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Chief of Army address to ASPI conference

Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, DSC, AM, address to Australian Strategic Policy Institute Army’s future force structure options conference, Canberra, Thursday 25 June 2015.

Download the speech.

That sobering piece of reality TV is a reminder of why soldier’s kit matters. Thanks to Chris Jenkins, Thales and their Bushmaster everyone survived that blast.

Chairman Stephen Loosley, Executive Director Peter Jennings, distinguished guests, ladies and gentleman, I very much appreciate the opportunity to address you today, so early in my tenure as Chief of Army.

Let me say at the outset, it is an extraordinary privilege to be invited to lead the Australian Army, a privilege carrying with it a deep responsibility and obligation to our nation and people, especially those parents who entrust their dearest treasure to Army's care.

I can proudly say that the Australian Army is a great national institution and a very fine fighting force, but in neither is it perfect, and in both we must always strive to improve.

Today, I'd like to set out some principles by which you can expect me to operate and the priorities I have set for the next stage in Army's journey.

The video you just watched is an excerpt from the Army’s Afghanistan multi-media website, launched last month. I encourage you to meet some of our people and their stories - the inspiring, challenging, confronting and above all honest reflections of men and women at war.

Our operations in Afghanistan, and elsewhere over recent years, remind us that if we don’t innovate we won’t sustain an advantage over a future adversary – war can be very Darwinian.

I can attest that the Taliban were a dangerous, elusive and adaptable enemy but not the only threat or indeed the most dangerous we might reasonably be expected to confront.

Much of the equipment and procedures in the video were rapidly procured or developed to maintain tactical superiority over that enemy.

Already we have seen in Iraq the more capable Da’esh or ISIL emerge, fighting with heavy weapon systems, a mix of conventional and irregular tactics, and a pernicious campaign of terror and radicalisation over the internet.

And the Taliban and Da'esh of course add to, rather than replace, the less common but more catastrophic experience of state-on-state warfare, for which any Army and Defence Force must also be prepared.

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.

Hence, I welcome the debate and discussion generated at forums such as this on the utility and evolution of land forces in modern operations. Although I cannot be here tomorrow I do want to acknowledge all our guest speakers - particularly two of our brigade commanders who will tomorrow give a ‘middle-age Turks’ view of where to from here. Their views are always worth listening too.

At Army’s hand over of command ceremony I briefly noted four broad priorities that I am committed to, and which are reflective of continuity between Chiefs over a number of years.

These 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. So important is this change I need very strong performers in Joint billets. As I said, support to operations has many profound and positive implications for Australia and Army.

Supporting our wounded injured and ill is an ethical choice, which I see being made all over Australia, and for which I am very appreciative and proud. We didn’t do so well in this regard as a nation after Vietnam, but we have come to recognise that.

We all rightly want the best outcome for a group of young Australians with a lot more to give to our nation. I would also note that the Department of Veterans' Affairs has done extraordinary work in recent years and I encourage any soldier in need to get connected and seek support early.

The Defence Abuse Response Taskforce provided us with a looking glass into sixty years of abuse in the ADF. Each DART case is unique, deeply personal and utterly unacceptable but all are common in as much as each was a manifestation of the abuse of professional power; be it rank, status, experience, age or influence. And these abuses continued because of a permissive organisational culture; a culture which undermined capability.

In an organisation that recruits thousands of people each year, Cultural Renewal doesn’t stop.  It’s a command responsibility to drive and an individual responsibility to live. As the first equal opportunity employer of indigenous peoples in Australia, the Army has a proud history of inclusion to build upon.

As Australians we are privileged to have some of the finest young people on the planet, with heritage from more than 180 nationality, cultural and ethnic groups. I want our institutional culture to give every Australian that serves under the Rising Sun the opportunity to be and do their best.

Turning now to modernisation, the Australian Army tries to adapt to the possibilities of the future through continuous modernisation. We don’t predict the future, but rather we look to the broad indicators.

The Australian Army’s, 2014 Future Land Warfare Report, which I commend to you, identified five trends that will likely shape future war: crowded, connected, lethal, collective, and constrained, inter-linked, 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 warfighting, our unique contribution to national capability. Everything else we might be called upon to do is less difficult.

The ADF presents capabilities, options and risks for government consideration. Failure in this context is the absence of response options. Our Army and our Defence Force have always sought to be postured and poised for a range of possible challenges. This will continue I think, given our interests in the world are so extensive. What our White Paper process provides is some prioritisation of effort, principally within the Indo Pacific, and some temping to Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex.

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.

In these interesting times, I follow in a long line of Army Chiefs who have actively sought to align the organisation to the future needs of our nation, and I’m well aware that the future can be a contact sport here in Canberra.

Post East Timor 1999, Lieutenant General Leahy started our development as a digital force and sought to protect soldiers from the increasing lethality of modern weapons systems. Over a decade, we incorporated networked decision making and hardened our equipment; the Army fundamentally adapted to its operating environment.

Under the stewardship of Lieutenant General Gillespie, the modern combat soldier received improved personal equipment. Force protection - including faster procurement of urgent operational equipment - was the priority. Additionally, Army was restructured to forge better links between force generation and the operations we were undertaking.

More recently, Lieutenant General Morrison enabled the restructure of combat elements to build sustainable, modular and combat effective brigades, prepared, deployed and supported by enabling systems.

My general officers and I will continue this modernisation story, to ensure Army remains ready and relevant.

With a White Paper and Force Structure Review not far away, and while still calibrating my own instincts with both reality on the ground and the views of my colleagues, I’m not inclined to declare my particular modernisation focus just yet. Suffice it to say, that what is most important to me is that we have an informed, rigorous, open and contested approach to modernisation. I also need that approach to be responsive to the needs of troops in contact.  In this regard, innovations like Diggerworks have been extremely valuable.

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:

Firstly, 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.

Secondly, 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.

Thirdly, 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.

I cannot stress enough the importance to Army and the ADF of the capability resident in the Deployable Joint Force HQ. There may be circumstances in which Australia leads a combined, joint HQ somewhere in the region, just as the then MAJGEN Peter Cosgrove led in East Timor in 1999. To fulfill this role in the second decade of the 21st century will require integration of a myriad of command and control systems not in existence at the time of the INTERFET operation.

More generally, as technology advances so too does lethality and the proliferation of affordable weapons. As a result, most advanced land forces have been improving their standard levels of protection and mobility.

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.

When complemented by a focus on people, culture and teaming beyond boundaries, I put it to you that we are committed to building and sustaining a great Army, worthy of its ANZAC heritage, suited for the demands of current and future operations.