The Need to be Smarter on Domestic OperationsBy Chris Linney September 20, 2021
With climate change natural disasters will become more frequent and potentially more devastating. When called upon, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) must be ready to respond. In the past decade the ADF has deployed on numerous domestic operations to support cyclones, floods and fires.
Most natural disasters can be supported regionally by the local ADF units; however, this all changed in 2019-2020 with the bushfires and floods. The magnitude of the devastation covered three states and required a significant contribution of ADF personnel and equipment. In addition to the bushfires and floods, the world had to contend with a pandemic.
With Operations BUSHFIRE ASSIST, COVID ASSIST and flooding across most of Australia, the ADF was called upon to deploy in support. This meant that over 8,000 personnel, ships, aircraft, vehicles and equipment were deployed to over half of the Australian mainland.
One of the problems identified on Operation BUSHFIRE ASSIST was when the Army units deployed, 'load lists' were the main tracking tool for the equipment and these were managed at unit level. This meant that the higher Defence Headquarter elements had limited visibility of what was deployed, which in turn made it very difficult for the command and control to work effectively. It delayed the process to redirect resources to another area and reduced the resupply process.
Units were directed to implement the Logistics Transfer of Management (LOGTOM) process and create deployable Supply Customer Accounts (SCA). Although only partially completed, it made the command and control more effective. After Operation BUSHFIRE ASSIST was completed, units created deployable SCAs in preparation for future short-notice deployments to support domestic operations. This can have unit and equipment ready to deploy in a matter of days.
Resupply and sustainment
When the operation is regional, the home unit can support. When it is interstate or units are deployed in multiple locations, getting resupplies becomes a lot more complicated. For example, when a Brisbane unit had personnel and equipment deployed to South Australia and needed critical supplies, the unit tried to source them in Brisbane to then freight to South Australia, when the logical process would have been to procure them in Adelaide.
Direct liaison authority should be provided for units and brigades to engage Joint Logistics Command and Joint Movement Group in order to ensure the supply chain process is swift and sustainable.
The three Defence Services worked well together to move personnel, logistics supplies and provide medical assistance. This was critical with HMAS Choules rescuing trapped locals and tourists from Mallacoota in Victoria – the largest navy sea evacuation in Australia’s history. The Air Force moved an incredible amount of food, water, fodder and fuel across the country and the Army conducted water purification, cleared fire breaks, cleared and repaired roads as well as assisted the Australian Emergency Services.
On 4 January 2020, in response to the extreme bushfire events, the Governor-General, on advice from the Minister for Defence, authorised the compulsory call-out of ADF Reserves ‘to provide emergency functions to support and enable firefighters and emergency services’ initially to New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria.
The ADF Reserve elements provided a surge component and this proved highly successful and will most likely occur more often. The eagerness and professionalism of all ADF personnel in assisting the civilian community was outstanding. To be seen working alongside the Emergency Services and general public strengthened the civilian and ADF relationship, which will continue to grow with future natural disasters.
A Royal Commission into the National Disaster Arrangements was conducted, and it was identified the ADF, through its special capabilities or its available resources, as a source of support in natural disasters. Although not specifically trained in fighting fires, the support to the Emergency Services and conducting evacuations was critical.
It was noted that local governments and recovery coordinators in particular expressed a desire for greater cooperation, integration and understanding of the role and capabilities of the ADF. Positive experiences of ADF involvement were generally associated with a good understanding of ADF capabilities and inclusion of the ADF in local planning.
With domestic operations on the increase every year, the process for activating the ADF needs to be more streamlined and resources more readily available. While the ADF does not have capabilities or resources to fight bushfires, it does have capabilities to provide ancillary support. It can provide evacuation assistance in both fires and floods, surveillance of fire fronts and delivery of food and water to communities and farms, among other assistance.