Following the Aussie Example


07/05/2011 by Robbin Laird

Participating in a recent symposium, where I proposed that a core approach which would allow the US to build new capabilities, whilst saving money, would be to sell off old assets, I was characterized as proposing “missives” rather than solutions.  I was then told that the US would continue to ply the seas with old ships and fly old airplanes, because “that was the way it was.”

This makes no sense.  Old equipment is costly to operate and reflects yesterday’s technologies, not the technologies needed now and which form the basis for new capabilities, new technologies and new jobs.  An investment in the past by keeping ships and planes operating past their realistic operational life may provide jobs for touch labor in defense, but does not create new equipment able to support the evolution of the US military or to create jobs for sustainable exports.

The Aussies provide an example of thinking leadership.  And a leadership, which understands the need to build toward the future rather than enshrine oneself in maintaining the past.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

The Australian government wants companies to bid for retired military equipment as the defense force embarks on its biggest disposal of ships, aircraft and vehicles since the Second World War as part of a major push to upgrade existing kit, the government said in a release Wednesday.

Over the next 15 years, Australia wants to replace or upgrade up to 85% of its existing equipment, valued at some 10% of the government’s non-financial assets. Canberra wants to move away from an ad hoc approach to selling its military wares and adopt the British government’s system of releasing equipment in tranches and inviting bids from the private sector. That model has reaped the British government some A$1.0 billion since 1997, while in the same period Australia has paid out a net A$20 million to get rid of old weaponry and equipment.

Under the first roll-out, the government is offering up to 24 ships over the coming decade, as they come off service, including HMAS Manoora, Adelaide Class frigates and Mine Hunters.

“By disposing of this equipment in bulk, it will increase the amount of revenue Defence can raise and reinvest in new equipment,” said Jason Clare, defence materiel minister, in a statement.

The beauty of this approach is that engages the OEMs in the sale of equipment, which in turn, helps generate support for the production of new systems.

The U.S. as it withdraws from Afghanistan and Iraq has a massive inventory of used equipment, which it is unlikely to use in future land operations, land operations of the type not supported by either the policy community or the public for the foreseeable future.  This largely Army inspired kit could be sold to support the USAF, USN, and USMC build new capabilities.  And selling the planned 72-year-old ships could be thrown in for good measure, along with F-18s, F-16s and F-15s.  This sell off could more than fund the 21st century Air Force and USMC aviation needs for the decade ahead.

And by the way, this piece is our 1000th posting on the website since we opened our doors November 2009.  Many thanks to our contributors, staff, and readers for a good start.