Our work

LANPAC Conference

Address by the Chief of Army Lieutenant General David Morrison, AO at the LANPAC Conference, 10 April 2013.

Download the speech.

It is a great honour to address this conference, which has drawn together representatives of the Land Forces from many nations across the Asia-Pacific, or perhaps, as it is coming to be more accurately described, the Indo-Asia-Pacific Region.

To be clear, up front, at just after eight on a Wednesday morning, I am going to talk about strategy. Clausewitz will get several passing mentions. I will offer a view why the two Roosevelt Presidents are key to the Asia Pacific Region for historical, but primarily strategic, reasons. You will get the perspective of a Soviet, Cold War Admiral. And an American gangster will get his underserved, but interesting time in the sun.

I am appropriately a part of the debate on what is the best national strategy for my country’s future. I served, as a junior and mid ranking officer, through a time when I think we it was less appropriate to our strategic circumstances; we tended to turn inward, we sought security through our geographic isolation.

It lead to a distortion in our defence force structure that has taken twelve years of operations and too much blood and treasure to correct.

I agree fundamentally with the British scholar Colin S. Gray, who expressed in his book, “Another Bloody Century” that “if the troops cannot do it, strategy is mere vanity”.

So applied strategy is what you will get, from an Australian military point of view, because as well as ensuring our soldiers are as well prepared for the current fight as is humanly possible, and addressing some important cultural issues in my organisation, the most critical legacy I leave, along with all of my fellow service chiefs, is a robust and relevant force for the third decade of this century. Adoption of the right strategy is central to that.

For an Australian soldier, the symbolism of addressing a conference hosted by the Association of the United States Army in Hawaii is laden with particular significance.

The attack on these islands in 1941 brought the United States abruptly into the great global conflagration of that time, the Second World War. It set in motion seismic historical forces, which continue to shape the security environment of all our nations.

President Franklin Roosevelt’s decisions, between late 1941 and early 1945, accepting fully his Europe first policy, were a driving impetus behind those forces, just as his earlier namesake, Theodore, had also been instrumental in turning the American gaze west and establishing it as a great Pacific power in the first decade of the last century.

His maxim of “speak softly and carry a big stick”, has influenced 20th century military philosophy, as has, albeit subliminally, Al Capone’s dictum: “you can go a long way in this neighbourhood with a smile. You can further in this neighbourhood with a smile and a gun.”

In our Century, the much proclaimed ‘End of History’ never eventuated. The reverberations of the events of 7 December 1941 continue to ripple among all the nations of Asia and the littoral states of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

By the time that war ended, the United States had become indisputably the greatest maritime power in history and the most important ally of my Nation - eclipsing Great Britain in both of those roles.

Furthermore, less than two decades after the end of hostilities, Japan had become one of Australia’s most important trading partners and it is now a security partner.

The emergence of the United States as the dominant global maritime power has been the single most influential factor, which has defined the Australian approach to both Grand Strategy and its key component, a maritime strategy, since 1945.

However, as I will demonstrate through reference to our history, Australia has always sought partnership with the dominant maritime power of the day to enhance its security, and to collaborate in the maintenance of a global order, conducive to freedom of the seas and supportive of free trade between Nations. In this, we are not alone.

And of course, the other profound legacy of the Second World War across the Indo-Asia-Pacific-Region, was to sound the death knell of colonialism, and to unleash the forces that created so many vibrant nations - China, India, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, South Korea to name but a few.

The Second World War ushered in a new dynamic order across the region, which today is the engine of global economic growth.

That region is also the home to some of the largest and most capable land forces on the planet. And of course it is the focal point of some of the most sensitive inter-state rivalries currently occurring in the global system.

Just as History did not end, nor did the nation state wither away as predicted by some adventurous intellectuals. Rather, after a decade in which many Western nations have been focused on intra state conflict, trans-national security issues, and the proliferation of non-state actors - especially terrorists, people traffickers and pirates - the dimensions of the Asian Century are being determined by the actions of powerful states.

Accompanying the impressive economic growth of Asian Nations, especially China, is a marked increase in regional expenditure on weaponry which some are referring to as an ‘arms race.’

That seems somewhat alarmist to me. However, it is vital for the security and stability of our region that all of our Armies engage one another in constructive ways to build confidence and to exchange our perspectives on issues that develop trust among us. Forums such as LANPAC provide wonderful opportunities to do just that.

Such engagement has the capacity to reduce tensions between Nations, especially those sharing land borders, and to develop human networks capable of functioning during periods of tension.

Today, in addressing this conference, I want to discuss the key role that ready, relevant and robust Land Forces can, and must, play in Maritime Strategy.

Inevitably, when one discusses ‘The Pacific’ the image that immediately springs to mind among the uninitiated is of vast tracts of ocean policed by powerful fleets. Shown on this slide is an Australian perspective.

The slightly more informed may also imagine amphibious forces such as Marines, perhaps even supported by Air Power. It is tempting, and easy, to gloss over the indispensable role of generic Land Forces in Maritime Strategy in general, and in contributing to the stability and security of this region in particular.

Indeed, the history of my Nation exemplifies that. On the only occasion that Australia experienced direct attack, the security of our island continent was ultimately achieved by joint operations on land both in the archipelagic approaches to Australia, but most notably through protracted land combat in New Guinea.

Nor can we forget that in that endeavour, we were supported admirably by the United States Army, many of whose divisions sustained significant casualties in the battles that saved Australia.

For obvious reasons, the battles in New Guinea enjoy the status of folklore in Australia. But the scale of US Army operations across the Pacific is not appreciated nearly enough in either of our Countries.

The roll call of Divisions raised here in Hawaii, especially National Guard Units called into Federal service, which in turn transited though Australia and New Zealand to fight in New Guinea, Guadalcanal, the wider Solomon Islands, and ultimately The Philippines, extends well beyond those most associated in the Australian mind with New Guinea - the 32nd and 41st Infantry Divisions.

Actually, both our Armies learnt some harsh lessons about thrusting poorly prepared units into unforgiving jungle terrain with insufficient training in the crucial months of 1942. But both of our Armies adapted, while in contact, and achieved high levels of professional mastery especially in the latter stages of operations in New Guinea and on Luzon.

So the Australian Army knows from bitter experience that our security is not provided by our geography. The ability to operate in concert with Allies, and to support friends on land in our immediate neighbourhood, is one of our core assigned tasks.

Beyond the immediate defence of the sea, air, and land approaches to our continent we are committed to contributing to the stability of our region.

This we seek to do through close cooperation with our neighbours especially, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia and Timor Leste. And we seek to achieve this by developing the ability to project joint forces into the littoral areas of our region.

I hasten to add that this is not Forward Defence. It is about collaborating with our close neighbours across the spectrum of shared threats, and opportunities for increased security. Moreover, it innately constitutes an example of Land Forces operating in the context of a ‘Maritime Strategy.’

What do I mean by that term? It is too often misunderstood or used interchangeably with naval strategy. Neither to the Army, nor to the Government of Australia, does the term ’Maritime’ denote anything mystical or esoteric. Indeed, according to our current strategic guidance, contained in the extant White Paper, the Defence of Australia is to be achieved through a Maritime Strategy. It is our official policy.

Since our very foundation as a Nation, Australia has implemented a maritime strategy, more often than not instinctively and without resort to theoretical abstraction. It has been our almost uninterrupted mode of strategic conduct throughout our history as a sovereign state.

Having expressed a distinctly Australian skepticism about abstractions and definitions, I am now reluctantly obliged to provide some in the interests of clarity, but then I did warn you.

For me, no one has better defined Maritime Strategy than Sir Julian Corbett, whose seminal work in this area ranks along side that of Clausewitz in his meditations on war on land. Corbett defined maritime strategy thus:
“By maritime strategy we mean the principles, which govern a war in which the sea is a substantial factor. Naval strategy is but that part of it which determines the movements of the fleet when maritime strategy has determined what part the fleet must play in relation to the action of the land forces…it is almost impossible that a war can be decided by naval action alone.”

According to the father of maritime strategy it was evident that only the harmonious collaboration of land and naval forces could achieve strategic decision. In his most oft quoted passage he asserted:
“Since men live upon the land and not upon the sea, great issues between nations at war have always been decided - except in the rarest cases - either by what your army can do against your enemy’s territory and national life or else by the fear of what the fleet makes it possible for your army to do.”

More recently the eminent historian of the United States Navy, John Hattendorf provided an even more precise definition, which addresses the challenges of our era of ‘whole of government responses’ to complex security threats. He wrote thus:
“Grand Strategy is the comprehensive direction of power to achieve particular national goals, within it maritime strategy is the comprehensive direction of all aspects of national power that relate to a nation’s interests at sea. The Navy serves this purpose, but maritime strategy is not purely a naval preserve. Maritime strategy….include[s] diplomacy, the safety and defense of merchant trade at sea, fishing, the exploitation, conservation, regulation and defense of the exclusive economic zones at sea, coastal defense, security of national borders, the protection of offshore islands, as well as the participation in regional and world wide concerns…. “

He further noted that throughout history most significant fleet engagements took place within reasonable proximity to land or to deny passage of troops and materials to land. This latter point was also emphatically made by the foremost Soviet Naval Strategist of the Cold War era - Fleet Admiral Sergei Gorshkov - in his insightful work The Sea Power of the State.

Gorshkov argued “Most of the major [naval] forces combat clashes in the World Wars were associated with operations against the shore…or to ensure transoceanic or sea communications.”

I trust in front of an audience of this nature I need not continue to labour this point; Land Forces are integral to maritime strategy and all of us are grappling with some pressing professional questions as to how we configure our land forces to participate effectively in maritime strategy in the so-called ‘Asian Century.’

As I mentioned earlier, the Australian Army has a long history of providing land forces in support of the global order guaranteed by the dominant maritime power of the day.

During our brief history as a nation we have been fortunate that this global role has been performed by a power whose interests were largely co-existent with our own and with whom we enjoyed deep institutional and historical ties.

Of course, that fortuitous marriage of sentiment and pragmatism has served Australia very well. To put it crudely, we have been a net importer of security ever since our emergence as a Nation.

Our relatively low levels of defence expenditure throughout much of our history, the fiscal and demographic constraints on the size of our military forces, and our relatively small population, confine us to the status of what the esteemed British scholar Beatrice Heuser would classify as a ‘third-tier’ maritime power.

By that she means the achievement of anything other than fleeting and localised sea control is probably beyond us, except in a relatively benign security environment. And the sustained maintenance of good order at sea, across multiple vital sea lines of communication, has been the province of only a handful of super-powers since the first era of globalisation in the 15th Century.

Accordingly, it is shrewd and pragmatic strategy for us to align ourselves with the dominant maritime power of the day. This we have done for over a century and it explains much of our military and diplomatic history.

However, even as a medium, or third tier power, we have distinctive independent interests, particularly in our immediate region. On occasions it may befall us to take a more prominent role along with some of our close neighbours, in response to local security crises.

Such crises may occur when civil disturbance strikes, or in the wake of natural disasters or extreme climatic events. Our deployment to Timor Leste in 1999, and in 2006, are examples of the former - and our support to Indonesia after both the tsunamis of December 2004 and 2006 are examples of the latter.

Of course, the introduction into service of the Canberra Class ships, the Landing Helicopter Docks, and our amphibious support vessel, HMAS Choules, and three Air Warfare Destroyers, symbolise a real commitment on the part of the Government of Australia to be able to deploy Land Forces as part of a joint task group, probably in a Coalition setting, in the immediate region. I see these new ships in this way.

Now as all of us know, continuous modernisation and force generation are unglamorous but essential aspects of military leadership. In order to contribute agile, robust land forces as part of joint and coalition task groups, capable of contributing to the security of the Pacific region, the Australian Army faces numerous challenges.

Introducing new equipment is just the tip of the iceberg - if such things are found this close to the equator! We have to match navy’s platforms with an Army force generation model and develop an amphibious culture that ensures we can utilise what is an intrinsically joint capability.

To set the bar higher, like every other Western military we are being asked to adapt to the era of fiscal austerity affecting all of our nations as our Governments seek to reduce budget deficits. I take heart, however, in the belief that our modernisation plan actually suits the times admirably.

We in Australia have closely monitored the continuous modernisation process that the United States Army has been engaged in since the end of the Vietnam War.

From the introduction of the All Volunteer Force and the doctrine of Air-Land Battle, the intellectual energy with which the US Army has sought to match its structures, equipment posture and doctrine to the exigencies of the changing character of war has been dynamic and worthy of deep study.

In seeking to increase your agility and ability to deploy to diverse trouble spots, you have constantly been forced to balance combat weight and firepower against the capacity for rapid deployment.

Given the enormous combat weight and firepower of many of your legacy Cold War systems, this has constituted an unenviable dilemma. Nor have you always been well served by some policy makers who have been too easily influenced by transient trends which promise casualty free, decisive military operations.

Clausewitz warned eloquently against such fads, emphasising the enduring reality of war as a violent duel over policy ends. The panaceas promised by Revolutions in Military Affairs, Effects Based Operations, precision strike, and pervasive situational awareness have largely proved illusory. War remains nasty, brutish but, sadly, not short.

One of the advantages that we, the Australian Army had, because we did not face a military opponent more capable than that of rural based militias, from the end of the Vietnam War until our operations in Afghanistan, was that we missed much of the intellectual ferment of the 1980s and 1990s which produced Air-Land Battle and later concepts of Deep Battle.

Until recently we were predominantly a light infantry force. Since the initial operations in Afghanistan in 2001 and later against the Fedyaeen in Iraq, it became obvious that even irregular forces now had access to man portable platforms capable of inflicting serious harm on conventional forces.

The response of the Australian Army has been to urgently increase its combat weight and protection to survive on the modern battlefield.

We were fortunate in being able to start with a relatively blank sheet of paper because we lacked any Cold War legacy systems. Indeed, stepping up to the weight of Stryker brigade would have been a major upgrade of our fighting power and survivability.

There are no easy answers to this dilemma but I recently read an insightful piece of analysis by Colin Gray, published by your Strategic Studies Institute at US Army War College. In his persuasive monograph entitled: “Categorical Confusion? The Strategic Implications of Recognizing Challenges Either as Irregular or Traditional”, Gray makes a compelling point.

Too often in the wars since 9/11 we have responded to an enemy, whose tactics differ from our own, by inventing a new category of war. This leads to major force structure and force preparation changes, often “off the line of march”, while in contact.

Such challenges are exacerbated when, at the end of conflict, there is a prevalent trend, especially in developed, democratic countries, to focus away from the conflict just fought in order to allow for a different, and sometimes cheaper, National policy requirement.

This is in no way a criticism of democratic government. Military operations are extremely draining on the public purse and fiscal rebalancing is both desirable and inevitable.

However, this “pivot of policy vision” can leave a military, especially in my view, an Army, adrift in a sea of competing ideas that are often not allied to fiscal appropriations, nor to actual geo-strategic necessities. Confusion as to role and structure can easily follow.

Then, the ability to look deeply and see far, beyond the immediate to the future challenges that a Nation may face becomes paramount. In the Australian Army’s case I am framing that work within the context of a maritime strategy and within the framework which will be articulated in my Government’s new Defence White Paper.

For a smaller Army like Australia’s, we have neither the vast sophisticated intellectual infrastructure to constantly invent fresh categories of conflict, nor do we have the luxury of sustaining a vast array of specialised forces. We need to be capable of meeting a near peer conventional competitor, and an irregular enemy, with the same force package.

For us, emphasis on foundation war fighting skills is the imperative. In addition, we need a standard brigade structure which can survive and defeat threats across the spectrum of conflict. As I continually tell the soldiers of my Army, we cannot, and will not, benchmark ourselves against the Taliban.

In order to comply with the guidance of our Government to be able to provide a brigade group for sustained operations against a credible peer competitor in our region, we needed to standardise our brigade structures and their vehicle fleets.

This is what makes possible the ability for an Army of our size, to rotate forces through an area of operations for a protracted period.

For too long in our history, we sustained an outmoded mass mobilisation model, better suited to the wars of national survival of the first half of the last century. This meant we maintained a diverse family of capabilities, but many were unique and hollow.

This had to end, both in order to enhance capability, and to rationalise vehicle inventories, training budgets and simulation and sustainment costs. We are well on the way to achieving a common brigade structure which yields three standard, multi role combat brigades.

These are backed by three enabling brigades, comprising aviation, ISTAR, and logistics respectively. A vital part of this newly designed Army is a smaller, but more viable, Reserve force of six brigades shadowing their regular counterparts.

The more difficult issue of inculcating an amphibious culture, what Mahan may have called ‘sea mindedness’, will demand long-term cultural change. This will only be developed by ‘doing’ rather than just ‘thinking.’ It is an art honed by experience and is one that has become extinct, for us, since we last fielded robust amphibious forces in Borneo in 1945.

That is one drawback of being a third tier power. One can get complacent about vital enablers such as sealift, naval gunfire support and sophisticated situational awareness being provided by our larger ally.

However, we are on the way to rectifying this and I am confident that we will develop a modest, but effective, amphibious capability within the next few years.

In this way I believe that the Australian Army is developing robust, agile land forces capable of collaborating with our allies and neighbours in contributing to the security and stability of our region and the wider Indo-Asia-Pacific.

By way of conclusion, just two weeks ago I had the honour of addressing a conference in Indonesia attended by some of the most astute strategic thinkers in our region. They were as one in welcoming Australia’s direct engagement with them in issues of maritime security, counter-terrorism and actions to curb trans-national crime.

We achieve this through finding security in Asia, not finding security from Asia, as a former Prime Minister of my Country astutely observed.

A focus on an inward looking “Continental Defence”, experienced by the Australian Defence Force in the two decades after Vietnam, restricted us to that latter paradigm and skewed our force development in a way that tied us to our own land mass. It sent the message that we feared invasion from some ill-defined horde.

Thankfully, as the effects of globalisation and the emergence of rising Asian powers offers Australia the opportunity for deep integration into the fastest growing region on earth, we now look to share the security burdens of the region along with the rich commercial opportunities it provides.

It has been a great pleasure in sharing your insights and company during this Conference. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to provide an Australian perspective.