2. Operations

The Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) operational commitments across 20152016 comprised assistance to Australia’s civil community; humanitarian assistance and disaster relief; boarder protection; peace monitoring and support; search and rescue; and combat operations. These commitments are shown in Figure 2.1.

Figure 2.1:  ADF operations during 2015-16

Source: Defence Annual Report 2015-16, Chief of Defence Force Review, p. 5.
The reported numbers of personnel deployed on ADF operations is shown in Table 2.1.
Table 2.1:  Defence Personnel on ADF Operations
Government Mandate
Middle East Region
Reviewed Annually
Middle East Region
Middle East Region and Iraq
Australian Maritime Interests
Southern Indian Ocean
Southern Indian Ocean
Source: Department of Defence, Global Operations, http://www.defence.gov.au/Operations/ (accessed 1 Nov 17).
Defence’s commitment to comply with and improve on the highest ethical and legal standards surrounding conflict and peace keeping, peace enforcement or disaster relief and humanitarian assistance operations is commendable. In particular, ADF efforts on operations advancing women peace and security and humanitarian assistance are to be commended.
The Committee notes that as Defence continues to mature its planning and sustainment capabilities it is developing a more cost conscious approach to planning and decision making. One of many examples cited involved planning to return elements to Australia following the completion of Operation Fiji Assist. The Vice Chief of the Defence Force (VCDF), Vice Admiral Ray Griggs indicated:
As we were deciding to redeploy forces back from Fiji, where we brought them into, whether it was Townsville, Brisbane or Sydney, what we were seeing was tighter focus on the cost of some of those operational decisions. I think that, at times in the past, there has been a tendency for that cost issue to be a secondary consideration to the operational effectiveness piece. I think that very much is coming to the fore in a way that it probably did not a decade ago.1
Major ADF operational commitments are covered in greater detail below.

Middle East Area of Operations

The Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO) was the ADF’s primary effort operationally through Operation OKRA, Australia’s support to the government of Iraq via the US-led coalition to combat Da’esh and affiliate violent extremist organisations in Iraq. The Department advised the commitment sits at around 740 people and comprises three elements:
Air Task Group – the conduct of operations over Iraq and Syria.
Task Group TajiBuilding Partner Capacity – Located at Taji, north of Baghdad, the Task Group is building Partner capacity through the training of elements of the Iraqi security forces and Iraqi federal police to improve their operational planning and tactical capabilities.
Special Operations Task Group – Special personnel are advising and assisting the Iraqi counter-terrorism service.2

Deir al-Zor

On 16 September 2016, Coalition forces conducted air strikes in the vicinity of Deir al-Zor, Syria. The United States Central Command subsequently conducted an investigation into these operations. The ADF assisted the investigation which was subject to legal review. The Department advised:
The United States Central Command conducted an investigation into the coalition air strikes in Deir al-Zor (also spelt Dayr az Zawr) on 17 September 2016 (Syrian time) and released a redacted version of the executive summary of its findings on 29 November 2016.3
The United States-led investigation found that the airstrikes were conducted in full compliance with the rules of engagement and the Laws of Armed Conflict, the decisions that identified the targets as Daesh fighters were supported by the information available at the time, and there was no evidence of deliberate disregard of targeting procedures or the rules of engagement. The investigation could not substantiate the identity of those killed or wounded. Post-strike analysis shows it is more likely than not that irregular forces aligned to the Syrian regime were struck.
The investigation made recommendations to refine the United States-led Combined Air and Space Operations Centre’s targeting process, to further reduce the risk of errors. These recommendations relate to developing a more capable targeting cell, improving information-sharing among analysts, strengthening the process for implementing lessons learned, and the immediate passage of critical information under the Flight Safety Memorandum of Understanding. The Combined Air and Space Operations Centre has implemented the investigation recommendations.4

Operation MANITOU

Operation MANITOU is Australian's contribution to support international efforts to promote maritime security, stability and prosperity in the Middle East Region (MER). The Department advised:
HMAS Arunta is the ship that is currently deployed to the Middle East (17 February 2017).5 Effectively, since 1990 we have had a pretty much continuous presence from the maritime unit in and around the Middle East. Where the ship operates has varied over that period. Currently its (HMAS Arunta) primary role is to support Combined Task Force 150, which is the maritime security mission in the Middle East.6

Committee Comment

The Committee notes the success the Iraqi security forces have had in defeating Da’esh, and acknowledges the efforts of successive Air, Taji and Special Operations Task Groups for the contribution they have made towards building Partner capacity and supporting the Iraqi Governments security goals.
The Committee also notes the complexities that surround incidents like the Deir al-Zor air-strike and the ADF’s efforts to improve communications and coordination of all elements that contribute to delivering or reviewing lethal effects.

Operation Fiji Assist

In the wake of tropical Cyclone Winston, in February 2016, the ADF embarked on Operation Fiji Assist which involved the deployment of humanitarian and disaster recovery assistance to Fiji.
The Committee was interested in the first operational deployment of HMAS Canberra in support of Operation Fiji Assist. The VCDF stated:
I think it was a very successful operation from the LHD's7 perspective. The geography of Fiji, effectively, is an archipelago, and most of the damage was not actually on Viti Levu, the main island; it was up to the north and the north-east, and that is where Canberra came into its own in that it could deploy and be sustained up there for an extended period of time using its embarked helicopters and watercraft to deliver assistance as required. It was perfect for the activity given the island nature of the Fijian archipelago.8
The Chief of Navy added:
The executive order for her to sail was made on 24 February last year, and she sailed from Brisbane on 26 February…noting that last year was a leap year, it was about a two-day period. She arrived in the vicinity of Fiji on 1 March and eventually departed Fiji, having finished the mission, on 26 March.9
The Committee inquired into the cost to the Department of Defence of Operation Fiji Assist. The Department advise is the cost was $4.7 million.10

Committee Comment

The Committee acknowledges the efforts of all agencies involved in planning for and the conduct of Operation Fiji Assist (Operation). The Operation is recognised as a humanitarian and regional partnering success, especially regarding the relationships established between the ADF, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Humanitarian actors and other contributing nation’s Defence Forces.
Additionally, the Committee notes the Operation’s employment of Gender Advisors has assisted to integrate the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 - Women Peace and Security objectives into ADF planning and regional dialogue.

Operation Sovereign Borders

Operation Resolute is the ADF’s contribution to Operation Sovereign Borders, the whole-of-government effort to protect Australia’s borders and offshore maritime interests. Operation Resolute cost $31.1 million in 2015–2016.11
The Operation employs eight Cape Class vessels crewed by Australian Border Force personnel and two Cape Class vessels crewed by Navy personnel. The Department advised that in broad terms approximately 600 personnel are dedicated to Operation Sovereign Borders.12
The Committee inquired into the cost to the Department of Defence of operating a Cape Class vessel with a Navy crew verses operating a Cape Class with an Australian Border Force crew. The Department advised:
The cost of operating a Cape Class with Navy crew was $0.044m above the Australian Border Force crewed vessels; at $5.990 m per annum.13

Committee Comment

The Committee notes the achievements made by the ADF in supporting Operation Sovereign Borders, and the excellent whole of Government coordination that is being applied to affect positive outcomes for this operation.

Operational challenges and lessons learnt

The Committee inquired into the challenges the ADF faces when preparing for operations and the lessons learnt during 2015-2016. The VCDF advised:
The Department was always learning lessons in how we do things. But I actually think that after 16 or 17 years of pretty much continuous operations, and the evolution of the Joint Operations Command and the establishment of the headquarters at Bungendore, I think we have actually started to develop a pretty solid and smooth way of doing business. We have a well-established lessons learned process and we roll that back into our planning for future operations.14
The VCDF highlighted that:
The more demanding things are the short-notice contingency activities, and primarily that falls into the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief space. Fiji Assist was a very good example of that sort of operation where we very quickly mobilised a significant effort to assist the people of Fiji following Cyclone.15
The committee followed up by inquiring into the applicability of lessons around costs learnt during training on improving operational performance.
The VCDF advised:
Yes. Obviously, the exercise piece provides a range of lessons from operational employment and tactics through to the logistics piece…if we brought Canberra back from Fiji Assist with the helicopters to Townsville versus Brisbane, what does that then mean in terms of redeploying those aircraft once they are back in Australia? What does that mean for the cost of flying them up? What does it mean for rate of effort going forward, using extra air hours—those sorts of considerations, which, I think it is fair to say, 10 years ago were not at the forefront of an operational planner's mind, because it is about getting back and reconstituting. We have to balance that with the cost and the downstream impact that it will have on availability.16

Committee Comment

The Committee notes that as the Department of Defence’s lessons learnt process matures, operational lessons are able to be rapidly considered and used to improve planning and operational effectiveness. One such example is the improved financial awareness of operational decisions making.

Committee comment

The Committee notes the significant contribution the Department of Defence makes to Australia’s whole of Government diplomatic and regional partnership objectives and that the suite of current operations are largely unnoticed by the general public as Australia is not seen as being at war. Nevertheless, the strong organisational and personal relationships established through the Department of Defence engagement and operations are important for ongoing collaboration and the strengthening of partnerships in both the region and across the globe.
The Committee notes that approximately 5000 Department of Defence personnel17 or approximately 6 percent of the ADF (Full-time and Reserve force) are deployed for the conduct of operations annually. This has been a significant long term commitment for the Department which the Committee acknowledges contributes to the Forces’ experience and maturity. However, it places personal and family pressures on serving personnel, whether they are deploying in any given year or not, as the efforts required to prepare a force for deployment requires the commitment of significantly more personnel and equipment than that which deploys.
The Committee notes the ongoing contribution the Reserve force has in supporting and the conduct of operations and thanks them for this commitment. The Committee also thanks the families of Reserve personnel and their employers who are often financially disadvantaged as a consequence of Reservists performing their critical role for the Nation.
The Committee thanks both ADF and Australian Public Service (APS) personnel on operations for their service, and those at home who support them. We owe a great debt of gratitude to the men and women of the Department of Defence for their service to Australia and wish them a safe return to their friends and families.

  • 1
    Vice Admiral Griggs AO, CSC, RAN, Vice Chief of the Defence Force, Committee Hansard, 17 Feb 17, p. 10.
  • 2
    Vice Admiral Griggs, Committee Hansard, 17 Feb 17, p. 9
  • 3
  • 4
    Defence Question on Notice (QoN) Response No. 19, for JSCFADT QoN No. 33, 6 Apr 17.
  • 5
    HMAS Arunta concluded its assignment as part of Operation MANITOU and handed over responsibility to HMAS Newcastle after completing a nine-month deployment; returning to HMAS Stirling 23 Jul 17.
  • 6
    Vice Admiral Griggs, Committee Hansard, 17 Feb 17, p. 9
  • 7
    HMAS Canberra, a Canberra Class Amphibious Assault Ship, also known as a Landing Helicopter Dock, provides the Australian Defence Force with one of the most capable and sophisticated air-land-sea amphibious deployment systems in the world. See: http://www.navy.gov.au/fleet/ships-boats-craft/lhd
  • 8
    Vice Admiral Griggs, Committee Hansard, 17 Feb 17, p. 10
  • 9
    Vice Admiral Barrett, Committee Hansard, 17 Feb 17, p. 22
  • 10
    Vice Admiral Griggs, Committee Hansard, 17 Feb 17, p. 21
  • 11
    Defence Annual Report 2015-2016, Vol. 1, p. 63.
  • 12
    Vice Admiral Griggs, Committee Hansard, 17 Feb 17, p. 9.
  • 13
    Note 1. Navy crewing cost is based on average of $0.143 million Per Capita with 21 persons per crew for a total of four crews rotating across the two Cape Class; Note 2. Navy crewing cost includes salaries, superannuation, allowances and travel as part of the conditions of service; Note 3. Australian Border Force crewing cost is based on average of $0.162 million; Note 4. Per Capita with 21 persons per crew for a total of 14 crews rotating across eight boats, noting that ABF advice is that their crew numbers vary between Australian Border Force crewing cost Per Capita includes salaries, superannuation, travel and overtime, Defence Question on Notice (QoN) Response No. 13, for JSCFADT QoN No. 9, 6 Apr 17.
  • 14
    Vice Admiral Griggs, Committee Hansard, 17 Feb 17, p. 10
  • 15
    Vice Admiral Griggs, Committee Hansard, 17 Feb 17, p. 10
  • 16
    Vice Admiral Griggs, Committee Hansard, 17 Feb 17, p. 10
  • 17
    Assuming six month rotations for the operations listed in Table 2.1.

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