The worst security circumstances a former military chief has ever seen have prompted a review of the Australian Defence Force to ensure it is ready to meet future challenges.
Retired Air Chief Marshal Sir Angus Houston and former Labor defence minister Stephen Smith will head the review and undertake the most comprehensive reassessment of the military in 35 years in the face of potential “state-on-state conflict”.
“It’s absolutely imperative that we review the current strategic circumstances, which I rate the worst I have ever seen in my career and lifetime,” Sir Angus told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.
He noted the “land war in Europe, all sorts of issues in northeast Asia, particularly around Taiwan, east China Sea, issues in southeast Asia and issues up on the Himalayan border and northern India”.
The review, the first since 2012, will be conducted alongside the consultation process for the AUKUS agreement with Australia set to decide whether to purchase nuclear-propelled submarines from the United States or the United Kingdom.
“The timing of that is important because it means this will run concurrently with the exercise we’re currently undertaking with the United States and the United Kingdom under the banner of AUKUS around the selection of Australia’s future submarines,” Defence Minister Richard Marles said.
“Given the significance of that platform, it’s really important that both bodies of work happen concurrently and are able to cross-pollinate each other.
“Together, these bodies of work are going to lay the foundations for defence policy for our country for decades to come.”
Their recommendations on the ADF’s structure, force posture and preparedness from 2023 to 2033 and beyond will be presented to the government by March 2023 at the latest.
Mr Marles said the review will also consider how Australia’s capabilities can “better integrate and operate” with the US, the UK and other key partners.
Major programs already underway involving the Hunter class frigates and AUKUS arrangements will not change but the integrated investment plan for the next 10 years will be assessed to ensure procurement schedules are able to respond to strategic challenges.
“We’ve talked about the fact the failure of the former government to advance the questions of submarine procurement has left us with the potential of a capability gap,” Mr Marles said.
“We need this capability as soon as we can get it.”
He expected the work on submarines and AUKUS would be completed in the first part of next year.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said it was not about cutting funding.
“The government has made it very clear that we will have defence spending maintained at least two per cent of GDP (gross domestic product) and I have also indicated … I expect that to rise in the future, not fall,” he told reporters.
Sir Angus joined the air force in 1970 before rising through the ranks to become Chief of Air Force in 2001.
In 2005, he was appointed Chief of the Defence Force, before retiring in 2011.