Not forgetting lessons re-learned the hard way about the size of our Army

Pointing out the facts in answer to yet another polemic from Hugh White.

Tuesday, 01 May 2012
Letter to The Age (Melbourne)
(not published)

Hugh White (“Army should be careful with its aim”, May 01) gets even his history wrong.

After Vietnam the army’s nine, not 12, battalions were cut to six, then five, then hollowed out to just over three effectively.

As Australia re-learned the hard way, by risking a major strategic shock in East Timor, during 1972-1999 the whole ADF became quite unbalanced and largely unusable even in our near region.

Chiefly due to flawed strategic theorising in the Defence bureaucracy, insufficient national investment and political neglect.

Hugh forgets his own admission, at the 2001 ANZUS Seminar, that the biggest single lesson of the East Timor intervention is that we ran out of infantry with no time to develop more.

He also omits that by 2005 over half our infantry were, unsustainably, deployed overseas and mainly in our near region.

The 2006 Enhanced Land Force initiative was therefore implemented to rebuild the Army’s manouvre force around seven infantry battalions (plus a regular commando one).

Most importantly, Hugh ignores all the strategic, scientific and academic studies since 1999 explaining why any viable concept of maritime manouvre in Australia’s near region cannot rely on ships and aircraft alone.

Not least because our region is full of islands, people and complexity.

Perhaps this is because he still thinks of military capabilities only in old-fashioned, single-Service stovepipes.

Instead, as part of a modern, integrated, balanced, joint force, the new amphibious ships and supporting capabilities are primarily for strategic and operational manouvre, in our near region, in circumstances well short of war between major powers.

They are not “assault ships”, not intended for a potential war with China and therefore not anywhere near as vulnerable as Hugh claims — even though these mistakes have been pointed out to him many times.

Back to Letters: 2012