MEL HUPFELD: Good morning ladies and gents. It's great to have a chance to meet you, today. We haven't had an opportunity to talk about our operations update for some time so for me as the new Chief of Joint Operations I've been in the job, now for about four and a half months. I'm learning every day and I don't think that's going to change in the next four years or so in this role. So- but it's a true privilege and wonderful opportunity to be involved in the operations and things that are so important to the security of our nation and what we can do to make the world a better place.
I'm joined today by Lieutenant Colonel Judd Finger. So it's a terrific opportunity to have Judd here. He's just come back as the commander of our Joint Task Group in the Philippines and he'll speak to you as well on some of the activities and operations that we've been conducting in the Philippines and indeed he'll be able to answer some questions for you as well after that.
So as I say, you've got my bio there with the young photo, the political photo I guess but it's got my background and I'm quite happy to talk about that. I'm a fighter pilot; we like to talk about ourselves, so any questions on that I'm very happy to answer.
But ladies and gentlemen I've got some prepared comments so I'll read those through for you so you can get the overall summary as to what we want to talk about. That should take about 15 minutes and then I'll hand over to Judd and then once he's said a few words about the Philippines then we can open that up for some questions. So I think we're hoping to have about 20 minutes for questions with you.
And I understand we've got Lisa on the phone as well. Can you hear me there Lisa?
LISA: Yes, I can, thank you.
MEL HUPFELD: Great. All right. So we'll get on with it. Today we have around 2300 Australian Defence Force personnel engaged in operations around the world and here at home. There's also over 1000 more people dispersed through our region on major exercises and other significant activities that all support Australia's interests. The ADF today has a strong regional focus that continues to make important contributions in the Middle East and in North Africa and it's committed to building relations and interoperability with our partner forces to improve security in our neighbourhood and around the world. I'll cover next just some of the aspects in our domestic area. Navy, Army and Air Force all continue to make valuable contributions to Operation Resolute and as you would understand that's our support - the ADF support - to the whole of government efforts to protect Australia's borders and our offshore maritime interests.
At any one time we have up to 600 personnel involved in this operation alongside our Australian Border Force colleagues and other government agency personnel. Following the recent arrival of the people smuggling venture from Vietnam in North Queensland and at the direction of the government we've reinforced Operation Resolute with additional aerial surveillance and maritime patrol vessels and we will continue to provide an enhanced contribution to support this important mission and we'll do that for as long as necessary to disrupt and deny illegal people smuggling activities.
Further south, our support to the Australian Antarctic Division which we call Operation Southern Discovery, we saw some recent unscheduled winter activity. There were two snowblowers located at Wilkins Aerodrome which is a critical airstrip that operates in the summer months and both of those blowers broke down in September preventing the runway from opening and jeopardising the supply situation for our scientists on the continent. So on the 20th of September a Royal Australian Air Force C17A Globemaster flew to the Antarctic - tremendous capability - and dropped 600 kilograms of mechanical parts to the Australian team located there. There is some terrific imagery on social media, you probably may have already seen that and through that action the glacial runway there now will be cleared for intercontinental flights to commence on schedule in a few weeks' time. This summer air force is also then scheduled to make another eight or so flights to the continent to deliver large scale supplies and equipment for the Australian Antarctic program.
Next week the ADF will be on the ground in Sydney supporting the New South Wales police-led security operations in support of the 2018 Invictus Games.
We have a joint task force of around 250 personnel that's been established to support various aspects of that event in a similar manner but certainly on a smaller scale to the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games that were conducted earlier this year. ADF personnel will augment security roles, they'll provide some ceremonial support as medal presenters and we'll have defence musicians playing to the crowds at the opening and closing ceremonies and we'll also have transport, logistics, administration and health personnel to assist the games officials and indeed the Australian Invictus team.
I now move to some of our regional activities and operations. In Indonesia, as you're probably all aware we've had our C130J Hercules aircraft delivering essential supplies into the devastated area of central Sulawesi, following that recent earthquake and resultant tsunami. Since operations commenced at the request of the Indonesian government on the 4th of October eight C130J flights loaded with emergency supplies and personnel have occurred from Darwin into Indonesia, into Balikpapan. We also had one C17A flight carrying prepossessions supplies from the United Nations humanitarian relief depot in Subang, Malaysia and those supplies were delivered on the 7th of October. We are also supporting internal airlift capacity for the government of Indonesia between Balikpapan and Palu so directly into Palu. The aircraft continues to deliver essential humanitarian supplies for evacuations from the worst affected area of Palu back to Balikpapan and that's including some of the internally displaced people that we're evacuating them out of that critical area. As the minister indicated yesterday it looks like the need for our support may end over this weekend but we certainly remain alert and ready for any further requests that we may receive from the Indonesian government.
Last month we concluded the second iteration of what we call Indo-Pacific Endeavour which is our major annual maritime activity and I emphasise maritime but delivering joint effects. But it's an activity focusing on deepening regional cooperation engagement and partnerships. Spanning three months and across six Pacific Island countries - namely Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands - and involving over 1000 defence personnel Indo-Pacific Endeavour is a very positive and prominent example of Australia's engagement in the region. And it is also a multinational undertaking with our ships having embarked forces from the United States, Sri Lanka, Fiji, and Tonga throughout that deployment this year. Indo-Pacific Endeavour showcased the great capability of the Canberra class landing helicopter dock or amphibious ships and which provides a platform through which Australia and regional security partners can rapidly plan and conduct joint operations in complex environments. And it allows us a focus whenever required on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. It also highlighted the strength of our people and the close relationships that we can have with the security forces of our friends and neighbours across the region. The task group comprising Her Majesty's Australian ships Adelaide, Melbourne, Toowoomba and Success conducted 160 individual engagements and including engagements with heads of government. Many of these engagements focused on operational planning, multinational naval manoeuvres, and security training serials with our regional partners.
These activities also considered gender themes, in particular how gender perspectives can be integrated into operations and exercises and how to broaden opportunities for women in regional security forces.
At a broader level Indo-Pacific Endeavour draws multiple strands of national power into a focused enduring and consistent approach to regional engagement. It provides a clear demonstration of Australia's commitment to the region.
In 2019, the Joint Task Group will focus on the Indian Ocean with a return leg back through Southeast Asia. India-Australia co-operation will be central to this activity as well as reinforcing our deep and enduring relationships with ASEAN nations. Planning is already well underway and we have a sail date, at this stage planned in March of 2019.
Also within our region the ADF is providing advisory and security assistance to Papua New Guinea for their staging of APEC 2018 and that's in response to a formal request from the Papua New Guinea government. The minister made a statement this morning and I'll certainly be able to take any questions on that statement or any other issues associated with APEC assist, a little later.
Bersama Lima is one of our largest current overseas activities. It's a significant exercise, commenced in Malaysia and Singapore last week and it has around 750 ADF personnel involved.
This is a very important annual exercise with the member nations of the Five Power Defence Agreements and those nations of the FPDA are Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. The FPDA established in 1971 is a central forum for the ongoing dialogue enhancing interoperability and promoting peace in our region. The exercise scenario is based around a series of multilateral engagements between member nations for the purpose of planning a joint response to an armed attack or threat against Malaysia or Singapore. Our commitment this year includes seven Royal Australian Air Force FA18F Super Hornet fighters, a P8A maritime patrol aircraft, a KC30A refuel tanker, an E7A Wedge Tail and a B300 King Air aircraft and that also includes her majesty Australian ships Stewart and Sirius as well as a platoon from the Army's rifle company in Butterworth. And for this year that's quite a significant contribution.
Onto North Asia where we presently have two AP3C Orion aircraft and around 60 personnel deployed to Japan to undertake maritime surveillance flights in support of the United Nations Security Council resolutions on North Korea. This deployment follows on from our previous contribution of the P8A Poseidon aircraft in May of this year and just last week HMAS Melbourne with 230 personnel embarked was assigned to that operation in the East China Sea as an element of her broader North East Asian deployment.
Unfortunately, the super typhoon Kong-Ray impacted on Melbourne's operations and like all shipping in the area at that time she avoided weather and took shelter in a port earlier than we planned. Melbourne is now participating in the International Fleet Review in Jeju in South Korea.
Despite the easing of tensions on the Korean Peninsula, Pyongyang continues with its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs in defiance of those United Nations Security Council resolutions. The international mission is providing surveillance of suspicious maritime activities such as possible ship to ship transfers of sanctioned goods. Our aim is to encourage further investigation of those activities including by the countries to which those vessels are flagged. Australia will continue to work with our partners to bring about the complete verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of North Korea.
The occasional deployment of ADF maritime patrol aircraft and surface vessels to the region, under our Operation Argos for this purpose adds weight to Australia's ongoing economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea and enhances the capacity of ongoing multinational enforcement efforts.
I'll now move to our operations in the Middle East. Elements of Daesh remain in eastern Syria and coalition operations to liberate the Daesh-held territory currently progressing in the Middle Euphrates River Valley near the border with Iraq. The ADF currently supports these operations with the rotational deployments of E7A Wedgetail airborne early warning and control aircraft and the KC30A tanker. These aircraft will soon rotate with the KC30A currently there and returning to Australia, having flown to date 88 sorties totalling 694 hours of flying and air to air supply of fuel of- and I'll read this to you - 2,911,053 litres of fuel to the coalition strike aircraft. This is a significant contribution to the fight. It's valued by our allied and coalition partners and the equally capable and highly technical Wedgetail will commence another four-month rotation in the coming month.
The government of Iraq announced the liberation of a substantial portion of its country from Daesh control nearly a year ago in December 2017 and it was a remarkable achievement. Notwithstanding Daesh maintains substantial insurgent capabilities and continues to pose a threat to security in Iraq and indeed stability in the region. We must remain vigilant to Daesh as a threat in the Middle East as well as in our own region. And this is why we continue our training and advising mission with the Iraqi security forces and that is critical to their ability to continue to defend this ongoing threat task.
Taskgroup Taji in Iraq has now trained around 38,100 members of the Iraqi security forces. These Iraqi troops and police remain the primary means to combat Daesh in Iraq and they quite literally drive out of the front gate of Taji into operations face to face with Daesh. We help them institutionalise this battle field experience to continually evolve and become a stronger more sophisticated fighting force. And I also must say that we are also taking their experiences and we're feeding their lessons back into our own system. This is a two-way street. What they have been through is truly extraordinary. And our people in place there recognise that we have a lot to learn from them as well. The Iraqi trainers are increasingly taking the lead at Taji with our New Zealand partners and our soldiers we're stepping back from direct instruction in to train the trainer roles with the Baghdad fighting school and that's one of Iraq's training institutions also based at the Taji military complex.
Going forward we'll continue to focus on senior leader mentorship, advanced operational planning concepts, and techniques for detecting and clearing improvised explosive devices. As announced a few months ago, we'll send two ADF members to take up positions in the NATO mission Iraq headquarters with the first officer deploying later this month. The NATO mission is a noncombat training and capacity building program designed to complement the coalition activities and the NATO mission has been established at the request of the government of Iraq.
In Afghanistan the security situation remains challenging but we are seeing some progress on the political front with the recent cease fire and reconciliation initiatives. We have around 300 people on Operation Highroad who are playing important roles in both the day to day fight against insurgents through our staff embedded in various operational headquarters and in the longer term development of the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces. A highlight of our training effort is our contribution to the Afghan National Army Officers Academy. ADF mentors have been central to the success of that academy and there has now been 12 graduations since the Academy's inaugural term began in October 2014. The total number of graduates now exceeds 3500 including more than 150 female officers.
Meanwhile at the Sergeant Majors Academy another class of 73 Australian mentored students graduated on the 29th of August and these graduations are investments in Afghanistan's future and emblematic of our mission- of how our mission has evolved since the days of directly fighting the insurgency in Uruzgan. A contingent of Australian advisors is also embedded with the Train Advise Assist Command - Air in Kabul in Afghanistan. The Afghan Air Force is currently undergoing a multibillion dollar program that will add 3000 personnel, 128 UH60 Blackhawk helicopters and over 60 intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and strike platforms all due by around 2023.
As previously announced by the minister commencing later this year, Australia will also provide 20 personnel to support the Afghan Air Force including helping to establish its Blackhawk helicopter capability. Our long term commitment to maritime security in the region in the Middle East region is through Operation Manitou and that will continue with the deployment of HMAS Ballarat as the next rotation into the region along with an Australian contribution to the Combined Task Force 150 headquarters and that commences next month. As you will have seen in the news recently HMAS Ballarat's pre-deployment was interrupted when we recalled the ship's company to contribute to the rescue of two yachtsmen down in the southern Indian Ocean as part of their Golden Globe Yacht Race. My personal thanks go to the crew of that ship and to their families. It's perhaps a part of service life but not something that we take for granted. And I know how precious the final days are for our members and their families before they go on a long deployment. So I'm glad that we've been able to permit those personnel to take some leave after that complex and rough search mission in the Indian Ocean and we'll be able to make up the time for the loss leave that they've had.
Lastly, today our mission with the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Since the fighting in the Philippine city of Marawi ended last year, Australia has worked with the government of the Philippines to strengthen its long term ability to combat terrorist threats and to prevent the spread of Daesh in our region. The Philippines is an important contributor to, and partner in, our regional security. Building the capacity of the armed forces of the Philippines is critical to ensuring Daesh and other violent extremist groups cannot again seize and hold territory. Our mission with the Philippines is one of the most significant operational commitments in our region since East Timor and today as I've introduced we have the pleasure of Lieutenant Colonel Judd Finger who's recently returned as our commander on the ground and he will now provide you an overview of the mission. Thanks Judd.
JUDD FINGER: My name's Lieutenant Colonel Judd Finger and I was fortunate enough to be the commander of Joint Task Group 629 from February to September this year. The Joint Task Group deployed to the Philippines in October of last year post Marawi as part of a [indistinct] support to training the Philippines military. The mission for the task group is to provide counterterrorist, counter violent extremist training only to the armed forces to the Philippines in order to assist the Philippine military deny Daesh safe havens in the southern Philippines. We do this through three lines of effort, a land training line of effort, a maritime training line of effort, and air training line of effort.
Some important points: It's a joint training effort from the three Australian services who all provide small wholly mobile training teams. Secondly the training we are providing is at the behest of the Philippines government and more importantly the training we are providing is the training that the Philippine military have requested of us. In particular, to help them mediate lessons learned from Marawi in urban close combat operations and operations in the maritime domain for the patrol vessels.
From the land line of effort, the Australian Army provides small highly mobile and flexible training teams that fly into country. They will fly to a Philippines military base and they will partner with a military force. Once in a location they will conduct a four to six-month training rotation which looks to train the force, train the trainer, and eventually hand over their training to the Philippines military to conduct independent training without Australian assistance. We provide urban operations training courses in the land environment which provide the building blocks for military force to fight in another Marawi-style event. Such courses include urban close combat and shooting, snipers, counter-snipers, joint fires, command and control, communication, but most importantly in that train the trainer. It is world class training. It has a lot of lessons learnt and training that we've learned from our efforts in Mosul and our efforts over the last two decades in the Middle East.
To date we've trained over 4500 Philippines army and marine personnel as part of a larger 6000 personnel trained across all of those lines of effort. We've trained at this stage elements of four infantry divisions and we're currently training the sixth infantry division and the first scout ranger regiment who are currently actively involved against operations against Daesh. Most importantly for the targeted training groups, we are looking at those military forces who conduct operations against Daesh; the sixth infantry division is in Central Mindanao conducting active operations. The first scout ranger regiment conducted continuous operations in the Mindanao and Sulu Archipelago areas. Against Daesh and affiliated groups and also train elements of the Filipino Marine Corps who predominately operate in the Sulu Archipelago against Abu Sayya, an Islamic extremist group affiliated with Daesh.
For the maritime line of effort, we provide maritime training through two efforts: a small sea training group that will fly into country to conduct maritime skills on the land with naval assets but most importantly the deployment on a quarterly basis of two Armidale class patrol boats. It will conduct a three-week training patrol with the Philippine naval vessels. The aim of the training is to provide communications training, command and control, boarding parties, damage control and the like. All the building blocks and skills required of patrol boats to conduct interdiction operations. It is important to note that those training activities are conducted by the Filipino naval vessels who conduct active operations against Abu Sayyaf, and affiliated groups to Daesh in the Sulu Archipelago.
From the air line of effort, we have small training teams from the Royal Australian Air Force flying to country. They conduct a number of training activities which focus on air operations in the urban environment. These training activities focus on command and control, the use of close air support, the use of joint affects, in the coordination and battle field management of air effects within the urban environment. A lot of the lessons that we learnt in Mosul, we are passing on to the Philippines air force and also learning off them with their experiences in Marawi.
Finally, this is a peer on peer training mission. We're there to provide the training that the Philippines military have requested but we're also learning exceptionally a lot of information the Philippines military from their experiences in Marawi. Our air men and women, our sailors and soldiers are doing outstanding work within the Philippines. I've been fortunate enough to deploy in a number of training missions within the region - near region in Southeast Asia and in the Middle East and its complex work working with other cultures. But our men and women, sailors and soldiers, I have no doubt are amongst the best in the world. We have young 18-year-old infantrymen providing world class training to Marawi veterans in a Philippines base in Mindanao. We have young sailors in the Sulu Archipelago conducting great training with Philippine naval personnel. We have young air men and women providing world class air training to the Philippines air force. They're great ambassadors. They're doing great work in the Philippines and it's been exceptionally positive experience over the last eight months. That's a quick overview on the Philippines. Now I'd like to hand over questions for the Air Marshal, Chief of Joint Operations and myself.
MEL HUPFELD: Thanks very much ladies and gents. So any questions and a nice intimate team here. I just wish we were a little closer to you. But please any questions.
QUESTION: How many Australians we're talking about there, and how risky is it if our patrol boats are operating in the Sulu Archipelago?
JUDD FINGER: It is just a training mission. So it is only- we have a strict mandate of no active operations in the Philippines. We're conducting training with the Philippines navy. They take strict measures for the safety of our personnel. I know from the experience; we have provided outstanding security from our Philippine military partners. They take absolutely no risk with our security and we conduct full risk assessments and ongoing risk assessments in countries for the safety of our personnel. But our Philippine partners have been outstanding providing that security.
QUESTION: And how many Australians are involved in that sort of - across the three services?
JUDD FINGER: Anywhere for the training team between 60 and 100. The land training teams can - dependant on the task - anywhere between 40 and 60 personnel in country. We have the two Armidale class patrol boats conducting maritime line of effort and the manning is dependent on the task at hand.
QUESTION: Can you give some examples of the lessons from Mosul that you're applying in the Philippines?
JUDD FINGER: Yeah absolutely. Close air support is an exceptionally complex, tactical problem in the urban operations in particular collateral damage. And with particularly Mosul, is the integration of air support with land partners: communications, command and control. And I'll get a perfect practical example. Just the overall ability to put control measures in place in an urban environment, so you can have accuracy and lethality with reducing collateral damage is an ongoing problem that all militaries look to improve upon. We've learned a number of lessons on the integration of close air support supporting land forces within Mosul and we're passing on some of those lessons learned to our Philippine's partners.
QUESTION: So since our people in Mosul are mostly special forces, does that mean we have special forces in the Philippines participating in this training?
JUDD FINGER: We do have a small training element from special forces who do training within country. But it is just a training mission and that training is routine training they do with other partners in the region.
MEL HUPFELD: So the key element here is the three lines of effort that Judd spoke about, so it's land, maritime and air. And it's a joint approach and it's assisting across the full range of armed forces of the Philippines.
QUESTION: If I could ask about the grounding of the F35 fleet in the United States, has Australia's three air craft in the US also been grounded? And have we sought explanations from the manufacturer about the fuel lines that seem to be affected in those air craft?
MEL HUPFELD: Yeah. Great question. Unfortunately, or fortunately for me, I deal in the operational space so I need you to direct that question to the Chief of Air Force. So I'm not familiar with what the outcomes are yet from that particular event. But I can assure you once those aircraft reach full operating capability and their force is signed to me for operations then I'll have a great deal of interest in what they are doing.
QUESTION: But you haven't been advised if they've been grounded?
MEL HUPFELD: We've seen the same reports, but I'm aware of that, but that's not my focus. That's well outside my lane. My focus is on current operations.
QUESTION: Rob Taylor from Wall Street Journal. I just wondered whether you could add any colour to your comments about the operations of the Orions up in the sea of Japan. I mean have that - could you add any flesh to what they've observed re: ship transfers. Is that a comment occurrence? What do you think is going on? Can you give any comment to how often it's happening?
And just to another question on APEC, the statement this morning or obviously on Australia's contribution but are you working with the US or any other countries in terms of lending security support to PNG? Is it just an Australia-PNG thing or are there others involved in that as well, dare I see it in China?
MEL HUPFELD: Yeah I'll answer that second one first if you like, and then I can move back to the P3. So we are supporting the Papua New Guinea government at their request and our support is with them. There are elements that have been publicly announced that the US are contributing some Coast Guard capability and we will integrate that into the support base that we're providing to provide for the security to Papua New Guinea in accordance with their request and the approvals of our government.
So it's, you know, that support is a whole a government event. There's significant contributions from the Australian Defence Force but our contribution to support PNG is a whole of government activity. For the P3s, it's a really complex question you've asked me or there's complex elements in the answer. So we are there to try and enforce the sanctions elements that come in under the United Nations Security Council resolution. So we would aim to provide those surveillance aircraft to observe particularly the elements of ship to ship transfers. It's a needle in a haystack. So not only that but there is a huge amount of legal trade that occurs in that area through ship to ship transfers. So it's getting the right queuing if it's available and it often isn't, to be able to look and see what's happening there and it's about characterising this space so that we can understand what is legal and what's now counter to the sanctions that have been put in place against North Korea.
So the P3s are daily out there collecting as much information as they can. There's a number of defined areas in the East China Sea that they will operate with in concert with the partner nations that are contributing including the US, Japan, Republic of Korea, Canada and they all are being coordinated through one coordination centre to try and achieve the outcome there, to understand and determine where we can to then raise where we feel or think and can gain evidence that there might be elicit actions occurring against the resolutions put forward by the United Nations.
QUESTION: Can I just ask a quick follow up. I mean needle in a haystack, I mean have you seen much that you think is suspicious? I mean how many needles have you seen or thought you'd seen?
MEL HUPFELD: Yeah not as many as we'd like. So it's - and to understand the depth and amount of them is really difficult. So you know, getting in and building a benchmark. But there's a lot of transactions that occur and there's a small number that we found that we think might be of question. The analysis that is then to be conducted is still to occur. So I can't give you a definitive answer because until we get the opportunity to collect the data, analyse it appropriately and then we can make some determinations as to whether that's been illicit or not.
QUESTION: What will be the role of HMAS Melbourne obviously when it- will it be able to intercept some of those transfers? Is that the intention?
MEL HUPFELD: Yeah, look, I won't go into a great deal of depth on that on those aspects. That's very much an operational matter and we don't necessarily want those elements to understand what and how we might deal with it. But certainly it's a presence action that an airplane flying over the top can't stop anything from occurring but by calling on the radio and by a ship presence there that at least we can see, we can get a little closer to observe, and there's very tight constraints on how close and what we can do from a legal and international law perspective. So it's about being there and seeing what is happening and where available where we can- if that's an opportunity to disrupt then it's there by presence only.
QUESTION: So it's more like a deterrence effect, if something nefarious is going on they see …
MEL HUPFELD: Well they see- basically they see a presence there from agents or contributors and partner nations that are supporting the United Nations Security Council resolutions.
QUESTION: Air Marshall, you remind us that the Joint Strike Fighter is your business to until it enters operations …
MEL HUPFELD: That's right.
QUESTION: … could you remind us when it does and how will it change capability at your fingertips? About how big a change is that for you?
MEL HUPFELD: So certainly the first of our F35 are due into Australia - my understanding is towards the end of 2018, towards the end of this year. And I think and I'm guessing here so I'll have to get you the accurate figure, but the final operating capability isn't for a number of years yet. So you know, when that occurs that's when I'll be truly interested. But you know, it is an immense capability in my experience. This is my opinion and the capabilities that that brings across a diverse nature of what we would provide whether it's high end war fighting where we would be first in against a high end near peer threat or whether it's a little lower down the spectrum towards the sort of elements that Judd's spoken about in terms of close air support; that system provides us with the next generation world-leading situational awareness to make sure that we can be effective, that we can apply and consider the application of up to violence if necessary against an adversary in a very disciplined and deliberate way. It will give us an opportunity to be very clinical about how we how and when we engage and it has other capabilities that allow it to operate across the full spectrum of warfare other than just kinetic or actual violent weapons that we might employ.
QUESTION: And as an air force profession, you remain absolutely confident be about that capability?
MEL HUPFELD: Absolutely.
QUESTION: back to North Korea, how close do our P3s fly to the North Korean territory, to their [indistinct] or their territorial waters?
MEL HUPFELD: We're well separated.
QUESTION: On Afghanistan, we have had our troops pull out of there effectively. But nevertheless the area that they were operating in - Uruzgan - at the moment the [indistinct] Valley is - last weekend - the Chora itself which was a couple a kilometre away from our firebase was occupied by the Taliban, so the town has gone although their government claims that it has been able to send people back there. Secondly in Khas Uruzgan nearby there is a company that has been under siege - a company of Afghan National Army soldiers who have been under siege for two months and haven't been resupplied because the Afghan National Government can't do that. Are we in Helmand you've got six out of 13 provinces, the US admits are controlled by the Taliban. The remaining seven are contested. Kandahar: two out of 16 controlled, 8 contested, basically half the provinces in those areas. Now I know that that's- we have handed over to the Afghan National Army. The two questions are firstly: are we going to do anything to actually resupply that company outpost that's been holding on there for two months without being resupplied? Is there anything that we can do to actually make sure that they do get food and resupplies of ammunition and weapons? Secondly is there anything that we can do to actually reinforce the Afghan effort?
MEL HUPFELD: So Nick, when you say - and thanks for that question -when you say we, I assume you're talking coalition?
MEL HUPFELD: So certainly from an Australian perspective our mission is very clearly defined in Afghanistan. It's about train, advise and assist. We don't conduct support for those functions down in the areas that you've raised. But we, like you, are very interested in ensuring and providing the means by which the Afghanistan government and their security forces can provide for the security in those areas and with the coalition nations and the partner nations that are there led significantly by the US in the resolute support mission, then they are and we'll be aiming to support where possible the security forces. Of course the Afghan government has to make decisions about their priorities with their forces. Indeed, this is probably the most significant change is that it is largely Afghanistan forces now taking control of the security of their own nation and providing for the security of their nation particularly as they move forward towards their elections. So I think all the questions you've raised, it's still highly complex in Afghanistan. There are movements made ahead but there's still a lot of challenges that remain and we are - our aim is to give the training, and advise and assist support to the Afghan security forces so they can make those changes themselves.
QUESTION: At what point do we just say: we've lost the war?
MEL HUPFELD: Well that's a really good question. That's one question that we'll have to have with our government as we look forward to it. But I can assure you that we're nowhere near that point and our aim through the assistance that we provide - through train advise and assist - consistent with the other coalition nations and indeed the NATO mission in full as resolute support, the aim is to is to give the Afghan people and their government the opportunity for that certainly not to happen. And it's not something that's going to happen in a short term. And my experience there on a visit recently when I first came into this job is that the determination of the Afghan government, of the Afghan people and the security forces, is that they will stay and hold. The Taliban: they have their military objectives, they also have their political objectives but they're all getting very tired and you know there's opportunities here for reconciliation. That's one thing that we shouldn't forget about. And what we're aiming to do through our assistance there in that mission is to help provide the means whereby reconciliation can be considered and enabled and ideally achieved so that we can seek security for a really important part of that region and for that country.
QUESTION: You've described the environment in Afghanistan as challenging. Can you confirm whether Camp Qargha came under attack in the leader up to Minister Pyne's visit?
MEL HUPFELD: So there's a couple of key dates there. So the 11th of September I think was one of the dates and the other one was the 19th. So there are - and what we call an attack is a really challenging question for us. There's what we often call indirect fire in the area we often don't know what the targets may be but we will certainly determine where the results of indirect fire may land. So the advice that we've provided to date is accurate and certainly the minister's advice is accurate.
So what I think you're referring to are direct attacks on Qargha versus attacks that might occur in the vicinity of. And there's so much kinetic activity that occurs across the whole of Afghanistan. It's not always possible to determine whether it was a deliberate attack, what was the target that the adversary elements were aiming at. But where there's engagement in the area then we're conscious of that and we'll manage that for the security of our people there.
QUESTION: Would you describe it as a very dangerous warzone?
MEL HUPFELD: I think the whole of Afghanistan still equates to a dangerous area. It's complex and there is considerable engagement still occurring between the security forces and the- those forces that would oppose the government.
QUESTION: We've got some joint naval activity coming up in the South China Sea, I think next year and recently there was a near miss between a US ship and a Chinese ship. How concerned are you that Australia might become involved in one of these potential international incidents in that water way?
MEL HUPFELD: Certainly as the chief of Joint Operations I watch those elements very closely. And certainly what we aim to do is to- where our interests align with any other nation that has an interest in the South China Sea then we will look to engage and confirm those interests and indeed to ensure that we get appropriate cooperation. From my perspective at the operational level, military to military, then we will engage where those interests align and make sure that we can ensure that we have appropriate understanding of cooperation. Where they are differ- where those interests differ, we'll certainly put forward our views and explain what those differences may be. In terms of being able to do both of those things, that allows us to make sure - and in this case you're referring to China - it allows us to have, and we aim to keep, an open dialogue with China on these sorts of issues so that we can gain an understanding as to how they operate, that they can understand how we operate, and avoid any miscalculations that may be possible.
QUESTION: Has Australia done an assessment of that Decatur incident and do you believe that's evidence that China is stepping up its tactics in that waterway?
MEL HUPFELD: We have done analysis but that's more about the nature of the event. The actual event itself is really for the US and China to work out and resolve. But we are watching what China's doing and watching what the US is doing, we're watching what all nations are doing in the South China Sea. Our focus is to make sure that we can still exercise freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea area and ensure that that we understand our rights and we'll operate in accordance with international law and the laws of the sea. And we'll continue to make sure that any other participants in that area also understand the same elements that we do to avoid those levels of misunderstanding.
QUESTION: Have there been any adjustments to our operating procedures as a result?
MEL HUPFELD: No our operating procedures are very clear in accordance with international law. And certainly now any activities that we perform in the South China Sea we make those very clear to any other nations that are participating in that area.
QUESTION: There were reports out in the US last week that there'd be a quote - show of strength - next month …
MEL HUPFELD: Show of force I think.
QUESTION: Show of force, thank you yep, in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait. Have we sort of been asked to have any involvement with that or will that be strictly a US operation?
MEL HUPFELD: I think the language was a global show of force if I'm reading that correctly. That's a matter for the US to manage. We will pursue our own national interests as we will always do in the South China Sea and any other areas that we operate. Most importantly we will continue to exercise our freedom of navigation. And we've just done that recently. We had a port visit with one of our vessels into China. So a very successful visit. A normal, unremarkable transit of the South China Sea to get to that port visit. We had a successful engagement and discussions with the Chinese on interests that we are able to talk to and cooperate on. And indeed we had the opportunity to explain to them areas where we think that there's interests that we might be competitive on. And so we're able to achieve good outcomes there and you know the normal manoeuvres that we make are in accordance with those rules.
QUESTION: We haven't sought to move within 12 nautical miles of one of the features though. Are we planning to do that in the near future?
MEL HUPFELD: So I won't comment on our operational approach to how we actually exercise freedom of navigation other than to say that that is a regular and normal thing for us to make use of freedom of navigation in accordance with the laws of the sea.
QUESTION: You said there were often indirect fire attacks and that may include the Australian base. Do you know how many? Do you sort of calculate how many indirect fire attacks there are?
MEL HUPFELD: There's reporting- I can't tell you the numbers at the moment. I could try and have a look, but you know that's a really difficult question to answer. If you understand indirect fire it's - you know, direct fire is a small arms weapon where you can see line of sight to the target that you're aiming. Indirect fire is where you would use a mortar where you pointed in the right direction and you may not see- know where it's going or see where it lands. It's often unguided. And these types of weapons and basic elements of weaponry are available to the insurgents of all description in Afghanistan. So- and they use and employ these all over the place, so it's quite- that's quite a complex and detailed question you might be asking there.
QUESTION: To the Minister's announcement about deployment to PNG to assist in APEC, what are our soldiers going to do? Fifteen hundred soldiers; are we going to actually have people with rifles standing on the road or in support for the PNG defence forces?
MEL HUPFELD: Well I'll refer you to the media release that was made today. So you know, when- and when I talk, I mentioned earlier 2300 people in operations around the world. There's a small element that do the operational piece but there's a large element that provide all the support and those other activities that are required. So we have the LHD that's there. We have some patrol vessels. We have aircraft F/A-18 teams are providing air security. And then we have some land capable forces and these capabilities that will support security on the ground. All of that also needs a large amount of staffing and personnel to do command and control, to feed people; all those things. So when you see those numbers, it's not like we've sent a major army there to do any of the security elements. The predominant security functions will be performed by the Papua New Guinea Defence Force and we will be there to assist them with those key and niche capabilities that they either don't possess or where we can assist them because of our expertise and in other areas. It's about enhancing their capabilities.
QUESTION: So none of our guys actually on the ground?
MEL HUPFELD: We will have some players on the ground.
QUESTION: Soldiers in uniform with rifles?
MEL HUPFELD: Not the- the predominant security and the face of security there needs to be the Papua New Guinea defence force. It's not just their defence force but also their constabulary, their police force. So it's just the same as we would do it. And when you conduct an activity like that, just the same as when we do Commonwealth Games, they don't want to have military personnel with weapons running around in front of everyone. We don't do that for the Commonwealth Games. It's very much a be prepared to assist if and when a security event was required. But we take our lead from the PNG government.
QUESTION: If I can just take you back to people smuggling surveillance. When you talk about increased levels; what are the levels now compared to 2014, that's probably the peak and what did they fall to before the arrival in northern parts of Queensland?
MEL HUPFELD: So sorry, what's our posture now compared to 2014?
QUESTION: Commitment and numbers around surveillance, where is it now compared to 2014 and where did it wind back to before their arrival in Northern Queensland?
MEL HUPFELD: So it's the- at the peak of Operation Sovereign Borders which I think was around the 2014 timeframe, then the combination of capabilities from both the Australian Border Force and the Australian Defence Force provided us with a posture to provide for the government requirements under their policy for Operation Sovereign Borders. Once that had been achieved, then we were able to settle to a more steady state posture and that's what we've been operating under for some time. Of course, the- you know, Australia is the world's biggest island. As you're well aware, the size of our coastline to protect is once and for a small populated nation such of ours that's quite an immense task. But our capabilities are increasingly more expeditionary and we can get out and respond more rapidly than we used to. But what we had to do was in terms of anticipation of the arrival of that particular venture, there was a gap in the surveillance element. So what we have done recently is surge to ensure that all of those possible gaps have been covered, to make sure that we can continue to deter and disrupt illegal people smuggling events, to try and prevent- and you know we certainly don't want to return to that condition that we had some years ago where we had key challenges of safety of life at sea and a number of other concerns. So that's the posture that we've had. And when it's appropriate then we'll modify the posture based on what we anticipate the threat may be and indeed the resources that we have.
QUESTION: So what does that look like, still more boats in the durge that you talk about [inaudible]?
MEL HUPFELD: When it when we have surge we've provided more patrol vessels. The Australian Border Forces aim to increase the number of patrol vessels they have. The Australian Defence Force with our patrol boats we've increased the number of those. But of course there's a number of other activities that we want to perform as well so we balance those requirements. But our primary focus is on the security of our borders and that's a clear focus of the government and we will continue to support that as the government requires of us.
QUESTION: Can you talk about what new developments or dangers have emerged that led to Defence asking for new Defence control powers under the review? It's a question from my colleague who wanted to know whether that included concerns about technology theft by nation states such as China?
MEL HUPFELD: Okay, I'm not quite sure- you're talking about export controls?
QUESTION: She said the new developments or dangers that have emerged that led to Defence to ask for new Defence control powers.
MEL HUPFELD: Yeah I'm not - it's about the trade and export controls? Well that's well outside my lane. I don't deal with exporting military capability. I don't deal with Defence Industry other than where they're providing me a capability that I might need at any point. And even then it's the service chiefs as the capability managers. I look to them to say oh yeah I need a capability to bring into operations, to manage a risk that we might have identified in order to achieve our government policy. And I look to the capability managers to engage with industry and indeed further into our defence organisation for those things such as export control. That's outside my lane.
QUESTION: You talked about Indo-Pacific then next year in the Indian Ocean and requiring the cooperation of the Indian military at that: what do you sort of anticipate, what are you sort of looking for there, given their sort of reluctance to let us be part of Malabar?
MEL HUPFELD: So it's Indo-Pacific Endeavour is the name of the activity: Indo-Pacific Endeavour 19. So it's a really key part of our strategic environment. The Chief of Defence Force spoke shortly after coming into his new appointment and he spoke very clearly I think and eloquently about the Indo-Pacific. So the Indo-Pacific Endeavour activity has looked at Southeast Asia and the Southwest Pacific elements. It's a logical step for us to now to engage in the Indian Ocean region and within that we look to India as a key partner in the security in that area and our relationship with them is becoming important or increasingly important.
India as a sovereign state certainly will define how and when they engage with other parties. So at the moment they're quite comfortable to engage with us in a bilateral way. Exercise Malabar is a multilateral exercise and at a time of their choosing they will look to expand the involvement of other partners or other nations in Malabar and we certainly would look forward to an invitation from India whenever that became available. In the meantime, one very positive and successful way I believe to engage with India will be through Indo-Pacific Endeavour and will be participating in an exercise called AUSINDEX which is a bilateral exercise with the Indian capabilities particularly in navy.
QUESTION: Taking you back to Antarctica. Have we had any dealings with the Chinese base that's on an Australian part of the continent.
MEL HUPFELD: Sorry in India?
QUESTION: Antarctic. The Chinese base: have we been dealing with them at all?
MEL HUPFELD: Not that I'm aware of. I- certainly not from an operational perspective. We operate from the Australian locations only.
Lisa, I think you had a question? Sorry Nick.
QUESTION: Yes, I do thank you. I know the outstanding investigation into civilian casualties or fatalities from [indistinct] air strikes by the Super Hornets. I know that they've all returned home but are there any outstanding investigations underway?
MEL HUPFELD: There's none that we are aware of. I can provide - I don't have the significant details with me at the moment but we have conducted a number of reviews and there were the announcements by my predecessor Vice Admiral David Johnston on some cases of civilian casualties but there's none that we currently are aware of and we will remain alert and if necessary we will investigate in accordance with the full process if that was to come to light.
QUESTION: This may also be something you may not be able to talk to, Blackrock base in Fiji, the question was about how much Australia might contribute to [indistinct] years but maybe you could talk more to what Australian Defence assets and forces might be deployed there?
MEL HUPFELD: Yeah that's a great question. This is from your colleague as well is it? My goodness you've had a difficult task today. We're not ready at the moment to be able to really provide that level of detail. I think it's quite clear and the Prime Minister's made announcements around Black Rock: there's a commitment there to support the Black Rock facility. But what I can say is that our engagement with Fiji and particularly at a military to military level is really important to us in the region. From their certain positive move towards democratic process in 2014, it's really given us a great opportunity to enhance that. We're very, very keen to support and work with Fiji on peacekeeping outcomes. So Blackrock facility really is a means to an end. It's a means for us to demonstrate our commitment to the region. It's an opportunity to allow Fiji to work for itself in terms of its own security and its capabilities and indeed to enhance Fiji's ability to perform in peacekeeping operations around the world. And I note that in a number of the missions that we are conducting to support the United Nations and other activities that we already work closely with Fiji and you know at the moment on a day to day basis on one of our operations where we've got some personnel supporting their security platoon and work with them. So this is just a logical step to enhance the relationship and also to provide an opportunity in partnership with Fiji to enhance their capabilities.