The future of Australian land operations
25 Jun 2015|

LTGEN Angus Campbell

In my role to lead and prepare an Army to serve its nation, my career experience has developed in me a profound commitment to the value, indeed the necessity, of joint, inter-agency, coalition and allied operations, as the best and most sustainable way to pursue our nation’s interests.

This is because of the extraordinary skills, and potential for greatness, resident within our people, especially when we team across the boundaries of a diverse national and regional community.

The Army has an important contribution to make to this team, bringing many unique and useful capabilities. Important, although not always preeminent; context is all.

Unsurprisingly, as a Chief of Army, I am not an adherent to the false god of ‘high tech war’, that declares armies redundant, so banal is this analysis. Lieutenant General HR McMaster speaks in his usual compelling manner on this topic in his recent essay, Change and Continuity: the Nature of Future Armed Conflict.

Like all of you I dread war, and would welcome quick, clean, bloodless, decisive clashes, but when Shakespeare wrote, ‘Cry Havoc! And let slip the dogs of war’, he reminded us that these dogs, elsewhere alluded to as Famine, Sword and Fire, have a will of their own.

A war started is not necessarily a war ended; home by Christmas an illusion. War can slip readily out of the control of any of its belligerents. On land, at sea or in the air, cyber and space domains, war can all too easily spill over the convenient boundaries and timelines we so desire of it. An adversary on the defensive is an adversary looking for another domain in which to attack. This violent clash of wills doesn’t necessarily end when or how we choose.

In the deeply human and political tragedy that is war, in the last resort, violence often comes to a dramatic, exhausted or lingering close on land, because that is where we live.

However, this is no easy pass, the Australian Army should always be able to explain to the government and the people its role and utility, within a wider team effort, in defence of our nation and its interests.

Army’s priorities are:

  • support to operations: because it’s why we exist;
  • support to our wounded, injured and ill: because it’s the right thing to do and it rebuilds lives and human potential, for Army and Australia;
  • modernisation of the Army: because I want to ensure our people have the best chance of coming home; and
  • cultural renewal: because ethical soldiers working as a team are our most powerful weapon.

Today, I am going to concentrate on the third priority, modernisation. But before I do, let me make a few comments about the others.

Support to operations is obvious but has many deep implications. We fight joint, certify and deploy joint, command and control joint, increasingly employ joint doctrine and many of the most powerful asymmetric effects we can apply are uniquely joint. And these joint forces team with interagency, coalition and allied partners.

Recent adjustments to organisational and command arrangements within the ADF, announced in the First Principles Review, reflect the importance of strengthening the centre and enabling next steps in our joint development. I am very excited by the possibilities for the ADF of these changes and suspect historians will look back on this decade as the ‘tipping period’ in building joint forces characterised by deep environmental expertise.

The Australian Army’s 2014 Future Land Warfare Report, identified five trends that will likely shape future war: crowded, connected, lethal, collective, and constrained, these trends are also converging. These are not simply big or pervasive changes—they broadly outline our future operating environment and will transform the ways we think, operate, cooperate and contribute as an army.

The Army doesn’t and shouldn’t have the luxury of choosing the type of war or security operation in which we might become involved. That is a decision for government. But we have to structure for and be competent in land joint war fighting, our unique contribution to national capability. Everything else we might be called upon to do is less difficult.

Today we see terrorism, intra-state conflict, great power positioning, state instability, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief all at play and all affecting Australia or its interests.

Because of life’s inherent uncertainties, I want the joint force to be as capable as we can afford, and I’m delighted at the quality of the air and naval forces Australia is building. We will always be stronger working together.

Our modernisation effort supports Army’s contribution to a broad range of operations. The following are three examples of issues we might consider in how Army does so:

First, the Army contributes to developing Australia’s key international security relationships, building confidence, and promoting common strategic understanding and interests. The Defence White Paper is likely to reinforce the importance of this ADF role and I look forward to working with our partners throughout the Indo Pacific Region, to align effort, build capacity and enhance cooperation.

Second, the Army contributes to deterring, and if required, defeating coercion of, or attacks on, Australia and its interests, particularly access to trade and commerce, the lifeblood of an island continent. This includes denying an enemy the freedom to operate within our extended approaches.

The ability of our Army to contribute to a strategic deterrence effect as part of our maritime strategy will increase with the development of an amphibious capability centered on two Landing Helicopter Dock ships. How Army, as part of a broader team, might support a maritime posture and the potential for the Army to contribute to access and area denial in the approaches to Australia needs also to be carefully considered.

Third, the Army makes a substantial contribution to the headquarters that might be expected to lead operations aimed at assisting or maintaining the stability of states within our extended approaches.

In the next 10 years, the Army will see substantial investment in protection and mobility, with projects focused on mission command systems, the introduction of protection from blast for our fleet of light, medium and heavy trucks and the replacement of our combat reconnaissance vehicle and armoured personnel carrier.

These projects combine to deliver vehicles that are more than replacements for their predecessors—they provide protected weapon systems, which are also a hub for communications, information, sustainment and fire support, enhancing the capacity of a ground force to absorb surprise and achieve tactical success in an era of democratised lethality.

Understanding the broad parameters of future land warfare environments, and the operating concepts applicable to them, can produce valuable insights to focus our development and enhance the Army’s strategic utility and tactical effectiveness in the defence of our nation and its interests.

This post is an edited version of the speech Lieutenant General Angus Campbell delivered at the ASPI Army’s Future Force Structure Options Conference on 25 June 2015.