The Mission of the Australian Defence Force is to defend Australia and its national interests. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2018 Report assesses that climate change presents a global ‘risk to heath, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security and economic growth’. Australia, being the driest inhabited continent faces existential risk from climate change which is attacking Australia and adversely affecting national interests with extreme weather events such as droughts and fires, and the Great Barrier Reef is being cooked alive. The logical deduction is that the Australian Defence Organisation should exercise its Mission and participate in a campaign to combat climate change.
An ironic canary in the Queensland coalmines contributing to climate change is the widespread and extended drought and the consequential wildfires burning over half a million hectares. There are broadacre carbon farms in Queensland and the good these farms do in capturing and storing carbon is negated when forests burn across huge areas, releasing carbon-dioxide. Project these early-warning signals and the future is bleak for Australian production of food and fibre to meet domestic and the world’s needs.
The IPCC Summary for Policymakers report expends several thousand words on a blinding glimpse of the bleeding obvious that global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius is preferable to 2 degrees Celsius, and that the lower degree of warming will be harder to achieve. The shocking kicker is at recommendation C1 which advises that anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions must reach a net ZERO by 2050. Think about what that means – NO fossil fuel being burnt in the energy and transportation sectors. No coal, no petrol, no diesel, no gas. And no large wildfires. Given that air transport will be hard to electrify, especially for international flights, that implies carbon dioxide removal (CDR) from the atmosphere. Recommendation C3 sets the amount at 100-100 Gigatons over the 21st century.
Sir David Attenborough, speaking at COPE 24 made a dire warning that ‘the collapse of our civilizations is on the horizon’. Arnold Schwarzenegger, AKA ‘The Terminator’, also had some sage advice on the need for urgent and effective action on climate change.
Turning to the defence of our national interests, the Australian Defence Organisation (ADO) and its military arm the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has a broad range of skills and capabilities that could be brought to the battle to defeat climate change. The Primary Role of the ADF is to defeat armed attack on Australia. Idle capacity not required for current military actions can be diverted in times of low-level conflict as Aid to the Civil Power, specifically combating climate change.
A war on climate change has two domains: remediation and response.
Remediation of Global Warming
Taking remediation first, the ADO has considerable experience in disciplines such as setting strategic direction, gathering and assessing intelligence, building command and control systems, and developing capabilities designed to effectively defeat attacks on Australia and its national interests. Working within a Whole-of-Government campaign, the ADO could engage its substantial resources, deploying these skills and capabilities.
General Response Capabilities
A more immediate contribution is rapid-response to events such as the Queensland wild-fires, recovery from the ravages of cyclones, floods and to mitigate the effects of drought. The tactical skills of the ADF might be used to annihilate the plague of Crown-of-Thorns starfish consuming the Great Barrier Reef, adding to the environmental stress on the Reef by global warming.
A jewel in the ADF’s crown is the Headquarters, Joint Operations Command, (HQJOC) located at Bungendore, near Canberra. Department of Home Affairs has an Emergency Management Division. A Whole-of-Government response to the adverse effects of climate change would conjoin these organisations to harvest the synergy of joint operations.
Tactical Response Capabilities
The ADF has many capabilities that can be immediately repurposed to counter emergencies arising from climate change. After strategic analysis, relatively small extensions of ADF capabilities would enhance dual military-civil deployments. The following are a few examples.
Water Bombing. This is a ubiquitous response to wildfires, but conspicuous by their absence is ADF aircraft, despite many military aircraft having the innate capability. Perhaps the most powerful is the RAAF C-17 Globemaster, Australia has eight. Imagine the lives and property that could have been saves in the Victorian Black Saturday Bushfires of a C-17 was fitted with water-bombing cargo-bay tanks capable of delivering 70,000 litres of fire-suppressant water every 10 minutes or so. These aircraft could operate from seaside airfields such as Avalon and be rapidly refilled with seawater by pumps operated by the RAN. Many Australian airfields capable of supporting the C-17 are close to the sea, and a network of seawater pumps would enhance the rapid control of firestorms. The message is that the more RAAF C-17 that are deployed as waterbombers, the fewer expensive ‘Elvis’ crane helicopters will have to be sourced from overseas each fire season. Some RAAF aircraft could be redeployed for waterbombing after reaching the end of military service, the P3-C Orion being an example. RAAF Reservists could be the operators.
Rescue. Several small towns were isolated by fire in the recent Queensland bushfire emergency. There may have been military airlift helicopters on standby, but none were shown on the media. When a serious emergency of this scale occurs. HQJOC could command deployment of rescue aircraft and command the deployed forces. Floods and cyclonic damage are large-scale emergencies when rescue might be required.
Command and Communication Posts. The Army has an effective and well equipped, layered command and communication system. This capability could be deployed to support ‘Forward Operating Bases’ to support emergency services.
Logistics Support. Extended operations require logistic support such as fuel supplies, accommodation, food and drinking water, relief staffing, medical services, transport. Often, this support must be able to be moved as the battlefront changes or new areas of emergency arise. The Army are highly skilled and deploying and controlling logistic support of forward operations. Some ‘natural disasters’ (which in a climate change future might be more accurately be called ‘human-generated disasters’,) have a global response – firefighters who deploy seasonally between the USA and Australia is an example. RAAF C-17s could provide the transport of people and their specialist equipment, perhaps containerised to facilitate these movements.
Recovery from Storm and Flood Damage. An all-too-frequent television report is State Emergency Services (SES) chain-sawing fallen trees and covering unroofed dwellings with tarpaulins. If the severity of an event overwhelms the SES, they should be able to call on the ADF for support.
More Bang for the Buck
The 2018 Defence Budget is reported as $36.4 Billion. The Press Release advises that at the time of the Release, some 2,300 of 58,206 Full-Time Active-Duty Personnel were deployed overseas. Put another way, 96% were not on active duty overseas, and a substantial number could be trained, equipped and ready to serve Australia as a response to emergencies.
The nature of military conflict is that a sound diplomatic and Defence policy and posture reduces the probability of military conflict, but the Active and Reserve Forces must be large enough to defeat an attack on Australia and its national interests. Inevitably, this results in a very low Active Personnel deployment rate as demonstrated in the Minister’s Press release. The benefit to the security of Australia is that non-deployed forces are available for national deployments as Aid to the Civil Power.
The IPCC Report predicts that climate change and global warming will increase the number of emergency events requiring large-scale responses. Preparing and deploying ADF personnel and capabilities will improve the security Australian’s receive for their annual Defence investment of $36.4 billion. The might and power of the ADF would be a welcome addition to the battle for humanity’s future security.
Chris Mills, AM is a retired RAAF Wing Commander who was an Australian Defence Organisation Capability Development Officer for several years and was the architect of the RAAF’s ‘Structure for War – Adapt for Peace’ organising principle.