TRANSCRIPT: MINISTER FOR DEFENCE, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE MATERIEL, PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FOR DEFENCE & CHIEF OF ARMY - JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 12 DECEMBER 2011
TOPICS: Plan Beersheeba; LAND 121; Chinooks.
STEPHEN SMITH: Firstly thanks very much for turning up. Sorry we’ve been running a bit late. I’m very pleased to be here. We’re joined by Brigadier Stephen Cain who’s the Brigadier of the 13Brigade.
Very pleased to be joined by my ministerial colleague, Jason Clare, Minister for Defence Materiel, Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, David Feeney, and of course Lieutenant General David Morrison, the Chief of Army. This is a very big day for Army, a very big day for Defence.
This is a very big day of announcements for Army’s future. And the paperwork has been distributed, and let me very quickly go through the announcements that we’re making today. I’ll then ask Jason and David and General Morrison to make some contributions and then we’re happy to respond to your questions.
Firstly today through Plan Beersheba, the Government and Defence is announcing a fundamental restructure of Army to set Army up for its future operations in our region, and in the rest of the world, setting Army up for security and conflict; setting Army up for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and setting Army up for peacekeeping and stabilisation.
The most important feature I think of Plan Beersheba is that we’ve learned from our experience in Army over the last 10 years, and we’re using that experience to set up Army up for the future.
We have, as you of course would appreciate for the last decade essentially been engaged in an expeditionary land warfare in the Middle East, in Iraq and Afghanistan.
What we’ve learned from that experience is that Army is better placed if its skills are integrated. So we’re moving to three Brigades which will comprise and contain all of Army’s key skills – armour, infantry, communications, logistics and the like. This will enable flexibility – speedy response – but also make Army more efficient, and more effective.
As we also know, operations in the Middle East, once transition has been effected in Afghanistan – and we’re on track to effect that by 2014, perhaps even earlier – there will be a need to focus on further challenges. And of course we need always to be responsive and responsible for security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and stabilisation, and peacekeeping in our own area.
A very significant feature of Plan Beersheba is Army’s new amphibious capability, combined with the Landing Helicopter Docks which will arrive in the middle of this decade. And that will be a significant new capability so far as Army is concerned.
The second announcement today is setting Army up for its vehicles of the future – LAND 121 project, which is a multi-billion dollar project, renewing Army’s fleets. Some seven and a half to 8000 vehicles, at a cost in the order of $7 billion.
Army’s fleet of vehicles dates back to the 1980s. And through the range of light, heavy, and medium vehicles, both protected and unprotected, we see through the course of the next decade a major replenishment of Army’s vehicles. Man has been down selected for medium and heavy protected and unprotected vehicles. Thales has effectively been down selected to pursue the development of Hawkei, a protected and unprotected light vehicle.
So this is a significant announcement today – Plan Beersheba, setting Army’s structure up for the future, and the LAND 121 announcement setting up Army for its vehicles of the future. So far as the Hawkei project is concerned, it’s very important that we continue to see a technical capability out of Bendigo. Thales and Bendigo of course have been very successful in the development of the Bushmaster. We’re also announcing today, as Minister Clare and I flagged some time ago, that we’ll be upgrading the 200 Bushmasters to a further protected status.
But Thales has been successfully producing the Bushmaster for a number of years, it’s very important that we keep that industrial technical development capacity in Bendigo, and as the materials indicate we’ll be in discussions with Thales so far as additional Bushmasters are concerned to ensure that we retain that industrial capacity linked to the development of the Hawkei.
Thirdly, we are announcing today the purchase of two new Chinook helicopters. These two which we are purchasing from, they are Chinook D series, so they’re not new. These two helicopters - from the Chinook D series - we are purchasing from the United States, these two will replace one of our Chinooks which we lost in May in Afghanistan. We are of course also pursuing the upgrade of our Chinook fleet with the purchase of the Chinook F series in the next few years.
And finally so far as Afghanistan is concerned, Minister Clare and I are announcing the purchase of four sets of route clearance vehicles and machinery effectively for Afghanistan. You might recall that a couple of months ago Minister Clare and I announced the loaning of some route clearance materials from, and vehicles from the Canadians.
We are supplementing that capacity with the purchase of four sets of route clearance anti-IED equipment Bushmasters armed with mine rollers, heavy vehicles armed with penetrating radar, armed with robotic extension arms to further and better protect our troops in Afghanistan from the roadside bombs.
And so a comprehensive announcement. A big day for setting Army up for the future so far as Plan Beersheba is concerned, setting Army up for the future use of its vehicles so far as LAND 121 is concerned and further force protection and equipment measures for Afghanistan.
Before calling on Jason can I firstly thank him for all the work that he has done in the LAND 121 project. Can I thank Senator Feeney for the work that he has done together with the Chief of Army in Plan Beersheba. Plan Beersheba also entails much better integration of our reserves with Army, and I’ll let Senator Feeney speak on that, so I’ll ask Jason to make some remarks, Senator Feeney to make some remarks, and then I’ll ask the Chief of Army to conclude, and then we’ll respond to your questions.
Thanks very much.
JASON CLARE: Well thanks Stephen. It’s been a very big year in Army. Over the course of the last year I’ve had the opportunity to meet with our troops in Afghanistan, in East Timor, in the Solomon Islands, and talk to them about the equipment that they have and the equipment they need.
Over the last 12 months there have been big changes to the equipment that our troops have. We’re spending something in the order of $1.6 billion on new equipment for our troops in Afghanistan, and that includes things like new combat body armour, new uniforms, longer range machine guns as well as upgrades to our Bushmaster vehicles and a new counter rocket system at Tarin Kot, and at a number of forward operating bases to provide early warning of rocket attacks at the base.
Today we’re building on that with more equipment, more protective equipment for our soldiers in Afghanistan.
As Stephen has announced, we’re rolling out trucks, armoured trucks with ground penetrating radar. They lead a convoy and help to identify IEDs before the Bushmaster truck is susceptible to rolling over the top of them. In addition to that we are purchasing armoured trucks with interrogator arms to identify IEDs or home-made bombs that might be buried in the road, and as well as that we are purchasing armoured trucks that act as excavators to help to repair roads and to build bypasses where necessary.
We’re also upgrading our Bushmaster vehicles. In May we announced that we were purchasing an extra 101 Bushmaster vehicles. We said we’d be doing tests with Thales to see whether they could be further upgraded.
Those tests have proven very successful and on that basis we’ve made the decision to further upgrade the Bushmaster vehicles. That includes changes to seats as well as stronger welding to the hull of the Bushmaster vehicle. We’ll do those changes. We’ll make those changes to the Bushmasters currently being produced, an extra 101, as well the Bushmasters that are in place in Afghanistan as we speak.
Today’s an important day because we’re also making the announcement about the armoured light vehicle, and we’ve down-selected the Hawkei vehicle. It’s produced by the same people who make the Bushmaster. And if the Bushmaster is an armoured truck this is like an armoured Jeep. We’ve selected the Hawkei because on all of the testing that Defence has done it’s proven to be the best and most capable vehicle to take forward. And money will be allocated now to Thales to do further work on prototyping and developing that vehicle.
Between the end of production of the Bushmaster and the start of production of the Hawkei there’s a gap and so Defence will be working with Thales on a plan to make sure that we maintain those critical skills in building armoured protected vehicles at the Bendigo factory.
Today, we’re also announcing the decision on the company to build the large and medium heavy-weight trucks. We’ve selected MAN to do that work – something in the order of 2700 trucks; that could increase to 3700 trucks depending upon the negotiations that take place. So we’ve made that decision again, based on the advice of Army. These are the trucks that Army have said they want.
So a big day for Army; A big year for Army; And the decisions that we’re announcing today in terms of changes to structure as well as the new vehicles will help to build the Army of the future, the Army that we’ll see develop over the next few decades.
Thanks very much.
DAVID FEENEY: And good morning everybody.
Well as both Stephen Smith and Jason Clare have said, this is a very big day for Army. I particularly want to talk about how it’s a big day for Army Reserve, and what some of the implications are in Plan Beersheba for Army Reserve.
The first point I want to make clear about Plan Beersheba is that it was a restructure, a modernisation of Army that contemplated both full-time and part-time elements at the same time – the phrase Army on a page. And what that means is of course that the reserve capabilities found within Army were contemplated, changed, organised at the same time as the remainder of Army, and for one integrated effect.
This is a very important thing for Army Reserve because it now means that Army Reserve capabilities will be integrated with those of Army and that brings great strength to Army Reserve, but also great opportunities.
As you’ll be aware, Army Reserve has been called upon in recent times for a ever-increasing tempo, and ever-increasing responsibilities. We see that in East Timor, we see that in the Solomon Islands. What Plan Beersheba will do is each light manoeuvrable Brigade found in full-time Army will now have a habitual relationship with two reserve Brigades, and those reserve Brigades will regularly be stand up forces to work with the full-time Brigade. And that habitual relationship will strengthen the leadership, the tempo, and the capability of our Army Reserves.
Also, what Plan Beersheba means for reserves is that those, that increased tempo, those increased responsibility will be supported by increased investment, and we’ll see that with mortar capability, we’ll see that with armoured vehicles.
So overall this is a very good piece of news for Army Reserve. And I think it is representative of the fact that Army Reserve has an ever-increasing role in the work of Army and indeed the ADF.
DAVID MORRISON: I’d like to thank Ministers and Senator Feeney for the vote of confidence that they have shown in the Army today. These are very significant decisions which will shape one of Australia’s great national institutions over the next decade, and indeed beyond. But I think that vote of confidence has been won by the performance of our men and women who have contributed such enormous amounts of dedication and professionalism in every operational theatre that they have been asked to go to, particularly in the last 12 years - men and women, regular soldiers, and reservists.
And the announcements today recognise that any good institution reviews its own performance, decides about where it can improve, and in the Army’s case then discusses with government what is affordable and reasonable in terms of structuring for the future.
Today the announcements that have been made ensure that Army will remain robust and relevant well into the third decade of this century; that the work that our men and women are doing in Afghanistan or in Timor or in the Solomon Islands will be supported immediately; but that after those operations have concluded, the Army will be structured and equipped to be able to offer the broadest range of options to whatever the government of the day requires of its Army. And as the Chief I feel very pleased that we have been able to have that conversation with the Government and they have placed faith in this organisation to ensure that that robustness and relevance remains.
My part of the bargain now is to ensure that it is done in the most efficient and affordable way. And I fully understand the requirements that I have as the Chief to deliver that, not just to the Government but to the nation.
I feel very confident that plans that we have got will enable us to do that and I am absolutely certain that the professionalism and the dedication that we see from our soldiers here in Australia, overseas, no matter what task they are asked to do, that’s the level of professionalism that will provide the foundations for these changes of the future. So thank you.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks very much General Morrison. Before we respond to your questions, as you may have seen in the course of late this morning the Prime Minister has announced a Ministerial reshuffle.
Can I just take this opportunity of congratulating Minister Jason Clare on his promotion to Minister for Home Affairs and Justice. I’ve worked very closely with Jason on all of these matters, he’ll very much be a loss from the Defence portfolio but we wish him all the best on his move to the Justice portfolio and wish him luck as Minister for Home Affairs and Justice.
Can I congratulate my colleague Kim Carr on his appointment as Minister for Defence Materiel. I’ve worked with Kim over many years and I look very much forward to dealing with him in the Defence Materiel area. As people would know, Kim is a great advocate on behalf of Australian industry, and his input in the Defence Materiel area will be invaluable.
Can I also welcome back to the Defence Portfolio Parliamentary Secretary Mike Kelly. Mike has been appointed as Parliamentary Secretary to Defence together with Senator Feeney. I welcome him back to the portfolio and very much look forward to utilising Mike’s experience both as a former member of the ADF but also as a former Parliamentary Secretary for Defence.
So a change in personnel in Defence, but the great work that we have to do in the national security area continues and today as Jason and David and I and General Morrison have said; a big day for Army, a day where fundamental changes have been made for the future, they will ensure Army’s capacity to better protect and defend our national security interests and I thank General Morrison and his predecessor General Gillespie for the very good work done in this area.
JOURNALIST: When was it realised that this restructuring needed to happen?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well General Morrison's predecessor, General Ken Gillespie, was working on this matter for some considerable period of time. And I received, as did Senator Feeney, briefings on this matter from the first moment that the new ministry took up its work in September/October of last year.
So this has been very much a work in progress. General Morrison has added to that, and since General Morrison's appointment we've worked very closely, together with Senator Feeney. Having said that, this is very much a fundamental reform where we have taken account of the experience that we've had over the last decade, as I say with our expeditionary forces in the Middle East, in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But also taking into account our responsibilities in our own region in the Pacific to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, to security concerns and to peace and stabilisation concerns. And the change of bringing all of the key capability elements of Army into three separate Battalions, together with the additional heavy amphibious capability that we'll see with the arrival of the Landing Helicopter Docks in a couple of years, in very many respects transforms Army's capability and sets it up very much for the future.
As General Morrison has said, there is no doubt that over its 110 years of history, the Australian Army has grown to be a first class institution, has grown to be an institution that we all respect and we all see the great work that its personnel do on an ongoing basis. But every great organisation needs to reform, needs to change and needs to keep one step ahead. And that's what we're doing with this reform here. It's taken a lot of diligent and hard work, but that's been done very well in cooperation between Army, between the Australian Defence Force and between the ministerial team.
JOURNALIST: No plans to accelerate the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well there are no plans to accelerate. I've made clear consistently that we very much believe we are on track to transition to Afghan-led security forces, responsibility and leave by 2014.
Indeed as the Prime Minister has indicated recently and as I have indicated in recent months we may well get there earlier than 2014, but that outcome is conditions based. We're neither seeking to rush it, nor seeking to slow it down.
Our responsibility, objective, our mission is to transfer security responsibility in Uruzgan province to the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police. We are on track to do that, we may get there earlier and as a consequence of that, as I have indicated really since about March, April of this year, both I and my fellow International Security Assistance Force and NATO Defence Ministers have been focusing on not just transition but what the post-transition international community contribution in Afghanistan might be, and there I've made it clear we're in discussions with our international community partners about what roles we might play into the future.
So there are essentially two steps, there's the transition step and then there is the post-transition future for Afghanistan and I've said that Australia is looking at what contribution it can make, potentially special forces, potentially advice and training but certainly development assistance and capacity building.
JOURNALIST: When will the Government decide whether there is a role for Australian special operations to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well the International Assistance Security Force discussion on this really began at the March, April meeting of Defence Ministers. It will culminate, I think, in terms of agreed principles at the NATO summit in Chicago in May of next year. So we're now working very hard, together with our International Security Assistance Force and NATO colleagues to seek to map out decisions that might be made in Chicago.
There are, I think, two obvious points, post transition to Afghan-led security responsibilities. There will be, in our view, a need for ongoing international community assistance. The quantity of that assistance, the measure and type of that assistance is now the subject of discussion amongst the international community and it's at a very early stage, and we're doing that work. The quantity of that assistance, the measure and type of that assistance is now the subject of discussion amongst the international community and it's at a very early stage.
We're doing that work, but I think by the time we get to the Chicago NATO Summit that will be very much a benchmark, so far as the post transition arrangements are concerned.
Secondly, and most importantly, there will be an ongoing need to make a contribution to resourcing the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police. This will also be an important aspect of Chicago.
JOURNALIST: Will there be a timeframe organised before Chicago?
STEPHEN SMITH: I wouldn't put it that high. I think in Chicago, we will determine the principles which will apply after transition and the nature and type of contributions, which both NATO and the International Security Assistance Force will contemplate making. We're very much in early days here.
JOURNALIST: What impact will this restructuring have on the budget and how does that fit into the savings and efficiency measures?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the great advantage of Plan Beersheba in addition to setting Army up for the future, setting Army up for the future of our region, a future for the combat, a future for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, a future for a stabilisation of peacekeeping, is that we also believe that we will be able to use Army's resources more efficiency and more effectively.
As a consequence of that, we believe that planned [indistinct] Army and Defence’s [indistinct] resources so there's no extra call upon the [indistinct]. So far as the LAND 121 project is concerned, so far as the Chinooks are concerned and so far as the route clearance equipment is concerned, the cost of those is detailed in the various press releases.
The cost of the Chinooks, rule of thumb, is about $40 million. The cost of the route clearance is about $70 million and LAND 121, which is seven and a half to eight thousand vehicles over a decade is a very large project, some $7 billion dollars over the decades period. Again, that's catered for in the Defence Capability Plan, which arose out of the 2009 White Paper.
JOURNALIST: There is a change to the three Battalions [indistinct] that they can't do now?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, they're [indistinct] Brigades for the three Brigades. What it does is at the moment, and I will ask General Morrison to add, because he has done this, both in his capacity as being in command of Army [indistinct] operations out of Sydney, out of Victoria Barracks, but also as Chief of Army.
But essentially, what we're doing is drawing out of Army's separate battalions and the various different elements of expertise. So instead of having our armoured expertise, our infantry expertise, our amphibious landing expertise, our logistics and communications expertise all drawn from different units or different Brigades or different Battalions, they'll now be shared.
So you'll have comprehensive integrated skills, which will enable one battalion to be deployed for any one particular purpose, but I will ask General Morrison to add.
DAVID MORRISON: The Minister's hit it right on the head. In an Army that has 30,000 regulars and around 20,000 Reservists, it's not large in global terms. We need to be able to provide, as a middle ranking power and an Army that supports that, the broadest range of options we can for Government.
It's very difficult to predict what types of operations we will have in our immediate future and that augers for a force that is better balanced than what we have at the moment.
The structures that have formed around our First Brigade in Darwin or our Third Brigade in Townsville or our Seventh Brigade in Brisbane have served Australia well, without doubt and all of the plans that drew those Brigades into that shape during the '70s and early '80s, I think, has shown the sense of that, at the time.
But over the last 12 years, with the types of operations that we've been involved in, we've had to replace units in operational theatres that haven't looked like those forces that they're taking over from.
We've replaced light infantry with mechanised infantry and we've replaced them in turn with motorised infantry. We had to re-skill people and prepare them in a different way for the types of operations they had been asked to do.
It's been pretty - it's met what we've been required and, as I said, the performance of our soldiers, I think, has been second to none. But it has been less than efficient. What we need is an army that is better balanced across its force structure, both in terms of its regular forces and its reserve forces.
Where we place our various inherent capabilities inside our Brigades so that we can not only respond at short notice to Government requirements, but should the need arise, as has been the case in the last 12 years, we can continue to commit forces to operations in the role that they're trained for.
We've learnt the lessons of the last 12 years and we're applying those to the future and I'm very confident that the new structures that we'll have in Army will serve just as well as those that were brought into place in the 1970s were for the security challenges that they had to meet.
JOURNALIST: Gentlemen, sorry. Just for the layman, if you've got, say within the Brigade, I might be wrong here, infantry Battalions for instance, so would this be a situation where you've got, say, an Armoured Battalion, an infantry Battalion, signals Battalion and these three, sort of, they would then work together, train together and they go over together.
Is that what you mean when you say integrated ability?
DAVID MORRISON: Yes, very much so. We need to have forces that are going to operate in barracks together, so that they can train together, as much as we can and clearly we will remain in Darwin and we'll remain in Townsville, we'll remain in Brisbane, we'll remain in the various locations that Army occupies now in Australia.
But we need to group assets together in a way that enables them to train as they would fight or operate at short notice. Without going into the specifics, what we will try and do is make our Brigades more like each other.
There will still be some differences, because we are an Army that has got a deep history that has been - we've seen our force structures built over many decades, but we will make them more alike over time and the message that I've certainly said to Army recently is that as we step through that process, we're going to consult widely.
We're not going to make dramatic change at short notice and we will certainly engage with local communities.
But one of the things that is contained, I think, in the handout is that the numbers of people in various locations around Australia at the moment will not change dramatically at all under Plan Beersheba.
So those that are supporting our troops in Townsville and in Darwin and in Brisbane and other locations won't see major changes there. What they'll see though is a better and more efficient force as a result of the plan.
JOURNALIST: General, how many troops, sorry, reservists rather, have we roughly got deployed abroad at the moment? And how many would we likely see deployed to places like Afghanistan when Beersheba is up and running?
DAVID MORRISON: Well we don't have an operation at the moment anywhere that doesn't have reservists, men and women, as part of the force. That's Afghanistan as it was in Iraq as it was in Timor with INTERFET. But what we've done over time is we've raised the level of capability within our Reserve and that's been largely based on the dedication of our men and women of the Reserve.
And we have been able to put more and more Reservists into various operational theatres where their training matches the task that the nation requires of it and so, over time, almost 100 per cent of our commitment to the Solomon Islands is now a Reserve commitment and that's certainly over 100 Reservists.
Where we've gone in Timor is somewhat similar. Half of our force in Timor, half of our Army force in Timor now is Reserve. That's in excess of 150 personnel. We've been drawing our Reservists from areas of the Reserve based largely on the Brigades that are around Australia but under Plan Beersheba what we want to try and do is link our training in our Reserve brigades to the types of training that we do in our regular brigades and give them the opportunity to generate forces in the same efficient and professional way that we're seeing with our regulars.
JOURNALIST: So when the regulars that they're attached to go over to Afghanistan, they would go with them or a component would be Reservists. Does that mean that we would likely see an increase in the number of Reservists in places like Afghanistan?
DAVID MORRISON: I think what it says is that we will be able to commit either regular or Reserve forces either at an individual level or at a group level for the role that we have prepared them for in the best possible way. Now we're doing that because of the role that is required of our Reservists in the Solomons and in East Timor.
Those Reservists who have been committed to Afghanistan are doing it at an individual basis so they're filling particular positions that we require of them and there is no plan to increase the number of Reservists in Afghanistan.
But the plan does enable us to look at our reserve as part of the force that we would draw on to meet operational requirements for the nation in the future, in a much better and more effective way than we've been able to do in the past.
JOURNALIST: So essentially if there are holes in the regular Army Battalion that's going over to Afghanistan, they could draw on specific reserves brigade to fill those holes?
DAVID MORRISON: I wouldn't describe them as holes. I mean I think that probably raises the idea that we're under-preparing our forces and we're not.
Rather I think that there are certain capabilities resident in our Reserve Forces that lend themselves to a commitment, be it at an individual level as they are in Afghanistan now, or at a much more significant group level as they are in the Solomons or East Timor. Where we're drawing skills from their Reserve service and from their civilian service and applying them in an operational theatre to good effect, it's about a total force commitment.
JOURNALIST: Just very quickly, I'm sorry to keep asking you questions, but will it be a situation where - if we're talking about a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan, will the Reservist, who presumably has another job back in civvy street, do they have an option to go or is it mandatory?
DAVID MORRISON: Well, as I said before, the commitment to Afghanistan by our Reservists has been done at an individual level. So individuals with the required skills have been asked if they could commit to those operations and if they've been able to do so there has been arrangements made through Army and Defence, with Government support, to provide some employer packages so that employers aren't disadvantaged.
I would point out though that our commitment to the Solomon Islands and certainly to Timor are for periods in excess of six months, and in the case of Timor, is a commitment by our Reserve men and women for a 12 month period: preparation before they go, a deployment and then de-escalation when they come back.
In every case we have been able to work with the Government to provide employer support and Senator Feeney may wish to add some to that.
DAVID FEENEY: I guess I just wanted to make the point, that with Reserve deployment’s, Reserves are called for rather than called out. What that of course means is that the Government and the Governor-General has not called for the Reserves to call them out, which is of course a statutory power of Government but rather we have called for, and that's an important distinction because of course essentially Reserves are volunteering to be part of a deployment or part of a rotation.
And I think experience informs us that the enthusiasm and the morale of Army Reserve is such that we have not been short of volunteers and that there has never been a pressure on Government to call out rather than to call for, so I hope that sort of fixes up at least that component of the question.
I guess it's worth, when thinking about something like Operation Astute in Solomon Islands, as General Morrison said, we have something in the order of 100 people there at any one time but of course that means over the course of a year, literally something in the order of 400 or 500 Arm