Army’s future force structure options: the Opposition perspective
29 Jun 2015|

Soldiers from the 1st Mentoring and Reconstruction Task Force prepare to leave their base on a joint Australian and Dutch Patrol as the sunrises over Southern Afghanistan.The Australian Army has been engaged in more than 15 years of continuous operations. Yet the challenges for Army do not rest. Today’s environment sees the pace of change accelerating, yet the fundamental nature of warfare remains the same. Conflict involves people, whether over resources, territory or ideology. Lasting results hinge on understanding and influencing populations. The Australian Army, as a member of the Joint Force, must be able to deploy, fight and win our nations wars: it is the force enabled by sea control and air control.

After Afghanistan, Army needs to be re-centred. Army must embrace Australia’s Maritime Strategy – Joint, Amphibious, Expeditionary in culture and structure. We want the Army to be comprised of combined-arms teams able to undertake combat in our littoral environment and territory, offshore territories & facilities; to defeat incursions onto Australian territory, deny adversaries access to staging posts from which to attack us; to undertake amphibious manoeuvre as well as stabilisation operations like INTERFET and RAMSI.

But as I discussed at last week’s ASPI-hosted Army’s Future Force Structure Options Conference, there are a few issues that require careful reflection.

The first is our future amphibious force. The designation of 2RAR as ‘marines’—and I use that term deliberately and provocatively—is an important beginning. However, it is only a beginning. It is not sustainable that such a force sit ‘alone and aside’ in 3 Brigade as a single-shot capability, unable to be sustained in terms of readiness or size by the BEERSHEBA RTS cycle. This is a signal that Army has not yet gripped up ‘amphibiosity’. That must end. Having made that declaration, I am confident that our new Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, together with Major General Rick Burr as Deputy Chief of Army are well placed and superbly experienced to take our Army forward in its evolution towards becoming an amphibious force (as indeed is its heritage, in the Pacific by 1945).

If, in the Australian Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), we aspire to field a Marine Expeditionary Unit-equivalent force—and I do—then our ‘marines’ need to be a force that is specialised in amphibious operations, and the specialised doctrine and equipment that it requires. The 2,200 Army people that an ARG requires, suggest to me a brigade organisation rather than a single battalion.

And while I’m engaging in heresy, let me touch upon Army Airborne Forces. The removal of a requirement for an Airborne Combat Team from Army was a mistake. The transfer of this responsibility from 3RAR to 2 Cdo actually represented a decision to retain and nurture our capability for AFO, but to discard the requirement for conventional airborne infantry forces.

Airborne forces have an enduring relevance to Australia because of the unique demands of our Primary Operational Environment (POE); it is vast (20% of the Earth’s surface), peopled by PICs that don’t possess any air-to-air or ground-to-air threat; it is a dispersed and maritime terrain. In larger, more high-intensity contingencies, such as against hybrid threats in anti-access environments, operating in support of an ARG, the Airborne Battle Group could be decisive.

Turning to vehicles, the Australian Army does not need replacement armoured vehicles that conform to the LAND400 requirements matrix because we envisage undertaking large-scale land campaigns against continental great powers. Rather, we need new vehicles because our existing ones (M113s, ASLAV) are obsolete, or are approaching obsolescence. More capable vehicles are needed by the Australian Army so that it has the force protection, mobility, lethality and is the networked force that can undertake the whole range of missions asked of it—whether that be peacekeeping, stability operations, or high intensity operations, such as amphibious operations and close combat.

Combat Reconnaissance Vehicles (CRVs) and Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs), supported by Main Battle Tanks (MBTs), Manoeuvre Support Vehicles (MSVs), Bushmasters and Hawkei (PMVs), are the suite of vehicles that will enable the Australian Army to be the mobile, lethal, networked Land Force that both sides of politics ask and require it to be. Anything less would mean exposing Australian light infantry to threats such as IEDs, hybrid forces and even near-peer adversaries without the protection and capabilities the Australian people expect.

In an INTERFET-type mission in the future, or even a RAMSI-like mission, I understand the requirement for a capable CRV or IFV to dominate the ‘Three Block War’ and protect our people.

The investment in new vehicles and technologies is intended to enhance Army capabilities, and in this endeavour the Battle Management System (BMS) (a digital command control support system) and speeding the Army’s ‘action, reaction’ cycle is a critical component. The BMS isn’t ‘sexy’, but it’s transformational and powerful. The BMS connects soldiers, vehicles, and leaders all the way up to joint headquarters, enables near real-time situational awareness with a common operating picture.

There are other areas of Army modernisation that merit greater consideration.

It is my sincere hope that the Government plans to include a replacement for Army’s Saab RBS-70 very-short-range air-defence missile system in its planning. The current RBS-70 system, along with the Lockheed Martin PSTAR-ER radar, is not adequate to fulfill Army’s ground-based air defence (GBAD) requirements to defeat future threats.

Australia’s maritime strategy doesn’t preclude our development of anti-access and area-denial (A2AD) capabilities. One such land-based capability that may be potent and a comparatively inexpensive joint force multiplier (i.e. AirSea Battle) is the employment of Land-Based Anti-Ship Missiles. Ground based anti-ship missiles (ASMs) might be used in a host of ways to challenge an adversary’s maritime freedom of action.

If integrated into the Australian Army, the employment of land-based ASMs would require coalition and joint operational concepts, and support from joint assets, such as sensors, intelligence and C2 systems. But the capabilities they would bring could critically assist the Navy and Air Force for missions critical to the success of our maritime strategy.

For those of us who care deeply about Defence policy the next period will be critical. For Army, LAND400 is a crucial test for this Government. It is the exemplar of how the Government comprehends the role and the mission of Army. And Jointness. And amphibiosity.

It will set the scene for how our defence industry is to be meaningfully engaged by Government in our great national joint project—the modernisation of our military forces.

And as our ever worsening strategic environment informs us, the stakes could not be higher.