Andrew Farran, formerly with the Departments of External Affairs and Defence, writes:
Alan Wrigley reminds us of the 'watershed' in defence policy development that existed in the mid-1970s, but the pity was that the opportunity was not grasped to recast force-structure thinking derived from the past. The strategic basis paper at that time correctly assessed that 'Australia is among the world's developed countries least likely to be subject to a military attack in the foreseeable future'. (This is still the case.)
So instead, the 'core' concept was adopted, as described by Alan, which was to develop '(a)ll the key military capabilities likely to be required to counter any military threat that might emerge in the future and that would require a long lead time to develop. This core force would provide an expansion base of military and technical skills that would greatly reduce the time to build a more capable force as any credible threat began to emerge'.
In other words, having a bit of almost everything resulted over time in a number of costly, sometimes undeployable capital items and other misdirections. We certainly didn't get much bang for our bucks. Essentially, our defence force structure has been geared to mesh in with elements of the US's. Where the recent US deployments in Darwin might lead perhaps nobody yet knows.
Are we to repeat this approach now that the unrewarding Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns — essentially political deployments — are pretty much behind us? The most relevant deployment in the past period was that to East Timor, yet when it came to action we lacked much of the logistical capacity needed, while a lot of other military matériel lay around.
Given that invasion is an unlikely contingency, and given that the technology of warfare has undergone several revolutions since the 1970s, we need to refocus and adopt a force structure that gives advantage to area-denial strategies because of the relative vulnerability of attack-mode platforms. It is doubtful that heavy surface vessels would achieve this.