|Cameron Stewart | March 31, 2009
Article from: The Australian
BILLIONS of dollars of fighter jets, warships and military equipment cannot be used in their current state because they would be too vulnerable to enemy fire.
A critical lack of upgraded weaponry has left the Australian Defence Force unable to deploy most of its frontline fighters or warships at short notice against any enemy with modern air defence systems or anti-ship missiles.
An investigation by The Australian reveals much of the ADF's most powerful weaponry is awaiting upgrades or promised replacements and is useful only for training purposes or deployment on operations where there is little or no risk of high-level conflict.
As such, the ADF, which receives $22 billion in taxpayer funds each year, cannot conduct any high-level operations without substantial support from coalition forces such as the US.
Former Defence official Allan Behm said: "I think the public would be absolutely astonished and gobsmacked to think we spend so much on defence every year and yet we can't send much of it into harm's way because it won't work or it will not survive in a contest."
Defence experts say none of the RAAF's soon-to-be-retired F-111 strike bombers nor the majority of the 71 F/A-18 Hornet fighters can be used against modern air defences because they lack sufficient electronic protection.
Similarly, they say the navy's eight Anzac frigates cannot be sent into a hotly contested war zone because of a lack of defensive weaponry, while the four other frigates, the FFGs, are still unavailable after a bungled and delayed $1.5 billion upgrade.
Experts say the problem reflects a litany of delayed equipment upgrades as well as a Defence Department mindset that focuses more heavily on future purchases than on current operations. They say the proper balance between current and future defence needs has been lost.
Daniel Cotterill, former chief of staff for Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon, told The Australian: "There is a bias within Defence towards investing in the future force rather than giving government the fully functioning options they really need today."
The Government is in the final stages of preparing a Defence white paper that will outline a multi-billion-dollar shopping list of new planes, ships and hi-tech weaponry. But the ADF is in a parlous state of readiness for serious conflict.
A deficiency in anti-submarine warfare capabilities means the navy would be unlikely to risk sending surface ships into zones where enemy subs were present.
Andrew Davies, an analyst with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said: "Our ability to actively search for submarines is very limited to short-range technologies and we have little or no ability to successfully fire a weapon at a modern submarine."
Only half of the six-boat Collins-Class submarine fleet is available and a shortage of crew would make it impossible to sustain operations for long.
The army cannot deploy any of its 33 Blackhawk helicopters into warzones, including Afghanistan, because they remain vulnerable to shoulder-launched missiles.
It is also considered unlikely to deploy its M113 armoured personnel carriers because, despite receiving a $500 million upgrade, the M113s are considered vulnerable to large improvised explosive devices, such as those used by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Experts say the Government needs to pressure the ADF to make its existing equipment more operationally effective rather than wait for future replacements.