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Land Warfare Conference opening address

Opening address by the Chief of Army Lieutenant General David Morrison, AO at the Land Warfare Conference, Melbourne, 30 October 2012.

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Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests,

I am delighted and honoured to open the Land Warfare Conference this morning.

Right at the outset, may I congratulate the organisers of this event for assembling so many of our industry partners. This conference has established itself as one of the premier events of its type anywhere in the world. Now, more than ever before, the ADF relies on the timely support and collaboration of its industry partners at every point of the development, procurement, and sustainment cycle. I will not dwell in detail on particular projects and platforms today. Suffice it to say, however, that while we are all operating in a challenging fiscal environment, I am firmly of the view that the glass is half full rather than half empty.

As I told an industry gathering in the wake of this year's budget, Defence expenditure remains a substantial portion of government outlays. Too much of the focus of media attention has been on delays in certain acquisitions and cuts to the capital expenditure budget and I feel we should not lose sight of how substantial the expenditure of the Department, especially DMO, continues to be. The figures speak eloquently for themselves.

The bottom line is that Defence continues to be a very significant portion of Commonwealth outlays. The Defence Budget for 2012–13 is $24.1 billion of which the DMO budget represents $9.1 billion or approximately 38 per cent of total Defence expenditure.

Notwithstanding that this is an era of fiscal restraint, the defence industry sector continues to make a significant contribution to national security and to equipping the Australian Defence Force. We must not downplay just how substantial the task of sustainment of our existing organisation and inventory actually is.

For example, the forecast expenditure by DMO on goods and services, remembering that DMO is only a part of Defence—equates to $38 million of taxpayers’ money every working day.

Of course, the flow-on effects of adjustments made in Defence, as a result of new national budget priorities needs to be carefully managed and will be the subject of further consultation between Defence and contracted suppliers.

As this is a land conference, I intend to stay firmly in my lane as the chief advisor to Government on land forces. For my part Army is in better shape, both in terms of personnel and capital equipment, than it has been at any time in my career.

However, the theme for this year’s conference is Potent Land Force for a Joint Maritime Strategy. While the central focus is therefore on the land force component, from the outset I wish to acknowledge that, in the contemporary context, and particularly in the maritime environment that characterises our region, it is a joint fight. Army simply could not operate at home or on operations without its sister services—the Navy and Air Force. And I speak for the whole of the Australian Defence Force when I say that, without the many individuals and organisations that provide the scientific research and development we rely on, our joint maritime strategy would remain an aspiration.

As I speak, there are young Australian men and women in harm’s way around the world who are able to perform the tasks we entrust them with because of the support of your research and your expertise. If the new and enhanced technologies that you create can lessen this harm, we are indebted to you.

Yesterday afternoon, I concluded my 2012 Chief of Army’s Exercise. During the course of this activity, I was privileged to be joined by my counterparts, or their representatives, from 15 countries, as well as leading thinkers from Australian Defence, government, academia and the media. The structure of the exercise allowed us to engage in frank and open dialogue regarding the employment of Land Forces within a maritime strategy. These discussions reinforced a number of crucial points.

Chief amongst these is that, if ever it were in doubt, a maritime strategy must be a truly joint endeavour. To be coherent, it cannot rely on sea or air power alone, or even in combination. Nor can it be based on continental strategic theory, because land power alone cannot shape or influence the littoral environment so important to Australia’s defence. Without the synergy between the Army, Navy and Air Force our joint maritime strategy cannot be realised.

As Sir Julian Corbett noted over a century ago, “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.”

It was self-evident truth that led Corbett to this conviction:
“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 of 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.” And Corbett of course was the Official Historian of the Royal Navy in the Great War.

What Corbett, devoted naval man that he was, grasped, which many civilian planners and scholars in Australia still do not, is that the employment of robust agile land forces is intrinsic to maritime strategy. It is the employment of land forces in concert with naval and air forces that constitutes true maritime strategy.

However, this synergy must extend beyond simply aligning those in uniform. It must incorporate our partners in other government agencies, in the fields of science and technology, and in industry. I have said in every public address that I have delivered that Australia needs its ADF more than it needs its Army, its Navy or its Air Force. Today I need to embellish that by saying that it needs its ADO and industry partners more than it needs its ADF.

While we are relearning the art and practice of amphibious operations under the rubric of a maritime strategy, we are well served by the bipartisan consensus across both sides of Australian politics to the effect that the ADF must be able to deploy robust joint forces in the archipelagic approaches to Australia. Indeed, since the 2000 White Paper allocated the twin tasks for the ADF to be able to simultaneously deploy an independent battlegroup to a short-term contingency in our immediate region, while sustaining a brigade on operations within our inner arc, both sides of politics have invested heavily in enhancements to our land forces, deployable logistics, and strategic sea and air lift. These are considerable benefits to Army, but are innately joint capabilities.

Reflecting on this, Professor Alan Dupont, who will address the conference later this afternoon, has flagged the ADF’s requirement to be able to ‘deploy ground forces rapidly, with adequate protection, for extended periods of time, and at considerable distance from the Australian continent on a variety of operational tasks’. This single sentence encapsulates very neatly the nature and magnitude of the challenges that we face. Our ability to project land force is becoming increasingly contested by a variety of lethal and precise capabilities. Upon arrival, we will find the demands of operations within built-up areas as vexing as they ever has been, characterised by enormous difficulties in moving, synchronising and protecting our soldiers. And, of course, adequately sustaining our men and women in these operating environments is likely to present challenges as great, if not far superior, to those facing our frontline troops.

Less than a fortnight ago, the first LHD hull arrived in Port Phillip Bay. Could I have my only slide please. The acquisition of these vessels manifestly represents the most prominent physical manifestation of the future of Australia’s maritime strategy. And the manner in which we are working towards introducing these ships into service gives an insight into the absolute symbiosis between all components of the Australian Defence Organisation and industry that must be at the heart of this strategy.

Already, we have seen prime contractor BAE Systems commence work on consolidation of the superstructure and other critical fit out work. Already, the Defence Science and Technology Organisation has developed cutting-edge computer-assisted models to ascertain air movement patterns across the decks of these vessels during multi-helicopter operations.

Our Defence Test and Evaluation Office has already mapped out a comprehensive plan to test the safety and operational effectiveness of every facet of this complex capability. And finally, as we speak, our Deployable Joint Force Headquarters, in lockstep with the Navy’s Amphibious Task Group, is well underway in refining the joint manpower and command and control requirements of this incredible new capability.

These vessels, admittedly only one component of our maritime strategy, give an insight into the future of Australian military operations. I am excited to see the continued interaction between our three services, the Defence Organisation as a whole, and industry as we progress towards this truly unprecedented endeavour.

Army’s role within our maritime strategy is significant and, as Chief, it is my job to ensure that it remains appropriately manned, equipped, trained and ready to perform this role.

At the moment, the Australian Army is in very good shape. Perhaps paradoxically, however, despite its mastery of violence, the Army is a surprisingly fragile organism in some ways. Its capability must be painstakingly built up and nurtured, which takes time and significant public funding.

We have steadily rebuilt our capital base through prudent investment by governments since the East Timor crisis in 1999, to the point where we are now not only better equipped than we have been at any time in my career, but we are also in the midst of the most significant re-equipment program since the end of the Vietnam War. Our soldiers have been exposed to sustained operations across the spectrum for well over a decade, resulting in a force seasoned by combat and led by junior officers and NCOs with significant operational experience. That is an intangible asset that few armies in the world possess in such abundance, and I sincerely hope it is maintained. Yet this capability can be relinquished disturbingly rapidly if it is not carefully developed and sustained by governments of all persuasions.

We currently do not have all the answers. And by ‘we’, I do not mean Australia alone—it was abundantly clear from discussions held during the Chief of Army’s exercise that these challenges are shared by our allies and regional partners. But make no mistake, these problems are not insurmountable, and we will address and overcome them together.

To paraphrase US National Defence University scholar Frank Hoffman, the dialectic we know as war is a violent exercise of continuous interactive action and counteraction. The rifled musket did not make infantry attacks impossible, nor did radar prevent sound the death knell for aircraft operations. They did, however, demand innovation, in both tactics and technology.

Likewise, the new and evolving threats of the contemporary operating environment constantly challenge us to rethink the equipment we field, and the manner in which we operate. Every ingeniously insidious tactic or weapon that our enemies develop demands of us an appropriate response, be it tactical, technological, or more likely, a combination of the two. It is therefore in lockstep, that we—soldiers, scientist and industry—must seek to address the challenges posed by the contemporary and future land operating environment.

History has also repeatedly proven that our national interest is not served by pursuing an isolationist approach to regional and international affairs. To some, the idea of developing the land force’s ability to operate overseas is demonstrative of a national habit of engaging in ‘other people’s wars’. I, however, vigorously reject such theories as misguided, no matter how sincerely they are held. Throughout our history we have supported the global order, secured by the hegemony of the dominant liberal democratic maritime power—in succession, Great Britain and the United States. We have done that to secure our vital interests and every aspect of our culture, and pragmatic self-interest supported that choice.

We are a trading nation, deeply enmeshed in the global economy and reliant on the benign global order underwritten by our great power partner.

Every time the Australian Army has sent a contingent overseas, it has been at the behest of a democratically elected government, which has used this rational strategic calculus to calibrate the level of commitment and risk warranted. All our wars and all our peacekeeping operations have met this fundamental public interest test.

And if any further corroboration of this strategic practice is required, it comes in the form of the Minister of Defence’s supporting statement to the Asia-Pacific White Paper.

In closing, I wish to reiterate the honour I feel in being asked to open this conference. During my Chief of Army Exercise at the start of this week, I was afforded an incredible opportunity to engage with my international counterparts and interrogate the military challenges that we, as land force leaders, face together. I very much look forward to the rest of the week and the opportunity to replicate that experience with you, my colleagues from the fields of defence science, technology and industry.

Just by looking at the program, I see evidence of exactly the kind of innovative thinking that is required to overcome the challenges posed by the contemporary and future operating environment. From the prospects offered by the ROACH – the radar on a chip – to the intriguing promise of a ‘massive yet tiny engine’, I eagerly await the insights of the speakers and the potential they herald for new innovations contributing to Australia’s maritime security.