Opening address to the Chief of Army Exercise 2014

22 September 2014

To the many distinguished guests who have travelled, in some cases almost a world away to be here in Brisbane; to the Defence attaches who make up so much of the important business that is conducted, not just in Canberra but across the country; to senior officers in the Australian Army; to members of academia and members of the media who have been invited to participate in the CA’s exercise—welcome.

I would acknowledge that there has been a commitment by many countries. Countries, obviously from the Asia Pacific region. But also from countries that are well removed from Australia—from North East Asia, from China, from the UK, from Canada. And of course from both the US Marines and Army in the Pacific, as well as from the West Coast of continental USA.

I am very grateful for the commitment to be here today, so, thank you.

It is important both to me and this country to take the first step in welcoming you to Australia and Brisbane and this Exercise. To do this I would like to acknowledge the Jagera and Turrbal people as the traditional owners of this land on which we gather today. I want to personally honour and acknowledge their custodianship of this land and honour their elders, past and present.

Before I get on with the formal part of this opening address, I would like to briefly talk about the format of the conference. I have attended many in my time, and I’m almost sure that all of you in the audience have as well. And it has been a relentless series of ‘transmit and receive’—that is, that someone stands at the front and transmits, and that you sit in the audience and receive. But those types of conferences have never worked particularly well for me. And given that what I want to achieve out of the next two days is a better understanding amongst our militaries, and that engagement is an absolute essential for that to occur, the format for this exercise will centre around only four formal sessions — I look forward to hearing the presentations on lessons from contemporary operations from Professor Grey and Dr Andrew Krepinevich. On regional engagement by General Iwata, and General Nurmantyo. On modernisation by General Sengleman, Professor Evans and General Shibo. And of course the keynote address at dinner tonight by General Brooks. For the remainder of our time together, we will spend it either in smaller groups where key matters will be discussed, or in plenary sessions to share those ideas. This will leave us time to establish, maintain and develop relationships with other armies and to conduct bilateral and multilateral discussions.

I have designed the exercise to capitalise on the collective knowledge and experience of attendees and I not only encourage, but welcome your input and thoughts. The collective ‘intellectual horsepower’ present at this event will undoubtedly inform key aspects of Army’s development. It is my hope that through plenary discussion we can develop an understanding of regional approaches to the modernisation of Land Forces; identify the influence and impacts of land force modernisation on regional security and stability; and identify modernisation opportunities to achieve shared security objectives within the region. In this way we can improve our understanding of each of our nation’s modernisation priorities, concerns and risks within the regional strategic environment.

I hope this exercise also provides a forum for Army’s senior leadership team, other nations’ senior commanders, key stakeholders, and academics to discuss and contribute to issues of relevance to your Land Forces. It is a forum in which regional land forces can work together towards better understanding each other and the major strategic issues facing the region.

Now, the opportunity to open my own conference as Chief of Army is both a thrill and an honour. Leadership of the Australian Army, I’ve got to tell you, is an onerous, yet privileged honour. I think that I have a very solemn obligation to the nation. And I think that that obligation is brought into even starker relief when you consider where our primarily young men and women, soldiers all, are currently serving at the nation’s call— in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Timor Leste, and in a host of UN and multinational missions around the world. And that means, to me, that we should be unsparing in our commitment of intellect and professional focus in terms of preparing for and conducting military operations, including war.

The theme of this year’s exercise is ‘Modernisation of Land Forces in the Indo-Pacific’. By the time we leave I hope we 1) develop an understanding of regional approaches to the modernisation of Land Forces. 2) identify the influence and impacts of land force modernisation on regional security and stability. 3) enhance working relationships with regional interlocutors. 4) identify modernisation opportunities to achieve shared security objectives within the region; and finally 5) achieve improved understanding of the modernisation priorities, concerns and risks within the regional strategic environment.

I need to apply the qualification that with a Defence White Paper and Force Structure Review due to be delivered in the near future, I am going to be very careful not to get out in front of my Government. Having said that I don’t think it contentious to observe that Australia’s strategic environment is entering an uncertain and challenging era. We are poised to be a beneficiary of what is being termed colloquially as the Asia-Pacific Century, though, I, like many, now prefer the more lengthy, but more accurate, term Indo-Asia-Pacific Century. Such transitional eras present particular challenges to Land Forces. We are obliged to try to discern the meta-trends around the use of force, all while scanning the environment in search of any disruptive changes in international relations or technology.

The Indo-Asia-Pacific is a much broader geographic area than the more traditional primary operating environment described in strategic guidance of the recent past.

In order to positively influence the Indo-Asia-Pacific, and provide strategic weight to alliances for Global Order, Australia must maintain an expeditionary focus within a Joint and Coalition environment. This requires an ongoing and meaningful level of engagement at all levels with our allies, friends and partners.

Positive influence also requires an Operating Concept that lets the ADF practice, and execute, joint operations in a maritime environment, both as a single nation and with our regional friends and allies.

Army is a joint force. It is hard to overstate the importance of Army’s integration into Australia’s Maritime Strategy and the development of a mature of force projection capability. The Army is committed to developing the ADF’s amphibious capability. Through its development Australia aspires to be able to mount joint operations orchestrating air, sea, and land forces linked with spaced based capabilities.

We are well on the way to achieving that level of maritime capability in Australia with political support across the spectrum. That vision, of a seamlessly joint ADF, structured to implement a maritime strategy in the defence of Australia, through denial of the use of our land, sea and air approaches to our nation is correct. It is supported by the ADF senior leadership and is underpinned by a Defence Capability Plan which will put flesh on the bones of that vision. Of course it will require a shift in national resources to fund and sustain it. And in the aftermath of our longest war, fought primarily in a land-locked country, we must take the intellectual lead in explaining this to the Australian public.

An example of Army’s commitment to the development of a balanced joint force was the decision to forgo the funding for SP Howitzers to redirect it into the Amphibious capability. Army takes its responsibility as the Capability Manager for a number of joint capabilities including joint fires, specialist intelligence and information operations capabilities seriously.

As part of our modernisation and Building on Beersheba the Army has identified the need to consider how to become a truly joint Army. This requires a truly joint outlook that understands how air, sea and land power interact to maintain Australia’s economic and security position. After all, Australian needs its ADF more than it needs its Army, Navy or Air Force.

Land power has enduring strategic utility. War's enduring nature is chaotic, violent and uncertain; a fundamentally human endeavour but with its character constantly evolving.

Understanding that primary construct, Land Power is the ability to project force in and from land in peace, crisis and war to advance strategic and operational outcomes. In peace, Land Power supports Strategic Deterrence by shaping perceptions and engaging allies, partners and friends. In crisis and war, Land Power provides scalable options for Strategic Response that reinforces the levers of National Power and provides persistent influence on land.

Australia's preference has been to maintain a flexible force, with power projection capacity that can influence Australia's interests overseas. Such a force must Promote and Protect Australia's Interests, Deter Threats to Australia's Sovereignty, and Defeat attacks on Australia's Population. This requires a continued clear focus on building scalable and adaptable credible capabilities for the future force.

Credible land power remains vital because ultimately it is on land that we make decisions that effect populations and politics. Capable land power provides the posture credibility necessary for shaping the strategic environment. To do this we must have realistic inputs to our capability backed up by a strong joint operating concept that enables maritime power to support the national interests.

And so, while Armies must continually seek to modernise; modernisation is also a continuous process. For our Army, Plan Beersheba represents an essential step in that process and as such it will continue to be built upon. Plan Beersheba is a major re-structure of Army’s Combat Brigades and their force generation cycle that will provide a versatile and sustainable joint land force that can be employed across the conflict spectrum.

Such a Force Generation Cycle provides both the utility of an immediately deployable force for the most likely scenarios and a strategic hedge against the uncertainty of the future. Such utility gives credible scalable options to Government for Posture (providing strategic weight), engagement (shaping the region in the current environment), and reaction (deny and defeat within a coalition).

Army's contribution to the joint amphibious capability is a clear demonstration of its commitment to joint capability, a maritime strategy, and supporting the region through partnerships.

Army seeks to establish an Intellectual Pivot as we modernise. Army has deliberately initiated discussion with eminent academics (Strachan, Evans), public policy experts (Cohen and Kilcullen) and institutions (UNSW, ANU (SDSS), AIS, Lowy and Wikistrat) to consider other ideas and approaches and to critically review our own thinking.

This year we published ‘The Army's Future Land Warfare Report’, which outlines the major challenges facing military forces. This report was critically peer reviewed and articulates some of the initial implications these challenges will pose for Army's modernisation.

Finally we established the first departmental dedicated public website and blog entitled The Land Power Forum. This aims to focus on harnessing the knowledge and skills of the widest audience to inform our modernisation process.

Where to then next for the Australian Army? Army’s Plan Beersheba has changed Army’s force structure to provide a wider range of ready, sustainable land force capabilities. It has enhanced the efficiency of the Army Force Generation Cycle, and better integrated the regular-reserve-civilian total force in the generation and deployment of land force capabilities.

While this has set the conditions for the transition from an analogue to an information age Army, further development is necessary to continue modernising the Army. Building on Beersheba requires us to confront a range of challenges. These challenges are grouped under four major themes: 

A revolution in the training and education of the Army. Recent breakthroughs in understanding how the brain operates, learns and repairs itself, and the related field of how humans learn and adapt, will provide those who invest wisely in human sciences with a significant cognitive edge in the future. 

A more strategic approach to Army's collective training. The Army needs to embed the training of the landing force for amphibious capability into its force generation system. This will require better inter-service collaboration in training and assessing land forces.

Developing a digital Army. The digital environment is changing how the world interacts and learns. Warfare will continue to be influenced profoundly by global digital connectivity. Army must view digitisation beyond the realms of networking and communications. It will also demand assurance of access to the digital commons, data assurance and integrity and the capacity to fight for a threshold level of access where required.

Becoming a truly joint Army. Army will need to develop updated command and control, operating and logistics concepts to enable the full exploitation of the range of Army and joint enabler capabilities. These changes are not just a function of changes to Army’s hardware; they will derive from how Army thinks about its operations and structures within a joint force. This will be a key to increasing the strategic utility and tactical effectiveness of land force.

This exercise represents the culmination of a series of high level Seminars and supporting activities that have occurred in 2014. We have sought to broaden the audience that discusses the role of land forces, as well as providing intellectual rigour to the future modernisation requirements. At the end of the day we must deliver effective land power in support of government's national security agenda.

At this point in my address we have arrived back at where we began. A genuine welcome, a heartfelt thanks for your attendance and a sincere wish that we turn from spectators into participants. Because of one thing I am sure and that is that although war's enduring nature is chaotic, violent and uncertain; its character is constantly evolving. Our Land Forces must also evolve and our participation in this exercise can only aide them in doing so.