Defense Media Network

Interview With Australian Defence Attaché Air Vice-Marshal Kym Osley, AM, CSC

How is the Australian DoD doing at training and recruiting these days? Are you making the recruiting numbers needed to maintain key units and keep ships up and running? Or are you in need of specialists for particular systems and units?

Recruiting and retention are always an ongoing challenge, but we’re doing quite well. Our pay and conditions of service are considered to be excellent. Over the past decade, we have made great inroads in providing good housing to our people and our conditions of service on active operation, I would say, are second to none around the world. In addition, we have excellent training opportunities, but I have to say we’ve certainly had some periods of poor retention. Two in particular spring to mind, and that is aircraft pilots and also personnel for submarines.

We’ve answered these challenges in the past with a variety of retention bonuses and other ways of mitigating the risk. In some cases, we’ve used lateral recruiting to fill some positions, and I’ve personally flown with several of these lateral recruits, along with some from the United States Air Force and from the Royal Air Force. They are excellent pilots and excellent additions to Australian Defence Force. Needless to say, though, the current state of the world economy is probably assisting recruiting and retention levels at this time, and at this time we feel as though we have plans in place to overcome any of the short-term deficiencies that we have.


Over the decades, Australia has made a strong history of buying systems that are “outside the box” in the minds of other nations, like the F88 Austeyr combat rifle and Lockheed Martin F-111C/G Aardvark strike fighter, to fulfill unique national defense requirements. And while Australia appears quite willing to buy in the way of weapons and systems what they need from foreign vendors and countries, your country also is developing its own cutting-edge ships, aircraft, and ground systems for deployment with your armed forces. What are some of the present-day examples, and how might you be getting ready to fit them into your force structure?

E-737 Wedgetail

An Australian Air Force E-737 Wedgetail, Airborne Warning and Control System, returns to the exercise after receiving fuel from a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker from the 349th Air Refueling Squadron, McConnell AFB, Kan., over the Joint Pacific Range Complex near Eielson AFB, Alaska June 20, 2012, during Red Flag-Alaska 12-2. Red Flag-Alaska is a Pacific Air Forces-sponsored, joint/coalition, tactical air combat employment exercise which corresponds to the operational capability of participating units. The entire exercise takes place in the Joint Pacific Range Complex over Alaska as well as a portion of Western Canada for a total airspace of more than 67,000 square miles. DoD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael R. Holzworth

Two that spring to mind are the future submarine and the [Wedgetail] Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft. As for the future submarine, the new boats will have a greater range, longer endurance, and more expanded capabilities than those of the Collins class [boats]. And while they will represent a design and industrial challenge, it’s really one we do need to face. These new submarines will be critical for giving us the freedom of maneuver and the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability when needed in our region of immediate interest, and that will end up being in many cases our eyes and ears to the north.

As for the Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning Command and Control aircraft, this capability has been on our books for a long time and finally we are seeing [it] come into service. This [system uses] the emerging technology of an electronically steered [radar] array, and while it will take additional time to perfect over more conventional technologies, it will give us an excellent air surveillance capability, one which will tie together our air defense system.


Historically, the armed forces of Australia have made it their business to be part of some very sophisticated operations around the globe. From peacekeeping to maritime interdiction, folks I know want Australian units and personnel in the forefront of such efforts, because of their skills and professionalism. Where do these capabilities come from? And what are you doing to maintain such capabilities in the future, both for Australia and your allies around the globe?

Certainly, Australia has invested in defense over the decades and we intend to maintain a balanced force and will maintain its edge through participation in appropriately high levels of training. The ability to maintain these capabilities is really driven by a well-resourced plan, which I think the 2009 White Paper represents – which includes adequate and enduring funding, which the government has committed to over the next few decades. It requires good access to technology, [and] I think our relationship to the U.S. and other key allied nations is a critical element. It requires access to well-trained and motivated personnel, which our nation has provided to date and which our educational system in Australia is expected to deliver in the future. And it requires adequate industry capabilities to support our defense capabilities, which in some cases will be a challenge, as in the future submarine. But the challenges are well identified and we will certainly have the time for our Defence Materiel Organization to work out the mitigating strategies.


What new sorts of operations do you see the Australian military moving into in the next decade or two? Humanitarian relief, no-fly operations, and anti-piracy seem to be just a few of the possibilities.

From an Australian perspective, while potential flash points do exist in the Asia Pacific Region – and I include Taiwan, the Korean peninsula, the South China Sea, and other “rub points” – territorial disputes and historical grievances – I think that Australia thinks that it is relatively unlikely that a conventional war will break out in the immediate future. From our perspective, the Southeast Asian nations are largely on a solid path of [economic and social] development and should be able to manage their continuing security concerns such as terrorism and insurgency. Indonesia’s democracy continues to strengthen and we are building a very solid defense relationship with our northern neighbor.

For Australia, the most likely military operations are, in the very short term, responses to natural disasters in our region. We only have to look back to the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia and the similar disaster in [Papua New Guinea] as examples of where we will continue to regularly be called upon to intervene and assist in the region. Also, other likely operations in the region are an ongoing search-and-rescue responsibility for the region, and we’ve demonstrated that many times.

As for dealing with insecurity – and I think the South Pacific region has had a cycle of economic stagnation and there’s been some political
fragility in the region – I think we’re going to have to watch our region very carefully and address any security concerns that our government determines the ADF should be involved in. So, the most likely operations [for us] are firstly humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and secondly stabilization operations such as those in Bougainville and East Timor.

Air Vice-Marshal Kym Osley, AM, CSC

Left to right, retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Bruce A. Wright; Australian Air Vice-Marshal Kym Osley, head of the Australian embassy’s defense staff; U.S. Army Secretary Pete Geren; Harry McAlpine, president of the Returned and Services League’s Washington, D.C., sub-branch; U.S. Army Col. Laura J. Richardson, garrison commander of the Fort Myer Military Community; Robert S. Cutler, executive director of the Bakers Creek Memorial Association; and David Stuart, deputy chief of mission at the Australian Embassy pose next to the Bakers Creek air crash monument during a dedication ceremony held at Fort Myer, Va., June 11, 2009. DoD photo by Gerry Gilmore


How have you enjoyed your tour as military attaché here in the United States? What has been your most memorable and/or important experience during your stay?

I must admit my position here as military attaché and as head of Australian Defence Staff is one of the highlights of my career. The duties of Australian Defence Attaché are made much easier by the strong relationship and reputation that the ADF enjoys in the U.S. as a result of our defense forces working on operations. This goodwill has certainly assisted in opening doors. There are deeply shared values between our two countries and this means that issues can be worked through even though we obviously need to take account of each country’s own interests.

Some of the obvious highlights of my particular time here are the inauguration of President Obama and my team’s interaction with the new administration. Interacting with people in the U.S. military again has been a great pleasure. I have been able to build on the relationships that I developed in previous assignments: I flew with the United States on an RF-4C Phantom exchange in the 1980s and I worked with the U.S. in the Middle East at the Combined Air Operations Center. It is a pleasure to get back working with the U.S military and the U.S. Department of Defense personnel again.

As I’ve indicated, I’ve worked tactically before flying aircraft with the United States. I’ve worked at the operational level as Director of the Combined Air Operations Center and now I’ve been given the opportunity to work strategically with U.S. [government] personnel, and [specifically] Department of Defense personnel. It’s interesting dealing with issues across all the different areas that we get involved in: intelligence, S&T, policy, operations, and materiel. All in all, a great experience, which my wife, Debbie, is a very willing partner in!

I would conclude by saying that it’s the greatest honor and the most humbling activity I’ve had in hosting wounded warriors to the Australian Embassy on various occasions. I’ve come to understand the sacrifice that others have made and understand the importance of the coalition forces doing what they can to counter terrorism and to seek a more peaceful outcome in places such as Afghanistan. Australia is certainly a staunch ally of the U.S. in this fight against terror. I can assure you we are committed to staying so.

I thank you for the opportunity to provide the interview.

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John D. Gresham lives in Fairfax, Va. He is an author, researcher, game designer, photographer,...