Wednesday 22nd of September 2021

of bows and arrows...
















Almost 10 years ago to the day, on June 10, 2011, under the headline “Not a single submarine seaworthy”, Cameron Stewart reported: “For the first time in a generation, Australia does not have a single submarine available to defend the nation today.


The Australian understands the entire fleet of six Collins-class submarines cannot be put to sea despite the navy’s claim that two of them remain officially ‘operational’.” Fast forward a decade and Stewart is back on the front page, reporting on Friday that Defence Minister Peter Dutton has ordered that all six of the Collins subs be rebuilt to extend their life for another 10 years. Mr Dutton has a chance to stave off disaster and is decisive and pragmatic enough to grasp it.

The ambitious, high-risk plan to safeguard Australia’s submarine capability in the face of growing Chinese hegemony in the region is likely to cost taxpayers up to $10bn. But Mr Dutton commendably has acted on the basis of the nation’s strategic situation, which makes the rebuilding unavoidable. The Department of Defence estimates that China has 60 to 70 submarines operating in the Indo-Pacific, with the number expected to rise to at least 75 submarines by 2035. That is the year the first of Australia’s French Attack-class submarines is due to be in the water. But the full fleet of 12 new vessels will not enter service until the 2050s.

The submarine saga has been an expensive chronicle of wasted time and opportunity, of years spent patching up the Collins-class subs and settling on their replacements. The rebuilding project, which is likely to be carried out by ASC in Adelaide with assistance from the original builder, Sweden’s Saab Kockums, will have a significant impact on the budget during the next decade. What matters more, however, is that the government has made the right decision for the nation’s defences.


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better slingshots...

ASPI’s Michael Shoebridge’s criticism of the professionalism and competency of the Defence hierarchy is serious. He paints the military and civilian hierarchy in Defence as hidebound, and infers they are placing service personnel and the nation’s security at risk. His analysis, however, displays a surprising degree of unfamiliarity with military affairs, and does not support his grave assertion.

Failure to acquire fast-moving technology is inflicting “damage and danger“ on the ADF and isn’t “delivering these powerful capabilities into the hands of the soldiers, sailors and aviators”. Defence is “without leaders who understand the required pace of change”, and who therefore join those who “expose their people—and the governments and populations that rely on them—to enormous risk”. The Defence leadership is failing ADF members and endangering the security of Australians, Shoebridge charges. They are denying “the capability needs of our ADF personnel in an environment whose dangers are obvious to us all”.

But Shoebridge’s case for condemning the Defence leadership is flawed. Force structuring is more than having the latest clever things. It is part of a complex and iterative process directed at maximising the military’s chances of successfully carrying out the missions the government asks of it. Without understanding how technology adds to military effectiveness, it’s valueless in isolation.

The likely theatre of operations, the concept of operations for employing force, and the integration of joint and combined capabilities and organisations, along with sustainability and manpower constraints all play a role in shaping force structure decisions. Not to mention the strategic and tactical options open to a potential adversary. Moreover, there is always the dance between measures and countermeasures that must be taken into consideration.

Shoebridge seeks to illustrate his argument with the Azerbaijan–Armenia conflict. Australian forces, Shoebridge warns, are “becoming more vulnerable to everything we saw happen to the Armenians” and Australia needs to be “more like the Azerbaijanis, not the Armenians”. He concludes that “the Azerbaijani military used [a] cheap, deadly, unmanned system” to convincingly defeat the conventional Armenian forces”. The Armenians by “fielding traditional manned platforms and operating in conventional ways, lost”. Azerbaijan’s rapid procurement processes supposedly enabled a decisive autonomous drone capability to be introduced into service quickly. It was nowhere near that simple, a point the Defence analysts should understand.

Armenia’s lack of preparedness was crucial. Armenia had become “content with the status quo of a frozen conflict”; and complacency about the security of Nagorno-Karabakh led it to under-appreciate that Azerbaijan’s “oil and gas sales over the past two decades [had] enabled it to modernise its armed forces, including significant funding for missiles, drones, and rocket artillery”. It was obvious that “Azerbaijan decided it wanted to change the status quo and that the Armenian side had no interest in a war.” It was not just drones, although they provided entertaining video-game like news footage, but “Azerbaijan’s qualitative military advantage over Armenia, [was] due in part to an extensive military build-up over the last decade”.

The second lesson was that technology alone is not enough. Training and tactical doctrine count. The battle for Shusha, a strategically located Nagorno-Karabakh town, provides an example of the importance of the need to integrate new technologies and capabilities with other components of the force, including tactical doctrine. Shusha was taken by “a combined arms approach that included special forces and light infantry, supported by armoured units and precision artillery and drone strikes”.

An analysis for the European Council on Foreign Relations pointed out the importance of tactical doctrine and planning in the Azeri victory; “This is where the drones came in: they allowed the Azeris to reconnoitre first the Armenian position and then the placement of reserves. Armenian positions then could be extensively shelled with conventional artillery, weakening their defences. Drones then guided the onslaught towards the Armenian reserves, bringing in artillery, multiple-rocket systems with cluster munitions, their own missiles, or using Israeli-made LORA ballistic missiles to destroy bridges or roads linking the reserves with the front”. To single out drones as the decisive factor that permitted victory is to exaggerate their importance and to underplay the role of conventional forces; “[T]he Azeri tactical use of drones was impressive, as was the way they embedded them in conventional armoured operations to work around the strength of the opponent’s armed forces”.

It’s worth noting that the Azeri drones were not invincible. The Russia Krasukha broadband multifunctional jamming station, which is reported to have had success against a range of drones in Syria, was deployed at the Russian military base at Gyumri in Armenia during the conflict. It is believed to have brought down at least nine Azeri Bayraktar drones.

Shoebridge’s condemnation of Defence’s leadership as being dangerously conservative in introducing new technologies is surprising. He has extensive experience in all areas of defence and strategic policy, and capability procurement. Equally surprising is his superficial analysis of the Azerbaijan–Armenia conflict; it did not resemble anything the ADF will encounter.

New technology should only be introduced after careful analysis of how it fits into existing military organisations, equipment, and doctrine, or after the required changes to take advantage of new technology have been assessed.

The public debate is not furthered by this sort of contribution, particularly when citizens hear the Defence Minister proclaim that “ASPI continues to produce informed, incisive and independent analysis on all things defence and national security”. It is anything but. The sense of imminent threat Shoebridge affects to heighten the failings of the Defence leadership is confected. The sense of urgency he tries to generate, were it valid, would not be met by impulsive acquisition of shiny new technology from the pages of glossy defence industry magazines.

Shoebridge infers the Defence leadership is unprofessional, incompetent, and even negligent. Many people believe that Australia’s current strategic and defence policies are deeply flawed. The author is one of them. But on the basis of his analysis, Shoebridge’s suggestion that the Defence military and civilian leadership is endangering the nation and its military personnel is unjustified.


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GusNote: in the Azerbaijanis- Armenians recent conflict for which the Russians negotiated a "peace", the Azerbaijanis were supported by the Turks in weaponry (drones) and logistics...




19,999 leagues...


Easy Lies & Influence in the $90b submarine boondoggle       By Fiona McLeod



No-one knew what the evaluation process involved, but it was clear the decision was political, not driven by the obligation of government to spend public funds for the best product and the best price.


In February 2015, faced with the imminent threat of a leadership challenge, then prime minister Tony Abbott tried to purchase the support of key South Australian Liberal Party members by promising that a local Adelaide shipbuilder would be in the running to construct a fleet of submarines to replace the ageing Collins-class vessels, at an estimated cost of $20 billion. The design and construction of these submarines represented the largest defence procurement in Australia’s history.

Despite the oversight of the National Security Committee, three White Papers by successive governments confirming a commitment to acquire new submarines, extensive and well-established defence procurement protocols, the creation of a Defence Capability Plan seven years prior, and the known interest and capability of international commercial shipbuilders, including ones based in France, Germany and Japan, an open tender was abandoned by the government in favour of a new, untested and less-rigorous purchasing process known as ‘competitive evaluation’. Then treasurer Joe Hockey, sent in to do the dirty work, asserted there was ‘no time for a tender process’—and was perhaps later rewarded with a plum posting to Washington as Australia’s US ambassador.

No-one knew what the evaluation process involved, but it was clear the decision was political, not driven by the obligation of government to spend public funds for the best product and the best price.

Defence procurement runs into billions of dollars and is ordinarily governed by a suite of tendering and contracting processes based on established risk profiles. The key phases of acquiring major new defence assets typically include the identification of a capability gap by the Australian Defence Force; the involvement of the purchaser, the Defence Materiel Organisation, and in the case of new technology, the expert Defence Science and Technology Group; and the establishment of a Capability Development Group to liaise with the ADF as a go-between. The process then involves a Cabinet-approved ‘first pass’ to proceed to open tender, sourcing the capability on the open market; the preparation of user requirements that form the basis of the tender; briefings and engagement with industry; and the issue of request-for-tender documents. After the receipt of tender responses, an evaluation process, informed by technical, environmental and commercial working groups with the relevant expertise, starts work to progress towards the second round of Cabinet approval. It is not until this second round that a preferred tenderer is identified and contractual negotiations commence, followed by acceptance testing and evaluation to ensure the assets can do what they are required to do—if they cannot meet the validation and verification requirements, the deal does not proceed to the execution of contracts.

On 26 April 2016, only fourteen months after the evaluation process had commenced, the successful submarine partner was announced by new prime minister Malcolm Turnbull (a strategic partnering agreement would subsequently be signed on 1 March 2019, with a separate contract in place for an integrated weapons system to be used in the newly designed submarines). To the very great surprise of the competitive Japanese consortium, a French company, DCNS (now Naval Group), had secured the contract to build the submarines, on the condition that it do so in Adelaide. The problem was that DCNS, jointly owned by the French Government and global arms manufacturer Thales, was tainted by well-publicised probity issues, including persistent allegations of bribes and security breaches. Even the most basic search of online information would have raised red flags, including reports that eleven of the company’s employees were killed in revenge for unpaid kick- backs in Pakistan and corruption involving French officials. Since 1997, DCNS has reportedly been involved in five major corruption scandals, three of them reported before its selection to design our sub- marines—two more scandals involving allegations of murder and the compromise of information continue to swirl around the company. And in Australia, Naval Group is suspected of grossly over-inflating invoices by tens of millions of dollars on other projects.22

Corruption risk in a multibillion-dollar national security project involving new, classified, proprietary technology, and attracting the interest of foreign defence and intelligence agencies, is clearly a relevant consideration for the purchase of defence assets, due to the potential for the theft of critically sensitive infor- mation and for the technology to be compromised by the thousands of foreign contractors and sub- contractors engaged on the project. A new standard for the prevention of bribery, released in 2016 by the International Organization for Standardization, should have been given serious consideration in the context of a broader recognition of the risk of a national security breach.23

In early 2020, the ANAO conducted an audit into the selection process, including the probity procedure. The auditor’s report found that the Department of Defence had effectively designed and implemented the evaluation process to select a partner for the submarine program.24 The report made no reference to anti-corruption due diligence being undertaken by any agency, and it appears none was undertaken on any of the preferred partners either. The evaluation process, it turns out, was never intended to assess either the capability of the end product—the submarine—or whether the total cost of the project was value for money. It was intended for one purpose only: to select a project partner in time for the July 2016 federal election campaign.

Now, more than six years after Tony Abbott’s initial announcement, the failure of the evaluation process is abundantly clear. Standard defence purchasing principles and risk-assessment processes were apparently abandoned. No-one checked to ensure that local jobs and materials were locked in, and few of the promised jobs have been delivered. It was not even clear that the project was technically feasible. Furthermore, the cost has now blown out, according to evidence presented to Senate estimates, with the final price of the submarines and their weapons systems expected to exceed $145 billion in what is known as ‘turned- out’ dollars—and over the life of the submarines, the cost is thought to end up in the region of two to three times this sum. The first submarine is not due for completion until 2032, although the audit report says it will be 2034.

Furthermore, the Japanese consortium understood it had lost the contract because of political expediency, creating tensions in international relations. And Australia is now indebted to a partner company facing serious corruption allegations.

Promises of defence spending in the order of millions, if not billions, are routinely scattered around marginal seats like confetti during election campaigns. Arms dealing has been heralded as the next economic boom for Australia. Former ministers have been appointed to key advisory and well-remunerated consulting roles to arms manufacturers, leading to further acquisitions and the subversion of tender processes. Risk assessments and compatibilities are overlooked, money is spent on materiel that is ill suited to defence purposes, and our defence capability is compromised. Only last year, Thales Group persuaded the Attorney-General’s Department to redact parts of an Auditor-General’s report on national security grounds. The report was critical of the purchase of light army vehicles from the aerospace company after intense lobbying for $1.3 billion, twice the price quoted by a US manufacturer, with the resulting loss of hundreds of millions of dollars of public funds.26

The most galling aspect of it all is that billions of dollars of our money was used to save a former prime minister’s neck. It’s an awfully expensive price tag for ambition.



This is an extract from Easy Lies & Influence by Fiona McLeod released in August as part of the ‘In the National Interest’ series published by Monash University Publishing.


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