Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade
Department of Defence annual report 2016-17

GRIGGS, Vice Admiral Ray, AM, CSC, Vice Chief of Defence Force, Department of Defence

SKINNER, Mrs Rebecca, Associate Secretary, Department of Defence

TOOHEY, Major General Kathryn, Head Land Capability, Department of Defence

CHAIR: Welcome. Would you like to make an opening statement?

Major Gen. Toohey : I will make a very brief one. Unfortunately the chief is unable to be here due to the rearrangement of the program. He is about to step on a plane for an international engagement, so he's asked me to pass on his apologies. He actually wasn't going to make a statement. In part he said it wouldn't be such a great thing for one day the Chief of Army to say, 'This is Army and everything is fantastic,' and then to step out of the organisation the next day.

I will say, though, that Army is in a healthy place. There is absolutely always more work to be done. In Lieutenant General Campbell's time as chief, he has been very clear that we are about delivering. We are about delivering on the IIPs. We have also been working hard to deliver against the chief's 10 lines of effort. One of those lines of effort is on modernisation. That is the line of effort that I am responsible for. I will leave it at that.

Senator FAWCETT: Modernisation is really a focus of ours. We have just been talking about preparedness in the Defence annual report. One of the concerns I have is that there is not a lot of disclosure around how preparedness is assessed. We had some discussion about the couple of years of RAAF's airworthiness process. Chief of Navy talked about the seaworthiness process. I am aware that Army is developing its battle worthiness process. As you move towards a more complex digital environment with some of the platforms and systems you are now looking to field, can you talk to us about what you are doing to modernise Army's thinking around how you evaluate battle worthiness and therefore report on preparedness.

Major Gen. Toohey : We are talking about potentially a land worthiness framework. We are looking very closely at what Air Force and Navy are doing. We have to be very clear, though, that we don't want to develop a framework for the sake of it. But, as you said, Army is getting more technologically advanced. We need to advance how we manage it as an effect. I think the biggest challenge for Army is the digital design. We as an organisation have perhaps in the past been too focused on platforms. We are very conscious now that platforms don't deliver a capability. A key part of what we assess from a preparedness perspective is how we integrate those various platforms together.

Senator FAWCETT: So, for example, I go back to LAND 121's phase 3. I think it was phase 3; I can't remember. It was the upgrade to the ASLAV. That program failed for a number of reasons, but one of the reasons was that there was very poor configuration control across the fleet of even the analog systems that were in there as well as the platforms. I am interested to understand, as you move towards LAND 400 and this integration of digital systems, what Army's doing to modernise its materiel management of those kinds of capabilities.

Major Gen. Toohey : I can't speak about the specifics to do with ASLAV, but configuration management of capability is fundamental to what we have done with LAND 121, 3B and 5B—the big trucks—and it's absolutely part of the considerations for LAND 400. We deliver capability working to 40 SPOs and seven joint logistics units. Army does not just have a one-to-one relationship with an organisation in the CASG or Joint Logistics Command. We are spread across the board. That does make it challenging from a configuration management perspective.

Senator FAWCETT: I have one note on the positive side that I will ask you to pass back. We've been monitoring ARH for a number of years through this committee. Looking at what it's achieving now in terms of flying hours per number of airframes, I think there has been a substantial recovery from where it was for a bunch of reasons that aren't directly related to Army. But I think Army and your supporting contractors have done a good job to get it there. So we'll continue to watch with interest, but I just want to pass back congratulations.

Major Gen. Toohey : We did hear your comment before, Senator, and we appreciated it. Thank you.

Senator FAWCETT: Okay. The report also talks about mental health support. Again, I was talking before about the Senate inquiry into veteran suicide. One of the submissions to this inquiry looks at the ability of people to access the post-deployment screening and feedback off base and away from the DSN, or the DRN—is that what you still call it?

Vice Adm. Griggs : DPN, the Defence Protected Network.

Senator FAWCETT: Okay. That's another acronym—jolly good! I'm just interested to get an update on how you are looking to work this—not just that transition piece, because this also applies to men and women who are remaining in the service but wish to be able to access some of those support mechanisms off base.

Major Gen. Toohey : It's not an area I feel able to talk to in any detail.

Senator FAWCETT: That's fine. I'm happy for you to take it on notice, but we're quite focused, having delivered that report. The government's accepted 22 of the 24 recommendations in full and funded many of them.

Major Gen. Toohey : Yes.

Senator FAWCETT: But there are a few pieces of work, particularly around the provision of mental health services, that are flowing from that, and Defence is starting to engage now in how it approaches it. I just want to make sure that the direction that Defence is taking—and Army obviously has the largest group of influence there—is cognisant of the evidence that's been provided.

Major Gen. Toohey : I'd be happy to take it on notice.

Senator FAWCETT: Okay. As part of that, can you also take on notice an update for how many qualified clinical psychologists Army has in uniform, both within Joint Health Command in terms of making policy and also available for deployment, whether in theatre or to work with units when soldiers return. A third part of that question is that there has been some evidence to us around the impact on both DVA and Defence from rates of contracted payments to providers that are no longer keeping up with expectations in the market.

Vice Adm. Griggs : If you're happy, Senator, what we might do is make that a whole-of-ADF question, in terms of the uniform, rather than just single service, because it's effectively a Joint Health Command question.

Senator FAWCETT: Sure. I'm happy for that to occur.

Mr PERRETT: Can you provide an update on Plan Beersheba. Can you speak specifically on how Army is progressing with generating forces since the integration of regular and reserve personnel into one total workforce. If you want to make any mention of legal officers, I'd appreciate that as well.

Vice Adm. Griggs : I think that's a cue for a positive mention!

Mr PERRETT: No, I'm here wearing a politician's hat.

Mr WALLACE: The first thing we do, let's shoot all the lawyers!

Mr PERRETT: If you knew your Shakespeare, you'd know that he meant there'd be chaos if you get rid of the lawyers.

Mr WALLACE: It wasn't 'shoot', was it? It was 'kill all the lawyers'.

Mr PERRETT: Spoken like a real lawyer too, Andrew!

Major Gen. Toohey : Just on the first part of the question, Army declared FOC on Plan Beersheba at the end of last year. We moved our tanks into 7 Brigade, into Enoggera. That was a key part of Plan Beersheba—to have three like combat brigades.

In terms of reserve transformation, 2 Div has made encouraging progress in a number of areas. A key part of what they've done is that they've created a training brigade, 8 Brigade, to make sure that we really concentrate on that individual and collective training. We've also revised the reserve training model to ensure that we allow our part-time soldiers to avail themselves of training in a flexible manner. The chief is very clear that there is one Army, and one Army comprises full-time, part-time and casual members. We've been very pleased about the progress when it comes to reserve transformation.

CHAIR: Could you take this on notice: could you unpack that a bit further for us in terms of Beersheba itself and where it's up to. I'm particularly interested in reserves and exactly what transformations 2 Div have been doing and how that's playing out with 8 Brigade and the training requirements in terms of throughput outcomes. Could you just unpack that separately for us, on notice.

Major Gen. Toohey : I'd be happy to.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Mr WALLACE: Sorry, Chair, to butt in there, but can I also ask, when you are addressing that issue, if it's one Army, incorporating full-time regular—you know exactly where I'm coming to here, don't you—and reserves, why, particularly in relation to mental health care, you have to have served at least one day in the full-time regular Army to become eligible for mental health care. It seems to be a fairly glaring omission, I would have thought.

CHAIR: It does, and it makes it quite difficult for the reservists to access it.

Mr PERRETT: I've got another one. One of the challenges Defence faces is bases that no longer serve the strategic purposes of the past. However, they may have become central to the economic success of a regional area. Are there Army bases that could be closed down to move Army to a stronger and more agile force structure?

Vice Adm. Griggs : I don't think General Toohey is in a position to answer that.

Mrs Skinner : Base closures I think are a matter of government policy, so, unless there's a specific question around a specific base, we really don't have anything we can say to that question.

Mr PERRETT: So it's on the advice of the chief of defence, and then political decisions are made?

Mrs Skinner : The department would provide advice about its estate along the lines of its estate planning as that is relevant to the force disposition. We provide advice to government, and there'd be a whole range of things taken into consideration. There is a process that goes on to do that, and you see us disposing of bases and Defence land all the time. It's a cycle.

Vice Adm. Griggs : You've seen Maribyrnong, Leeuwin Barracks—a couple of recent examples.

Mr PERRETT: Indooroopilly.

Vice Adm. Griggs : Yes.

Mrs Skinner : Yes.

Mr PERRETT: That's the one I was most interested in.

CHAIR: I've got a question I was going to ask.

Mr WALLACE: Sorry, can I—

CHAIR: Sorry, please continue.

Mr WALLACE: I know I'm tucked around a corner here. I'll have to be more vocal! Just on that point that Mr Perrett raised: I was at Larrakeyah earlier this week, where parliament's being asked to approve half a billion dollars on improvements which are well overdue. That's the importance of doing site visits out there to see just the sorts of facilities that are out there. It's a really interesting point when you look at a base like Larrakeyah that is serviced by one road in and one road out, where there's a school within 50 metres of the entrance. You've got to wonder at what point you say: is this base really the place we want to keep putting money into, or is there a better place for it? It seems to me—as someone who is an outsider—like we are being continually asked, with Larrakeyah anyway, to keep investing money on that base, when it just seems to be a terrible location from an access perspective.

Vice Adm. Griggs : As a former student of that school—it was my first school.

Mr WALLACE: The primary school?

Vice Adm. Griggs : Yes, it was. There is a back entrance, as you know. There's another road in. But your point on access to Larrakeyah is well made. It is challenging, particularly as it goes through the residential area, and the school is literally outside the gate.

Mr WALLACE: 50 metres.

Vice Adm. Griggs : Yes. This is obviously something that is part of the longer term disposition plan that we think through and put to government. But of course the cost of moving is always massive. To move something like Larrakeyah to a greenfield site somewhere would be in the order of billions, not half a billion. As Mrs Skinner said earlier, we have a process of looking at the long-term disposition of the estate and where it needs to be, and we put that to government.

CHAIR: Major General Toohey, I want to go back to your comments up-front about the digital spine. I don't know whether you were listening earlier on when we had this discussion, because there is very little visibility, in fact there is really no visibility, in the annual report on the $10 billion that is programmed—$800 million per year and $10 billion over the forward estimates—for ICT projects, which the committee considers a serious deficit, because, as you have pointed out, these ICT programs are critical enablers now for the delivery of capability and preparedness. Could you unpack that a bit further for us in terms of the main issues that you see, perhaps vulnerabilities or key requirements for Army, with this digital spine?

Major Gen. Toohey : I worked joint capability for some time and then I came back to Army. It was very easy in joint capability to look at Army and think that Army was pretty straightforward. Scale adds a complexity all of its own. When all of the 5th generation air force is delivered—I think it is 400 nodes—in a combat brigade alone it is over 2,000 nodes on that digital spine. That digital spine needs to connect air platforms, our helicopters, it needs to connect our land vehicles, and it needs to connect our individual soldiers. It needs to connect them in a variety of different operating environments: the littoral, obviously, through to the urban environment, through to the desert, through to the jungle. It is complex. Harsh operating environments, space, weight and power are absolutely difficult in the land space. And, of course, the Land Combat System needs to be an integral part of the joint combat system—so, Army does not go anywhere without support, and supporting the other two services. Our key projects for our digital spine are 2072, which provides the communications backbone, and then LAND 200, which is delivering Army's battle management system.

CHAIR: On those two programs, how reliant are you on the delivery of these two capabilities, in terms of being able to deliver your mandated programs?

Major Gen. Toohey : Very reliant. It is one of the reasons the Chief has said that is his highest priority, from a modernisation perspective—if you like, a higher priority than LAND 400, a higher priority than soldier combat systems. That is really the enabler for Army to match our two services and contribute to that joint effort.

CHAIR: Here's the thing for me: in terms of the annual report, that's what I thought you would say. You have identified those two projects—critical enablers, the most important for Army. Looking at this year's annual report—my copy has been so well-used it has fallen apart!—in table 3.4 on page 35, 'Performance results against criteria relating to delivering the outcomes of Purpose 2', there are all of two points there for us as a committee to try to unpack: 'Required preparedness levels are achieved and maintained'; and, 'Operational outcomes meet the requirements of Government policy'. So, we have two very short paragraphs that say all is hunky-dory, we have met everything and everything is on target. But for us as a committee it is very difficult for us—in this case this is not a criticism of Army—because that basically says everything is all hunky-dory in Army, nothing to see here, nothing to worry about, which clearly is not the case.

Vice Adm. Griggs : It doesn't actually say that.

CHAIR: It says 'Achieved'.

Mrs Skinner : That is correct.

CHAIR: 'All operational requirements were met'.

Mrs Skinner : Requirements were met. It doesn't mean—

Mr PERRETT: It is a binary, is it? It is achieved or not achieved?

Mrs Skinner : The requirements were met, or partially. We have usually used 'not achieved', 'partially achieved' or 'achieved'. We have achieved all the operational requirements. That does not mean that there aren't—

Vice Adm. Griggs : That everything is hunky-dory.

Mrs Skinner : Everything is hunky-dory—there are not projects we are working on, there are not improvements that can be made.

Vice Adm. Griggs : But we understand your point.

CHAIR: The point is that here is the annual report, which your strategy framework shows is supposed to report on the outcomes in the year of all these issues, but the deficiency we were discussing earlier on, in terms of the out-year requirements for capability delivery and preparedness, is invisible in this report, as are the ICT requirements, which you have just said are the critical enabling backbone and more important than anything else. Again, that highlights the difficulty for us as a committee, in terms of this annual report, trying to make sense of that. Again, it is not a particular criticism of Army, but it is highlighting the deficiencies in this.

I want to come to one particular program of interest in Western Australia. It is the Western Australian company One Atmosphere, which has made representations. Major General Toohey, could you provide the committee with an update on that?

Major Gen. Toohey : One Atmosphere has developed a buoyancy device such that if a helicopter lands in the water unexpectedly the helicopter can float for a period of time, such that the air crew can escape. Defence has invested in that technology over a number of years—I can't remember the exact period of time—I think to the tune of around $8 million of investment. We are now thinking about what we do from this point forward. Initially, the capability was focused on the Tiger helicopter. We are currently planning an upgrade for the Tiger helicopter, looking to withdraw it from service from around 2025. It doesn't make economic sense, necessarily, to provide that sort of capability just for the Tiger in its own right. But given the littoral and amphibious effect that Army must provide into the future we have asked the company for an RFP, to look at the capability more broadly.

CHAIR: Does 'more broadly' mean after 2025? So you wouldn't look to provide that for the Tiger now for the rest of their life?

Major Gen. Toohey : We don't want to presuppose anything. There is a process we need to go through. We need to formally ask for that request for proposal. We need to determine value for money. We have to do due diligence. I prefer not to say any more, other than that we are interested in the capability. We are not interested in it just for Tiger; we are interested in it more broadly.

Vice Adm. Griggs : There is no Tiger upgrade. It is a capability assurance program to manage obsolescence through to end of life and that hasn't yet gone to government.

Senator FAWCETT: Can I come to some workforce questions for you. One of the questions I have put on notice is around recruitment and critical trade shortages and skills. But I want to come to table 7.4 in the annual report, which looks at voluntary separations: 225 officers and 1,312 other ranks. Do you have a breakdown on whether that is just a broad cross-section, or are you seeing experienced people at the supervisory level, in workshops for example—so, your RAEME people that you require. Where are those. Are there any outliers in terms of peaks and troughs or are they just even separations across-the-board?

Major Gen. Toohey : I'm sorry but I'm going to have to take that question on notice. I do not know the breakdown of those figures. And I don't have it in my pack.

Senator FAWCETT: That would be good if you could. And, Mrs Skinner, just a comment back to you: in previous annual reports we have actually had some more granular detail around critical trades and areas of shortage. That is important information for us to have.

Mrs Skinner : I've taken that on notice.

Vice Adm. Griggs : We took that on board earlier.

Senator FAWCETT: I have similar questions for Army, just because the numbers are so high: involuntary separations, 804. I would be interested in understanding whether that is predominantly medical, disciplinary—

Vice Adm. Griggs : It is discipline, training and medical. Sorry—medical is counted separately, I think.

Senator FAWCETT: No, according to the footnote involuntary includes—

Vice Adm. Griggs : Okay. So it is training, medical and discipline—training failure or are unable to complete training.

Senator FAWCETT: I'd be interested to get a breakdown on that, particularly where it comes to the medical, in terms of the numbers we are looking at there, and, again, as we look at this transition piece, how we, as a government, look to support people who have served—particularly if it's a medical injury acquired either through training or overseas service. I just want to understand the quantum there, because I noticed an increase from 600 last year to 800 this year, which, given that our rate of operations is actually decreasing a little, is interesting.

My last question—and this goes to the efficiency of our whole pipeline of supplying people—is on the trainee separations: 525. Clearly, Army has larger numbers coming through than the other services, but that is also quite a substantial difference in terms of the percentage for others. I'd be interested to understand, again, whether that's medical discharges from trainees—people who have just got shin splints and can't continue—or whether that points to something in the selection process for those people and the aptitude, and again, as recruiting tends now to recruit people for a particular stream, whether we are seeing people not meeting the mark for trades that we think are actually critical to fill.

Major Gen. Toohey : I'm sorry; I'm going to have to take that question on notice.

Senator FAWCETT: You don't need to apologise; I don't expect you to be a walking encyclopedia of everything. But that's important to understand.

CHAIR: I have one question that will have to be taken on notice. On page 95, when it talks about Project Suakin, I know that's not just Army, but, on notice, could we get some more detailed information about the implementation of Suakin, because that's something we'd like to track over financial reports. So could you just unpack that a bit further for us, by the three services and by categories, and say how it is going.

Vice Adm. Griggs : Will do.

CHAIR: Okay. I think we've gone over time already, so thank you very much, Major General Toohey, for appearing here today at short notice, and we'll pass some of those questions on notice.

Major Gen. Toohey : My pleasure. Thank you.