In 2002-03, Defence continued to respond to the broad and complex demands created by a changed strategic environment. The high operational tempo of the last few years continued and the diversity of tasks confronting Defence expanded. Responding to the tragedy of the Bali bombing, the US-led operation in Iraq to enforce United Nations' Security Council resolutions, and the continuing commitment to the war on terror, demanded high levels of operational performance throughout the year. Financial management, acquisition reforms and improved business processes generally were given increased attention and will remain a major focus during the next 12 months and beyond.
Changes in Australia's strategic environment were outlined in Australia's National Security: A Defence Update 2003, released by the Minister for Defence in February 2003. The Defence Update described Australia's changed strategic circumstances and identified the need for some rebalancing of capabilities and priorities to take account of the new strategic environment. The major changes to the strategic environment identified in the Defence Update were the emergence of new and more immediate threats from terrorism and increased concerns about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The Defence Update also noted the continuing economic, political, governance and social challenges which countries in our region face - challenges intensified by the terrorist threat. The terrorist attacks in Bali demonstrated the reach of terrorism, and underscored the reality that Australia is not immune.
The Defence Update noted that, while Australia's involvement in coalition operations further afield was somewhat more likely, there may also be increased calls to undertake operations in Australia's immediate neigbourhood. Events of the following six months have borne this out. Australia's contribution to the war in Iraq, named Operation Falconer, involved the deployment of some 2,000 Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel. Among the many ADF contributions that stood out were the close air support and defensive counter-air operations provided by RAAF F/A-18s, the naval gunfire support for troops ashore provided by HMAS Anzac, the mine clearing operations by Navy clearance diving teams and the deep reconnaissance patrols by the Army's Special Forces. The excellence and sophistication of ADF force elements were borne out by Operation Falconer which, fortunately, sustained no Australian military casualties.
Defence support to the rehabilitation of Iraq continued after the cessation of formal hostilities in May. About 800 Defence personnel remain in the Middle East area of operations under trying and difficult circumstances to contribute to Iraq's stability and reconstruction. Australia's post-war contribution included an air traffic control detachment at Baghdad International Airport, a security detachment to provide protection and escort for Australian Government personnel, a RAAF C-130 detachment supporting operations in Iraq, a RAAF P-3 Orion detachment supporting both the rehabilitation operation in Iraq and the coalition operation against terrorism, and analysts and technical experts supporting the coalition effort to locate, identify, account for and subsequently destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. A RAN ship also remains on patrol in the Gulf.
The success of ADF operations throughout the year, but particularly those in Afghanistan and Iraq, attested to the ability of Defence to develop, maintain and field world-class military capabilities. It also reaffirmed Defence's ability to deploy and maintain forces in distant theatres and in difficult environmental conditions.
Defence has conducted a review of its strategic-level involvement in the Iraq War with input from other Government departments and coalition partners, who were consistently positive in their evaluation of Defence's performance. The review produced a series of lessons learnt, identifying aspects of performance which need to be sustained, aspects which need to be improved and performance shortfalls which need to be addressed. A public version of the report will be released in late 2003.
While responding to operational requirements in Iraq and Afghanistan was challenging, responding to the terrorist attacks in Bali on 12 October 2002 was a singularly confronting experience for the ADF members involved. Operation Bali Assist involved a large mobilisation of emergency military support. Within 24 hours, the ADF had ferried medical personnel and supplies to Bali and begun the emergency evacuation of bomb victims to Australia. The tragedy hit hard back in Australia, with 88 Australians among the 202 fatalities.
Operation Bali Assist
Operation Bali Assist was the ADF contribution to the Australian Government response to the tragic bombings in Bali that occurred late on the evening of 12 October 2002. The ADF priority throughout the operation was to provide medical assistance and aero-medical evacuation support to those injured in the bomb blasts.
The prime task throughout the medical evacuation was to get the seriously injured, once stabilised, from Bali to Darwin, and then from Darwin to southern cities for further medical treatment as quickly and as safely as possible.
Defence responded quickly to the call for assistance, with the first aero-medical evacuation team airborne less than six hours after being notified of the mission.
A total of five Hercules aircraft, 12 crews and five aero-medical evacuation teams deployed from RAAF Richmond in NSW to assist with the evacuation effort. Those aircraft transported urgently needed medical stores to Darwin and flew aero-medical shuttles between Bali and Darwin. The Air Force also transported two ambulances to Bali. One Orion aircraft also deployed to transport Australian Federal Police and additional Foreign Affairs consular staff from Canberra to Bali.
Four RAAF aircraft were further tasked to move injured personnel to southern capital cities to relieve the strain on Darwin Hospital facilities. Altogether, 39 patients were flown to southern cities by those aircraft.
Defence was also involved in transporting three severely injured Indonesian citizens from Bali to Perth. During the flight, the aircraft had to be diverted to Darwin when the condition of one of the patients deteriorated. Sadly the patient passed away later at Darwin Hospital. The aircraft continued to Perth with the remaining two patients and their accompanying family members. This was the last aero-medical evacuation task for the Air Force.
Defence also supported the Australian Federal Police in the transportation of stores and additional personnel to Bali to assist in the victim identification process.
A number of Defence personnel were deployed to Bali after the aero-medical evacuation operations were completed to assist with the management of the bombings' aftermath. These personnel included coordination and communication staff, chaplains, psychologists, Indonesian linguists, forensic medical and dental staff, electrical and refrigeration technicians and ambulance drivers.
Other Defence personnel serving in Jakarta travelled to Bali to coordinate the evacuation of injured Australians and other foreign nationals and they were joined by several ADF personnel who were on leave in Bali at the time of the bombings and came forward to offer assistance.
Throughout this period of intense activity, Defence personnel continued their heavy engagement in the region. We have continued our major commitment of around 1,000 personnel to the United Nations Mission in Support of East Timor and our support to help train and develop the fledgling East Timor Defence Force. The deployment of an Army Reserve company to East Timor in November 2002 was particularly significant, as it was the first time that Reserves have been deployed overseas as a formed unit since World War II.
The year ended with the closure of one of Defence's longest running commitments in the region. The Peace Monitoring Group in Bougainville, which included both ADF members and civilians, ceased operations on 30 June 2003 after five years. With no fighting on the island since 1997 and substantial success in the weapons' reduction program, it was time to hand over responsibility to a civilian body - the Bougainville Transitional Team. Bougainville has been a success for all concerned.
Defence personnel also undertook a range of other important national tasks during the year. Under Operation Relex II, naval and air forces continued to be involved in a program to detect, intercept and deter vessels carrying unauthorised arrivals from entering Australia. Defence personnel also provided extensive assistance to civil authorities in battling the bushfires that raged throughout the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria and New South Wales last summer.
At the end of the year under review, Defence was heavily engaged in planning for its next major deployment to assist (under Operation Helpem Fren) the Solomon Islands Government in restoring law and order and the institutions of government in coalition with a number of Pacific Island Forum countries. While this was to be primarily a police operation, Defence was to provide a major contribution with security and logistics support totalling some 1,500 ADF personnel.