The military has a word for it. Or not so much a word but rather, in best military tradition, an acronym. Snafu. Meaning: “situation normal – all f*cked up”.

“All f*cked up.” It’s hard to beat that as a description of the current state of our military.

In the wake of the latest agony inflicted on the Kovco family , Defence Minister Brendan Nelson yesterday announced an independent review of the management of the Defence Department.

The military, by its very nature, is a complex beast. It embodies imperatives that may seem strange to civilians – that may even not be obvious to those on Civvy Street. It is the heir of centuries of experience, valour, tragedy and tradition.

That’s why service personnel could even create the term “snafu”, as their own ironic joke. And it’s also why civilian overseers and administrators can fail to understand the organisation they are dealing with. It’s also why we need to find out very clearly the sources of the series of problems plaguing the ADF.

The Kovco case is probably nothing but a ghastly series of human errors – exacerbated by political spin. At least Brendan Nelson had the sense to discard that yesterday. But Kovco is only the most easily understood embarrassment for our defence community.

There’s the issue of defence procurement, as seen in the controversies over the past fortnight of the Tiger and Seasprite helicopter programs – or today’s SMHrevelations that half of Defence’s $1 billion stockpile of bombs, guided and ballistic missiles, artillery, mortars, rockets, mines and torpedoes is unserviceable and there is a lack of technically qualified staff to tackle the problem.

There’s the gross abuses and injustices perpetuated in the name of military justice, the subject of a high profile Senate inquiry released last year.

Then, perhaps most worrying of all, given what the military is there for, there are the growing fears among serving and past personnel that our defence capacity is overstretched – and the ADF is being deployed to serve political, not the national, interest.

“In light of this latest incident it’s my intention to engage a complete, independent management review of the department,” Nelson said yesterday.

It’s very hard to hold the Minister responsible for the latest Kovco farce, but if he’s looking at his department, he may also want to take a good, long look at himself – and his predecessors.

Peter Fray

A lot can happen in 3 months.

3 months is a long time in 2020. Join us to make sense of it all.

Get you first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12. Cancel anytime.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

12 weeks for $12