The strategic importance of Australia’s north to Australia’s defence has long been recognized by government and policy makers. Despite strategic policy commitments to Northern Australia, there is a growing body of evidence indicating that the gap is widening between strategic policy and Defence’s actual activities and presence in the north. This could well be symptomatic of a gap in Australia’s northern development policies.
It is likely that with the significantly reduced warning times of future conflict the North of Australia will increasingly become either Australia’s Forward Operating (FOB) base, or its lily pad to another forward location within the pacific or the first or second island chain.
The northern Australian industry base needs to be enhanced to be able to provide a permanent and scalable civilianized replenishment and depot repair capacity for Defence capabilities deployed across the various physical nodes of FOB North. If the Northern Australian industry base is not scalable then the ADF may not be able to optimally configure to undertake Defence of Australia tasks, nor short notification joint expeditionary operations within our regional neighbourhood.
To succeed, the FOB North concept must be fully integrated with Australia’s broader national security strategy. ADF and National security activities ought to be integrally linked and mutually supporting.
The FOB North concept will provide policy makers the foundation for thinking of the North as a facilitator of engagement with the region. FOB North will also make the North of Australia a vehicle for defence with the region, rather than defence from the region.
The development of FOB North needs to be part of, and supported by, Australia sovereign nation building efforts. FOB North as both a sovereign defence and national security concept is an integral part of building national resilience in Northern Australia and as such should not be simply planned and delivered through a defence white paper (DWP). This kind of ambitious national approach will involve Defence working with a diverse array of stakeholders and partners. It will also allow Defence to make a significant and lasting contribution to its most basic strategic interest; a secure, resilient Australia.