Contingencies and Warning Time

Author/s (editor/s):

Richard Brabin-Smith

Publication year:


Publication type:

Policy paper

The idea that there is a relationship between level of contingency and warning time has been integral to Australian defence planning since the 1970s. Yet over the years the focus on this issue, and the associated ideas of preparedness, force expansion and Australia's industrial base, has been neither strong nor consistent.

Time is often the neglected dimension of defence planning. Yet its consideration is central to practical defence decision-making. This is true for any nation that takes national security and the allocation of resources seriously. Two examples illustrate the principle. First, preparedness (that is, readiness and sustainability) can be expensive, so not all elements of a defence force are kept at short notice for operations. There will usually be a spectrum of preparedness: at one end of the scale, counter-terrorist forces able to move within hours; and at the other end, Reserve units mostly able to become operational only after months if not years. Second is the idea of reconstitution or mobilisation: when threats emerge, a defence force will be expanded and, conversely, when threats go away, as at the end of the World Wars and the Cold War, forces will be reduced. So time is an important parameter in a government's approach to defence policy, risk management, and resource allocation.

In Australia's case, the end of the war in Vietnam called for fresh thinking about defence policy. The emerging ideas of the Defence of Australia filled some of this gap, but there was a need also for an analytical basis from which to argue for levels of defence funding€“ else the prospective budget cuts at a time of evident 'low threat' would have been harsh. This led Defence to develop the concept of the core force and expansion base. In brief, a force-in-being would evolve which would both meet the demands of those important lesser contingencies that might arise in the shorter term, and be the base from which expansion would occur in the event of major strategic deterioration. Intelligence would be critical in assessing warning time and ensuring that expansion would be timely

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