The Army contributed to the achievement of the Government's Defence outcome through the provision of capabilities for land and Special Forces operations. The Army's capabilities contributed to broader ADF capability, within a primarily maritime strategy, to defend Australian territory from any credible attack, to enhance the security of our immediate neighbourhood and to contribute to international coalitions of forces to meet crises beyond Australia's immediate neighbourhood where Australian interests were engaged. The Army also provided capabilities for peacetime national tasks, including forces with a capacity to enhance the national domestic security response to counter-terrorist and chemical, biological, radiological and explosive incidents.
The Army's capabilities comprised the capacity to conduct Special Forces operations, mechanised operations, light infantry operations, army aviation operations, ground-based air defence, combat support operations, regional surveillance operations, logistic support operations, motorised forces operations and protective and security operations.
High levels of operational activity involving the Army continued over 2002-03. The land forces were deployed on operations in Afghanistan (Operations Slipper and Palate), East Timor (Operation Citadel), Papua New Guinea (Operation Bel Isi II), the Middle East (Operations Paladin, Bastille, Falconer and Mazurka), Africa (Operations Pomelo and Husky) and Europe (Operation Osier), and in Australia monitoring unauthorised boat arrivals (Operation Relex II) and supporting surveillance operations (Operation Cranberry).
The Army's most significant contribution to operations was the deployment of Special Forces task groups to Afghanistan and Iraq. Special Forces units demonstrated their versatility in transitioning from countering an unconventional foe in Afghanistan to combating a conventional force in western Iraq. In both theatres, the Army demonstrated courage, endurance, expertise and professionalism, justifiably earning praise and commendation from coalition peers, commanders and national leaders. Support forces that deployed with both Special Forces task groups were critical to the success of both missions. These included:
- a nuclear and chemical defence detachment from the recently raised Incident Response Regiment;
- Chinook helicopters and landing craft;
- an air defence troop that deployed with HMAS Kanimbla; and
- a logistics support element drawn from across the Army.
The Army also maintained a substantial presence in East Timor in support of the United Nations. This commitment included the deployments of two battalion groups based on 5th/7th and 1st Battalions of the Royal Australian Regiment. A company of Army Reserve personnel were deployed to support 5th/7th Battalion in East Timor, the first such deployment of a formed combat sub-unit of Reserve soldiers since World War II.
On the domestic front, the Army maintained high readiness counter-terrorist response forces based on the Tactical Assault Group (West), the newly raised Tactical Assault Group (East) and the Incident Response Regiment. The importance of this capability was made evident during the interdiction and boarding of the Korean vessel Pong Su, in April 2003. The Army's Special Forces capability was further enhanced with the establishment of a Special Operations Command and improvements to the commando capability.
The Army continued to contribute to border protection operations by providing transit security elements in support of the apprehension of illegal boat arrivals and regional force surveillance units patrolling the north of Australia.
On the whole, the Army continued to meet its Defence White Paper preparedness requirements. In some areas, the Army found it difficult to meet preparedness requirements due to a lack of some types of ammunition and specialist personnel. Both these issues will be addressed in the Budget outcome in 2003-04 and future years.
Regardless of the high operational tempo in 2002-03, the Army continued to develop its capacity to respond to emerging threats. The Army reviewed the posture of the Army Reserves to ensure that elements were at a level of readiness necessary to allow them to respond to domestic security incidents. The Army continues to review its conduct of land operations in a joint environment and seek opportunities to enhance its capability through greater lethality and better protection.
In recognition of its position within the broader Australian community, the Army deployed in support of activities such as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission/Army Community Assistance Program, successfully completing projects in north-west Western Australia in 2002. The Army commenced projects on Palm Island in North Queensland and undertook a variety of Defence Cooperation Program activities in the Pacific Islands. The Army also provided significant support to the Australian community in assisting with the fighting of bushfires in Victoria, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory in January 2003.
Mitigation of Key Risks
In the Portfolio Budget Statements 2002-03, the Army identified two key risks to fully meeting its preparedness responsibilities.
To meet both the extant preparedness requirements and the future capability commitments detailed in the Defence White Paper, the Army's funded strength is projected to be some 26,563 by 2009-10. This includes an additional 327 personnel for Special Operations Command and accelerated growth to support the introduction of new capabilities.
The Army is enhancing its capability to sustain a brigade group offshore for extended periods and a battalion group offshore for short-notice contingency operations. Satisfying this level of capability requires the maintenance of six high-readiness battalion groups. The ongoing development of an army sustainment model will assist the Army to identify and develop its force and personnel requirements to sustain offshore operations and respond to short-notice contingencies.
Improved recruiting and retention measures resulted in positive recruiting and retention rates. While this has assisted the Army in addressing its most critical trade deficiencies, the positive trend will need to continue for some time if the Army is to increase its strength and meet planned performance targets. In 2002-03, total Army recruiting performance was 86 per cent of target compared with the average of the previous two years of 87.5 per cent. When taken in conjunction with the 2002-03 separation rate for the Army (9.9 per cent compared with the average of the previous two years of 12.5 per cent), the outlook is positive.
Over the last twelve months, the Army identified the magnitude of deficiencies pertaining to training ammunition and the maintenance of the general service vehicle fleet. The Army has implemented plans to rectify these deficiencies.