Julian Kerr | Canberra
Located as it is in the bucolic environs of Bungendore, the 220-hectare facility provides purpose-built capabilities while retaining proximity to defence leaders and their political masters in nearby Canberra.
The concept eventually leading to the creation of HQJOC was the brainchild of General John Baker, CDF from 1995 to 1998, after whom the Bungendore complex is named.
Twenty years ago, operations were headed by whichever of the then Maritime, Air and Land Commands had the most skin in the game.
The creation by General Baker in 1996 of Headquarters Australian Theatre for the first time clearly separated the raise and train functions of the three services from the command and control of operations, with a joint commander and a very small joint staff pulling together the work of the three separate Commands; experience which led to the establishment in 2004 of HQJOC.
While the JOC model quickly proved its worth, working from nine separate locations in Sydney and Canberra was clearly not sustainable.
Four years and $300 million later, the state of the art Bungendore headquarters was officially opened in March 2009 by then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, and was named best infrastructure project of the previous year.
Roles and responsibilities
As Chief of Joint Operations (CJOPS), Vice Admiral David Johnston holds theatre responsibility for force elements assign to Joint Operations Command at the operational level for Special Operations, Border Protection Command, Northern Command, Joint Movements Group and when raised, Joint Task Forces.
As first instigated with the creation of Headquarters Australian Theatre, under the JOC construct single service chiefs retain responsibility for raising, training and sustaining their service personnel, from which force elements are assigned to the Chief of JOC as required.
In addition to ADF operations worldwide, HQJOC is also responsible for the planning and conduct of all major joint exercises and recently took over responsibility for the ADF’s simulation capability via the Australian Defence Training and Simulation Centre which now sits within HQJOC’s J7 (Training and Exercises) branch.
The headquarters is structured along a staff functional line – J1 (Personnel), J2 (Intelligence), J3 (Operations), J4 (Logistics), J5 (Plans), J6 (Communications), J7 (Training an Exercises), and J8 (Regional Engagement and Assessments).
A staff of 454 permanent ADF members is augmented by a small number of Reservists, together with exchange officers from the five eyes community of nation (US, UK, Canada and NZ) who are largely embedded in the Operation and Planning branches.
About 60 Defence public servants and representatives of Commonwealth departments and agencies including Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australian Federal Police, and elements of the Australian intelligence community provide whole-of-government input into planning and operations. Equally importantly, their presence in HQJOC enables information regarding JOC planning to be pulled back to inform activities in their own organisations.
“We’ve seen that this year with the search for MH370 and similarly with the ADF operation for MH17 recovery in the Ukraine,” Major General Shane Caughey, Deputy Chief of Joint Operations, said to ADM.
“It’s truly an integrated headquarters; you walk onto the Operations floor at any time and you see the different services working side by side.
“That’s a real strength, what you get is the experience and capabilities that are drawn from that single service experience and you blend them together to get that joint environment and best effect.”
This joint approach is carried across the JOC senior leadership with the current roles of CJOPS drawn from Navy, the Deputy Chief from Army, and the recently created Chief of Staff role filled by Air Force.
A posting to HQJOC is well-regarded – “the people I know are committed what they’re doing”, says MajGen Caughey.
“Some jobs in the defence force might have results in six or 10 years but at HQJOC they’re running real operations around the globe on a daily basis and they all feel a sense of worth.”
The normal posting cycle for uniformed personnel is two to three years and this is about right given the intensity of the work, he comments.
However, rotating HQJOC staff is not as straightforward as it may seem.
“Everyone who gets in the building has to have a minimum security clearance of Top Secret and we have to work hard finding appropriate people with the necessary clearance, particularly at the start of the posting cycle.”
The ability to cope with the planning and conduct of ongoing operations as well as handling short-notice contingencies such as MH370, MH17, and the commencement of air combat operations against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant requires both agility and flexibility.
This in turn draws on the professional military education of personnel and the ability to leverage that within the framework of very strong doctrine.
The headquarters maintains close contact with the US Pacific and Central Commands - “they’re our key interlocutors”- and with the UK’s Permanent Joint Headquarters, MAJGEN Caughey said.
“There are economies of scale and some different outcomes but we generally believe that we can address the same sorts of issues that they do, but I don’t think we’ve ever benchmarked ourselves against another HQ.
“For us the key benchmark is the way we assess our performance collectively on operations and to be quite critical about how we can do better.”
The headquarters structure therefore continues to evolve, as with the assumption of ADF simulation capability.
“All the exercises we design and run need an immediate simulation backbone, and now we can set the necessary specifications,” MAJGEN Caughey said.
“When we look at our joint training it’s how we enable our platforms wherever they may be to link in live in a virtual, constructive way within our training system constraint.
“That really is the way we need to train our joint forces in the future to ensure everyone gets exposed as part of their ongoing training to those limited joint force assets that are out there.”
A further structural change took place last year when Joint Training Exercises and Assessments constituted a single branch.
“We found that if we really wanted to look at that operational analysis and assessment to ensure that we were achieving the roles and the objectives we were setting ourselves, particularly in our regional operations and regional engagement, we needed to separate the two functions, which we’ve done.”
Although the capability space still resides in the single services, one of HQJOC’s roles is to continually assess the interoperability of systems and procedures during joint exercises and training.
“Whether they’re internally in the Joint Force or with our coalition partners, that is a significant part of what we continue looking at, and we feed that back into the broader, capability development process,” MAJGEN Caughey commented.
CJOPS takes his orders direct from the Chief of Defence Force.
His judgment and advice involving the composition and operations of the joint force required a delicate hand when balancing the interests and requirements of the single Services, a point tacitly acknowledged by MAJGEN Caughey.
“The line of responsibility and accountability is very clear; from CDF to Chief JOC to the Joint Task Force Commander or the commander of a deployed Australian contingent, and that does empower our planning and delivery of joint operations,” MAJGEN Caughey explained.
“But when you get into that joint training space, making sure we get that collective agreement in some of the joint exercises, there may be more contest.”
As a group in its own right within Defence, JOC is represented at key forums where issues are debated and information is given and received.
This raises the intriguing possibility of a JOC representative on a short-term posting from Army, Navy or Air Force arguing a contentious issue with a colleague representing the interests of the same service; a situation in which MAJGEN Caughey is sure jointery, in this case as represented by the JOC, would prevail.