Analysis and Commentary

Government orders review of review of defence purchases

Analysis and Commentary

By Peter Roberts

The federal government has announced a Defence Strategic Review, with $44.6 billion in annual spending up for review or, in the government’s own words, even abandoned.

With the new government facing an increasingly complicated defence environment, the review will also cover defence force structure and where defence assets and personnel are best positioned to protect Australia.

One thing the government is not calling into question is the Australia’s commitment to our existing defence partners.

Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles said: “Exploring how our capabilities can better integrate and operate with the United States, the United Kingdom and other key partners will also be an important element of the Review.”

Former Minister for Defence, Professor Stephen Smith and former Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Sir Angus Houston (Ret’d) will conduct the review, sending immediate analysis to the government as soon as possible with its conclusions due before March next year.

There is no doubt that a review is due given the brutal war unleashed by Russian dictator President Vladimir Putin and a failure to condemn the invasion by China’s Xi Jinping.

The invasion has again shown the importance of Australian owned and led defence contractors as a major pillar of Australian national security.

We find ourselves with few major Australian defence manufacturers, an over-reliance on foreign multi-nationals and massive holes in our global supply chains.

For example we do not manufacture enough basic munitions ourselves, and war stocks are puny compared to the thousands of artillery shells and guided missiles being being expended every day in the Ukraine.

At the same time technology itself such as autonomous systems, the integration in real time to battlefield sensors and commanders and access to space have been shown crucial to defence capabilities.

But just as a review is necessary there is a danger in making snap decisions or reversals in direction – the cancellation of the Attack class submarine build has already left us with a massive capability gap.

Already the finger has been pointed as a mistake the purchase of 127 tanks and armoured vehicles including 75 Abrams main battle tank (pictured), and a lack of potency for attack by our navy.

However main battle tanks are definitely not obsolete as some suggest just because Russian use of tanks has been a failure.

And Spanish shipbuilder Navantia has been carrying out a determined lobbying campaign for many years to have the government purchase more air warfare destroyers, with some even suggesting cancelling contracts for the construction of anti-submarine frigates by BAE Systems Australia.

Anti-submarine capabilities are critical and you cannot simply substitute one type of vessel for another, not to mention that a second major cancelling of a naval vessel contract would be disastrous to Australia’s reputation.

Expect to hear more from vendors hawking their equipment and bad-mouthing their competitors.

Much better to calmly examine the security environment and the role of each purchase in making Australian industry more capable and self-sufficient.

More information here.

Picture: main battle tank

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