Building the integrated joint force
7 Jun 2017|

Image courtesy of the Department of Defence.

Building the joint and integrated ADF goes to the heart of how we must position the ADF of the future. My aim is to provoke discussion by proposing that we need to shift gears on a couple of key conceptual and intellectual points. More of the same won’t work for us.

We have come a long way since the department first started to embrace the concept of ‘One Defence’. We are about to enter a new phase of reform with the stand up of the Joint Capabilities Group next month. Since early in this process, I’ve felt we need to change our language. ‘Joint’ doesn’t cut it today given the ubiquitous involvement of the civilian component of the Department and other Government agencies in just about all we do. ‘Joint’ is an inherently military term and while the notion was confronting and challenging a few decades ago, it is now, in my view, a limiting descriptor. We need to talk about the integrated force, integrated at an organisational level and integrated technically and culturally.

In the Middle East I was privileged to watch our E7 Wedgetail Airborne control aircraft crew on one of their 14-hour missions over Iraq and Syria, operating one of the most advanced air battle space management capabilities in the world. This capability typifies an integrated capability rather than a joint one given the multitude of feeds it relies on, the different actors it advises, manages and controls.

Integration has often been seen through the somewhat superficial lens of platform and system connectivity but this is no longer good enough. Our people also need to be increasingly sophisticated in the way they assess, interpret and interact across both our currently interpreted and the emerging war fighting domains. A real behavioural shift is required because those domains are blending, and we have been forced out of our respective comfort zones. The three traditional domains of Air, Sea and Land are what we know best; they are what we have studied, what we have trained to operate in, and they are where we have traditionally prioritised our capital investment. We’ve added space and cyber in recent years and they’ve gained a firm foothold in the domain debate.

We are moving, inexorably, towards a single warfighting domain. Our ability to operate effectively across this ‘One Domain’ will depend on our ability to build an Integrated Joint Force by design. We need a new intellectual focus on the single domain concept so we understand what it means and what it looks like. First Principles is helping us in this regard. The strengthening of the strategic centre and the establishment of a single end-to-end capability development function is reshaping how we think and act. The challenge to gaining superiority across the contemporary battlespace is effective integration not just across our own force but also across government and with our key ally and partners, in the context of both global and regional security.

The challenges we face are increasing complex and they come in an increasingly contested operating environment. At the heart of the FRP implementation has been the Capability Life Cycle redesign, which is heavily focused on tailoring, streamlining and better integrating our capability solutions. It is equipping us to take that conceptual journey towards a single domain.

The Joint Force Authority has been boosted by the stand-up of Force Design Division and the transfer of full C4ISR Design Authority to me, with the resources to enable it. Having a dedicated Force Design workforce within VCDF Group cannot be overstated. Force Design has become a business as usual function; an almost continuous ‘Force Structure Review’ focused on identifying potential capability and integration gaps before they arise. In this they are supported by a robust contestability function that in my view is adding real value.

Integration is the force multiplier that allows the relatively small force like the ADF to maintain a higher operational tempo, optimal agility and superior manoeuvrability. As programs advance we are ensuring integration remains front of mind, not just for current platforms but across the ADF capability development process. As challenges arise and solutions are developed, knowledge is now flowing both forward into planning and back into the force design process. This feedback process is particularly important, because it is forces us to think about how a program fits into the bigger picture, rather than simply assessing just the task at hand. It is a major behavioural shift. As I mentioned earlier, up until now we have often viewed integration as a largely technical endeavour.

True integration is far more than just technical. Those aspects of increasingly complex, congested and contested environments means we have to find better ways of integrating across our Force, and across the warfighting Domain. Technical integration is certainly important, I am not denying that and the 5th generation capabilities coming into service will test that. But integration at its core is not about primacy of one aspect – it’s about how it all works together. So how we integrate with our people, how we train, and how we use whole of nation capability to produce more efficient, effective and agile outcomes cannot be overlooked.

Essentially, what we need is to step back and think about what integration for a force of our scale means. We need to face up to the fact that previously when we spoke of domains, sea, land, air, it was really giving us an ability to continue to talk about the services while looking like we weren’t. I think we were all guilty of it. But our scale, and the complexity of our operating environment means staying in that particular comfort zone is no longer viable.

The emergence of cyber and space has certainly challenged this service-orientated mindset a little and in our doctrine we even have the human domain. Left unchecked, further domain proliferation will muddy the waters even more and undermine the utility of the domain construct. Is Space, at this time, in the Australian context (please note those very deliberately chosen caveats), a domain or is it an enabling function like logistics, critical to the fight but for us, right now, hardly a warfighting domain. Until we move from being a ‘customer’ of space products (including the bearers it provides) to possessing serious space capabilities, its status as a domain in the Australian context is contestable. Cyber is a different story, we have real capabilities and are generating effects from them. We have a clearer and more sophisticated view of the role we want to play, how we operate in it and where we can influence.

I am not an adherent to the multi-domain warfare construct, its smacks a little of a fad. The bottom line is that as long as we talk and think in a segmented framework (such as domains) we inevitably think in a sectorial way, one that leads to a focus on the ‘seams’ rather than the system as a whole. That’s the leap we need to make, that’s why a One Domain concept is intellectually important if we are to design and build an Integrated force.

Our specialist and Service building blocks will always be crucial and I think the post First Principles Review era has absolutely reinforced the crucial role of the Service Chiefs. Our geo-strategic realities setup an inherent tension between our ultimate role in the physical and self-reliant defence of our homeland and that of our daily operating reality which sees us working collaboratively in coalitions far from home to ensure the former is never required.

In a small force such as ours we need appropriate levels of horizontal interoperability across the services, particularly when it comes to ensuring effective C4ISR. But, we do not need everything to talk to everything else. Of course the majority of our war fighting and our day-to-day operations, is conducted within a coalition in a component based construct where what I would call vertical interoperability up the component chain is crucial. There is a challenge in getting the investment balance right between the vertical and horizontal demands as we struggle to understand what ‘appropriate’ means on both axes. This is complex work but the sophistication of the force we are acquiring demands innovative and deep intellectual engagement, open communication and collaborative behaviours across all stakeholders who are a part of our Defence Fundamental Inputs to Capability, including industry.

Assessing and prioritising gaps and opportunities is always front of mind, with designing our response as force options and deciding, with Government approval, our future force structure. Certainly there is no perfect plan; no matter how much thought that goes into design it is inevitable that we will need to make trade-offs as the dynamic strategic environment and the budget envelope change. Discussions in the Investment Committee are becoming deeper, more intellectual, collegiate and strategic.

The conversation is significantly enhanced by the presence and contribution of very senior representatives from Departments of Finance and the Prime Minister and Cabinet. That presence and participation has also transformed the dynamic between central agencies and Defence which has had a materially positive impact on the capital investment approval process in both time taken and providing government a more strategic view of force structure decisions outside of the formal White Paper process. We still have a way before we can realise all the benefits that true, and appropriate, integration brings to our force.