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Monday, 25 October 2010
Page: 1324

Dr JENSEN (4:43 PM) —It was a beautiful autumn early morning with lots of sunshine and barely a cloud in the sky. People were on their way to work, enjoying the sunshine or pouring into, or already at, their workspaces at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. All appeared well with the world, with the only apparent jarring note being a foreign voice heard over the air traffic control frequency at 8.24 on the morning of 11 September 2001. The voice said:

We have some planes. Just stay quiet and you will be okay. We are returning to the airport. Nobody move. Everything will be okay. If you try to make any moves you will endanger yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet.

Twenty-three minutes later the Boeing 767 of American flight 11 flew into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at over 800 kilometres an hour.

How quickly we forget the emotions that ran hot that day—the anger, the confusion, the sadness, the horror of seeing people jumping from hundreds of feet up, desperately trying to escape the flames. And who can forget the collapse of the towers? We forget how determined we were, when the attack was found to have been perpetrated by al-Qaeda, to ensure that bin Laden and his murderous followers be brought to justice, and how we committed to going into Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban and prevent al-Qaeda from continuing their murderous ways when the Taliban refused to comply with UN resolutions relating to al-Qaeda.

The problem now is that we have lost our way. The strategic objectives that should be in place—clear, political aims—are not evident either from the Australian perspective or from an international coalition perspective. If we do not know what we are aiming for we are destined never to hit the target. These strategic objectives would allow the military to determine tactical objectives, milestones and the tactics required to meet those objectives. Otherwise we end up with an engagement with no clear end in sight. We also need to ensure that our forces have the capability required to meet those objectives. I will say more on that later.

In addition to the military objectives, there are socioeconomic factors that need to be dealt with; otherwise we will leave Afghanistan saying ‘mission accomplished’ but the nation we leave behind will, in short order, revert to the chaotic failed state it was in 2001. One reason we were successful in Iraq was that Iraq had an educated middle class and a functional bureaucracy. At present neither is in place in Afghanistan. We need to ensure that, in addition to working towards a military victory, we put in place structures for long-term sustainability to put in place a viable nation.

It is said that those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it. After World War I, the winners were determined, in the words of David Lloyd George, ‘to squeeze the German lemon until the pips squeak’. That indeed occurred after the Treaty of Versailles, with massive reparations levied against Germany. These reparations were paid off only this year, almost a century later. This squeezing of Germany was one of the direct causes of World War II.

After World War II a far more enlightened approach was adopted, with Marshall Plan aid and reconstruction authorities. The result was that our enemies became longstanding allies and vibrant democracies. After World War II, Germany and Japan, neither with a significant history of democracy, became two of the world’s great democracies. Albeit the current lack of a functional bureaucracy and educated middle class in Afghanistan, let us ensure that, in that country, the result is more closely aligned with the end of World War II than with that of World War I.

Before I get into the specifics and shortcomings of our engagement in Afghanistan, let me state that I am very concerned about the legal action being undertaken against three of our soldiers. This action has taken far too long and, from what I understand, appears to be more of a fishing expedition than should be the case. We do not want our soldiers, who have to make split-second, life-or-death decisions, to be second guessing themselves due to concerns about the potential legal ramifications of any action they undertake. I am not saying that rules of engagement should be ignored or that illegal action should not be punished, but let us make sure that there are absolutely solid grounds for action against our fighting men and women before taking legal action—rather than using that legal action as a way to adduce information.

My biggest concern about Afghanistan is with the military capability we have in place. Lieutenant Colonel Mark Jennings, CO of the 1st Mentoring Task Force, diplomatically stated:

… we have just about enough to do what we are doing right now.

But he added:

I think it would be difficult for us to take on more tasks than we are currently doing.

The problem is: more needs to be done.

Our special forces appear to be operating predominantly around Kandahar, not Oruzgan where our regular forces are training the Afghan forces. The task we need to achieve in Oruzgan is not just the training of Afghan forces but the reduction of the Taliban threat in the province to a level that the trained Afghan forces would be able to handle comfortably. Problematically, at present our regular forces in Oruzgan are not allowed to even think about engaging the Taliban unless attacked. This means that any engagement of the Taliban will be in circumstances that simply do not favour our forces. Furthermore, if we take any casualties our forces vacate the field completely, which is bad for our morale and does not send the right message to the Afghan troops we are training.

On 24 August our soldiers, in an unmounted patrol with the Afghan forces, were engaged in the green zone of the Deh Rawud region. They were fired upon and we lost a soldier. We vacated the field and apparently have not returned since. I am deeply disappointed that defence advice caused the Prime Minister to choose to criticise Senator Johnston when the senator called for more capability in support of our troops. Lieutenant Colonel Jennings’ statement was instructive and indicates that increased capability is required.

Major General Jim Molan, the only flag ranked officer to have commanded on the ground in Iraq or Afghanistan, has called for us to send tanks. The fact is that the Canadians did not originally send tanks. They thought that tanks were not suitable and were unnecessary, yet once they sent them they found them to be invaluable. General Molan pointed out that there have been many occasions when the conventional wisdom has been that tanks were not suitable for certain areas, such as New Guinea, Vietnam et cetera, yet they have always proved invaluable.

The need for attack helicopters is illustrated by reports that Dutch Apache helicopters chose to stay 5,000 metres above a firefight—not engaging the Taliban—in which nine of our troops were wounded and one American was killed. That was appalling and clearly demonstrates why we need our own armed reconnaissance helicopters in the area.

Our defence leadership say that this is not required, yet they have asked the Dutch to keep five Apaches in the region due to our own lack of capability. The defence bureaucracy denying that more capability is needed is simply to cover up for the litany of acquisition disasters that are now coming home to bite. The fact is, the Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopter should have been in full service years ago, but due to bureaucratic ineptitude in defence it is still not in service.

Senior defence leadership have repeatedly banked on our not having to use our capability This has been the case over a period of decades, where acquisition disasters did not seem to matter as the capability was not required on the day. We are now seeing these acquisition blunders, disasters and excuses coming home to roost, and this has to stop. We need comprehensive reform within defence, yet neither side of politics has, historically, been prepared to do what is necessary. Far too often we have simply taken senior defence officials at their word, while they resort to dubious claims that ‘these are complex systems, so you must expect these delays’.

Let us look at a total disaster area—new air combat capability. We keep getting the run-around from defence bureaucrats, yet as a parliament we have not taken them to task for their blatant lies and misrepresentation. Complex systems? Consider the Lockheed SR71 Blackbird, a complex aircraft that cruises at mach 3.5 and at 85,000 feet, and which remains unsurpassed. That aircraft entered service within four years of Lockheed being awarded the contract in—wait for it—1959. That was a far more complex program for the time than the JSF is now, but there were competent people driving the program, led brilliantly by Kelly Johnson. Kelly will be turning in his grave at how the mighty Lockheed have fallen in their core competency.

In 2002 defence were telling us that the JSF would be in service in 2010—but I do not see any—and that they would cost $40 million each. This was blatantly incorrect, and was also deliberate misrepresentation, while we see the likes of Air Chief Marshal Houston, Air Vice Marshal Harvey and Dr Stephen Gumley deliberately using jargon not understood by most to conceal the real pricing. What do we find now? The JSF, eight years on, is still eight years away from service, and the cost will be well over $130 million apiece—now more than the much better F22 Raptor.

The Air Power Australia think tank was giving a far more accurate representation in 2002 and has continued to give a far more accurate assessment of the situation. Their reward? Ad hominem attacks from defence people who should have known better than APA and are embarrassed, I believe, to have had their ineptitude demonstrated publicly. The JSF is not even on DMO’s list of projects of concern. The reason? Because we have not contracted to buy any. But hang on—this botched program has already cost us billions of dollars, due to our paying to be part of the development program and due to the timeline slipping so far that there was concern about a capability gap, leading to the purchase of Super Hornets.

Defence now plans to scrap our fleet of perfectly good F111s. This is an abnegation of responsibility. These aircraft still have magnificent capability, and we can and should keep them in storage for at least 10 years. This could be done for about one-tenth the cost of a single JSF, and should be done. It is very cheap insurance. The JSF is not capable of achieving air supremacy in the time period it will be in service.

I am concerned by the belief system and institutionalised groupthink evident at Defence HQ, and the naive belief that the ‘magic’ of networks and stealth means ‘we will know all’, to quote their evidence to the parliament, and can essentially do all while using otherwise completely inadequate equipment. Indeed, the US is likely to lose air supremacy in the Pacific over the next decade, and anyone wanting to know why should go to YouTube and look up Lieutenant General David Deptula’s 2010 presentation to the US Air Force Association in Washington DC.

I call for comprehensive reform of the Department of Defence and hope that as a parliament we can find the courage that has thus far been lacking in previous parliaments. Our service personnel need real capabilities delivered in timely fashion, rather than misleading bureaucratic ‘explanations’ which we as a parliament have collectively put up with for far too long. If we continue to accept incompetent and misleading advice from the defence bureaucracy, we will end up having to explain why our service personnel are being sent home in body bags.

Finally, I congratulate Stephen Smith, the Minister for Defence, for his most recent direction to the department to use plain language for briefings to the government, the parliament and the people of Australia. For far too long, defence officials have used technical language to confuse, while distracting parliament from the real issues.

Debate (on motion by Mr Clare) adjourned.