In 2019-20, we have experienced significant change, challenging us both at home and within the Indo-Pacific region. The Australian Defence Force has played an essential role in supporting our whole-of-nation responses to these challenges.
In meeting these challenges, the ADF has supported the Commonwealth Government’s response to Australia’s National Bushfire Crisis and the COVID-19 Global Pandemic. The ADF has also continued to conduct ongoing operations such as Operations ACCORDION, GATEWAY and RESOLUTE. We have delivered enhanced regional engagement as part of the Pacific Step-Up programme and the 2020 Defence Strategic Update more broadly.
The ADF remains prepared and ready to deliver on our mission, ‘to apply military power in order to defend Australia and its national interests’.
The 2020 Defence Strategic Update and 2020 Force Structure Plan
The publication of the 2020 Defence Strategic Update and 2020 Force Structure Plan sets out the Government’s defence strategy, with a focus on our near region in the Indo-Pacific. It reflects the fact that our strategic environment is now more complex, with Australia’s interests being more directly challenged.
The trends these documents address – growing great power strategic competition, the proliferation of more capable military systems, grey-zone tactics and expanding domestic assistance requirements – have been developing for some time. But recent events have accelerated these changes and magnified these challenges, demanding a decisive and deliberate response in ADF planning and future operations.
Responding to these challenges requires sharper prioritisation of resources to focus on the highest-priority threats to Australia’s national interests. This is what the 2020 Defence Strategic Update and 2020 Force Structure Plan lay out, and it is up to us to deliver on these objectives. The Government’s new defence strategy – to shape Australia’s strategic environment, deter actions against Australia’s interests and respond with credible military force when required – prioritises the ADF’s focus on our immediate region.
This includes $270 billion in investment in Defence capability and an enhanced commitment to ongoing reform across the organisation.
This new defence strategy also prioritises international engagement and ensures the ADF will have the capabilities to support an enhanced posture, positioned to support whole-of-government efforts to build Australia’s partnerships and influence in the region.
National Bushfire Crisis
The 2019-20 Australian bushfire season represented an unprecedented challenge, and resulted in the tasking of about 6,500 full-time and over 2,500 part-time ADF personnel. Defence provided assistance from 6 September 2019 to 26 March 2020, with assistance from nearly 500 personnel from Australia’s international defence force partners to support the emergency response and recovery operations.
Hundreds of other Defence Public Servants, Defence contractors and Defence Industry personnel joined with the ADF in a total Defence enterprise effort to provide critical support in response to the catastrophic bushfires. On 1 January 2020, Joint Task Forces (JTF) were established in Victoria (JTF 646), New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory (JTF 1110). On 4 January 2020, JTF 1111 was established to support the response in South Australia and Tasmania.
Defence undertook in excess of 1,500 tasks in support of communities and emergency service operations during Operation BUSHFIRE ASSIST 2019-20. Assistance provided included logistical support (stores, refuelling); engineering support (road clearance, firebreak construction); cargo movement (land, air and sea); personnel movement (land, air and sea); imagery (aerial assets providing imagery in support of fire mapping, route availability, damage); base support and accommodation (evacuees, emergency responders); and catering (evacuees, emergency responders).
During the national bushfire crisis, the ADF transported 13,000 tonnes of fodder, over 8 million litres of water, 73,000 litres of fuel and 1,200 tonnes of air cargo. The ADF cleared barriers and provided access to over 4,800 kilometres of road, while repairing 1,250 kilometres of fencing. Additionally, the ADF cleared 240 kilometres of fire breaks, produced a further 10 million litres of drinking water for Kangaroo Island and Bega, while evacuating 527 fire-affected people and preparing over 77,250 meals for locals.
The numbers speak for themselves. The ADF provided a high level of support to Australians reeling from the national bushfire crisis. The ADF stands ready to support Australia.
Support to the COVID-19 Response
In extraordinary times, the ADF was ready to help when asked by the Federal, State and Territory Governments to support the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the period covered by this report, more than 2,200 Defence personnel supported the whole-of-government response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Defence personnel came together and showed their professionalism, devotion to duty, teamwork and adaptability when faced with exceptional circumstances.
Defence worked hard to ensure the safety and wellbeing of Australians, including assisting Med-Con Pty Ltd in Victoria to significantly increase surgical face mask production, re-opening and supporting the North-West Regional Hospital in Tasmania and assisting contact tracing across the States and Territories, among many other tasks.
The ADF was proud to provide support nationally and internationally. COVID-19 affected every part of our training and operations, and the ADF was required to work in new ways to ensure that we could maintain operations and continue to defend Australia and its national interests.
As the pandemic continues, so too does our support.
The ADF remains engaged in 19 current operations and activities, both overseas and at home. These range from Operation COVID ASSIST – which provides essential support to State, Territory, Commonwealth organisations and near regional partners currently managing the COVID-19 global pandemic response – to Operation ACCORDION, which provides overarching support ADF activities within the Middle East Region.
Other operations are in support of United Nations (UN) missions and mandates. This includes Operation ARGOS (UN sanctions on North Korea), Operation LINESMAN (South Korea), Operation ASLAN (South Sudan) and Operation CHARTER (Cyprus).
In the Middle East Region, the ADF works with international partners in the continued fight against Daesh (ISIS or ISIL) in Iraq under Operation OKRA, while supporting other ongoing commitments to regional stability and order. This includes Operation HIGHROAD (Afghanistan), Operation STEADFAST (Iraq), Operation MANITOU (maritime security) and Operations MAZURKA and PALADIN (treaty observation).
The ADF’s focus is the Indo-Pacific region, where we are committed to several operations and activities supporting the stability, peace and prosperity of the region. These include maritime surveillance patrols such as Operations GATEWAY and SOLANIA, and a series of operations that aim to safely dispose of World War II-vintage Explosive Remnants of War from South Pacific island nations through Operation RENDER SAFE. In line with the 2016 Defence White Paper and the 2020 Defence Strategic Update, the ADF also conducts extensive regional engagement efforts under our Enhanced Regional Engagement Program and Indo-Pacific Endeavour.
Finally, Operation RESOLUTE is the ADF’s contribution to the whole-of-government effort to protect Australia's borders and offshore maritime interests through maritime surveillance and response in the maritime approaches to Australia. In addition, Operation SOUTHERN DISCOVERY is the ADF contribution to the whole-of-government, Department of Environment and Energy-led activity in the Antarctic Region – the Australian Antarctic Program. The operation is an enduring peace-time activity in support of Australia's national interests.
Highly Capable and In Demand
The ADF remains highly capable and in demand. As the 2020 Defence Strategic Update and 2020 Force Structure Plan highlight, the pace of change in the Indo-Pacific and demand on ADF capabilities is only likely to increase. In this, the ADF must not only be responsive but proactive in the manner in which it shapes and meets these future challenges. We must be prepared and ready to deliver on our mission, ‘to apply military power in order to defend Australia and its national interests.’
I am very proud of the manner in which the ADF and Defence APS, served our local communities and near neighbours during these unprecedented times. The core of all our capabilities remains our people, and their values: service, courage, respect, integrity and excellence. Over the coming year, I will remain focused not just on building and maintaining ADF capability and readiness, but also on the manner in which we all serve our nation in the finest traditions and values of our joint enterprise.
Angus J Campbell AO DSC General Chief of the Defence Force