There is a silent defense crisis under way central to Australia's ability to protect its sovereignty.
Most Australians undoubtedly think that the $26.5 billion annual defense budget and the 60,000 men and women in the Defense Department are fully capable of defending the country against invasion by a medium power. That would be a false assumption.
Jim Molan, a retired Major General said ''The Australian Defense Force is not capable of conducting sophisticated joint operations against anyone.''
Hugh White, former head of strategy in the Defense Department, is now a professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University, explains it this way, If all our military assets were there on the day, fully functional and combat ready with precision munitions and everything they need, the ADF would be able to defend us against the only local power that might pose a credible threat, Indonesia.
''But a sensible policy maker would not make that assumption, especially on recent evidence.''
White refers to the six submarines that make up Australia's underwater defense, “if you could get just one of them to sea, combat ready and in time, you'd be lucky.''
Andrew Davies, an expert on capability, for The Australian Strategic Policy Institute, and former analyst for the Defense Department, said we’d do all right in the air but there are still questions about the reliability of the submarine fleet. On land, the Army is not in bad shape the problem would be if you had to move it anywhere. Currently the Navy is unable to mounting such a mission.
During last year’s flooding the Queensland government needed an amphibious naval ship to help with flood relief, not one of Australia's three amphibious craft was seaworthy. Australia turned to New Zealand and entered into an agreement allowing Australia to borrow New Zealand’s amphibious troop carrier, if needed, in future emergencies. It was a wakeup call. Davies points out we've had these moments before, in 1999 Australia was only able to get its troops to East Timor by hiring a fast catamaran ferry for the job. Yet the Queensland floods came along 10 years later and the Navy still does not have a single amphibious craft that is sea worthy.
According to White,” We sit there thinking the navy is terrific until we turn around and discover the amphibious vessels Kanimbla and Manoora can't put to sea.” For the record, those two old amphibious ships have since been retired but a third vessel with a troubled past, Tobruk, has been retained. ADF has also bought a second-hand amphibious ship from Britain.
In 2009 a defense white paper delivered by the Rudd government looked to 2030 foresaw a need to hedge against the risk of an aggressive China.
Per the ADF's Force 2030 project, among other acquisitions, this plan would replace the six existing Collins-class subs with 12 new custom-made ones. It would replace the aging air combat fleet with 100 of the joint strike fighters the US is building.
Just how is the 2030 project doing, ''It's a shambles,'' concludes Molan.
This is the real defense scandal; Australia cannot defeat an invasion today, when it doesn't need to. But at this rate it will never be able to.