DEFENCE: News Weekly
Australia ill-prepared for new threats
, June 18, 2005
Australia's armed forces are short of modern equipment, ammunition and personnel. Morale is at an all-time low, with 37 per cent of RAN personnel, 32 per cent of army personnel and 24 per cent in the RAAF considering quitting.The days of the Cold War are behind us, United States is our great and powerful friend and we have nothing to fear, do we, especially when our armed forces are short of modern equipment, ammunition and personnel?
A responsible government would have put in an order for F-22A Raptors rather than wait for the more expensive joint strike fighter project that at the moment threatens to produce an aircraft too heavy for the US Navy and too slow for the US Air Force. Costs have blown out to such a degree that it may literally never get off the ground judging by the rapid improvement of non-manned aircraft and strike weapons.
A responsible government would buy new tanks for the army, rather than reconditioned, clapped-out American weaponry. Have we not learnt about buying second-hand ships, only to find them full of rust and requiring massive repairs and upgrades at the taxpayers' expense?
Reconditioned Abrams tanks have used depleted uranium ammunition and are built using depleted uranium armour. What are the radiation risks?
(The on-going saga of compensation for RAAF ground crew contaminated by resealing F-111 fuel tanks appears to have been ignored and radioactive material is not involved in this case!)
We are led to believe, as we gaze at our TV screens, that we have high-tech armed forces. It may well be high-tech, but our soldiers don't have enough ammunition to practise before deployment.
It is well-known that infantrymen purchase their own ammunition to keep up to professional shooting standard.
In this country, we are proposing to build heavy hi-tech warships, based on the US Aegis defence system. They will be larger than any warship built in recent times in Australia.
We should all earnestly hope that we have enough tradesmen, or will more migrant labor be needed? And yet we have given away or sold some of our best indigenous technology.
Two examples will suffice. Metal Storm, a revolutionary weapons system that could replace machine-guns on aircraft or ships, has been taken on board by the Americans for use at sea and in the air.
Surely, it could not be beyond the whit of the RAAF to have invested in some of this technology, and used one of its more modern C-130 Hercules as a test firing platform for use as a gunship.
Secondly, in Tasmania, there is a prototype of a revolutionary hydrofoil/catamaran, which can be graded in various sizes and for various uses by our armed forces. It has been inspected by our own service personnel and by their US counterparts.
Yet development has stalled on the brink of success through lack of money to develop a viable power plant for rugged conditions. Is this to be another Australian invention at which people will look back and marvel at the stupidity of so-called experts?
The situation in our small armed forces (which currently number about 52,000) has reached a critical point, with publication of extracts from the 2004 Defence Attitude Survey
, based on a sample of 8,000 across the services.
We should be ashamed that 37 per cent of RAN personnel, 32 per cent of army personnel and 24 per cent in the RAAF are considering quitting. The Australian
of May 23 and 24 carried stories leaked from the report and on May 25 a comment from the Australian Defence Association's executive director, Neil James.
The best short summation of the report is the Monday, May 23, headline: "Soldiers fed up with poor pay, long postings and piddling resources."
It is hard not to feel sympathy for Angas Houston, who has inherited this mess from the hero of East Timor, General Peter Cosgrove.
With the breakup of the USSR and the democratisation of many East European states, the Australian government, like so many in the West, took this as a sign that it could save money by cutting down on the number of intelligence agencies and officers - and deliver to the voters a peace dividend.
Until 9/11, the intelligence organisations of most countries with which we were allied during the Cold War, were run down in terms of reducing staff, ceasing certain operational action and, above all, the bean-counter approach of slashing funding.
After all, with no apparent threat, intelligence services had become virtually irrelevant. Serious, knowledgeable and dedicated intelligence officers quit for lucrative jobs in the private sector and intelligence services of this country became more like ordinary run-of-the-mill public service departments.
And it shows! Advertisements for ASIO staff appear regularly, but the highest-paid positions are in management, not experienced intelligence analysts or - heaven forbid! - suitable operational officers.
However, nearly four years ago, the world was turned upside down by the events of 9/11 and security and intelligence organisations began to recruit quickly and attempt to build up a body of knowledge on terrorist organisations of which they knew little and had few human resources deployed against.
ASIO's four-page Year in Review, 2003-2004
- available on the organisation's Internet home-page - is a watered-down version of the Annual Report (which says precious little in itself, for security reasons).
The emphasis on terrorism in this document runs to about 75 per cent and details small numbers of Australians suspected of being involved in terrorist activities, all of them aligned to organisations which promote the views of Osama bin Laden and Abu Bakar Bashir.
It is a minimalist document, pregnant with rises in threat levels and expanding terrorist activity; the prevention of terrorist sympathisers travelling abroad; and, naturally enough, the need to monitor groups in this country with suspected terrorist links.
What a farce, when we read in The Australian
of June 2 that ASIO is to target the Chinese! Some serious questions need to be addressed on this point.Chinese espionage
Its report goes on to say, "Australia has been targeted aggressively in recent years by Chinese spies seeking information on military-related technology and strategic policy secrets."
The report adds that "government sources have claimed that the number of Chinese intelligence service agents has risen to the point that they outnumber the ranks of Russian spies that dominated Canberra during the Cold War". The fact is that the various Chinese intelligence services have had personnel in Australia since the commencement of diplomatic relations.
Was coverage of Chinese espionage phased out when the Cold War ended? Is this why we have seen large corporations employing former Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials and intelligence officers as consultants at exorbitant fees and they presumably use their knowledge to assist in trade?
Whatever happened to proposals to register Australian citizens as lobbyists for foreign interests? Surely there must be something wrong if a person can leave DFAT - after working on the China desk and having a spell in Beijing - to immediately parlay the knowledge they gained in a dash for cash.
Communist China is now the new goldmine in terms of trade. Meanwhile, uncomfortable truths about Chinese military intentions are swept under the carpet.The Australian
article will not be welcome news to a government which appears hell-bent on establishing a free-trade agreement with China and ignoring the fact that the PRC is run by a tyrannical minority government with a penchant for making millionaires on the one hand and on the other enforcing slave labour, including children, often in prison camps.
Furthermore, it has been noted in military circles and published on the Internet that Chinese military manuals are predicated on war with the United States and its allies.
The article admits that the government had allowed its counter-espionage section to run down, otherwise there would be no reason an official would see fit to state: "Espionage is the forgotten side of the intelligence game, but it remains alive and well."
To regard intelligence as a game is fatuous and reeks of the vindictive and misguided thoughts of Philip Knightley and Phillip Adams, amongst others.
What the article did not point out is that continuity of coverage is everything in counter-espionage. And if that coverage is neglected or allowed to wither, then the consequences are severe. A grim example of this situation is provided by the 18 months or so that the Whitlam Government's Attorney-General, Lionel Murphy, severed all telephone interception of Soviet premises.
Oh, but the Soviets have gone away, haven't they? Not likely. The fact remains that, through the upheaval in the former USSR, the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian General Staff, the GRU, has continued to conduct espionage in the West, with scarcely a diminution of effort.
The focus is on scientific and technical information that will enhance Russia's capacity to produce everything from consumer goods to high-tech weaponry - as observers at recent air shows have noted.
Information in the US media has shown that the old KGB's successor organisation, the FSB, is back at its old tricks, recruiting agents and attempting to acquire classified information and technology.Russia still dangerous
Another former senior intelligence officer once said that Russia without the communists would still be a dangerous adversary. His remarks drew some sniggers then, but what about now? The nostalgia for a strong leader - Stalin - is palpable and the former KGB Lt. Col. Vladimir Putin is the man for the job, all nicely gift-wrapped to disarm Western critics.
What is clearly needed is an investigation into the activities of ASIO since 1991, and how its resources have been cut and now increased, and an accurate assessment made of the threat to Australian security from whatever source.
Interestingly, and ironically, there appears to be no mention of counter-intelligence, either inside ASIO or government as a whole. This has been the hallmark of several generations of our intelligence organisations, and yet no-one appears willing to admit that the hard lesson of penetration by hostile elements has been learned.