Air Marshal Mark Binsken on 2014 as a Strategic Turning Point

By Robbin Laird

It is clear that 1914 was a clear turning point in European history with clear impacts on global history and development.  While the 19thCentury saw the rise of the European powers, the coming of World War I destroyed the European dominance of the global system.

2014 is also a key turning point.

Not quite as dramatic as the guns of August in 1914, but clearly significant, with its full significance to be determine by the history of our times.

2014 saw the clear and explosive return of Russia to European affairs; the Crimean take-over ended the dream of a global order of peace and prosperity dominated by a gentle globalization process.

But what might not be more generally understood is that Russian actions in 2014 had a decisive impact on Australia.

As Australia confronted Russian actions in 2014, the focus on the Australian Defence Force as a core capability to express and defend Australia’s sovereign interests was clearly demonstrated.

While Australia is not normally thought of as a global power, it clearly has global presence and global impact.

And the evolution of the global strategic environment since 2014 is witnessing significant changes in the alliances among the liberal democracies and these changes are posing fundamental questions about Australia’s role in those alliances.

I have been coming to Australia since 2014 and writing the reports for the bi-annual seminars on ADF transformation.

I am currently in Canberra to do so for the next seminar to be held on April 11, 2019 and which will focus on “Hi-Intensity Operations and Sustaining Self Reliance.”

During my current visit, I had a chance to talk with former head of the ADF, Air Chief Marshal (Retired) Mark Binskin. Because he became head of the ADF in 2014, it seemed a good opportunity to talk about 2014 as a strategic turning point.

Air Marshal (Retired) Binskin: “Let us go back to March 2014 prior to my taking the Chief of the ADF position in July of that year.

“The expectation at the time was that I was coming in at a relatively stable period, with a Middle East reset on offer with more focus on our region. And on that basis work the reset of the ADF.

“In March 2014, Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared in the Indian Ocean and we led a multi-national search and rescue effort from Western Australia. There was a high level of international contribution to the effort, and we played an important role in coordinating the air traffic generated by the SAR operation.

“Aircraft from seven nations were flying in a search and rescue operation 2000 kilometers off the West Australian coast.”

“But shortly after coming into office, another downed Malaysian airliner entered the picture and this was a different matter. The airliner in question was downed over Ukraine close to the Russian border and in an area of active conflict between Ukrainian forces and Russian supported separatists . Many Australians and Dutch were onboard and this led both governments to become engaged in the issue.

Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, Australian Chief of the Defense meet during the 2015 Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) in Boston, Oct. 12, 2015. AUSMIN is the principal forum for bilateral consultations with Australia and United States that brings the Secretaries of State and Defenses together for Foreign and Defense affairs. (DoD photo by D. Myles Cullen/Released)

“Rapidly, we had ADF and Australian Federal Police working with our Dutch counterparts in a coordinated effort and preparing to deploy to Ukraine. Where the wreckage was located was quite a dangerous place to get people into and out of and to be able coordinate their movement as well.”

In an earlier interview, I had discussed with Air Commodore Gary Martin how the coming of the C-17 changed how the Australian government looked at their ability to engage in operations more distant from Australian shores.

The Ukraine operation was clearly a case in point.

“We had a C-17 crew coming back from the Middle East at the time.  We ordered them to turn around and go to the Netherlands and the Ukraine and support the effort to bring back the remains of those Australians killed in the downed airliner. Their job was not an easy one, but they excelled.

“Shortly after, I was in Europe with the Prime Minister who was visiting his Dutch counterpart. Australia and the Netherlands were working a common approach to the crisis.

“Early on during this visit, General Dempsey called me and raised the question of whether Australia was able to aid in the relief effort for the Yazidis stranded on Mount Sinjar.

“We did, and while supporting this effort, the Australian government decided it wanted to be part of the emerging counter-ISIL coalition.

“They thought it was the right thing for Australia to do.

“We became the second nation on the ground in Iraq proper, not the Kurdish area, directly supporting Iraqi forces in their fight against ISIL, and to aid them degrading and eventually defeating ISIL in order to secure their borders.”

As what became known as Operation Okra was stood up, Australia deployed for the first time an integrated sovereign air task force consisting of their C-17s, KC-30A tankers, F/A-18 Super Hornets, the E-7A Wedgetail  and related combat assets.

This deployment marked an important phase in the evolution of the ADF towards shaping a more integrated and lethal force.

The air deployment was matched on the ground with Special Forces deploying to support their Iraqi counterparts and, later on, a larger joint ADF and New Zealand Defence Force training mission to Taji, just north of Baghdad.

It also placed the Aussies into a region where the Russians would intervene in Syria and back Assad.

This would mean that over the next few years, Aussie aircraft working with the USAF and other coalition partners would start to come to terms with Russian capabilities and their operation in interaction with a fifth generation enabled force.

Air Marshal (Retired) Binskin then discussed events in the Fall of 2014.

“The G-20 was held in Brisbane in late 2014. During it, the Russians deployed a naval task force to our region and into the Coral Sea just to the east of Australia.

“We deployed both aircraft and ships to protect our territorial waters. We worked a joint navy and air force operation to surveil, intercept and monitor Russian naval activity off of our waters. It was an integrated task force in effect.”

He concluded with a look back to the events of 2014:

“The government wanted to make national statement about the emerging threats and our ability, as a Nation, to respond.

“The ADF was at the forefront of that strategy.

“In addition, we had significant regional humanitarian operations to conduct in that timeframe as well.

“The ADF showed a lot of agility in being able to conduct operations globally, but we always did this in a whole of government approach in partnership with Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Australian intelligence organizations and the Australian Federal Police.

In effect, the events of 2014 have proven to be the launch point for the next phase of ADF development and enhanced recognition of its role in the defense of Australian sovereignty.

Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, AC (Retd)

Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin was born in Sydney in 1960. He joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in 1984 after an initial period of service with the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). Air Chief Marshal Binskin’s service commenced in May 1978 and on completion of flying training was posted to fly A-4G Skyhawk aircraft.

He served in VC724 and VF805 Squadrons and in January 1982 was selected as the first RAN pilot to undergo an exchange with the Royal Australian Air Force flying Mirage III aircraft. On completion of this exchange and with the disbanding of the Navy’s fixed wing capability, he joined the RAAF.

Air Chief Marshal Binskin’s other flying tours include No 2 Operational Conversion Unit and No 77 Squadron at Williamtown, NSW flying Mirage and F/A-18 Hornet aircraft; training on F/A-18 aircraft with the United States Navy at VFA-125 at Lemoore, California; instructing on F-16C aircraft with the United States Air Force at 314 Tactical Fighter Training Squadron, USAF at Luke AFB, Arizona; and No 75 Squadron at Tindal, Northern Territory flying F/A-18 aircraft.

His command appointments include Commanding Officer of No 77 Squadron at Williamtown, Commander of Air Combat Group (F/A-18, F-111, Hawk and PC9-A(F)) and later as Air Commander Australia. Air Chief Marshal Binskin’s flying qualifications include Fighter Combat Instructor and Tactical Reconnaissance Pilot. Additionally, he has served as the RAAF F/A-18 Hornet Demonstration Pilot. He has over 3,500 hours in single-seat fighter aircraft.

Air Chief Marshal Binskin has served in various joint staff positions including Staff Officer to the Chief of Defence Force and in the Defence Materiel Organisation as Officer Commanding the Airborne Early Warning and Control System Program Office. During Australia’s 2003 contribution to the war in Iraq, Air Chief Marshal Binskin served as Chief of Staff at Headquarters Australian Theatre.

Following this, he served as the Director of the US Central Air Force Combined Air and Space Operations Centre where he was responsible for the conduct of Coalition air operations in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom (ADF Operations CATALYST and SLIPPER). For this service he was awarded a Commendation for Distinguished Service.

Air Chief Marshal Binskin is a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC). He has also received the Order of National Security Merit, Gukseon Medal (Republic of Korea); the Distinguished Service Order and Meritorious Service Medal (Military) (Singapore); Commander in the Legion of Honour (France); Commander in the Order of Orange – Nassau with Swords (Netherlands); the Order of Valour – Gallant Commander of the Malaysian Armed Forces (Malaysia); the United States Legion of Merit – Commander; and the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star (Japan).

Air Chief Marshal Binskin is a graduate of the Harvard Business School Advanced Management Program, Australian Institute of Company Directors and RAAF Command and Staff Course where he was awarded the Chief of Staff’s Prize for Professional Excellence.

In February 2017, Air Chief Marshal Binskin was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Deakin University for his significant and sustained contribution to the Australian community through leadership positions in the Australian Defence Force.

Air Chief Marshal Binskin was Chief of the Air Force from 2008-2011, Vice Chief of the Defence Force from 2011-14 and was appointed as Chief of the Defence Force from 30 June 2014 until 6 July 2018.

September 30, 2014 speech by the Foreign Minister of Australia:

I rise today to table the Treaty between Australia and the Kingdom of the Netherlands on the presence of Australian personnel in the Netherlands for the purpose of responding to the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.  The treaty is accompanied by a National Interest Analysis.

We live in an increasingly interconnected world where events far from home can have profound implications for us. 

On 17 July, Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down over separatist-held territory in eastern Ukraine killing all 298 passengers and crew on board.  It was a civilian aircraft in civilian airspace, with the wreckage landing in a war zone. In a cruel twist of fate Australia was suddenly at the fulcrum of the Russia– Ukraine conflict.  

Among those killed were 38 passengers who called Australia home – and another three with close links to Australia.  We have been profoundly saddened by the loss of so many Australians. Among them: a 25 year-old travelling in Europe, like so many young Australians do; a couple, both doctors in Toowoomba, at the end of a six-week holiday; three young Western Australian children travelling with their grandfather, returning home for the start of the school term.  All innocent people, for whom we continue to grieve.

In response to this horrific crime, the Government launched Operation Bring Them Home – our contribution to international efforts to secure, identify and repatriate the remains of the victims, to investigate the cause of the incident and to hold those responsible to account. 

Australia authored UN Security Council Resolution 2166 which was endorsed unanimously on 21 July.  It called for a ceasefire to access the crash site, and a full, thorough and independent investigation into the downing of MH17.

During that debate I said:

“Our resolution demands that armed groups in control of the crash site provide safe access immediately to allow for the recovery of the bodies, and that these armed groups stop any actions that compromise the integrity of the crash site. This is imperative.

“There must be a ceasefire in the immediate area around the site. The victims must be treated with dignity, brought back to their homes and laid to rest. All parties are required to fully cooperate with these efforts. Russia must use its influence over the separatists to ensure this. Russia must also use its influence to bring the conflict in Ukraine to an end.

“Our resolution also demands a full, thorough and independent international investigation into this act. We must have answers. We must have justice. We owe it to the victims and their families to determine what happened and who was responsible.”

Over 500 Australian police, military, diplomatic and consular personnel were deployed to Ukraine and the Netherlands in support of these efforts.

As of today, 251 victims have been identified by the Identification Commission in The Hague.  We have representation on that Commission and its work is assisted by a number of technical experts from Australia. 

Out of respect for the families involved, I will not confirm the number of Australian victims that have been identified to date, however it will be some time before the identification process is complete. I attended two memorial services at Eindhoven airbase in the Netherlands and I acknowledge again the outstanding efforts of the Netherlands in bringing dignity and respect to the retrieval process.  

In parallel to the process of recovering, identifying and repatriating remains, an investigation into the cause of the crash, as required by the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, is underway. 

The investigation has broad international participation, drawing on experts from France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, Russia, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as from the European Aviation Safety Agency and the International Civil Aviation Organisation.   

On 9 September, the preliminary report by the Dutch Safety Board into the incident was released.  Its purpose is to determine the cause of the incident – not to attribute blame or liability.   

I welcome the preliminary report as a clear step towards achieving the full, thorough and independent international investigation sought by Resolution 2166. 

The damage to the aircraft documented in this preliminary report is consistent with the Australian Government’s initial assessment – voiced as early as the morning of 18 July – that MH17 had been shot down by a surface-to-air missile from Ukrainian territory under the control of Russian-backed separatists.  

On 19 September I attended a special meeting of the United Nations Security Council in New York on MH17.  Members of the Security Council firmly rejected Russia’s attempt to discredit the investigation into the downing of MH17 and reaffirmed their support for the International Dutch-led criminal investigation. 

At that meeting, I thanked the Government of the Netherlands for its professional leadership of the investigation.  I underlined Australia’s commitment to return investigators to the crash site when it was safe to do so, in the company of our Dutch and Malaysian partners.  

The separate Dutch-led investigation into who was responsible for this crime is an ongoing process. Australia has been providing all possible assistance.  We are under no illusions about the challenges involved in identifying the perpetrators, but we are determined to do everything we can to deliver justice for the victims of MH17 and their families.  

In order to deploy to, and operate in, the Netherlands, the Department of Defence and the Australian Federal Police required certain rights and protections.  

The Netherlands advised that it was only able to grant such rights and protections under a treaty-status agreement, enforceable before Dutch courts of law.

This treaty defines the scope of permissible Australian activity in the Netherlands. It provides that Australians deployed to the Netherlands remain under Australia’s command and control, and that any necessary administrative or disciplinary action will be taken by Australia, not the Netherlands.  The Treaty extends privileges and immunities to Australian personnel, and authorises them to carry weapons. It enables them to wear field uniforms; and regulates information sharing and disclosure.  

The Treaty was signed and entered into force on 1 August this year. The Government relied on the National Interest Exemption to take binding treaty action before the Treaty was tabled in Parliament.  This was imperative to ensure that all necessary personnel and equipment could be deployed to the Netherlands without delay, and to ensure that all personnel (including those present in the Netherlands before the Treaty’s entry into force) were accorded appropriate protections. 

Responding to crises such the tragic downing of MH17 is the type of situation envisaged by the National Interest Exemption.

From the moment we heard the news of this tragedy, Australia has played a critical role in the international response.  

I again pay tribute to the large number of dedicated Australians who worked tirelessly and are still working to retrieve and identify remains, liaise with family members, and investigate the shooting down of MH17.  

I commend the Treaty to Parliament as a critical element of the legal framework that was necessary to ensure that representatives of our country have all of the rights and protections they need to continue to fulfil our commitment to bring our people home.

And this story by Sarah Martin, published on November 12, 2014 highlighted the arrival of Russian warships north of Australian waters.

RUSSIAN warships are north of Australian waters in an unprecedented show of strength to accompany Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to the G20 in Brisbane this weekend.

Australian P3 Orion surveillance aircraft have been deployed to monitor the ships, along with Anzac class frigate, HMAS Stuart.

The ships are in the Coral Sea, south of Bougainville off Australia’s east coast.

The featured photo shows outgoing Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, AC, handing command of the Australian Defence Force to General Angus Campbell, AO, DSC, at a parade in Canberra on 6 July 2018.

The parade featured Australia’s Federation Guard, the Band of the Royal Military College – Duntroon, a didgeridoo performance by Wing Commander Johnathon Lilley, an F/A-18 Hornet flypast and a 17 Gun Salute.

Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, AC, retired after more than 40 years’ service in the Australian Defence Force.