Review of the 2016 Australian Defence Whitepaper

The Australian Government announced a massive increase in Defence spending last week to take place over the next decade. I thought it prudent to go back over where we have been, starting with the 2016 Defence Whitepaper, which in many ways was something of a watershed.

Defence Whitepapers

The 2016 report was the first Defence Whitepaper since 2013, it claimed to be the first costed one (some basic modeling was included but made several references to a 10-year Integrated Investment Program accompaniment).

The Whitepaper pointed repeatedly at the neglect of the Defence sector as a whole in years preceding it. For example, between 2010 and 2014 $19 Billion was handed back to the government.

Re: Asia

Indo-Pacific to make up half of world output by 2050, which means there is not just geographic risk, but also opportunity being one of the most diverse and dynamic economic regions on Earth. More than half of Australia’s exports are bound for North Asia (Japan, China, Korea), all of whom we have had Free Trade Agreements in place since 2015.

Indonesia, for example, is growing rapidly and tipped to become largest ASEAN member-nation defence spender by 2035, a special opportunity for Australia to team up. Moreover, Asia’s defence spending as a whole is now larger than Europe’s.

The chance of a literal invasion is remote, but the Whitepaper makes clear our Defence priorities are not limited to border defence. For example, Australia’s maritime zones are larger than the landmass itself.

China’s navy is now the largest in Asia. The Whitepaper distinguished the Australia-US relationship from the US-China relationship. The latter is more a mixture of competition and cooperation than either vanilla alliance or adversary. Defence’s policy is to deepen the relationships with both, in different ways for different reasons.

Two-way trade with the ASEAN member nations was calculated to be worth $100 Billion per annum, and the Whitepaper expressed desire to see a Code of Conduct with respect to the South China Sea to be developed and adhered to.

Re: World

The Whitepaper makes many references to both the existence of a “rules-based global order” and its apparent increasing fragility, without actually defining or quantifying either.

It reinforced the notion that our most most important Defence relationship is still with the United States, a relationship underwritten by the ANZUS Treaty (activated by Australia in 2001 in response to the 9/11 terror attacks and expanded to include cyber attacks in 2011.) With 60 percent of our purchased equipment coming from the US and sustained, deliberate efforts to integrate our Defence platforms within those of America’s in a combat environment, the relationship is basically as close as it’s ever been.

Some 20 pages are devoted to unilateral relations with individual Asian neighbours, which makes for interesting reading.

Re: Risks

Special risks identified included non-geographical threats (particularly cyber and space), non-state actors such as ISIS noting an increase of 35% in terrorist attacks in 2013 alone.

Re: Objectives

The Whitepaper emphasised the multi-disciplinary role the ADF needs to play in the region - not just border Defence but also be a respected contributor to regional stability, for example through humanitarian and disaster relief.

The ability to do this rests largely on cutting edge technology, integrated services, rather than a platform focus, high interoperability with alliance partners, and literal expansion of the workforce (to the largest size since 1993).

Re: Hardware and software

Moreover, the Whitepaper refers in many areas budget constraints leading to flagging support systems (the ADF is actually a supply chain unto itself e.g. a Navy is more than boats, it’s also construction and repair docks, an Army is more than its soldiers, it’s transports, and the ADF is more than all of that, it’s use of satellites for intelligence and distribution points for fuel.)

The Whitepaper positioned all of the above in the long-term decision making required for military spending. For example, a single submarine program operates for decades and as stated, we are asking our ADF to complete many objectives with a small number of resources. To that end:

  • the submarine fleet was to be doubled on a rolling acquisition basis to ensure technical superiority into the long term. It’s the largest defence procurement in Australian history. Additionally 12 new offshore patrol vessels are to be acquired.

  • Australia’s mobile recon and mobility vehicles are ageing and a new generation was slated to replace them, including use of UAVs.

  • A variety of air force and navy bases are to be upgraded and built p101

  • Fuel distribution as well, all of which is to be balanced by implications for biodiversity and climate change.

  • Establishment of a $230M Centre for Defence Industry Capability and a $640 Defence Innovation Hub was planned.

  • For the first time the government committed to a permanent shipbuilding sector, ending the boom-bust cycle. A hybrid build program was placed on the table with France, Germany and Japan.

  • Project Suakin was designed specifically to help permanent ADF and reservists transfer.

  • The 2014 first principles review made 76 recommendations and the government accepted 75 of them. Oversight board.

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