Photo of the Day: TNI-AL Boarding Party during Exercise Kakadu

An Indonesian Navy (Tentara Nasional Indonesia Angkatan Laut; TNI-AL) boarding party with Captain Mal Wise, Australian Commander Task Group after a simulated boarding exercise conducted on HMAS Perth (FFH 157), during Exercise KAKADU 2012. Interesting to note the integration of Indonesian Naval SOF, KOPASKA (Komando Pasukan Katak; Frogman Commando Team), operators with a regular Navy boarding party. Australian boarding parties often operate in a similar way, with members of a Clearance Diving Team attached.

KOPASKA was influenced by USN Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs) and US Navy SEALs, and has roughly similar operational responsibilities, including maritime counter-terrorism. Their insignia features a winged frog and anchor device, and their motto is “Tan Hana Wighna Tan Sirna” (“there is no obstacle that cannot be overcome”).

Defence notes: “Exercise Kakadu 2012 is Australia’s largest maritime exercise and allows the RAN to develop operational capability and skills in a coalition environment. Exercise Kakadu will be conducted from 29 August to 14 September in the Northern Australian Exercise Area off the coast of Darwin.  In 2012 there will be 15 ships, and over 2000 sailors and officers from 17 participating and observing nations taking part”

Photo credits: Department of Defence

Hedging our bets in Uruzgan

SOTG in Gizab

Uruzgan police chief Matiullah Khan had nothing to lose when he joined President Karzai in criticising an ADF raid in the province.

Contradicting the official narrative, Khan and Amir Mohammad Akhundzada, governor of Uruzgan, allege they were not consulted ahead of the ANSF–ADF raid during which two Afghan men, a 70-year old iman and his 30-year old son, were killed. Furthermore, Khan says his troops were not involved as required by memoranda of understanding.

But Defence Minister Smith insists the raid targeted confirmed insurgents, and that it was partnered (80 Afghan troops to 60 ADF) and authorised. An ISAF media release states that the operation was planned and coordinated with Afghan officials, including the provincial governor.

While there are uncertainties in both stories (including whether the men were confirmed as insurgents before or after they were killed), there’s also the matter of trying to work out which side is more or less telling the truth.

We can’t assess the facts ourselves to determine who is right so we’ll have to hedge our bets one way or another. But the options are grim.

If the Minister and ISAF are telling the truth, they’ll still be backing a police chief that’s willing to lie to save his skin. To defend their facts, they’ll either have to say Khan is being dishonest or admit he lacks information about his own province. If Khan’s telling the truth, he’ll score points amongst Afghans being seen to admonish the west but, more importantly, we’ll be forced to question the credibility of our own government.

Neither option is desirable. It’s a stunning example of the double bind Australia finds itself in regarding the truth in Uruzgan. But either way, Matiullah Khan wins and we lose.

Image courtesy of Flickr user ISAFmedia.

Indonesia series post #1: SASR, Kopassus and foreign policy (part I)


In today’s Canberra Times, Athol Yates highlights the foreign policy use of the ADF. He states:

Employing the military internationally for both hard (military) and soft (non-military) power purposes has become an effective sign of the government’s international relations intent. For example, having the Air Force’s C-17 with its distinctive Australian livery arrive in Japan following last year’s tsunami visibly signals Australia’s solidarity with the country far more than providing funds to country-independent organisations such as the Red Cross or funds such as the Pacific Disaster Appeal.

Another example is the relationship between the SASR and Indonesia’s special forces unit Kopassus as an important part of Australia-Indonesia relations and an extension of Australia’s regional foreign policy goals.

The relationship has been an important component of rebuilding Australia-Indonesia military ties after they were cut in 1999 in response to allegations of human rights abuses by TNI in East Timor. The reinstatement of SASR-Kopassus ties in 2003 simultaneously addressed a need to further develop a counter terrorism capability as well as repair the defence relationship.

The units now conduct a number of training exercises, sharing skills and cooperation in areas such as counter terrorism and jungle warfare. The relationship has also extended into other capability areas with a number of Kopassus members undertaking Defence-sponsored English language study from May to June this year, supervised by SASR personnel.

Part II: More on special forces units and foreign policy

Image taken by Corporal Ricky Fuller, courtesy of Department of Defence.

Blame Canada! On women in combat and research


A few quick points about developments in women in combat. An article published this morning quotes Chief of the Defence Force General Hurley as saying that, as a result of examining the Canadian experience, all combat arms would now likely be opened up to women at the same time.

At Senate Estimates in May General Hurley stated the following lessons learned from the Canadians:

  • A targeted proportion of women in combat arms will not define success;
  • It is better to recruit 1 or 2 women into combat arms rather than wait until a critical mass is formed;
  • Don’t separate women into a distinctive group; they’re there to be part of a team.

The ADF was smart in engaging and hosting a Canadian military delegation in May and has now formulated a cautious approach informed by these experiences.

The bottom line is that, political decision-making aside, this issue is being developed in Australia via research. While women in combat continues to provoke emotional debate spurred by anecdotal exchanges based often on legitimate concerns, there is a lot of research available related to women in combat  that could usefully inform discussion. The following are but a few:

  • Cawkill et al, ‘Women in Ground Close Combat Roles: The Experiences of other Nations and a Review of the Academic Literature’, UK Ministry of Defence, 2009, PDF here.
  • Felman and Hanlon, ‘Count Us In: The Experiences of Female War, Peacemaking, and Peacekeeping Veterans’, Armed Forces & Society, April 2012, available here, research based on experiences of Australian female veterans.
  • Fasting and Sand, ‘Gender and Military Issues: a Categorized Research Bibliography’, The Norwegian Defence University College, 2010, PDF here.
  • Harrell et al, ‘The Status of Gender Integration in the Military: Analysis of Selected Occupations’, RAND Corporation, 2002, available here.
  • Major J. Rogers, ‘Gender Integration in the New Zealand Infantry’, US Army Command and Staff College thesis, 2001, available here.
  • Nuciari, ‘Women in the Military: Sociological Arguments for Integration’, Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research, 2006, available here.
  • Lindstrom et al, ‘The Mental Health of U.S. Military Women in Combat Support Occupations’, Journal of Women’s Health, 2006, available here.

After a decade of Afghanistan and Iraq, I’m sure we’ll see more Australian-based research emerging. Until then, some valuable thoughts from Canadian military delegation member, Lieutenant Colonel Jennie Carignan:

“The (main) lesson learned from our integration adventure is that operational effectiveness is only related to leadership and the actions of the leader. We had this twisted around, and this was another message we had for the ADF: Operational effectiveness has nothing to do with the gender of the folks composing your force.”


Image by Gary Ramage, courtesy of

Photo of the Day


This amazing mid-air shot of Australian Explosive Detection Dog, Matilda, was too good to pass up. Matilda is deployed to Tarin Kowt, Uruzgan, with her handler Sapper Adam Thomlinson as part of Mentoring Task Force 4 (MTF-4).

In 2010, then Minister for Defence, Senator Faulker, announced additional counter-IED initiatives, including $4.9 million to begin training additional dogs. The cost to maintain an EDD annually is $90,000.

Photo by Corporal Mark Doran, Department of Defence.

Wounded warriors: disability and the military

As our overseas expeditions wind down, Australian soldiers, particularly those who have served in Afghanistan, will return home. Of those who served in Afghanistan, 226 have been wounded—that is, they have been serving in war-like conditions and hurt during contact with the enemy. Of these, many have permanent disabilities.


I came across commando Private Damian Thomlinson’s story on CNN in relation to the US’ “Wounded Warriors” and Canada’s “Soldier On” programs. Injured by an IED in 2009, Private Thomlinson has both legs amputated. In an interview with 60 Minutes, he indicated he was willing to go back to work. However, when his former commanding officer, Colonel Paul Kenny, was asked about this possibility, he was non-committal.

One area that remains difficult is where soldiers with disabilities or injuries wish to return to work and to their mates.

For example, I read the story of Marine Staff Sergeant Dave Marino who, despite traumatic brain injury sustained in Iraq, fought his way to remain with his corps. It was an uphill battle.

While we are doing away with various forms of discrimination—like gender restrictions in the Australian Defence Force and the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy of the US military—it remains the case that employment in the military with a disability is challenging. Continue reading

Update: Australian MultiCam Pattern (AMP)

By N.R. Jenzen-Jones

Over the last few weeks I have been in correspondence with various officials from Defence, discussing the specifics and the impact of the upcoming Australian MultiCam Pattern (AMP). This new pattern is being developed by Crype Precision for the ADF – you can read more about this in an earlier Security Scholar article, here.

The following is a series of official responses from an ADF spokesperson to some of my questions:

Will the new AMP pattern follow the British MTP example and feature Crye’s MultiCam palette with a modified design, or are the colours being adjusted in any way?

Response: The prototype pattern has retained the Crye Multicam palette as it is these colours that have proven to be effective in Afghanistan. During the testing of the Australian Multicam Pattern Defence will confirm both the pattern and the palette meet the requirements for Afghanistan as well as examining what changes, if any, would improve its performance across the range of environments where Australian troops are operating.

Continue reading

Nancy Wake isn’t enough: the challenges of ADF gender reform

Now women are to be allowed to serve on the front line becoming an infantry officer is a real possibility. But there are hurdles for the Australian military to overcome in these challenging, yet hopeful times.

Politics and policy

First, we cannot separate the politics from the policy. The Minister for Defence has declared that the policy of opening all ADF roles to women will be rolled out within five years.

I believe in gender equality in the armed services, but we should be clear about the timing of the announcement and its impact on this deadline.

Continue reading

The strategic implications of a gender equal ADF

In the wake of the decision to open all roles of the ADF to women, much attention has lingered on the physical and psychological dimensions of close quarter combat. There are legitimate concerns about this, and I will examine them in forthcoming posts, however less attention has been given to the strategic implications of opening up all roles in the ADF and the contribution of female personnel.

Continue reading

Strategy: a symphony, not a solo

By ClosetIdealist

@ClosetIdealist is a security and risk advisor in the private sector, having previously served in the Australian Public Service and in the ADF. 

Since my last post, there have been several developments in the debate about ‘civilian strategists’, including a 15 August contribution from Professor Hugh White.  Hugh, with his conservative definition of strategy as the bridge “between the organised violence … and the political purpose”, has dragged our debate back to first principles.  Before we debate the finer points of what a ‘civilian strategist’ might be, we need to agree on strategy.

At the risk of opening a can of worms with a ‘grand strategy’ label, surely the modern experience of conflict has evolved strategy into something beyond Hugh’s restrictive definition (which I would call military strategy). Most people now instinctively conceive of strategy as implying a more general means-ends relationship.  Clausewitz once wrote that in some cases:

the political object will not provide a suitable military objective.  In that event, another military objective must be adopted that will serve the political purpose and symbolise it in the peace negotiations.

But in modern conflict the use of organised violence may not achieve certain political ends.  The political object might not be the surrender or battlefield defeat of an opposing nation; contemporary goals are more ambitious and require something beyond organised violence.  Liddell Hart wrote that the role of grand strategy is “to coordinate and direct all the resources of a nation, or a band of nations, towards the attainment of the political object of the war”. For the purposes of our debate, this serves as a useful, contemporary definition of strategy.

To slightly twist Rodger’s orchestra analogy, as political goals have become more ambitious the “orchestra” of means available to any given nation has also grown, requiring the team of composers (strategists) to exercise an interdisciplinary approach.  Military musicians once dominated the orchestra’s membership, but now there is a different range of measures that can augment, enhance or replace organised violence.  Progress towards political objects might now involve the application of diplomatic pressure to other nations, the use of aid to equip rebel groups or build infrastructure, the manipulation of economic markets or the conduct of cyber-attacks to cripple an adversary’s systems.  To touch briefly on another aspect of the debate, when civilian musicians were accepted into the orchestra, perhaps ‘civilian strategists’ were required to bridge the gap between their means and the political object ends.

To extend the analogy slightly, when governments set their requirements and request that a musical piece be written, they expect their strategists to compose a strategy that considers all of the means available to a nation; no listener would be satisfied if they expected to hear an orchestral piece, but instead were subjected only to a drum solo of organised violence!  In the modern era, strategic goals are pursued with “whole-of-nation” strategies, requiring the orchestra to contain musicians with experience in diplomacy, aid, economics, cyber-security, intelligence and perhaps even private business.   As anyone who has played music in a band or orchestra will tell you, teamwork is key – all of the instruments must play their part in time, each instrument must be played well and in a way that complements or enhances the overall performance.

Putting these arguments aside, Rodger is unsure as to whether “Australia’s political, diplomatic or security circumstances demand, or allow us to produce these types of people” (i.e. strategists).  This is a very scary thought.  Australia will very likely face a myriad of strategic challenges over the next half-century: the rise of China, shifting regional dynamics and power, global financial instability, the list goes on.  To suggest that we cannot produce the people required to respond to these challenges is the equivalent of throwing in the towel at a national level.

Some of Australia’s strategic policy decisions in recent times have proved disappointing, while some have proven successful not due to skill, insight or forethought, but rather sheer dumb luck.  There are of course many challenges in generating a culture of strategic excellence, but surely these challenges do not excuse failure. For years we have been known as the lucky country and recent global events have surely reminded us of this fact, but will the adage of ‘better lucky than good’ continue to hold true for Australia?  If Rodger is correct – if we are unable to identify, train and position Australian strategists to confront these challenges – then we had better hope our luck holds out indefinitely.

Image courtesy of the United States Military Academy Band.