New Liberal senator and retired senior Army officer Jim Molan has warned the Australian Defence Force could run out of missiles and fuel early in any future conflict.
And Australia just could not rely on assistance from the US as its military is no longer the all-powerful force it was during the Cold War.
Writing in The Australian newspaper, he said the government’s commitment to spending 2 per cent of gross domestic product on defence might not be sufficient to bridge the gap left by diminishing US military power.
He said Australia had an expectation, not a right or guarantee, that the US would come to our aid in extremis, but there seemed to be strong grounds to question that expectation and adjust defence policy, while remaining a staunch US ally.
“Until I deployed to Iraq with the US military in 2004-05, I made the common mistake of assuming US power was infinite,” he wrote.
“The US was indeed powerful after 1945 and even more powerful winning the Cold War.”
But post-Cold War cutbacks meant that only three US Army brigades were considered fully combat ready and the US Navy has shrunk from 594 ships in 1987 to 278 today. Capability of the US Air Force had been assessed as “marginal trending to weak.”
Senator Molan served in the Australian Army for 40 years, retiring in 2008 with the rank of Major General.
Posted to the US-led multi-nation force in Iraq, he served as chief of operations from 2004-05 during the period of increasingly intense fighting.
He stood for the Liberal Party at the 2015 election but was placed in an unwinnable position on the NSW Coalition Senate ticket.
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He’s a beneficiary of the citizenship scandal, filling the spot vacated by NSW National senator Fiona Nash, ruled ineligible because of her British citizenship.
The spot should have gone to next in line Hollie Hughes, who was also ruled ineligible.
Senator Molan, a regular commentator in military matters who also advised former PM Tony Abbott on border protection, is one of a small number of MPs with recent top-level military experience.
He said the Australian Defence Force was now in the best shape it’s been since the Vietnam War.
“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,” he wrote.
Molan said Australia was virtually alone among developed nations in not having a government-mandated strategic fuel reserve. It had been assessed that fuel supplies could be depleted within weeks through any disruption to sea deliveries, grounding the military.
The Bureau of Resource and Energy Economics estimated that industry stocks were 19 days of petrol, 17 days of aviation fuel and 12 days of diesel.
That problem was compounded by limited war stocks of missiles for the RAAF and Navy, which would be quickly exhausted in a conflict.
“What use is it to have the best strike fighter in the world [referring to the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter] and the best ships in the world [under new naval program builds] if you don’t have a sufficient reload of missiles and you don’t have fuel for any of them,” he wrote.
Tune in to Jim Molan on the Defence Connect Podcast, where he offers future insights in the nature and future of warfare, the influence of the Defence White Paper and the nation’s capability.