27 May 2023

Today marks 58 years since HMAS Sydney’s (III) first journey to Vietnam, the first of many voyages to transport thousands of troops, cargo and equipment during the Vietnam War.

The first voyage carried army and navy personnel, some 347 officers and men of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment.

Escorted by HMAS Melbourne, HMAS Duchess and HMAS Parramatta, this was the first of 25 trips for Sydney, responsible for moving, supplying and maintaining Australian forces in Vietnam. Anchoring off Vung Tau for loading and unloading, she was nicknamed the ‘Vung Tau Ferry’.

On arrival in Vung Tau, HMAS Sydney (III) and her escort ships were prepared to counter any attacks from shore. Divers checked hulls and cables while armed sentries kept guard on deck.

By the end of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, HMAS Sydney (III) had safely transported some 16,000 army and RAAF personnel plus thousands of tonnes of cargo and equipment from Australia to Vietnam, and back again.

Minister for Veterans Affairs’ Matt Keogh paid tribute to those who served.

“Today we say thank you to the officers and crew who served on the HMAS Sydney (III) and honour all those who served our nation during the Vietnam War,” Minister Keogh said.

Throughout 2023, the Australian Government is recognising the contribution of Vietnam veterans, their service in Vietnam and their role as integral members of the ex-service community in the decades since the war.


Swarms of AI-fueled drones, vehicles track targets in AUKUS tests.

By Colin Demarest

Photo: Blue Bear drones are seen in a field during artificial intelligence and autonomy testing among AUKUS partners in April 2023. (Photo provided/U.K. Ministry of Defence)

A swarm of Australian, U.K. and U.S. artificial intelligence-enabled air and ground vehicles collaboratively detected and tracked targets during testing overseas.

The trials conducted by the AUKUS partners delivered several “world firsts,” including the live re-training and international exchange of AI models, according to the U.K. Ministry of Defence, which disclosed the news on May 26, a month after testing.

More than 70 military and civilian defence personnel and industry players participated in the experiment, part of the AUKUS Advanced Capabilities Pillar, or Pillar 2, established to expedite the trilateral development of critical technologies, such as AI, quantum, cyber and hypersonics. Pillar 1 — more discussed — aims to help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines.

Abe Denmark, the U.S. senior adviser to the secretary of defence for AUKUS, in a statement, said the April demonstration was “truly a shared effort.”

Together, teams developed models, directed different nations’ uncrewed aerial vehicles and evaluated performance. The joint deployments in the field featured Blue Bear Ghost and Insitu CT220 drones; Challenger 2 main battle tanks and Warrior armoured vehicles; Viking uncrewed ground vehicles; a commercial FV433 Abbot self-propelled artillery gun; and a former Eastern Bloc BMP OT-90, an infantry fighting vehicle.

“By pooling our expertise and resources through our AUKUS partnerships,” Denmark said, “we can ensure that our militaries are equipped with the latest and most effective tools to defend our nations and uphold the principles of freedom and democracy around the world.”

Australian, U.K. and U.S. leaders have described AI as critical to international competitiveness in many sectors, finance, health and defence among them. By sharing AI and its underpinnings, the U.K. Ministry of Defence said in its announcement, the friendly militaries can figure out interoperability now, and not later, as well as save time and money.


Transferring US nuclear subs to Australia far from smooth sailing

26 May 2023 | Andrew McLaughlin

Photo: A US Navy Virginia Class nuclear-powered attack submarine. Photo: US Navy.

A report prepared for Congress on the US Navy’s Virginia Class nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) procurement program has highlighted what issues need to be considered and overcome to allow the transfer of US submarines to Australia.

Under Pillar 1 of the AUKUS construct with the US and UK which was announced by the leaders of all three countries in March, Australia is slated to receive between three and five Virginia class nuclear-powered submarines to begin replacing its own Collins Class conventional submarines from 2032.

After this, Australia plans to switch submarine classes and acquire eight SSN-AUKUS submarines under a cooperative program with the UK from 2041.

Along with the UK’s Astute and the US’s Seawolf boats, the Virginia Class SSN is considered one of the most capable submarines in service. More than 30 Virginia boats have been built since 1998, and the class has been continually improved with ongoing ‘Block’ upgrades and enhancements to the design throughout its build run. Each vessel of the class has a projected 33-year service life.

The report by the Congressional Research Service published on 19 May was designed to provide background information to members of Congress on the Virginia Class so that they may be better informed when making budgetary and programmatic decisions about the initiative as a whole.

The report says a legislative package from the US Department of Defence outlining the AUKUS arrangement was sent to Congress on 2 May. It included the requested authorisation for transferring one or two Virginia Class SSNs to Australia.

It says Congress needs to consider several factors relating to the legislation, including whether the legislation needs to be considered under the 2024 National Defence Authorization Act (NDAA) or can be deferred, whether the authorisation should be provided for just the first two boats or can be expanded to up-to five SSNs, and when the SSNs would be removed from US Navy service to prepare for the transfer.

While this seems to confirm Australia will receive former US Navy SSNs instead of new-build boats, the report also asks Congress to consider whether that would be the case, whether new-build boats could be made available, or a combination of the two.

It says Congress should also decide, apart from the cost of the submarines, how much of a “proportionate financial investment” Australia will be required to make into US shipyards to expand the US’s submarine industrial base. Despite a plan for two Virginia boats to have been built per year since 2011, this has not been achieved due to ongoing workforce and materials issues, made worse in recent times by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report asks Congress to consider “the ability of the US submarine construction base in the 2030s to build for the US Navy, as replacements for the (Australian) Virginia Class boats, SSNs that would be in addition to those already envisaged for procurement for US Navy use prior to the announcement of the AUKUS agreement”.

The ability of the US shipyards to ramp up sufficiently to cover the sale of Australian boats appears to be somewhat questionable. It says that “the challenge for the industrial base … is to ramp up production from one ‘regular’ Virginia Class boat’s work per year (prior to 2011), to the equivalent of about five … boats’ work per year”. The larger number takes into account not just the Virginia boats, but also the US Navy’s new Columbia Class ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) program.

The report further asks Congress to consider what will be “the net impact on collective allied deterrence and warfighting capabilities of transferring Virginia Class boats to Australia while pursuing the construction of replacement SSNs for the US Navy”.

It points out that supporters of transferring SSNs to Australia rather than keeping them in US Navy service might argue that “the deterrent value of introducing SSNs to Australia’s navy would be greater than the deterrent value of keeping those SSNs in US Navy service because a newly created force of Australian SSNs would present China with a second allied decision-making centre for SSN operations in the Indo-Pacific, which would complicate Chinese military planning”.

Conversely, it says opponents of the proposed transfer might argue that “it could weaken deterrence if China were to find a reason to believe, correctly or not, that Australia might use [its] Virginia-class boats less effectively than the US Navy would have, or that Australia might not involve its military … in a US-China crises or conflicts that Australia viewed as not engaging important Australian interests”.

As if to support this viewpoint, it points out that “Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles in March 2023 reportedly confirmed that, in exchange for the Virginia-class boats, Australia’s government made no promises to the United States that Australia would support the United States in a future conflict over Taiwan”.


The Battle of Binh Ba

6-8 June 1969

The battle of Binh Ba was one of the more significant actions fought by Australian soldiers during the Vietnam War. Before the battle, soldiers of the 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF) had fought mainly in open or jungle settings. This battle took place in the village of Binh Ba, in Phuoc Tuy Province, South Vietnam, against a large, well-armed communist force.

In early June 1969 the newly arrived 6th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment/New Zealand (ANZAC), deployed north of 1ATF’s base at Nui Dat, on Operation Lavarack. The battalion immediately began encountering large formations of North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Viet Cong (VC) soldiers, and a series of near constant firefights ensued. On the evening of the 5th of June 1969, a combined communist force of well-armed and resolute troops occupied Binh Ba.

At 8 am the following morning, an Australian Centurion tank moving north past the village was fired on; a rocket propelled grenade damaged the tank and wounded at least one of the crew. Two and a half hours later, 1ATF launched Operation Hammer, sending an understrength company of 5RAR supported by armoured vehicles and artillery into the village. What followed was two days of fierce house-to-house fighting as the Australians attempted to remove the NVA and VC from the village.

CDF Intention to Remove Medals From Afghanistan Veterans

The TPI Federation fully supports the Australian Special Air Service Association and reaffirms that any attempt to cancel honours or awards issued to Australian Veterans of the Afghanistan war must not be permitted prior to any formal legal findings of wrongdoing that can be attributed to any specific individual.

“Should an Australian Court find an Australian Veteran guilty of a war crime, then at such a time an administrative review of honours and awards may be appropriate. Until then, procedural fairness and the presumption of innocence are fundamental human rights and especially in the democracy of Australia, and this applies most definitely to our soldiers who are humbly silent in their continued service in the face of unproven accusations.”

APPVA Chairman, Ian Lindgren

The ASASA has advised the following –

“Attention All ESO’s

 I write with a heavy heart to inform you that CDF General Campbell has decided to recommend the removal of DSC’s from seven outstanding SF officers who fought with their men on rotations courageously in the Afghanistan war. These awards belong not just to the Squadron or Rotation Commanders but to the soldiers who did the fighting, and their families who waited at home. This follows the egregious treatment, including constructive dismissal from service, of a large number of enlisted soldiers, corporals and sergeants on the basis of a relative handful of yet to be substantiated allegations about possible illegal acts in theatre. Many of the mistreated soldiers were accused of nothing and were not involved in anything other than the fighting, apparently guilty by association.

My view is that the entire SASR, soldiers’ officers, the accusers and the accused were over deployed, overused and caught up in a mismanaged war run by ministers and generals in Canberra, particularly Op Slipper Phase 3 from around 2006 to 20013.  The aim for government was to reduce political risk and fight the war inexpensively. If we allow the ANZAC’s of today to be treated in this way by their governments and their generals, it creates a dangerous precedent. I am particularly concerned for the families and loved ones of our veterans who suffer this lack of grace from Canberra in silence. No veteran should be made to feel ashamed of their service, least of all by the generals and governments which sent them to war.

The ASASA has written to CDF (letter above) but by his actions it is clear our advice has been ignored. As National Chairman of the ASASA I have sought meetings with Minister Marles who referred me elsewhere choosing not to meet, and with Minister Keogh. Meetings with the government have not occurred. We will not be ignored, and as a consequence we will take our concerns to veterans and to the Australian people directly in a determined campaign of action. Our people deserve better.

This release below is right to be widely distributed to all veterans and their families through our networks so please push it out as you deem appropriate. SAS veterans and their families would be encouraged to know the broader ESO community are on their side, whatever their views on the details. The CDO Association Steve Pilmore and the RSL led by former SF officer Greg Melick have been magnificent in supporting us to the hilt.

Media release and letter below

Letter to CDF  Jan 23 Copy 2.docx!Aobc-FkslBmC7Sb0ILVRX00ZY-UN

The above has received extensive national media coverage today.

In truth, successive governments and the generals who advised them at the time mishandled this war, including the overuse of our people. The aftermath, particularly the Brereton inquiry and developments running before and out of it have been even more poorly mismanaged. The mishandling of matter generally by ministers and generals is clearly  contributing to the ADF’s woeful retention and recruiting problems and will impact on mental health of veterans. The CDF’s action today is in our opinion likely to increase the risk of veteran suicide ideation. We treated our Vietnam veterans poorly on their return from war. This senior ADF leadership appears to have learnt nothing and is now treating our Afghanistan veteran just as badly.

Over time we will reset the national conversation on the achievements of the ADF in Afghanistan. I would be grateful if ESO leaders and members could reflect on this development and canvas their membership’s view? Your organisations may wish to write to Minister Marles and Matt Keogh asking them to reject the CDF’s proposal. We might need to ask you to assist with a letter writing campaign to local MPs in the near future, if your ESO were keen to help? This information can go out to veterans and into newsletters if you wish.

Thank you for your support and fellowship. Better days for our people must surely be ahead. More to follow.



Hon Martin Hamilton-Smith

National Chairman

The Australian Special Air Service Association

PO Box 65 Stirling SA 5152

M: +61 (0) 408854707

Email: [email protected]


Please show your support for the Special Forces Veterans and the ASASA by writing to your federal and local member and demand that cease until such time that guilt or innocence has been determined.



Vale Alan (Gardy) Bruce Guarde – 9RAR

I wish to advise the passing of Alan Bruce Guarde (Gardy) Admin Coy 9RAR. Alan was one of the original founding members of the 9 RAR Drum and Bugle Band. He passed away peacefully in the Dalby Hospital on Saturday 20th May.

He did not want to have a funeral so will be privately cremated in Toowoomba. His wife Jane will be holding a wake in Dalby on Wednesday 31st May in The Thomas Jack Park cnr Condamine St and Bunya St at 11.30 am light lunch provided bring your own drinks all welcome. For catering please advise Jane if you are attending (0411256623).

Kind Regards

Merv Cuylenburg

Original Drum Major 9 RAR Drum & Bugle Band


Tips to prevent and manage chronic health conditions

Chronic health conditions are broadly defined, often they are classified as health conditions that last for 6 months or longer; potentially developing in severity over time.

The good news is, in many cases making healthy lifestyle choices helps prevent, delay and manage the symptoms of diagnosed chronic health conditions. So, we’ve put together some handy tips that can help you to make healthier lifestyle choices to reduce the impact of your chronic health condition:

  • Early intervention: seek help from your doctor when you first experience symptoms as this can prevent more serious symptoms from developing and improve the outcome of treatment(s)
  • Physical activity: being active is one of the best things you can do for your health, it can help to prevent, and manage the symptoms of chronic health conditions. Adults should to be active for 30 minutes or more each day. If you are just starting out, anything is better than nothing, start with something and add more.
  • Eat well: healthy eating is providing your body with the fuel it needs. Our bodies respond to the food and nutrients we put in them – positively or negatively. A healthy diet helps to fight disease, promotes healing, boosts energy levels and supports overall health and wellbeing.  Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling have a range of healthy recipes available online.
  • Don’t smoke (this includes vaping): smoking and vaping are bad for your health. They can increase you risk of developing a chronic health conditions such as heart disease, stroke and some cancers. Quitting smoking can be hard, help is available
  • Limit alcohol intake: health advice suggests men consume no more than one to two drinks and women consume no more than one alcoholic drink a day. Excess alcohol consumption can be harmful to your physical and mental health and increase your risk of developing a chronic health condition. Veterans & Families Counselling has information available online to help you drink responsibly
  • Sleep: the amount sleep needed varies for each individual, most experts agree the minimum amount of sleep needed each night is 7 ½ hours. Sleep is a vital biological function responsible for many roles including things like helping your body to recover and repair from injury and illness, supports brain development, cardiac function and can even influence your mood. Having a night-time routine that includes avoiding alcohol, caffeine, smoking and screens at least one hour before going to bed helps to promote a good night’s sleep. Being active in the day and eating well helps too.
  • Daily self-care/ mindfulness: a commitment of just 15 minutes a day can help to reduce stress and anxiety and improve concentration and memory. Self-care/mindfulness activities include things like taking a shower or going for a walk in nature, meditating, doing yoga, breathing exercises, practicing gratitude or writing in a journal.
  • Seeking help when you need it: the greatest wealth is health, so it is important to prioritise your health. The best way to do this to make healthy lifestyle choices and when in ill health to see your GP or a health professional early.  Seeking help can also include social assistance to connect you to community, a 12 week program is available for eligible veterans through the Coordinated Veterans’ Care (CVC) Program.

Your GP can help you to understand if you have a chronic health condition and if you would benefit from regular-ongoing care coordination  through the CVC Program.

More information about the CVC Program, including eligibility is available on the DVA website or by calling 1800 838 372

Derek Smith’s Vietnan Video

Mate always enjoy what you put out on the Veteranweb site.  I am including some stuff I filmed in 1969 and 1971 that I put on YouTube.  If you reckon it is ok, please feel free to use how best you think.  I am very happy to share – before we get too bloody old.  It includes some Super 8 footage and some still shots, all taken by me. Over to you mate and have a great day.

Best regards

Derek Smith OAM (retired MAJ RAE ex 1 FD SQN and HQ AFV Vietnam, and also 32 Small Ships Vietnam 1966/67).  Must have been keen back then.


Getting Australia’s war powers right

The definitive choice for a nation is sending its troops to war, so the surprise in the parliamentary review of Australia’s war powers is the questioning of the legal process used to go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Setting the executive right on that big point of process is a vivid illustration of the need for a clearer view of the Australian way of war.

The report on international armed conflict decision-making by the parliament’s Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade finds that the war powers are not broken but could work better. It cites ‘a clear need to improve the transparency and accountability of government decision-making’.

The committee judges that much of the complexity in the war powers debate is due to an absence of documentation detailing decisions:

This is a significant gap in transparency and accountability of the Executive and hence in the nation’s collective understanding of how Australia took its path to war, particularly in reference to Iraq and Afghanistan. Shining a light on this issue is critical to both understanding the legal basis for Australia’s actions in war, but also in understanding our history.

In deciding to go to Afghanistan and Iraq, cabinet relied on the minister’s power to direct the Australian Defence Force under the Defence Act 1903. Using the Defence Act departed from the way it was done in World War II, when war was declared using the governor-general’s constitutional power as commander in chief of the military. Of course, that was a different era with different views on Australia’s relationship with the United Kingdom and the role of the governor-general, so questioning ongoing relevance and practicality is vital.

With a focus on the need for certainty—for the political class and the public—the committee recommends that, in decisions to deploy troops, cabinet rely on the constitution rather than the Defence Act.

Specifically, the review recommends that the government amend the cabinet handbook to ‘restore the primacy of the Governor-General under Section 68 of the Australian Constitution’ in decision-making on ‘war or warlike operations, particularly in relation to conflicts that are not supported by resolution by the United Nations Security Council, or an invitation of a sovereign nation’.

Using the constitutional power would provide ‘greater clarity and transparency’ and give ‘greater legitimacy’ to members of the ADF doing their duty under the constitution. A governor-general’s decisions are ‘not justiciable, unlike a minister’s direction’ under the Defence Act, which can be challenged in the courts.

While recommending reliance on the constitution, the report acknowledged the prime minister’s most profound prerogative: the executive’s exclusive power to decide whether and how to deploy the ADF.

The first recommendation reaffirms that decisions on war are ‘fundamentally a prerogative of the Executive, while acknowledging the key role of parliament in considering such decisions, and the value of improving the transparency and accountability of such decision-making and the conduct of operations’. Therefore, the key outcome is that the prime minister has the power to send troops to war through the legal mechanism and protection of the constitution.

The report is a bipartisan effort by Labor and the Coalition—a coming together of the parties of government on their use of the war powers when in office. The counterview is a dissenting report by the Australian Greens, arguing that the deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq showed a ‘vague and unaccountable system’ that makes Australia an ‘international outlier on transparency’.

In finding against a greater role for parliament in cabinet’s war prerogative, the review cites several aspects of the submission by ASPI’s Justin Bassi, Bec Shrimpton and Alex Bristow. The committee noted their ‘significant concerns’ about proposals requiring parliamentary authority for decisions on armed conflict or warlike operations.

On calls for the public release of defence intelligence, the committee quoted their view that the executive ‘must retain discretion about whether and how to report certain types of deployment, even retrospectively. Such discretion is, for example, likely to be appropriate around the deployment of special forces, submarines, or surveillance aircraft, where secrecy may be paramount even after a mission is complete.’

The Bassi, Shrimpton and Bristow submission pointed to the finding of previous inquiries that parliamentary processes already provided a multitude of ways to scrutinise the deployment of ADF troops via question time, motions, Senate estimates and committee inquiries. These tools, the committee noted, were said to form ‘part and parcel of Government accountability to Parliament and the Australian people’.

The big step for parliamentary oversight is that the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade recommends stripping out its own defence function to create a new joint statutory committee on defence.

The new committee would have six government members and five non-government members. It would consider ‘white papers, strategy, planning and contingencies’; inquire into matters referred by the defence minister or either house of parliament; and have general parliamentary oversight of military operations.

The report outlines the kinds of information the committee would have available to it:

The proposed committee should be explicitly permitted to request and receive classified information and general intelligence briefings while also being subject to clear legislative constraints to its mandate, including restrictions on access to:

– individual domestic intelligence reports

– intelligence sourced from foreign intelligence bodies where such provision would breach international agreements

– detail regarding operational matters or information regarding highly sensitive capabilities or protected identities, except where specifically authorised by the Minister for Defence.

The defence minister would retain ‘an overarching power to veto the provision of any classified information to the committee’.

To help parliament do a better job, the report makes three recommendations drawing on another ASPI submission, from me. I argued for greater use of parliamentary conventions, not law, to strengthen the parliament’s role in the Australian way of war:

Codify existing precedents to make them conventions: the John Howard precedent—a motion of the House of Representatives to send the Australian Defence Force to war; the Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard precedents— set out the mission and its aims. Then give parliament, and Australia, regular formal reports on the conflict. Revive the convention that major government statements on Australia strategy and defence should be presented and tabled in parliament.

The review recommends a new section in the cabinet handbook requiring a debate in both houses of parliament either prior to deployment of the ADF or within 30 days of its deployment: ‘Debate should occur after a formal ministerial statement is made which explains the reasons for the operation, based on the 2010 Gillard model, as well as a statement of compliance with international law and advice as to the legality of the operation.’

The next recommendation is for standing resolutions in the House of Representatives and Senate (replicated in the cabinet handbook) providing for an annual statement on war or warlike operations from the prime minister, plus updates at least twice a year from the defence minister.

A further recommendation is for the government to ‘revert to a traditional approach whereby defence white papers and national security or strategy updates should be tabled in both Houses of Parliament within 30 days of their presentation to the Minister’.

In the 20th century, defence white papers and updates were presented in parliament. In this century, however, a tendency to follow presidential practice means that parliament is bypassed in order to serve the TV cameras; to unveil defence reports, prime ministers have had backdrops of military aircraft, ships and uniforms.

The committee concludes that its inquiry into how Australia goes to war is ‘timely and even somewhat belated’, stating in its final paragraph: ‘The evidence to the Committee sustains a conclusion that the transparency and parliamentary consideration of such decision making has become less clear and less substantial in recent decades.’

The biggest choice a nation faces is being right about war. And this frame for getting the war powers right will make the choices clearer.

By Graeme Dobell is an ASPI senior fellow. Image: Department of Defence.