In his most recent Lowy lecture, Alan Dupont advocated a re-evaluation of the need for 12 submarines and 100 Joint Strike Fighters (JSF) in light of the economic and strategic circumstances Defence is likely to face. His argument was not that there was no need for these hugely expensive platforms, but rather that the changing geostrategic circumstances since the last Defence White Paper called for a more fundamental review of the reasoning behind the quantity the Government plans to purchase.

This is entirely reasonable. But the difficulty has always been to understand the rationale by which Defence has determined the number of platforms it requires. Why do we need 12 submarines when we currently have six? Discussion as to how this figure was arrived at is not publicly available, either because the ADF's requirement for submarines is classified or because it wasn't based on a detailed study into such requirements and hence wouldn't stand up to public scrutiny. The problem is that we don't know.

We have a much better insight as to how the JSF figure was arrived at. Nearly two years ago I wrote that 100 seemed to be a suspiciously round number for a major equipment purchase. Hugh White graciously replied that he could explain it, noting that the 2000 White Paper team simply got out a pencil and the proverbial back of the fag packet, added up the number of F/A-18s and F-111s, subtracted one and...hey presto, it equalled 100. As Hugh explained:

That was not, of course, an adequate basis for deciding how many JSF we would really need, but it was I think an adequate basis to determine how much money to the nearest billion we needed to allocate to the job. The fact that the number we chose as an initial planning assumption has survived until now tells you something rather unsettling about Defence capability planning.

Which takes me back to my original point. If this number of JSFs was arrived at by a writing team on some pretty basic maths over a decade ago, why haven't the assumptions on which it was based been revisited? And what confidence can we have that the 2009 White Paper didn't simply apply multiplication (2x6=12) to arrive at submarine numbers where the 2000 team used addition and subtraction (71+30-1=100) as a basis for provisioning?

Alan Dupont argues for a re-evaluation of the platforms the ADF needs and can afford. Given the somewhat rudimentary methodology that appears to have gone into determining JSF and submarine numbers (numbers now appear writ in stone), it is perhaps appropriate that a more rigorous examination of capability requirements is called for. 

Photo by Flickr user KC3jn4.