention. However, unless data-driven, discussions about changing career management practices, pay or conditions may not effectively achieve retention outcomes.

A good example can be found in relation to the UK MoD Armed Lorces Personnel Agency. This agency reported that taking an holistic view of pay and conditions across the Armed Lorces enabled lower total employment costs and at the same time, targeted retention levels were achieved.

Admiral Peter Briggs for the Submarine Institute has been working hard on the Collins replacement.

The decision by Joel Litzgibbon to bring forward the project makes possible Peter Brigg’s view that it should be in sea trials no later than 2022. His paper bears close reading not only on the capability required in the new submarine but also on the acquisition process. In this short time I want to comment on three issues.

The first is the size of the submarine and the second two are related to the acquisition strategy and the privatisation of ASC.

Firstly on the size. Evidently we are to have a debate about whether or not we need a small submarine and lots of them or fewer large ones. This debate should not have resurfaced.

Our submarine must be capable of long distance, clandestine operation in waters with which Australians are familiar but European small boat designers are not.

Small submarines will not be able to compete with the types of boats being brought into service in the Indian and Chinese navies, at least always assuming they can be got in clandestine fashion into the relevant waters. Must we trash our design capability, so hard won in the Collins programme? Briggs lays down six roles for the new submarine beyond that of surface strike: surveillance and intelligence gathering anti-submarine warfare; land strike; battle space preparation (effectively preparing areas for taskforce operations); an expanded range of special forces operations; and a clandestine mining capability. To which I would add anti-air capability in part for its protection but maybe some other uses. We cannot put optimal sensors, weapons systems and deployment space associated with all these tasks in a small hull with maximum survivability against what may be sent against it. These studies were done ad-absurdum before the Collins acquisition and the environment was more benign then, and a submarine was perceived of as having less capability. That is not to say small submarines are not useful, but we are not Singapore.

Briggs points to the following as special features of the Australian environment. Long transits and short notice contingencies demand high levels of mobility and endurance.

Tropical littoral oceans enforce demands on the life support/ habitability systems and require high agility and prolonged covert operations on the approaches to and in operating areas. In this environment, the submarine will require low signature in all spectrums and at high speed, imposing new demands on submarine design. Current European designs do not offer the range, endurance, high speed transits or payload capacity and flexibility Australia requires.

ASC now contains the only design team in Western navies capable of designing a large conventional submarine. Whatever happens with privatisation and subsequent acquisition of the submarine, its destruction or decimation would be folly.

Our problem is this. For the submarine’s capability to be optimised, collaboration with the USN is essential in new technologies. They simply will not pass critical knowledge across to the Europeans or maybe even a private all-Australian owner. The latter, however, might be capable of being managed, particularly if Electric Boat was involved, but that would require work before the sale of ASC. We would want to be sure.

ASC must deliver the new submarine. Competition is fine in theory but no other builder of submarines other than the US operates on that basis and it knows only two competitors. Cost controls are established by effective negotiation with the provider. There are enough equivalent operations elsewhere to establish effective cost controls. To move away from this model means reinventing a very hard won wheel, with all the problems associated with the Collins re-emerging, and the US out of the picture. They will be loath to take on a European partner.

If ASC is not sold with a clear path to the submarine programme, a proper sharing of risk with the government on the Air Warfare Destroyer and either the common user facility in Adelaide or guaranteed access to it, it won’t be worth a great deal.

We are at a very risky point in all this. Along with the Fill replacement, this will be Australia’s most difficult defence decision. On it rests in large measure our capacity to meet all contingencies an era of diminishing Australian relative power is likely to throw up.

We are attempting to defend ourselves, devoting a percentage of our GDP to defence no greater than most European states and less than some, despite the fact that our threat environment is more complex. If we were spending the same percentage of our GDP on defence as we did when I was Defence Minister, we would be spending $3 billion a year more on defence. Yet in budget terms our defence expenditure is not ungenerous.

Australia has much lower public sector/GDP ratios than the Europeans so ours involves greater effort.

Therefore we can expect no more. The challenge is there for our White Paper writers – not one wasted dollar.

The Australian Naval Institute does this country great service, composed as it is of people who personally contributed greatly. I appreciate the chance you have given an old Defence Minister to speak his mind. My ex- colleagues now in government want to do the right thing by the country. I am glad you want to help them.

* * Professor Kim Beazley is Professorial Fellow in Political Science and International Relations at the University of Western Australia, and former Defence
Minister 1984 -1990


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