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ADF in trouble as personnel leave in droves

Written by: (Contributed) on 12 February 2024


The ADF beset with recruitment and retention problems    PHOTO: 

Cold War US-led diplomatic hostilities and sabre-rattling continue to escalate across the Indo-Pacific region on the daily basis. An official statement from Duntroon has, therefore, proved particularly revealing when placed in the context of developments in the Western Pacific. While the statement was primarily concerned with training provision and serious shortages of personnel, it revealed the sense of urgency taking place within military planning circles inside the corridors of power, for Australia to be prepared for 'real-war scenarios' at the behest of the US in the next few years.

In early February the Royal Military Training College at Duntroon issued an official media release announcing the beginning of a two-year trial for army officer training provision whereby their standard 18-month courses would be shortened to 12-months. (1) While the stated reason for the shortening of the training provision was 'recruiting and retention problems', a sense of urgency would appear to have taken priority. (2) The present course structure of six separate modules has also been altered to enable students to take each stage separately and not in the usual sequence. The statement also quoted a Lieutenant General Stuart noting that 'officer cadets were keen to get out there and apply what they have learned'. (3)  

During the next two years Duntroon will be providing training provision for between 500-600 military officers who, after graduation, will then form part of the command led by the Pentagon for largely regional defence and security provision and military operations.

Following the re-organisation of the elite US Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) over a decade ago, the Pentagon now receives a regular stream of regional military assessments from various locations in the Indo-Pacific; the region has seen the US experience a serious challenge to traditional hegemonic positions with the rise of China and is regarded as a potential theatre of war. (4)

The US military assessments have already provided the Pentagon with what they regard as a serious problem.

Serious problems face US imperialism

Assessments of the Western Pacific region, for example, have revealed the US is no longer the dominant power. (5) The recent attempt by China to win over the government of Nauru for diplomatic recognition away from Taiwan has heightened tensions still further; it has been noted that 'Nauru could not have been unaware how the timing of its announcement would put the region again on the geo-political frontline'. (6)  

Taiwanese diplomatic recognition elsewhere in the region is also under threat with serious concerns about Tuvalu and Palau, the last two countries in Micronesia which support Taipei.  (7)

A major US concern is that China has been able to win support from Pacific island countries enabling them to gain access to their huge exclusive economic zones (EEZs); some of the EEZs are used by the US to host sensitive military and intelligence facilities. (8)

North of the Marshall Islands, for example, the small US territory of Wake Island together with the Japanese territory of Minami-Torishima both host highly sensitive facilities for US-led military facilities. (9)

Many of the small Pacific islands also mark sensitive areas of the US-led Island Chain Theory, used for demarcation of the region; they have already been used to host defence and security provision against China. (10)

ADF to recruit footsloggers and commanders from the Pacific

The changes to training procedures reflect government and ADF concern about the numbers of people leaving the ADF. The military recorded a separation rate of 11.2% in 2022/23, falling short of its retention targets. For several years, the right-wing ASPI and similar groups have called for a relaxation of ADF screening of recruits, believing too may are turned away.

In early January, then-acting Defence Minister Keogh announced the ADF was looking to island nations in the Pacific for recruits. At the same time, Pacific military leaders are being given command positions in the ADF.  In a first for the ADF, Colonel Boniface Aruma from Papua New Guinea and Fiji's Colonel Penioni Naliva have been appointed deputy commanders of Australian Defence Force brigades. In Naliva’s case, the screening could not have been that thorough – Amnesty International wants him investigated for human rights abuses following the 2006 coup in Fiji

What seems to have been more important to the government and the ADF is the way the appointments would be perceived: “…as strategic responses to China's increasing influence in the Pacific…This region is traditionally considered within the sphere of influence of Australia and the United States. The ripple effect of these appointments is expected to have vast geopolitical implications, altering the balance of power in the Pacific region.”

Black Hawks darken our skies…

What is also particularly significant about the recent statement issued by Duntroon is their emphasis upon helicopters, in fact about half of the statement was focussed upon the US providing Australia with Black Hawk utility helicopters following the phasing out of existing Taipans together with provision of a Black Hawk training simulator. (See our recent comment Heads must roll to clear Defence of US loyalists).

It was noted Australia will eventually be acquiring forty Black Hawks together with a further 29 AH-64E combat helicopters. (11)

Helicopters have traditionally been associated with rapid deployment in and out of difficult terrain. Small and remote landmasses are, no doubt, already in mind!

The new helicopters have been accompanied by upgrades to sensitive military facilities in Queensland, facing the western Pacific.

The time-line from defence and security provision into likely military operations, therefore, would appear to be shortening:

                                         We need an independent foreign policy!


1.     Army officers on fast track to command, Australian, 7 February 2024.
2..     Ibid.
3.     Ibid.
4.     Pentagon plays the spy game, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 7 December 2012.
5.     See: Study – US no longer dominant power in the Pacific, Paul D. Shinkman, Information Clearing House, 22 August 2019.  
6.     Island recruits a win-win solution for ADF shortfall, Australian, 18 January 2024.
7.     Pact with Tuvalu in the balance, Editorial, Australian, 30 January 2024; and,
        Tuvalu security pact in jeopardy, Australian, 29 January 2024.
8.     See: US v. China, Japan Forward, Politics and Security, Dr. Rieko Hayakawa and Jennifer L. Anson, 14 February 2020.
9.     Ibid.
10.   See: US to build anti-China missile network along first island chain, Nikkei, 5 March 2021; and, US Indo-Pacific Command proposes new missile capabilities to deter China, RFA., 5 March 2021.
11.   Australian, op.cit., 7 February 2024.


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