White Paper myths busted by Defence Chief

Published on LCPL Sebastian Beurich (author), CPL David Gibbs (photographer)

A C-130J Hercules from No 37 Squadron overflies a Royal Australian Navy Collins-Class submarine off the West Australian Coast. (photo: CPL David Gibbs)
A C-130J Hercules from No 37 Squadron overflies a Royal Australian Navy Collins-Class submarine off the West Australian Coast.

Chief of the Defence Force Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin held a round-table meeting with members of the Australian media on 1 March to discuss future capabilities outlined in the 2016 Defence White Paper.
 
He was joined by the head of the Force Structure Review, Neil Orme, Head One Defence Implementation program Air Vice Marshal Neil Hart, Head Navy Capability Rear Admiral Johnathan Mead and Head Modernisation and Strategic Planning – Army Major General Gus McLachlan, for the 45-minute briefing.
 
The first topic addressed was the possibility that a capability gap would arise between the retirement of the Collins class and the commissioning of the future submarines.
 
“It’s probable two Collins will have to go through an additional maintenance period to be able to cover off on the capabilities we need,” Air Chief Marshal Binskin said. 
 
“We’re not going to retire them and have no boats in the water, or reduced boats in the water.”
 
Rear Admiral Mead added there were a number of enhancements and upgrades to the Collins class, which would ensure it kept its capability edge.
 
“All of the Collins will go through a full-cycle docking to treat any age issues, as well as receive upgrades to their weapons and sensors,” he said.
 
Air Chief Marshal Binskin said a review would be conducted in the late 2020s to consider if the configuration of the submarines remained suitable.
 
“What that means is boat 12 may not look like boat one. You want to have the flexibility to build in-flights of three or four at a time,” he said.
 
“The basic hull design is the same, but we’re continuing to evolve the systems as we learn and grow.”
 
The senior leadership group was then asked what the capability priorities of the White Paper said about the strategic priorities for Australia over the next half century.
 
“People say ‘how would you do all of that at once?’ but that’s not the intent,” Air Chief Marshal Binskin said.
 
“The force is employable in those areas, but we can’t spread ourselves across all of them in one scenario.”
 
Mr Orme said the Force Structure Review was about synchronising the strategic intent of the government. 
 
“The government had extensive discussions through the early stages of the Defence White Paper about what missions it wanted the Australian Defence Force to do and what resources they were prepared to invest,” he said.
 
“Balancing those two figures, in a simple term, spits out a force structure.”
 
Air Chief Marshal Binskin then went on to talk about deficiencies in some equipment currently utilised by the Special Forces.
 
“Their manoeuvrability in the battle space is limited by not being able to deploy helicopters forward quickly,” he said.
 
“We can load a number of these smaller helicopters onto a C-17 Globemaster, which enables us to fly our Special Forces in with them at the same time.
 
“It doesn’t mean we wouldn’t still rely on coalition air assets, but it does give us more autonomy in some scenarios.”
 
Mr Orme said there was a specific section in the 2016 Defence White Paper for Special Forces modernisation.
 
“It’s not something that we have called out in that manner previously. I think it’s in the order of a quarter of a billion dollars over a decade,” he said.