Defense forces changing as new threats emerge

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Lucille Halloran talks to Australia’s former Chief of Defence Force Sir Angus Houston about how armed forces throughout the western world could develop in the future

Having served as Chief of Australia’s Air Force and Chief of the Defence Force, Sir Angus Houston retired from the military in 2011, after 41 years’ service.

Now, he has been appointed as a Senior Advisor to EY’s Global Government & Public Sector practice.

Sir Angus cites a number of factors that are complicating the strategic defense and security setting.

Continuing conflict in the Middle East has contributed to a refugee crisis. Actions by some influential states have brought instability. Balances of power are shifting in the Indo-Pacific region.

“And of course, through all of this, we see terrorism continue to endure in a lot of the Western nations.”

Cost and capability

Defense ministries and armed forces are not immune to the budgetary pressures that are applied to government departments in many parts of the world.

“Sustaining existing levels of capability into the future will be very difficult,” says Sir Angus.

As forces around the world cope with such pressures, they will have to focus on productivity, deal with increased scrutiny of expenditure and rebalance the relationships within defense budgets between the three major areas of cost — operations, personnel and capital.

Putting people first

“The most expensive component of defense capability is people,” says Sir Angus.

Australia sees lots of young people complete their training in the defense force and then leave after a few years.

So, how do you confront this? “You need to have a good brand and a good strategy. And you need to engage with the people who you are targeting to join your defense force at every opportunity.”

Sir Angus points to the Australian Defence Force cadet program as an example of good recruitment practice over a number of years.

“Cadets get a chance to spend a week on a base. There’ll be an opportunity to fly, to have a look at operational aircraft, to meet people who fly those aircraft and to learn to fly a glider.”

Attracting recruits is a challenge that can be met with creativity and good communications. But what about retaining the people you have?

“Empowering and challenging people to do what they want to do creates the right culture, brings high levels of morale and gives you great results.”

Leaders of modern armed forces need to have a broader set of skills than flying a plane or navigating a ship.

“Financial management and accounting skills need to be part of professional military education and development programs,” says Sir Angus.

Progressive procurement

People are not the only priority. Pressure on resources and technological advances are also placing new demands on the way equipment is procured and supply chains managed.

Sir Angus wants to see procurement systems that are more agile and adaptive.

“I think it’s absolutely imperative that armed forces embrace innovation and the latest technology,” he says.

This means defense forces exploiting their internal science and technology organization, and outside bodies such as universities.

“It’s all about partnerships and collaboration,” says Sir Angus.

Lucille Halloran is EY’s Oceania Government and Public Sector Leader