How a BIG Country with a SMALL Population DEFENDS itself

May 17, 2001

The Bottom Line Australians generally feel reasonably safe from attack

Australia wants and needs tourists. Tourism is a major part of the economy and therefore tourists from all over the world are welcome. Personally, I consider it important that any prospective tourist has some reasonable idea of just what they are letting themselves in for. To that end, this review is an overall snapshot of an important part of the nation's psyche, for if a nation is not safe, it's people will have a very different attitude than that found in nations that are, or at least perceived to be.

Now when we talk about safety, we are of course talking specifically about defence, and here Australia has a few problems. Australia is not just the Australian mainland, which would be bad enough considering the mainland is the earth's largest island
with a coastline of almost 16,000 miles. We also need to defend our Territories, as follows;

Total Area (approx square miles)
Australian Antarctic Territory 3,800,000
Coral Sea Islands Territory 490,000
Territory of Heard and MacDonald Islands 240
Christmas Island 85
Macquarie Island (Administered by Tasmania) 82
Norfolk Island 21
Lord Howe Island (Administered by N.S.W.) 10
Cocos (Keeling) Islands 9
Ashmore and Cartier Islands 1.2

So back in the 1960's and 70's the question was seriously asked for the first time. Up until then it was really just build an Army etc. as large as was affordable without any real co-ordination and planning. We were under fire, deservedly so, from the USA for not meeting our share of the regions commitments so this was addressed also.

A man called Dibb was commissioned in the mid 1970's to prepare a workable plan for the future.

This was completed and approved by 1980 and actually called for a cut in numbers of personnel, particularly in the Army, and the emphasis was to be "smart rather than large". Over the twenty year period to the year 2,000 practically every item of equipment was to be replaced with a "state of the art version". In addition the three services, Army, Navy and Air Force would be brought under the banner of The Australian Defence Force (ADF).

Every new piece of equipment had to be made and maintained in Australia, not only from the point of view of jobs but mainly to have a ready pool of highly skilled people capable of building replacements.

Twenty years on from the instigation of this plan all jet fighters in the Air Force have been replaced with FA18/A Hornets and F111A aircraft, all surveillance aircraft with P3B and P3C Orions and AWACS, Helicopters with Black Hawks and so on, all heavily modified in Australia to suit local conditions. The Air Force know have approximately 250 top attack aircraft equal to the very best for use here. Air to Air refuelling has also been introduced.

The Navy sold its aircraft carriers due to lack of perceived future use and every single ship, all 80 plus have know been replaced, with a program of steady replacement of even those in place to ensure they are all at the "cutting edge". This includes a number (classified) of unmarked ships used mainly against illegal fishing in the Antarctic region, and full replacement of the submarine fleet which the US Pacific Fleet commander has just described as the best non-nuclear subs in the world. These were all built in Adelaide.

The Army has had all equipment replaced, and commonly uses man, trailer and truck mounted missiles.

Overall the Australian Defence Force is now seen as by far the most potent in the Asian region - and all this with about 20% less people.

But Defence goes further than just the "hard hit".

Our Alliance with the USA through the ANZUS treaty is seen as very important. ANZUS stands for Australia, New Zealand and the USA. In reality New Zealand's credibility is shaky to say the least, since in the 1980's they banned USA warships from their Ports and have just this year retired all fighter aircraft from their Airforce and reduced their Navy to only one warship, fairly old at that.

The US - Australian Alliance is important to both countries, since a major and critical part of the US Star Wars program is located here. And unlike New Zealand US warships are welcome in any of our ports, as we are in theirs. Both countries engage in War Games twice a year, with quite equal results, a very different scenario to twenty years ago!

Nothing beats early warning of trouble. In Australia that falls on the shoulders, mainly, of ASIO and ASIS (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and Australian Security Intelligence Service). ASIO gather intelligence on any trouble brewing within Australia, while ASIS is external/overseas, that is before it gets here. These two organisations managed to avert at least six disasters at the recent Olympics in Sydney.

Australians generally feel reasonably safe from attack, and when a Nation has the relative luxury of such a situation this must surely impact on its psyche, especially as compared to many countries in, for example, the Middle East or parts of Eastern Europe.

Surely not knowing when the next war will come, while at the same time knowing the odds are high that it will happen, must be a wholly different feeling.

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