LTGEN David Morrison, AO
Speech: Chief of Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison address to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Canberra 11 April 2012
Check against delivery.
It is an honour to address the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and to speak to so many distinguished people tonight. This is a preeminent forum for the analysis and discussion for matters that go to the heart of Australia’s security and governance and I am delighted to be able to contribute to that discussion tonight in speaking about the Australian Army after Afghanistan.
I am also particularly pleased to be here with Peter Abigail. He was a soldier of real distinction and has been a wonderful leader of this Institute for many years. I was lucky enough to serve under his command in 3 Brigade in the early 1990s, during a particularly formative period in my career and I remain very grateful for his wisdom and influence.
It is probably wise at the outset to make something of a confession. I would ascribe my ownership of a smart phone, an iPod, an iPad and a Kindle to both curiosity and the need to stay connected. There are some less generous in their views, putting greater credence in the buzz phrase “tech envy” but I am willing to let that go.
I mention it because all of this wonderful technology now allows you to have numerous books, journals, blogs, audio files and other assorted data “on the go”. As a result, I am currently being both entertained and informed by works as diverse as Colin Gray’s “Another Bloody Century”, Michael Wesley’s “There goes the Neighbourhood”, Lewis Sorley’s “Westmoreland, the General who Lost Vietnam”, Alan Dupont’s recent paper to the Lowy Institute on the ADF after Afghanistan, and “The Wise Men and the world they made” by Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas.
I mention this not to impress - there are many in this audience whose current reading lists are far more erudite - but to underscore the point that there is a huge amount of source material that can be drawn upon to form conclusions (both tentative and more certain) about security and defence issues, but this is not always apparent in the current debate about these matters, in Australia, for this decade and beyond. For its efforts to inform the public ASPI is to be thanked, and in return I will be as open and frank as I can be, although, given this point in the Government’s budgetary cycle, I will not make any specific comments about defence funding.
There will be some of you who will feel that this is avoiding the elephant in the room. This is understandable and you are justified in that view, however I am a servant of government and a believer that democracies, as opposed to countries ruled under different political systems, get the defence forces that their people are prepared to pay for. Given that, if funding for defence changes, it should, appropriately, be a matter for elected representatives. And that said, it is important that organisations such as ASPI encourage and facilitate such consideration.
Now in conceding that point, it is certainly within my remit to pose the question – What does Australia want of its Army? And for the purposes of this address, you can take that question as rhetorical because I have every intention of answering it here tonight.
Before I do, I would like to make two points at the outset. Firstly, I have no greater priority than making certain that Army’s soldiers are as fully prepared for their role in Afghanistan, and in other operational areas where they are deployed, as is possible. The title of this address is not intended to convey any impression that we are moving on from the operational challenges that face our men and women deployed in dangerous environments across the world today.
However, my job as Army’s Chief is to also look forward, to the outer years of this decade and beyond, and to ensure that Australia has an army that is as relevant and robust as is affordable.
Secondly, while I will speak almost entirely about my Service, my primary consideration is ensuring that Army can function as part of a joint force, in concert with Navy and Air Force, and other Government Departments, and indeed with coalition partners. While it is not given the credence I think it deserves, Australia has a Defence Department that is very collegiate and strategic in its focus.
My point is simple - Australia needs its ADF more than it needs its navy, its army or its air force if it is to possess robust military options now and in the future. It’s about being a joint force and Army knows that. And that is the first key conclusion that I draw in answer to my rhetorical question. The ADF is currently better balanced as a joint force than I have ever seen it over my career. Indeed, that balance provides the foundation for the development of joint capabilities that are inherent in Force 2030, as stipulated in the 2009 White Paper.
And it is to that principal source of strategic guidance that I now turn to in order to answer my question. Its title is instructive in itself: Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century, Force 2030. It addresses how the Australian Defence Force will be postured over the next two decades in an increasingly complex region and world. In this time many countries of the Asia Pacific will grow stronger and others will face many challenges. Indeed just on the measure of population, Australia will share “the neighbourhood” with most of the world’s most populous nations.
The Australian strategist, Coral Bell, writing in 2007 said:
“According to the UN’s demographers, there are going to be almost twenty nations of over a hundred million people in the world by mid-century, many of them in our vicinity. Most of their governments are going to need to grow their economies by at least seven per cent a year to lift their people out of bitter poverty. That will mean an unprecedented demand for basic commodities, including oil, water, and fertile land, some of which will be in short supply. That will mean the certainty of competition in demand, and the probability of rather frequent crises.”
The White Paper states that Australia’s Defence Policy is founded on self-reliance in direct defence of Australia but with a capacity to do more when required.
It sets three broad tasks for the ADF. First and foremost it is to deter and defeat armed attacks on Australia, and so for Army it must be able to conduct joint and probably combined land combat.
Secondly, the ADF must be able to operate in support of Nations of the region to ensure the security, stability and cohesion of our immediate neighbourhood. For the Army, that may involve combat but can also require us to protect and support local populations.
And thirdly, the ADF must be able to support the national interest in preserving an international order that restrains aggression by states against each other, and which can also effectively manage other risks and threats, such as the proliferation of WMD, terrorism, state fragility and failure, intra-state conflict, and the security impacts of climate change and resource scarcity.
This will require Army to be able to fight, support and protect populations and, with a view to restoring failing States or fractured societies, may see it involved in indigenous capacity building. Success in all of these operations will require Army to conduct effective information operations.
These five lines of action; joint land combat, population protection and support, indigenous capacity building and information operations, while couched in modern security lexicon, are as old as military operations themselves and certainly what the Australian Army has been doing in its operational theatres over the last six decades since the Malayan Emergency.
Future conflict will increasingly involve multiple, diverse actors and influences, all competing for the allegiances and behaviours of targeted populations.
Moreover, while combat operations may no longer be seen as the decisive phase of an operation, and alone are not a guarantee of mission success, failure in combat operations will almost certainly result in mission failure.
While the reduction in an adversary’s combat power is obviously important, particularly if a decisive blow can be struck, the population’s perspective on these combat actions is probably more important in the long run. To meet these challenges the Australian Army must be proficient in all five lines of operation as part of a joint, combined and inter-agency force so that the right capabilities and emphasis can be brought to bear at the critical point to ensure success. This is the fundamental tenet on which our current operations are conducted, and on which our plans for the future Army are based.
Here, it is important to make one point: size does matter and what you do with it is crucial.
Australia’s Army consists of just under 30 000 regular soldiers, approximately 17 000 reserve soldiers, and is supported by around 1000 civilian personnel. At its heart, the Australian Army is a seven infantry battalion organisation which is grouped within three regular manoeuvre brigades, which in turn are supported by an aviation brigade, a combat service support brigade providing logistic support and an Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition brigade. The formations are geographically dispersed, and even the units of a particular brigade can be separated by thousands of kilometres.
I will leave it to you to judge whether the size of the Army is appropriate for a country of some 22 million people with an annual GDP approaching $1 trillion per annum. My view is that it is - that while I may like it to be bigger, that is unlikely at this time. My point is that to do what is required of it, now and into the future, it should not be smaller nor less capable.
Over the past decade the Army has substantially enhanced its firepower, combat mobility and levels of protection. This has reversed what I believe was a long term, albeit gradual, decline in the fighting power of the Army, which took place in the period from the end of the Vietnam War until the strategic shock of the Timor crisis of 1999. The goal that I have set myself as the current Chief is to lay the foundations for the Army of the third decade of this Century.
It is vital that we do not succumb to the sort of thinking that justified a serious reduction in the strength and capability of the Army that we experienced in the wake of withdrawal from Vietnam.
I am well aware of the many competing demands on Government revenue that exist currently and in the timeframe that I am speaking about. It is on me to look at these matters objectively, to plan prudently, to be fiscally responsible and to use sound and logical arguments to put the Army case forward. That, surely, is something that Australia demands of its senior military leaders. I have been Chief for over 9 months and I have been very conscious of the great support from the Government in terms of changes to Army’s force structure and to capability enhancement within my Service.
Nonetheless, I believe that so called ‘peace dividends’ seldom, if ever accrue. It would be a serious error to conclude that in the wake of our draw-down in Afghanistan, that the Army will never again need to deploy overseas. Such implicit assumptions were made from 1976 -1999. They were sustained in the face of evidence to the contrary such as significant deployments to Cambodia, Somalia, Namibia, Rwanda and Bougainville. This divergence between our declared strategic preferences and practices has been described by the respected scholar Mike Evans as the ‘Tyranny of Dissonance.’ History has clearly demonstrated that ‘peace dividends’ invariably become ‘peace liabilities’ when the military must restore its capabilities, often as it grapples with new operational challenges at the cost of significant blood and treasure.
Ultimately, the deployment of INTERFET marked a strategic watershed for Australia. For the Army it brought to an end the benign era known colloquially as the ‘Long Peace.’
Our strategic policy makers had been very reluctant, in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, to see Australia commit troops to a foreign war.
We would rely instead on astute middle power diplomacy, the primacy of our closest ally the United States, and the stability of the Suharto regime to posture our forces to defend Australia from behind the sea-air gap.
Throughout much of my career as a junior and middle ranking officer we trained for operations to defeat small raids and incursions across Northern Australia. Many in Army were critical of these scenarios and the force structures that they supported. But the Army was also, in part, a contributor to this particular approach.
We were, perhaps, too insular in the wake of our withdrawal from Vietnam and possibly somewhat slow to adapt to the changing military and strategic paradigm of the times.
Notwithstanding the extraordinary valour shown by our soldiers in that long war, the Service after Vietnam was not immune to the age old problem of armies: that of being more comfortable looking back with pride, rather than looking forward with focus.
The broader developments in combined arms warfare in the wake of events such as the Yom Kippur war of 1973, the growth in the use of technology to enhance intelligence and surveillance capabilities, and the exponential increase in both lethality and precision of available weapons systems did not pass us by, rather we were interested but not too much changed.
Over time the Army evolved into a force of single capabilities. We became too light, too dependent on wheeled vehicles and our organisations hollowed out. Operations in East Timor in 1999-2000 exposed serious deficiencies in our land forces. Much of the work of my predecessors as Chief of Army was focused on remediating the shortcomings that we identified in East Timor. While a lot has been achieved a great deal remains to be done.
And so my next conclusion to my question of what Australia wants from its Army, is that it must be a force that is focussed on the future, not one that is overly respectful of our past, nor complacent due to our current operational successes.
I have been telling the Army for some time now, that we cannot benchmark ourselves against the Taliban. They are a ruthless enemy, but they possess only the most rudimentary indirect fire capability, they do not operate aircraft or unmanned aerial systems, they do compete with us for control of the electromagnetic spectrum. The Army must possess capabilities that offer any future government the broadest range of military options that it judges necessary, and affordable. That is no easy determination but it is, arguably, the most important any government makes during its time in office.
The operations of the past decade have informed much of our force development. Unlike some, who continue to suggest that our deployment of forces to East Timor, the Solomon Islands, Iraq and Afghanistan have been an aberration, I am convinced they are symptomatic of the changing character of war.
Moreover, they provide an indication of what can be expected of the medium term future. As Max Boot, the American historian has observed, “the past is an uncertain guide to the future, but it is the only one we have”.
In Afghanistan we are confronted by a range of irregular forces, ranging from religious extremists and tribal militias through to potent criminal organisations. However, the increasingly widespread availability of modern technology and weaponry is blurring the distinction between regular and irregular forces and rendering theoretical differences between conventional and guerrilla war to the almost meaningless.
The level of tactical lethality available to irregular forces today means that armies such as ours must deploy highly protected, agile and flexible combined arms teams across the entire spectrum of conflict. The era when combined arms warfare was only synonymous with conventional state on state conflict has gone forever.
And so another conclusion can be made – that the Army needs to be balanced internally as well as within the ADF more generally; that it must possess a structure suitable to contest, should it be required, against an adversary who is either a peer in terms of military capability, or who is intellectually our equal in the conduct of war but who may be forced to prosecute their objectives through asymmetric and indirect approaches, while still using highly lethal and effective capabilities from a position of platform under-match. In either case, the Australian Army must possess the ability to commit successfully to joint land combat, and win.
Soldiers are naturally realists with a disposition to pessimism. For what it is worth, I agree with George Santayana, “that only the dead have seen an end to war”. Our fundamental force development principle is that military operations against a credible, technologically enabled opponent, possessing war fighting capabilities similar to our own, must remain the foundation of all planning. Mastery of foundation war fighting skills is the core competency that the Government demands of Army.
That immutable precept informs Army’s modernisation program. An army that can fight, manoeuvre and defeat a credible enemy, can adapt to less demanding contingencies. The converse is not true.
The relatively small size of the Army at times encourages an almost tactical level thinking about its employment when, in reality, Australian statecraft has made frequent and diverse use of land forces over the past century. For a middle power like Australia, the use of strategic land power is not so much related to size and mass, but rather to effect and objective. When judged against these criteria, it is clear that Australian policy has, since 1942, used elements of land power for strategic purposes more frequently than any other military instrument – particularly in Asia.
Indeed, since the White Paper of 2000, the prevailing trend in strategic guidance and force structuring has been the recognition that, within our vast and diverse Primary Operating Environment, Government will require the strategic agility to respond to more than one event, especially given our experience on the often extended duration of many regional operational commitments to date. A one shot force in a multi polar world of competing middle powers and interests has many strategic limitations. The Army can now support the simultaneous deployment within our POE of a brigade on sustained rotation, while a battalion group conducts a less demanding contingency.
The Army in which I served for the first half of my career could never have achieved this. The second Timor crisis in 2006 demonstrated that we have made enormous progress towards achieving that. Colin Gray is right, in my view, when he says that “strategy is a practical business. If the troops cannot do it, policy is mere vanity”.
So I conclude that it is essential for an Australian Army of the future to be able to commit to enduring operations. My strong view is that when ever anything approaching a military solution is a national requirement, it is almost inconceivable that ground forces will not be committed to operate in a complex human domain, where operational success is never charted along a linear continuum.
And so it is essential that Army continues to evolve and develop a robust and efficient structure in order to generate forces for sustained operations. And yet we currently have a mechanised brigade split between Darwin and Adelaide, a light infantry brigade in Townsville and a motorised brigade in Brisbane. These three organisations differ somewhat radically from one another in composition and culture.
The effects of this have cascaded through our training, career management and posting systems. And the ultimate effect on overall capability output has been detrimental. A sound system of collective training, force generation and operational rotation must be built on a standard brigade structure in all three locations.
Under Plan BEERSHEEBA, which the Government announced in December of 2011, Army will achieve this vital structural reform. This is one of the most important developments since 1976 and the beginning of the modern era of Australian strategic policy.
In simple terms, it involves the development of Multi-role Combat Brigades (MCB), based on the 1st, 3rd and 7th Brigades which are essentially ‘alike’ to enable well prepared forces capable of sustained operations.
Plan BEERSHEBA describes a phased program to adjust to this force structure to better meet strategic guidance and contemporary threats. It is also budget neutral, requiring Army to manage these changes from within existing financial guidance.
But solving the force generation and rotation dilemma is only half the battle. The ability to deploy credible forces within our Primary Operating Environment will require Army to continue to develop an amphibious expeditionary mindset. The cultural and training challenge involved in being able to embark a battle group on amphibious platforms and mount an operation offshore is very significant.
These amphibious platforms, known to us as ‘Landing Helicopter Docks’ (LHDs) are not water taxis- they are systems which enable Army to generate an effect on land. Lord Edward Grey once eloquently argued that the British Army needed to be ‘a projectile fired by the Navy’ and I am very fond of that quote as it provides an aiming mark for me and my force developers as we seek to create the land component of the joint amphibious capability. The weapon system of the new LHD is in fact the embarked force, and the true capability is the joint effect delivered through Army, Navy and Air Force within the Amphibious Task Group.
It is a capability we have not been able to field since the end of the Second World War. The training involved in permitting soldiers to even travel on such platforms is significant. Given the highly specialised nature of amphibious operations my intent is to initially nest this capability within a battalion group of the 3rd Brigade in Townsville.
Moreover, we also need to develop a much better understanding of that Primary Operating Environment, at a cultural and social level. The shifting geo-political dynamic in South East Asia and the Pacific provides challenges, and opportunities, for the nations and armies of the region.
My first bi-lateral visit as Chief of the Army was to Indonesia. Next week I am taking part in an Asian Chiefs of Army round table in Malaysia and I will be in PNG on ANZAC Day to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Kokoda battles and to meet with senior PNGDF officers. In the next two months I will host counterpart visits to Australia from Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Japan, as I have been fortunate to do so far with Army Chiefs from Korea and recently Singapore.
I have an exceptionally strong relationship with the US Army and Marine Forces in the Pacific. Australia has no greater ally and friend than the United States, and much of the developments that I have spoken of tonight are being done in concert with that great Country’s engagement with the Asia Pacific region.
Developing robust links to the land forces of all of our South East Asian, and Pacific, partners is one of my main priorities. These links support our overall national strategy in the immediate neighbourhood. Land Forces occupy a central place in both the security policies and national identities of our key neighbours. I have concluded long ago, that the Australian Army has a very important role to play in international engagement, now and into the future.
Finally, I want to draw one more conclusion to answer that rhetorical question I asked at the beginning of this address, and it centres on having a workforce that is inclusive and diverse, because I deeply believe that such a workforce is one that will offer the greatest capability to Australia in the future.
I am immensely proud of the Army and I am confident that that sentiment is widely shared in the community. We have a strong culture built on values of Courage, Initiative and Teamwork. Moreover, our performance on operations over past decades demonstrate that our soldiers are worthy custodians of the ANZAC legend.
At the core of our identity is a strong combat culture. We must preserve this as it is vital to our success. But we must concede that this culture has tended to exclude women and some ethnic groups who are under-represented in our ranks. This will prove unsustainable with demographic change over the next few decades.
I am passionately committed to expanding the opportunities for women within the Army. You are no doubt aware the Government has directed the Army to remove the few remaining restrictions on the employment of women in combat units. We can do this without detriment to our exacting standards. And the Government and community expect no less from us. Harnessing the full potential of our workforce is a capability issue rather than a diversity issue for me and I want to remove any artificial impediments to the best use of all of our people.
Likewise, we have expanded the opportunities available to our Reserve component. The Reserve is already significantly engaged in operations abroad, essentially providing our force elements in the Solomons and Timor Leste. The new force generation model is designed to efficiently link the Reserve to our Regular combat brigades to sponsor the generation of a reserve combat team available at short notice to each brigade. This is a significant improvement and will allow us to continue to deploy reserve forces to a range of military operations.
The Australian Army faces the third decade of this century with great pride in its past and confidence in its future. We aspire to provide ready, relevant, agile land forces capable of joint and multi-agency operations both inside Australia and abroad in the service of our nation. We will do so on the shoulders of our men and women, many of them young, many of them with recent combat experience, all of them committed to the security of this nation. We’re in good shape now, but that won’t ensure that we are a more capable Army in the future. We can take nothing for granted.