TRANSCRIPT: PRESS CONFERENCE WITH CHIEF OF AIR FORCE, AIR MARSHAL GEOFF BROWN, AND US AMBASSADOR TO AUSTRALIA, THE HON. JEFFREY BLEICH, DEFENCE ESTABLISHMENT FAIRBAIRN
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY AND E & OE
DATE: 23 August 2012
TOPICS: Growler; Mining boom; Land Warfare Studies Centre; Broderick Review.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, thanks very much for turning up. Can I acknowledge the presence of the Chief of Defence Force, General Hurley, the Chief of the Air Force-
GEOFF BROWN: Geoff Brown.
STEPHEN SMITH: No, no, no.
I almost used his nickname, and it's not Brownie. Chief of the Air Force Geoff Brown, and we're very pleased to see the US Ambassador here, Jeffrey Bleich. And this morning we've got a very important announcement, a very important capability announcement for Air Force and for Australia and the ADF generally. I'm very pleased to announce that the Government has decided that Australia will acquire the electronic warfare capability Growler at an acquisition cost of $1.5 billion.
This will be purchased under United States Foreign Military Sales office arrangements, and we will become the only country, other than the United States to have the Growler electronic warfare attack capability, hence the welcomed presence of the United States Ambassador at this announcement. You might recall that in the considerations of the 2009 Defence White Paper, the Government made it clear that into the future, when electronic warfare became more prominent, that there was a need for the ADF to consider, and the need for the Government to consider such an acquisition. And in association with the 2009 white paper, my predecessor, one of my predecessors, Minister Joel Fitzgibbon, decided to make sure and to ensure that 12 of the 24 Super Hornets which were purchased under a program which was announced by Brendan Nelson in 2007, that 12 of our 24 Super Hornets would be wired up for Growler to open up that potential.
The last four of our 24 Super Hornets arrived at Amberley air base in November/December of last year, and so we now have our full complement of 24 Super Hornets. Twelve of those were wired up for Growler as a result of the decision made by Minister Fitzgibbon back in 2009. Earlier this year, you might recall that I announced the Government's decision to spend about $20 million on long-lead items to ensure that the potential to acquire Growler remained. And in the May Budget, despite the difficult fiscal circumstances surrounding the May Budget, we also made it clear that the potential in the forward estimates was still there for the acquisition of Growler, and this was reflected in the public Defence Capability Plan which we published a month or so ago back in June or July.
And today I announce that as a result of that very good planning over a number of years, we will acquire that capability. We're expecting that the initial operating capability will occur in 2018. The purpose of the Growler, of course, is it provides a capacity to jam the communications system of an adversary, whether that adversary is a nation-state, or indeed a non-state actor, in other words, jam the communications system of a group of terrorists as well as a traditional adversary. This is a very important acquisition by the Government, and despite our difficult financial circumstances, which people are well aware of, since the Budget, because of our careful management and protection of core capabilities, we've also announced the purchase of 27 - of 10, sorry, C27s- which was announced the week of the Budget and we've also announced the acquisition of a further 200 Bushmasters. So, a most significant and important announcement today and I'm very pleased that we have been able to make this decision in recent weeks. I'll ask Geoff to make some remarks - and then the other Jeffrey, if you'd also like to make some remarks as well, and then I'm happy to respond to questions, but I do have to tell you - we're expecting a division about one.
I have leave from the House from twelve until one, so I'm fleeing here about 16 minutes to one, latest.
GEOFF BROWN: Well Minister, thanks very much. And I certainly welcome the decision by Government and the Minister's announcement this afternoon. In my view it's a very profound addition to the ADF's capability, and it will certainly significantly improve our ability to operate in complex, and increasingly hostile electronic battle space. It's a force multiplier right across all the ADF's capabilities, whether it's air, land, sea, and cyber, and it's certainly a unique capability, its ability to deny and disrupt an adversary's use of the electronic spectrum. It has a role in the wide variety and spectrum of ADF operations, and significantly decreases the risk to all land, sea, and air operations. In my view it's probably one of the most - well the biggest strategic increase in the ADF's capability since we ordered the F-111.
I'll hand over to you, Ambassador.
JEFFREY BLEICH: Well, thank you Mr Minister and Air Marshal Brown. I can't add more to what you've already said about the importance of this capability. We're very pleased to see one of our closest and most important allies in the world have this. I think it's a testament to the trust between the United States and Australia that Australia would be the only other nation that has this extraordinary capability. It's also a reflection of our deep desire on both the United States' part and the part of Australia to have interoperability, to have the same kind of system so that our service members can communicate with each other, can understand each other's equipment, can train together, and can operate in a seamless fashion with one another.
I do want to give special thanks, not only to the leadership of the Australian Government in making this very thoughtful and considered decision, but give my congratulations to the outstanding engineers and leaders at Boeing corporation which has developed this unique electronic warfare capability that is critical to the future of our security and the security of Australia and all like-minded and forward-leaning nations. So thank you very much for this great announcement and for allowing us to be part of it.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks for that, cheers. Alright- happy to respond to questions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Smith- in 2009, you mentioned that Mr Fitzgibbon had made an announcement, and he, I think, talked about an initial spending of $35 million [indistinct] aircraft out as they were being constructed so they could later be fitted if a decision was made to fit them with the Growler equipment. But he then suggested that the g… finishing the job would cost another $300 million. That's far short of what you were talking - announcing today. Are we getting a lot more or are we getting the same as was envisaged then?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we are getting more and I'll let Geoff go through that. But there were two things which were announced at that point in time. One was that we would give consideration to the purchase of an electronic warfare capability, and that we would wire up 12 of our 24 Super Hornets to have the capacity to technically take the Growler. And what Minister Fitzgibbon announced was the purchase of - or sorry, was the wiring up of 12 of our Super Hornets. That was done at a cost of about $35 million which was the $35 million you refer to. The $300 million you referred to was a rule of thumb estimate done at the time which predated a couple of things. One, it predated the Growler going into service by the United States Navy - the United States Navy operates Growler. And secondly, it didn't take into account all of the things which we have acquired, and I'll let Ray go through that - Geoff go through that detail, sorry.
And secondly, because we're purchasing it under United States Foreign Military Sales. United States Foreign Military Sales published an estimate some months ago which was in the order of 1.7, and we're not acquiring all of the things that that notice from the United States Foreign Military Sales envisaged. So- Geoff.
GEOFF BROWN: Certainly. When we originally announced it, the capability was built around just six aeroplanes. So that was a significant difference. This one's around 12. It originally envisaged waiting for new Generation Jammer and not getting the ALQ-99 pod. So, this new announcement included the ALQ-99 pods, it includes all the training - electronic warfare training range, so there's a significant difference in the capability between what was originally envisaged and what this announcement entails.
JOURNALIST: As a pilot, you mentioned, I think, the F-111s, is that right?
GEOFF BROWN: That's correct.
JOURNALIST: Can you just explain that a bit more in terms of the strategic-
GEOFF BROWN: Well I think - well, you look in terms of what you need to do in defence. And there's a big shape and deter role in any defence force. And the F-111 was a very significant deterrence capability that the Australian - the ADF had. I actually think a capability like this really is - has a very big shape and deter role because of its ability to just dominate the electronics spectrum.
JOURNALIST: Minister, are we buying 12 [indistinct] sets? And isn't the ALQ getting a bit long in the tooth, such that's going to be replaced in US military service in the next couple of years?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well again, I'll get Geoff to add, but we've got 12 wired up for Growler. We are putting ourselves in the position where at any given time we can have six operating with Growler itself. So, we'll effectively have a fleet of 12 at any point in time we can have six in the air. Secondly, the original electronic database was first conceived and designed back in the 1960s, but it has been continually and regularly updated since then. So we're dealing with the latest variant, the variant which formed the basis of the most successful United States Navy operation in Libya, which is on the public record.
GEOFF BROWN: Yeah certainly there's been changes in US Navy plans. So the AL Q-99, as the Minister said has been updated significantly and it'll continue in operation until probably around 2020 to 2024 before it's replaced with the new Generation Jammer. So that's the reason we've gone.
STEPHEN SMITH: All right. I can almost here the division bells. Everyone happy?
JOURNALIST: Just one other issue, there's a bit of a debate going today. Do you think the mining boom is over?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, a couple of caveats first. I've been doing other things so I haven't been following the debate closely. And I'm sure that economic ministers, including the Treasurer, the Finance Minister and the Resources Minister and the Trade Minister will be making their points. I make a particular point as a Western Australian Member, which is there continues to be in Western Australia a deeply significant minerals and petroleum resources investment pipeline. I'm happy to be corrected on the record on the actual detail, but last time I looked, the investment pipeline into the west in the first half of this year was predicted to be something in the order of $200 billion. And so where I come from - the minerals and petroleum resources state of Western Australia - there will continue to be a major investment in our minerals and petroleum resources industry.
More generally, and I've got a very distinct recollection of the Treasurer making this point in recent times, investment and export waves come in cycles. And so we're seeing in other parts of the country a move from and investment period to an export period. Export is obviously a result of production and production is obviously a result of investment. So these things do go in cycles. But where I come from in the west - and we've seen in recent times Rio making a significant announcement about additional investment in iron ore capacity. Where I come from in the west there continues to be a deeply significant investment cycle.
There's also an ongoing production and export growth pattern. In other parts of the country you see the move or the shift from investment to production and export. Now, however people might want to analyse that, what is absolutely crystal clear is that the minerals and petroleum resources industry and the export capability and capacity of the minerals and petroleum resources industry remains very significant to our economy, as does the long-term investment in it. Now, I don't want to be critical of what I've seen written in the past, but I do from time to time tear off the front page of the newspaper when there's a particularly interesting headline. And I've still got the copy of The Financial Review from a decade ago which had the front page headline saying, you know, minerals and petroleum resources an old industry.
It wasn't an old industry then and it's not an old industry now. It will continue to serve Australia very well both in terms of investment, production and export for a long period of time to come.
JOURNALIST: Minister Smith - sorry, the Land Warfare Studies Centre has produced a paper suggesting there's not enough debate within our armed forces, that the debate among, sort of middle-ranking officers is effectively stifled by comparison to the United States where there's a very aggressive and active debate. Does that concern you?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, having said something which some might regard as being implied or expressly critical of Fairfax let me make a couple of points. Firstly, I have to say I was surprised that your newspaper thought that research paper 140 from the Army Land Research Centre regarded - was regarded as having more importance and therefore more prominence in your newspaper than the 600 page document produced and published yesterday by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, put together after very close consultation with the Chief of the Defence Force and all the Service Chiefs. So I make that point advisedly; that's the first point.
Secondly, I don't agree with the analysis in the paper at all.
Thirdly, there's a reference in it to my office or me, and the authority for the reference in it to me is a newspaper article which criticises me for not authorising the release of inquiry officer reports into the deaths of soldiers in Afghanistan. And I have made it clear where there is no public interest in the further publication of such matters, if at the request of the families they don't want those inquiry reports published then I'll regard that as a relevant material consideration. So, I don't regard that as the stifling of debate, I regard that as paying proper attention to the views and the feelings of families in grief.
Thirdly - or it might even be my fourth point, I happened to have a conversation with the Chief of Army today. We had a meeting on an entirely different matter. I also had a meeting with the Chief of Navy which is why I referred to you as Ray on one occasion - sorry about that.
And the Chief of Navy had also seen your report and also seen the article concerned. And his view, and he's happy to - I'm sure he'll give you his view himself, but his view expressed to me was that he disagreed with the analysis in the paper. He also made the point to me apropos of life in general that he writes his own speeches and publishes his own speeches, and doesn't come to me for permission or approval.
I think I might have to go to a division. Thanks.