My first thoughts when I heard of this plan to let random members of the Australian Public buy our military’s weaponry were, “What a stupid idea! Members of the Public don’t know anything about weaponry? Never mind the strategic, tactical and political implications of these mindbogglingly expensive purchases”
However, being a slave to logic and scientific methodology, it behooved1 me to do some research before dismissing the plan outright.
Firstly, it had to be established there was a need to change the existing Defense procurement structure. This need was surprisingly easy to confirm. It seems the current system of defence experts, consultants and politicians has been a dismal failure for decades.
Defence projects have suffered $6.5bn worth of cost blowouts and are collectively running decades behind schedule, the federal government has revealed. (October, 2022)
• The $4bn offshore patrol vessel program is among the projects delayed, and has also been hit with concerns about “seaworthiness” and whether the vessels are adequately armed (ABC)
• Labor claims the delays were exacerbated by the previous government demanding WA-based shipbuilder Austal be included in the project as a subcontractor
• The blowouts mean the defence budget is set to rise from $48.6bn in the March budget to about $80bn a year by 2032 (The Australian $)
• This does not yet include the expected heavy cost of delivering a fleet of nuclear submarines or plans to increase the size of the nation’s military
In fact, I defy anyone to find a glowing review of our weapons procurement record. Unsurprisingly, both of Australia’s neoliberal parties, (the Labor/Liberal Duopoly which act in lockstep on defence) blame the other for this sorry state of affairs.
Those friggin’ frigates
I recently covered the latest Defence debacle in a purely objective piece entitled, “If the BAE Frigate deal is bad, then the AUKUS deal is catastrophic“. Apart from being censored on Reddit’s r/Warships it received no substantive criticism. Apparently, all that ‘fighting and dying for our freedoms’ has caveats on r/Warships.
Given this recent research, I thought it would be a fitting test, to investigate how random citizenry would approach such a deal. This entailed picking venues randomly as well as interviewing their denizens randomly. Armed with a phone for recording, a bundle of fact sheets and a mask, I set off on this important (nay crucial) fact-finding mission.
Dingo News: “Excuse me, I’m doing some research on Defence matters”. [This to a male, early twenties – leaning against a wall – smoking and drinking a coffee. Obviously, given his apparel, on a work break.]
“It won’t take long. Just a few questions. I gotta record for accuracy but I’ll keep your name out of it.”
Random1: Yeah, go for it.
DN: “If you had to pick between three frigates…”
Random1: “Three what?”
DN: “A smaller version of a destroyer. Warship.”
Random 1: “OK, gotcha.”
DN: “If you had to pick between three frigates. Would you pick one of the two already operating in European navies, or the one still on paper and yet to be constructed?”
Random 1: “One of the ones that were working of course. You know what you’ve got. Why the fuck would you buy something you couldn’t check out?”
DN: “Good answer. Our Defence experts went with the invisible frigate and it’s currently ten billion dollars over budget and eighteen months behind schedule.”
Random1: “Get fucked!” Ten billion? How many millions is that?
DN: “Ten thousand millions. It’s also become so overweight from ‘extras’ it’s considered (glances at notes) slower, vulnerable to detection and less safe for crews.”
Random1: “Those dudes been sacked for this fuck up?”
DN: “No and they’ve been getting away with this for decades.”
Random1: “Bet they’re on more than $23 an hour too?”
DN: They’ve got some former Yank Admirals giving advice about AUKUS, on $7,500 a day.”
Random1: “The subs? Fuck off! These %$#@s are con artists! If it had been up to me we’d have saved heaps. Look I gotta go, or I’ll get my arse kicked for being late.
DN: Cheers mate, thanks for your time.
NB: Random1’s awareness of responsibility and consequences.
Twenty interviews later…
The consensus was very much like the first interview. All of the random people selected decided a frigate, one could actually see and make inquiries about, was a safer bet than one on paper. All were appalled at the cost blowout and the lack of consequences for the people responsible.
According to the ANAO, Defence records have revealed the department’s initial assessment concluded the Italian FREMM and Spanish F-100 were better options for Australia than the British Type 26 design – Source
It also brought home to many of the interviewees, the sheer insanity of unleashing this consequence-free Defence procurement establishment onto the far more complex and expensive AUKUS project.
Some of the views expressed by these random subjects were uniquely interesting and one wonders why they aren’t part of the ‘discussion’. Those who had some time and an interest in the issue, were given some extra information from my fact-sheets on the BAE frigate deal.
Fact Sheet #4 of 6
Defence set up a separate advisory committee to independently review the Navy’s surface ship programs.
The Surface Ships Advisory Committee (SSAC) was asked to review the BAE frigate program for the Defence Strategic Review, released publicly on 24 April.
The committee’s Terms of Reference state its role: ‘To provide Defence with independent critical peer review of surface ship programs to validate existing plans and actions and enable early identification of areas of weakness. In addition… the committee was tasked to review the cost, schedule and performance of the Hunter class program.’ [our emphasis]
When the members of the SSAC were revealed last year, it showed that two of the four members of the SSAC were former senior BAE Systems executives: Bill Saltzer, BAE Systems Australia’s Maritime Director for four years (Jan 2012–Dec 2015). Also a member of the expert advisory panel overseeing the frigate tender evaluation and then Defence’s lead negotiator on the frigate contract.
Merv Davis, retired navy commodore, former Maritime Director for BAE Systems, and former CEO of CEA Technologies, which supplies radar for the navy’s warships.
Phill Brown (chair), former Defence Department official, and former General Manager at Tenix Shipbuilding WA (which was later sold to BAE Systems in 2008).
Melissa Davidson, former Boeing Defence Australia human resources director.
Despite mounting costs, schedule delays, and expert criticism that the warship has serious design flaws, the SSAC recommended to Defence in January this year that it ‘stay the course’ with the frigate program.
SINKING BILLIONS – REVOLVING DOORS – The Australian Defence Department’s new Frigates project is a jobs merry-go-round for former military officers, bureaucrats, and weapons makers by Michelle Fahy – Declassified Australia
Some of the responses
Random4: “You’re telling me no-one gets in the shit for a ten billion dollar cost blow out? If I screwed up a thousand dollar procurement order, I’d be out the door”.
Random6: “How many fuck-ups is too many? Who signs a contract that allows the contractor to come in ten billion dollars over cost?”
Random7: “Didn’t they talk to the people operating the real frigates? They could have been fitted out to suit our needs”.
Random12: “So these fat cats go on a romp overseas with the power to splash out billions? Bet they are well looked after by the weapons companies. It’d be all luxury accommodation, with hot and cold running hookers and cocaine on tap.”
Random15: “Never buy a pig in a poke! How could so many people believe this was the right decision?”
Random17: “This is full-on corruption mate. These bastards should be behind bars!”
Random20: “Some of the people doing the selecting used to work for BAE? Why would you pay people a fortune, to decide on such an expensive project, when they have a vested interest in the outcome?”
A good question. In fact, a host of insightful views from these randomly selected citizens. 2
Plan to let Random Members of Australian Public Buy Military’s Weapons?
I’m forced by this research, to retract my initial misgivings. I’m now convinced random members of the public would do a far better job at Defence procurement than the so-called “experts” we currently employ.
The cost savings are obvious. No expensive to and froing overseas. (Random13: “We have Zoom for fuck’s sake!”) No vested interests skewing results. No perception of corruption. If indeed, that which we’ve witnessed over the years isn’t outright corruption?
Imagine if the people making these decisions;
• Were aware of the consequences of poor performance?
• Were imbued with an appreciation of the sums of money involved?
• Were people who wouldn’t hide behind the rank obfuscation of bureaucratic gobbledygook?
• Were people whose concern for the safety of our military and country, overrode their personal, political and pecuniary ambitions?
The evidence is damning. The ‘frigate fiasco‘ proves we’d have done far better with input and decisions by some random citizenry.
Our random selections would use the internet for research, with its attendant ability to confer with (independent) military experts all over the planet. They’d take a consensual, democratic approach and invite Public commentary.
National Security would no longer be a cloak for bad decisions.
Given the atrociously longstanding waste, delays, exorbitant cost blow-outs and an understandable perception of corrupt practices existing within the present Defence procurement “system” – I say, give it a trial.
– Fini –
1 My muse insisted on this word.
2 I’m willing to share my findings with the Senate’s Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation
Committee and the Australian National Audit Office. On condition the anonymity of the subject responders remains intact.