In Britain, thousands of defence jobs are being axed because of public spending cuts. In Australia, the armed forces are struggling to maintain staffing levels as they compete with the booming mining industry. Now British service personnel earmarked for redundancy are being targeted by Australian recruiters offering the sweetener of a fast-tracked path to citizenship.
The Royal Australian Navy (RAN), which is desperately short of engineers, is understood to be particularly keen to recruit from overseas. According to a report in The Australian yesterday, it sent a delegation to Britain recently to investigate the skills sets of the sailors and officers being laid off as part of the Government's plans to cut 17,000 Armed Forces jobs by 2015.
Many engineers have been lured away from the Australian military by the mining industry, which offers better pay and conditions. The Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, said yesterday that industry recruiters waited at the docks with job offers for disembarking navy personnel - a neat reversal of the old press-gang tradition, as one Australian newspaper noted yesterday.
The Australian Defence Force (ADF) is also looking to the US, Canada and New Zealand as potential recruiting grounds, and will reportedly offer those joining from overseas the guarantee of an Australian passport within three months of them being granted permanent residency. Usually permanent residents have to wait two years before applying for citizenship.
Special forces officers, fighter pilots and submarine crews are among the specialised personnel sought by the country's three services. The latter are in particularly short supply, with the Navy able to operate only two of its six Collins-class submarines at any one time.
The ADF is under pressure to keep up manning levels, with about 1,550 troops deployed in Afghanistan and crews needed for a fleet of new warships and aircraft carriers.
On its website, the ADF says it is seeking "serving or ex-serving foreign military personnel who can directly transfer their job and life skills to whichever service they join with limited training and preparation". It "looks to overseas candidates to fill gaps in our services that can't currently be satisfied by standard recruitment", it adds.
About 5,000 Royal Navy employees are facing redundancy as a result of the defence budget being slashed by eight per cent in an effort to save nearly 5 billion pounds. The RAN, in consultation with the Royal Navy, is pitching itself to those people and offering them an alternative career path, a spokeswoman for the Australian Defence Department said yesterday.
The RAN and Royal Navy operated as one force until the end of the Second World War, and are accustomed to sailors and officers transfering between the two. According to The Australian, Vice Admiral Griggs has assured his British counterpart, Admiral Mark Stanhope, the first Sea Lord, that Australia will not poach personnel required to maintain Britain's defence capability.
The Australian Defence Association (ADA), a defence think-tank, said yesterday that the country had for a long time maintained naval numbers by recruiting from other Commonwealth nations and the US. They tended to have the necessary skills and qualifications, as well as meeting security requirements, said Neil James, the ADA's executive director.
He told Sky News that, as far as the Australian Navy was concerned, "it's the lack of engineering and maintenance electricians … that is really causing some grief". According to some reports, the Navy is short of as many as 200 engineers.
The Defence Department said the Royal Navy was "very comfortable" about Australian recruiters targeting the men and women facing redundancy.