Tiny ADF footprint in Western Australia – The Need for a Second Army

By Sapper ‘Flex’
RAE (17th C&J AAAS) 62-71


FILE PHOTO (Sept 2016): Australian Army Bushmaster protected mobility vehicles from Darwin-based 1st Brigade drive along the Great Northern Highway during Exercise Northern Shield 2016. Photo by Corporal David Said.





The numbers show the total ARMY strength in WA is 2358, that is, combined Permanent and Reserve soldiers:

(Source: Department of Defence annual Report Chapter 7 – “Strategic Workforce Management”)

Which as a point of comparison is about 1/3 the size of WA’s State Police Force.

The real composition or break down of that number 2358 goes like this:


Reserve Soldiers                                         1494

SAS Special Forces                                     800     Arbitrary number

Permanent Soldiers                                    64

Total                                                            2358


Note: The SAS Regiment has an undisclosed strength but is assumed to be around 800. Whatever the actual number is, it would be unlikely that a full strength compliment would be in Campbell Barracks at any one time, if at ever.

This of course reflects on the REAL number of overall Permanent Soldiers in WA. (ie: The number would be even  SMALLER

In the event of a natural disaster or catastrophic occurrence, how could such a small group cope and/or contribute in a real meaningful way.

Let alone provide defence and security to WA’s general public ,Critical Minerals Industries, Oil and Gas Infrastructure , Resources Industries, major facilities such as the Stirling Naval Base and other critical / strategic entities and facilities scattered around the state.


Structure of the ADF

Source of numbers below: Department of Defence annual Report Chapter 7 – “Strategic Workforce Management” – Table 7.9,


The current Defence Personnel strength in Australia (ADF):

Service            Permanent            Reserve            Total

Navy                        13,657            2,823                        16,480

Army                      30,161            13,801                     43,962

Air Force                14,838              5,070                     19,908

TOTALS               58,656             21,694                    80,350


Composition of Defence Personnel in Western Australia,

Service        Combined Permanent & Reserve         Percentage in WA

Navy                                 2675                                          16.2 %

Army                              2358                                            5.4 %

Air Force                           602                                           3.0 %

TOTAL                            5635                                           7.01 % ADF


The ratio of Permanent Soldiers to Reserve Soldiers is like this:

                                   Permanent           Reserve         Total                Ratio P to R

Army  Other                    29,297               12,307            41,604               1 to 0.42

Army  WA                        864                  1,494              2,358                  1   to 1.73

Army  ADF                     30,161                13,801             43,962               1   to 0.46



Geographical perspective comparing WA to the rest of Australia:

Location               Land Area Km2                Soldiers/Km2        Coastline Km           

Other States                      5,046                                    8.25                       25,683

WA                                 2,646 (34.4 %)                       0.89                     10,194 (28.4 %)        

Australia Total                7,692                                                                    35,877


A quick appraisal of these simple analyses does not take one long to see there is a very good point here and that is, Western Australia is not just being left behindbut pretty much being forgotten.

To push the point real hard, there has to be something serious take place and that could and should be Australia having a two (2) Army policy

  • ARMY No. 1 – the existing Army (Eastern States and NT)
  • ARMY No. 2 – new Army for (the entire state of WA)

This is not a new proposition as it has been put forward on many occasions before by members of parliaments, politicians and representatives from defence analysis organisations.



  • There are still views that a great expanse of water (Indian Ocean) is more than adequate as defence and security of WA.

Some might even add, “And in addition there is the massive land area of half a continent of desolation”.

But hang on a bit, isn’t that half a continent (ie: WA), what we are talking about here.

  • Then there is an inference towards those who support a greater ADF presence (Footprint) in WA as basically not having much knowledge on the subject.

This clearly cannot be correct, as if it were, all those countless security / defence experts who have written masses of papers and articles over the years, also must not have it right.

An estimate in the order of 10,000 to 15,000 pieces of “defence and security” articles, papers and general talk fest documents across the past 80 years, would not be far off the mark.

A very large percentage of these writings are centred on this very topic – defence and security of North and North Western Australia.

  • The perception that the ADF and particularly the Army has only one sole roll is also not quite right.

The fact is the principal roll of the ADF/ ARMY is certainly Military Defence, but equally important and binding on the ADF is the tasks to:

  1. Contribute to the Safety of the Immediate Neighbourhood
  2. Operations supporting wider interests
  3. c) Contribution to National Support Tasks in Australia

(Source: Portfolio Budget Statements 2019-2020 section 2 Defence Outcomes and Planned Performance):


Call out the Army

Australia’s resent history of catastrophic events such as the horrendous bush fires across most states, extreme flooding and weather events and the present Covid 19 Pandemic have all brought the importance of the ARMY in addressing these situations to the for front / front pages of newspapers all over.

The “call out for the ARMY” slogan by all and sundry, indicates the public generally and even Politicians and Governments think the ARMY is much much biggerthan it really actually is.

Right at this time there are reported to be 2500 Soldiers in Victoria carrying out Covid 19 security, separation and control rolls in support of the Health Department and Government of Victoria.

There are also random numbers of Soldiers in other states carrying out similar rolls and duties.

What the general public and most Politicians and Governments don’t know or realise is that the majority of the Soldiers engaged in these Covid 19 rolls are Reserve Soldiers. Many of the Reserve Soldiers are already in jobs that conflict with their dual working life, in a situation like this Covid 19 pandemic.  That is many are in Public Service jobs such as Police, Health, Nursing, Government Administration and the like. Taking these Reserve Soldiers out of their Civilian Jobs created a compounding effect on manpower across all these areas.

Perhaps this has been addressed and the current second wave Covid 19 assistance by the ARMY is now totally made up of Permanent Soldiers.

So there must by now be some concern about all things dependent upon the size and strength of the ARMY.

Consequently the Federal Government and the ADF Command must seriously consider and act on the following points:

  • Is the ARMY in its existing strength able to carry out its prime roll
  • Is the ARMY in its existing strength capable of carrying out its primary and secondary rolls
  • Is the ARMY situated across the country in sufficient strengths to have a realistic capability in either or both rolls
  • In addressing the above should the capability of the ARMY in Western Australia be advanced to be on par with the rest of the country?


Old Story New Scribe

The way to tell any story and paint the picture clearly is, if you like, not to reinvent the wheel.

That is, why spend time writing other version of the same thing, when countless experts have told and retold the same story in the past.  Also most of these experts are far more qualified on the subject, so why not use some of these articles as a step to present comments and perspectives that add to the story and propositions.

To this end the passage directly here under is an extract from a paper, The Australian Defence Force in northern Australia 9th July 2015 by Dr Nathan Church (Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security Section)

The issue of a military presence in northern Australia has been an enduring one for Australia’s parliamentarians.

In 1940, Adair Blain (Member for Northern Territory) declared in the House of Representatives that:

In a spirit of political complacency we are burying our heads in the sand and leaving the north-west to defend itself.

We are relying upon its remoteness for security …

There are cogent reasons why the Government should concentrate upon the effective control and defence of the north-west of Australia, particularly when we realize that the influence of the Axis powers may extend, and we may even have more enemies than we have today.

More recently in 2014, the Minister for Defence noted ‘we have hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of investment in offshore developments, particularly in the north and northwest of Australia’.

Both statements infer that Australia not only needs naval assets to appropriately provide national security, but also appropriate defence facilities located in the region to support the required defence assets.

Ditto Dr Nathan Church’s introductory Executive Summary section follows, with comments added in bold and underlined, which convey the opinions on these passages from the viewpoint of the proponents of an ARMY in WA and particularly the NW being established and based in the NW and be maned and operated 24/7 year on year ad-infinitum.

Also, that view is based around the ARMY in WA / NW to be principally made up of Permanent Soldiers: –

  • The Australian Defence Force (ADF) regards northern Australia as strategically important, both for national defence and as a forward base for regional engagement.
  • The ADF presence in northern Australia also directly contributes to the economic and social development of the region.

This may have truth in Darwin but is not the case for a blanket statement, as it has NO RELAVENCE in the North West or indeed the whole of Western Australia.

  • A substantial amount of new ADF assets will either be based or operate in the vicinity of northern Australia, requiring new or upgraded facilities. These include new strike and patrol aircraft as well as the Landing Helicopter Docks (LHDs), Australia’s largest ever warships.

Not sure those huge warships are necessary, but great numbers of Helicopters YES

  • The increasing presence of US Marine rotations within northern Australia will also require additional infrastructure and base capacity.
  • However, future growth in the ADF’s northern Australia presence is constrained.


The only constraint is that Governments and ADF heads have not made decisions and expended in any meaningful way across eighty (80) years.


This has created a huge effect on Australia’s ability to defend the North and North West of WA and WA as a whole.


ADF Footprint has not increased in WA, and it has actually diminished


The shutting down of 22 Construction Sqn RAE back in 1990, left the SAS at Campbell Barracks as the only Permanent Army unit in WA.

  • Climate factors affect the ADF’s ability to operate in the region and maintain its infrastructure,


Really, this SHOULD NOT be the case, as the same climatic conditions affect private industry such as mining, resources, pastoralists, etc. and they run hugely successful operations in these conditions / environment


  • While northern Australia’s distance from major population centres increases resource costs and can impede retention of personnel.


Garrison town and other FOB towns should be created and built in the NW of WA just as the mining industry has built mining towns like, Tom Price, Newman, Dampier, and Paraburdoo

  • Accordingly, the most cost-effective improvements will likely come through more efficient defence sustainment provided by local northern Australia defence industries


This is a good proposition but the Federal Government and the Department of Defence Industries have to be the leaders here and set up a means of private companies to engage.


Presently the ADI does neither see nor cater for this roll.


The ADI in WA seems totally fixated on the Submarine Maintenance programme, other Maritime ventures and nothing else.


To plan, design, supply and construct the entire extent of infrastructure, buildings and facilities needed to advance and establish a real ARMY / ADF presence in NW of WA,  there must be AT LEAST an internet site set up / in place by Defence West / ADI.


Proponents of an overall state-wide complex of the required infrastructure as they propose it or individual projects and locations as the case may suit, would have a point of contact with the Australian Defence Industry.


At present it is impossible for a proponent of anything, particularly a new or perceived controversial idea, to get a look in.

Other than the jobs, rolls, and streams already in place the ADI is a CLOSED SHOP.


Leadership and Governance

There has been an incredible dalliance by Governments on both sides of parliament and the ADF Leaders across the years.

Because of no decision and commitment of any consequence being made over this time, it has left the whole of the North West of WA and its mineral and resource industries and infrastructure vulnerable and defenceless.

Not one of our Chiefs over this time has formulated a detailed plan of the entire ADF, on a base by base, basis.   That is Not in WA or the NW from what can be seen.

Every paper, initiative, proposition, etc., etc., has been in terms that never set down location, assets or quantify manpower.

The massive build and investment in the defence and security of WA and in particular the North West of WA, now just has to happen.

It has been put off for over eighty (80) years, it must be commenced now.

The cost now is absolutely irrelevant, as plans, decisions and expenditure should have been progressive across the years as for all ongoing Federal Government commitments.

The bottom line is that our military forces should always be funded, supplied and supported to at least be in a position to be capable of providing security and defence across the entirety of the country.


Australia’s Economic Recovery from Covid 19

Australia is in a pickle at the moment due to the impact of the CV pandemic.

A recovery strategy with numerous legs has to be planned and put in place to generate jobs and reduce the extremely high level of unemployment and build the economy and drag the country back up.

The Federal Budget   CASH SPLASH for JOBS CREATIONis all very nice but unfortunately it is not going to be that simple.


All the cash in this year’s budget is directed to and for all Australian companies and individuals to create new jobs and employ people.

There is no real jobs being given / started / created directly by the Government. It is all about putting the money out there and trusting business to do all the jobs creation.

In the past there have been many examples of huge projects being tackled to both create jobs and deliver a facility or service for the betterment of the country and the people.

The biggest and most relevant project that Australia took on and achieved was the Snowy Mountain Hydro scheme. This project was commenced due to the same circumstances that Australia now finds itself in again.

Australia needs a massive project starting right now that can replicate the effects of the Snowy Mountain Scheme had on the economy and employment.

The building of an entire Second Army in Western Australia is just that project.

If ever a Federal Government and the ADF should make this decision and commitment, it is now.

It is a decision that should have been made decades ago anyhow, but now it is paramount and critical for not just the current economic situation but the total future security and survival of Australia.


Interim Closing Statement

This topic is bigger than Ben Hur, so I will give you and myself a break for now.

Other parts to follow will include but not necessary limited to:

  • Comprehensive plan and details of all components, facilities and infrastructure required to establish an Army build up in WA along the path of a an ARMY No.2
  • Overall strength of the ARMY No.2 presented on a corps, unit and location basis
  • Airforce upgrades and additional facilities as required to service the ARMY No. 2 and more so to have an operational Airforce capability based and operating out of WA and more particularly the NW
  • Benefits, jobs and rolls created that will be filled by transitioning and damaged Soldiers and others leaving the Services
  • Fact finding and presentation of individual Defence and Security issues










5832 Total Views 1 Views Today

Posted by Brian Hartigan

Managing Editor Contact Publishing Pty Ltd PO Box 3091 Minnamurra NSW 2533 AUSTRALIA

10 thoughts on “Tiny ADF footprint in Western Australia – The Need for a Second Army

  • 02/11/2020 at 10:52 am

    I realise that don’t have the right background to comment about this subject, no statistics or reports, No Government White Papers, However I live in this huge state that we call Western Australia, the state that covers over 33% of Australia’s land mass and just under 30% of it coast yet once again the people in the East fail to grasp one big idea – If a Foreign power decided to set up shop in WA, the rest of Australia would go bankrupt and shortly thereafter be taken over by that same Foreign power. You may say that WA is just a barren landscape with a Capital City that is closer to Singapore rather than the majority of Eastern State Capitals, However this barren landscape provides well over 65% 0f Australia’s mineral wealth and is by far the largest contributor to this country’s income, a subject matter that always gets the Eastern States attention when it comes to “their” slice of the pie.

    Someone mentioned that it’s all okay because the RAN and the RAAF can cover WA, well neither of those services have enough resources to cover this State, we have no Fighter squadrons based here, no maritime surveillance aircraft permanently based here, we are just somewhere where we can train our new pilots, Foreign Armed Forces use WA more than our own Armed Forces.

    It was mentioned that WA needed a High speed rail line to get personnel up to the NW of this State, well considering the problems that the East is facing re their High Speed Rail, I cannot see that happening in my Grand Children’s life span – a rail link that travels between 250 – 300 km per hour would be needed just to get the necessary back up to our NW, however given the locality of our major Army hardware, the required back up would be 2-3 days away if not longer.

    To my Eastern State based contributors have a good look at a map of Australia and note on that map where the military assets of the ADF are located – are they really where they should be or are we just protecting our Politicians arses – WA needs it fair share of the ADF’s resources – why not 50% then we may see the necessary Defence Industries coming this way as well, thus building the infrastructure needed to support ADF personnel and their families, with even more financial support coming from the West to support the Eastern States.

  • 01/11/2020 at 8:29 pm

    I don’t agree with establishing any substantial permanent defence presence in the NW of WA. While I support increased temporary presence, and even an expansion of bare-base infrastructure to house temporary deployments of anywhere from small combat team (company sized) or up to and including battlegroup sized units; having a permanent presence is not likely to be successful in any way, shape or form. This would be purely because of the remoteness of the region, the lack of family friendly facilities, infrastructure and the fact it would be a permanent post in the arse end of the country – even as pretty as it can be up there, most people and families would scoff at being packed up and shipped off to NW WA over the capital cities or well established smaller cities like Townsville.

    I would argue for increased temporary (up to 3 months – and no longer) deployments for full time and reserve army teams if and when the situation dictates it – or purely for training requirements. Defence/Gov should also establish distributed small bases (that support up to company strength including support personnel), with small air strip support for aircraft from C-27 up to C-130 size (and its replacement) for quick deployment of personnel and light vehicles; with bases such as Learmonth and Curtin operating as support hubs for the smaller bases (which could also support fairly large army teams themselves if the infrastructure was upgraded). There should also be a high speed rail link from Perth to RAAF Learmonth, and further up to RAAF Curtin to allow for fast ground deployment of vehicles and personnel, while more can be flown in to Learmonth/Curtin via C-17/C-130.

    As far as a “second army”in the west, what exactly does that mean? What sized force are you arguing for? Honestly, I don’t think anything beyond a brigade sized force (the oft argued for 4th Brigade) would be realistic. In that way, the same concept being used by 1 Brigade could be used, (with elements of the brigade being based in both Darwin and Adelaide with a rail link between north and south). The same method of transportation of equipment and personnel also could be used in the west via a much longer rail network along the coastal route as argued in the last paragraph.

    We definitely need a larger army (and for that matter Navy and Airforce), but care needs to be taken in how and where they are based. To remote locations, especially in NW WA, they should only be temporary deployments with the bulk of personnel and equipment based in more infrastructure rich and family friendly locations like Perth. This would probably be a far cheaper alternative model than a permanent move, and would de-risk the certain to occur retention issues with forcing people and families to move to an entirely under-developed corner of the country for fairly insignificant defensive gains.

  • 01/11/2020 at 4:07 pm

    Why not move 6 and 8/9 and supports plus 2/14 from Brisbane, since 1,2 and 3 RAR are already in Townsville and Qld really doesn’t need 5 infantry battalions, to a new barracks established in NW WA?

    • 01/11/2020 at 6:51 pm

      Hi Dave,
      Paul Dibb’s Review in 1986 alluded to your plan, and Plan Beersheba in 2014 also proposed 7th Brigade from Brisbane composed of 6 RAR and 8/9 RAR and supports, plus some of the 2/14 QMI for the armoured elements be sent to the North West of WA. As usual the crew in Canberra vetoed it, citing many minor political reasons (it seems all the ADF leaders need to be aspiring politicians) why 7th Brigade could not be sent, ignoring the strategic and operational requirements for a Brigade to be lodged in the north of Western Australia. Its part of the “eastern states mentality” that ADF leaders are indoctrinated with in Canberra – they learn it at the Command and Staff College in Canberra when discussing the western part of Australia. The mantra is Give WA nothing: – and they wonder why West Australians are not terribly impressed by the learned gentry from Canberra! Have a think about it anyway Dave.

  • 01/11/2020 at 2:31 pm

    There was some conjecture that in WW2 significant assets were placed in WA to ensure the WA Gov did no deals with Imperial Japan.

    Interestingly, the relevant WA Cabinet documents disappeared.

  • 01/11/2020 at 12:05 pm

    Yep move half the army to WA and the other half in Queensland so when those two Chinese lackies decide they no longer want to be Australian and invite in the boys from Beijing we can be ready to repel them.

    Never thought I’d see the day when Australian politicians want to break up the federation……..all for a few pieces of Chinese silver.


  • 01/11/2020 at 11:37 am

    Re: Need for a 2nd Army in WA

    May one suppose that most of Australia’s Defence Forces are deployed on the Australian East Coast to protect the entitlements of the Defence Chiefs?

    It must be a source of great mirth to our Regional neighbours that a nation of some 25 million people have a Defence Force consisting of only 80,000 personnel and that great swathes of our resource rich island continent is completely undefended. Can one suppose that our Allies can be rallied to the fray instantly should some kind of conflagration arise in our neighbourhood?

  • 27/10/2020 at 8:50 am

    Minor point of contention but one for the sake of correctness. Agree that the ADF needs more of a focus on WA but he is basis his argument on an incomplete argument.

    Could the OP please update his article to reflect actual Department of Defence Annual Report for workforce figures. ADF Workforce figures are located in Chapter 6 of the Report (not 7) and the correct breakdown for Army personnel as at 30 Jun 20 in WA is 904 Permanent and 1992 Reserve.

    • 27/10/2020 at 11:45 am

      Hi James,
      In the author’s Defence, an article like this isn’t put together overnight and, since I helped him research those particular figures I can tell you that the 2019-20 Annual Report was not yet published when we looked into those – and since this year’s figures vary little from the ones quoted, I don’t think it affects the general argument is any significant way.
      That said, thank you for reading the opinion piece in such depth, and for opening the discussion. Truth be told, I personally don’t support the overall argument (of a second army in the west), but that doesn’t preclude healthy discussion on the matter – nor does it stop me, as editor, from publishing an opinion I don’t agree with. I invite healthy and well-considered opinions on most Defence/military topics. I think it’s good that (at least some of) Australia’s citizens think about and discuss such things – and have the freedom and forums to do so.
      Brian Hartigan

      • 27/10/2020 at 1:39 pm

        I concur, the overall argument of a second Army isn’t something I agree with nor the premise of the NW being “Defenceless” I would in fact argue that significant work is being done by the RAN and RAAF in force projection to the NW approaches, primarily on securing our SLOCs and natural resources in the region. Whilst an additional Army presence would be useful, they would only be there to oppose a landing, as we lack the supply chain and speed of advance needed. The advantage provided by the RAN and RAAF securing this region is the ability to force project and sustain in the region.

        Also not sure on the statement that Defence Industry being solely involved in Submarines and Maritime brings to the table. It is only reasonable that a large portion of the Defence Industry in WA would be tailored towards supporting the Submarine Force when all of our Submarines are based in WA as well as a portion of our surface fleet.

        Though back on the numbers, yes they do not change significantly but when numbers from the 2015/16 Annual Report are used in lieu of more recent and publicly available numbers it does a disservice to the argument as does the cherry picked numbers for the SASR.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *