Sen Molan on Defence capability

The Australian

US forces too weak to defend Australia, says Jim Molan

By Jamie Walker

4 January 2018


The most senior military commander in half a century to enter the national parliament, retired general Jim Molan, believes America’s armed forces are too weak to guarantee Australia’s ­security.

Writing in The Australian today, the incoming Liberal senator also warns that the Australian Defence Force could be rendered “impotent” within a week by the absence of fuel and missile stocks.

Senator-designate Molan, who takes his seat in the upper house next month replacing disqualified former Nationals’ deputy leader Fiona Nash, questions whether the government’s plan to increase defence spending to 2 per cent of GDP by 2021 will bridge the gap left by waning US military power.

“If 2 per cent was an appropriate level of defence spending for Australia when America dominated the world, the question I have is whether that same level of defence spending is appropriate now when American power itself has relatively declined,” he said in an interview.

Although the ADF was the best it had been since the end of the Vietnam War four decades ago, Senator Molan cautions that Australia should no longer assume that America could or would help in a military crisis, as it did when the Japanese threatened to invade in 1942.

“We have an expectation (not a right or guarantee) that the US will come to our aid in an extreme scenario,” he writes today. “There seem to be very strong grounds to question that expectation and to adjust our defence policy accordingly while remaining the staunchest of US allies.

“But still we need to defend our national interests independently. In particular, we need to address our critical vulnerabilities around fuel security and high-end weapons holding. Without doing so, we could be reduced to impotence in less than a week.”

Senator Molan said the fuel threat had been assessed by former air force vice-marshal John Blackburn, who reported in 2015 that any disruption to Australia’s sea lines through an act of terrorism or conflict in the South China Sea would deplete supplies within weeks, grounding the military and bringing essential services to a halt. Separately, the Bureau of Resource and Energy Economics estimated that industry stocks were 19 days of petrol, 17 days of aviation fuel and 12 of diesel oil. Australia was virtually alone among developed countries in not having a government-mandated strategic reserve of fuel.

Senator Molan said the problem was compounded by a deficient stockpile of missiles for the RAAF and navy, which would soon be exhausted in a conflict. Referring to the ADF’s big-ticket acquisitions of F-35 fighter aircraft from the US and air warfare destroyers, he said: “What use is it to have the best strike fighter in the world and the best ships in the world if you don’t have sufficient reload of missiles and you don’t have fuel for any of them.”

Before retiring from the army in 2008, Senator Molan, 67, rose to the rank of major general and served as chief of operations for the US-led coalition forces in Iraq. In civilian life, he was credited with overseeing the Abbott government’s successful Operation Sovereign Borders to stop the boats run by people smugglers.

“Until I deployed to Iraq with the US military in 2004-05, I made the common mistake of assuming US power was infinite,” he writes. “The US was indeed powerful after 1945 and even more powerful winning the Cold War. But the US Army had only 10 full-time combat divisions and … was furiously trying to increase its strength.”

Cutbacks since then meant that only a fraction of that force — three brigades — was now considered combat-ready. The US Navy had been reduced from 594 ships in 1987 to 278 today, while the capability of a reduced US Air Force had been assessed at “marginal trending to weak”.

The inadequacy was admitted by “everyone from the President down” but with Donald Trump’s planned $1.5 trillion tax cut, it was unlikely the US could increase defence spending dramatically enough.

Senator Molan said last night he was not prepared to say what Australia should be spending on defence, as “only governments can make that judgment, because only governments have the full knowledge of the defence portfolio, of intelligence, of international relations. Once I enter parliament, if I am ever asked as part of the government, I will give that view. But I won’t give it now.”