The conduct of Defence operations was principally the responsibility of the Commander Australian Theatre, under the authority of the Chief of the Defence Force. Theatre Command, including maritime, land, air and special operations components, provided the operational-level command capability and the capacity to assess joint force preparedness.
Defence conducted a range of activities to satisfy the Government's strategic interests and objectives. These activities included the conduct of military campaigns and operations, the provision of emergency and non-emergency support to the Government and the Australian community, overseas deployments and representations, and various joint and combined exercises involving the three Services and allied or regional military forces.
Defence maintained its command capability through the Headquarters Australian Theatre and component headquarters, with the capacity and communications capability to develop and implement strategic plans and provide operational-level guidance to forces assigned to the Commander Australian Theatre under theatre command. Maritime, land and air force capabilities maintained by the three Services were combined to provide joint forces. Joint force preparedness was developed in accordance with ADF preparedness requirements and evaluated through operational outcomes and the exercise program.
The Government's highest priorities were met during 2002-03, with the ADF involved in a range of operations across a wide geographic area. Significant ADF commitment for these operations was required and sustained over an extended period. This high rate of effort placed pressure upon the availability of Defence personnel and assets, and is unlikely to be relieved in the near future as the demands of the high operational and personnel tempo and competing priorities continue. Some lower priority operations and international engagement activities will remain dormant, and joint and combined exercises will continue to be reviewed and modified in response to changing priorities, world events and to meet specific training deficiencies.
Over 2002-03, ADF commitment was particularly focused upon Operations Slipper (war on terror), Bastille (deployment of forces to the Middle East), Falconer (the ADF contribution to US coalition operations in Iraq), Citadel (East Timor), Bel Isi II (Peace Monitoring Group in Bougainville) and Relex II (protecting Australia's northern borders). These commitments placed operational pressure upon a number of capabilities such as frigates and amphibious ships, strategic air transport, maritime patrol aircraft and some specialised trade skills and personnel, particularly officers for headquarters duties.
The demands of high operational tempo, coupled with requirements for equipment upgrades and maintenance, have drawn some assets away from training functions. This has impacted upon the operational readiness of ADF elements in some warfighting skills and resulted in reduced availability of assets for some unscheduled surveillance and unscheduled or late notice response operations, international engagement and exercise activities.
ADF joint and combined exercises are regularly monitored and reviewed in the program of major service activities to coordinate ADF effort and training requirements and to carefully manage capability and personnel availability. Throughout the year, ADF preparedness and concurrency were carefully monitored. Commercial contracts were also put in place to ensure continued operational sustainment while retaining an ability to react to short notice contingencies.
Areas that came under pressure included:
- Strategic airlift. Concurrent and sustained high operational tempo placed pressure on the availability of aircraft for operations and exercises. To alleviate this demand and meet operational requirements, commercial charters continued to be used to support some operations and exercises.
- Amphibious sealift. Amphibious ships committed to operations were unavailable to conduct some scheduled training activities, resulting in a short-term reduction in some amphibious warfighting skills. A full amphibious capability is being actively pursued as operational commitments permit. Additionally, amphibious sealift was not available to support some operations and exercises but this was alleviated by commercial sealift.
- Maritime patrol aircraft. The combination of the use of P-3s in civil surveillance operations, the upgrade to the AP-3 configuration and the necessity to recover skills in areas other than surveillance, all affected the availability of maritime patrol aircraft assets. Some lower priority surveillance operations remained dormant or were conducted with limited patrols over 2002-03, to ensure that higher priority operational demands were met. Limited availability also affected the ability to meet some joint and combined exercise objectives as originally planned.
- Frigates. Concurrent operations and a high rate of activity continued to place additional demands on ships and crews, with sea-time being well above the optimum level. The lack of ability to concentrate forces for the full range of high-end warfighting training, coupled with forces operating in remote areas, affected the ability to maintain high end warfighting skills at the optimum level.
- Hydrographic ships. Hydrographic ships were diverted from their specialist role of hydrographic survey to support surveillance operations and relieve the commitment of frigates and patrol boats. Support to operations was maintained until March 2003, when the ships recommenced their primary role.
- Patrol boats. Patrol boat effort remained primarily focused on Operation Relex II, with 1,192 days expended on maritime surveillance/response of Australia's northern approaches, and 781 days achieved for the civil surveillance program. The age of the Fremantle-class patrol boats resulted in increased defects and extended periods of maintenance.
- Strategic communications equipment. Concurrent deployments increased the demand for strategic communications support to deployed forces. Communications capacity had to be carefully managed to ensure availability for operational requirements and to meet possible short notice contingencies.
- Headquarters personnel. The deployment of forces to several operational areas concurrently placed a strain on available qualified headquarters personnel. The numbers of personnel deployed on operations reduced the availability of staff officers to augment headquarters to meet the increases in operational tempo.
- Health practitioners. The ADF uses specialist practitioners in the surgical team to deploy on operations. The reduced availability of specialist practitioners (most of whom are Reservists with limited ability for long-term leave from employment) necessitated short-term deployments. This required careful management of available personnel supporting operations deployments and reduced the ADF's ability to concurrently deploy surgical capabilities.
- ADF personnel and families. The additional numbers of operational activities over a long period of time continued to place demands on ADF personnel and their families. The National Welfare Coordination Centre provided support and assistance to families during deployments and ensured that families had access to reliable information regarding deployed personnel.
While the focus remained upon high priority operational commitments, the ADF conducted other operations and activities over the year as follows:
- Operation Bali Assist provided aeromedical evacuation, logistic and personnel support for Australians and approved foreign nationals in the aftermath of the Bali bombing.
- Operation Tartan provided support to Coastwatch to track, intercept, board and apprehend the Korean-flagged merchant vessel Pong Su, the subject of a combined Australian Federal Police and Australian Customs Service operation.
- Emergency assistance was provided to civil firefighting for bushfires in the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria and New South Wales from October 2002 to February 2003.
- Aeromedical evacuation and search and rescue tasks were provided when necessary.
- Assistance was also provided to State authorities/agencies under Defence Assistance to the Civil Community guidelines.