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Last Updated: Mon Jan 27 11:18:09 UTC 2014

The Critical Gap Between Government Policy


Department of Defence Implementation Planning

Air Power Australia - Australia's Independent Defence Think Tank

Air Power Australia NOTAM

   30th August, 2007

Air Cdre E. J. Bushell AM, RAAF (Retd)

Contacts: Peter Goon
Carlo Kopp

Mob: 0419-806-476 Mob: 0437-478-224

Air combat is the most important single capability for the defence of Australia, because control of the air over our territory and maritime approaches is critical to all other types of operation in the defence of Australia”.
(Defence 2000 White Paper, Air Combat, Paragraph 8.37)

"Capability guidance for the Air Force emphasises the need for a qualitative air combat edge…indeed one of the highest priorities for the Government (is) to ensure the Air Force's combat capability is second to none in our region".
(Government defence policy as expressed in the Defence Update, 2007.)

"In the light of these requirements, probably the worst large-scale defence decision I have seen in my life was to spend $6 billion on the Super Hornet…there is no analyst who would claim it can outperform the SU-27 family of aircraft now ubiquitous in our region,…if we had to do anything, why not a proper study. For many years, we will have to get our deterrent from elsewhere in our region of paramount defence interest as we deal with our arc of instability".
(The Hon Kim Beazley MP in his speech of July 2007 to the Sir Vernon Sturdee Symposium.)

The speech delivered by Mr Beazley was important for two obvious reasons; firstly for who said it and secondly for what he said.

The speaker, as a well-regarded former Minister for Defence, spoke from a breadth and depth of experience that enabled him to articulate clearly and tellingly some of the core problems afflicting Defence planning today. The points he made were informed, well focussed, and practical, all in sharp contrast to the ill-informed, muddled, and shallow statements that have characterised our recent Ministers for Defence. Today, we see a neutering of the role and office of the Minister as direct input from 'Defence experts' has been blocked, to be replaced by the burgeoning public service structure and inappropriate influence of overseas interests that has been allowed to build up around him, unchecked by either government and parliament.

This situation and its consequences were, in part, highlighted recently by the Proust Review of Defence Management. Very significant structural changes must be made to Defence if Australia is to re-establish effective working relations between the Department and the Minister for Defence in the manner alluded to by Mr Beazley.

The Hon Member's words were like a rush of fresh air through the fog of stifling obfuscation and self-justification so characteristic of today's Department of Defence.

Turning to what he said, his speech dealt with several factors vital to shaping our defence capabilities:
  • The Region –and the 'Arc of Instability'.
  • Our need for 'Self Reliance'.
  • Government Policy.
  • Military and political skills, especially the importance of moral fibre to both.
  • Force structure and requirements analysis.
  • Comments on force structure decisions.

While each of these items deserves comment, this NOTAM will concentrate on his assessment of the RAAF's air combat capability.

The Super Hornet Decision

When the Minister announced his decision to commit Australia to the expenditure of more than $A6 billion for 24 US Navy F/A-18F aircraft to bridge an air superiority gap his office had, for years, been denying even existed, there was an immediate outcry from defence analysts, all voicing their sense of disbelief. This was taken up by the media in a surprisingly well informed way. However, many parts of the media, lacking specialised defence analysts tasked with reporting on defence matters, moved on to chase other rabbits that had been released by their editors or the government. The inevitable result was to take all pressure off the Minister and his department and so enable the introduction of the aircraft to proceed unnoticed. Senior Defence officials suddenly closed ranks and followed the 'party line', applauding the Minister's decision. As the American author, Upton Beall Sinclair, observed, “It is hard to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding”.

As a consequence, we still have the unnecessary expenditure of $A6.6 billion for an aircraft incapable of ever fulfilling the promises made by the aircraft's maker to the Minister, and the promises made by the Minister to Cabinet.

If this decision is not redressed, we will have a cuckoo's egg in our air combat capability nest which, when it hatches over the next year or so, will guarantee the RAAF will not be able to achieve the very objectives set by government in the Defence 2000 White Paper and so recently restated in the 2007 Defence Update.

The Minister and Government are placing our Air Force in the invidious position of being incapable of providing the deterrence and force capabilities it says we need; an unrealistic and unjust challenge to the crews whose lives, along with our Nation's sovereignty, will be at risk while having to face increasingly higher technology aircraft and weapon systems throughout the 'Arc of Instability'. This smacks of the parlous situation that was allowed to develop immediately before the Second World War.

The Super Hornet decision is so flawed and represents such long term and damaging consequences to Australia that it must be reversed and reversed immediately. Not to do so on the basis that a mistake would have to be admitted, or a minister embarrassed, or that it would not be politically clever during an election year is to demonstrate that very lack of moral fibre expressed so well by the Hon Kim Beazley.


Ted Bushell, AM is a retired Air Commodore with 35 years experience in RAAF engineering, maintenance and new project management.
He  joined the RAAF as an Engineering Apprentice in 1948 and left the Service in 1983 following a career as an aeronautical engineer in Unit, Command, and Air Force Office appointments. His final appointment was as the last Senior Maintenance Staff Officer at Headquarters Support Command, Melbourne.

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