Indian Ocean Defence & Security Conference address

25 August 2022

Your Excellences, Premier, Ministers, Distinguished guests.

Good morning, and I thank the Whadjuk-Nyoongar people for that very warm welcome to country and offer my respects respects to all Elders past, present and emerging.

Can I begin by thanking and congratulating the West Australian government and organisers of this inaugural Indian Ocean Defence and Security Conference, which is a fantastic forum for a contest of ideas with an applied focus.

On a personal note, I am very proud to be here in my home state to engage with you on our common purpose.

And that is very clearly to protect and promote our national interests through our contribution to a free and open Indo-Pacific.

This morning I am going to make a few remarks about will talk about the environment in which our national interests are engaged and specifically what this means for your Army, and your Army in Western Australia.

It will very much be an applied focus, and from a soldier’s perspective as part of a joint and combined and integrated team.

So to begin, the ultimate expression of national will and resolve is putting soldiers on the ground among populations and in harm’s way.

Because warfare remains an enduringly human endeavour.

It is a fundamental contest of wills fought between nations and people, to which millennia of human history attest.

In stark contrast to its enduring nature, the character of warfare is constantly changing and with ever increasing velocity.

As Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau expressed, “the pace of change has never been this fast, and yet it will never be this slow again”.

Recently, the strategic shock reverberating from the latest episode of the war in Ukraine ­– a war that began in 2014 ­– has shown that deterrence can fail and that assumptions can be wrong.

Fog, friction, chance and individual agency mean that war will always unfold in ways that were never expected or envisaged.

Above all, the war in Ukraine is a stark reminder of what is at stake.

It highlights at once the fragility and the value of the ‘rules based order’ that has characterised the last eight decades of our history, and the remerging willingness of some state actors to use military force to impose their will.

It has reinforced the enduring human nature of war and therefore the enduring requirement for joint land combat power in contemporary conflict.

We ignore these lessons from history at our peril.

And while our start position is always to avoid war, it is vital that as a nation we are ready for that eventuality.

War is a national endeavour, and as a so-called middle power, we fight alongside allies and partners.

As to the character of the next war, and to quote General H. R. McMaster, “we have a perfect record of predicting future wars… and that record is zero percent”.

So we must be prepared for the fight beyond the opening battles, as wars are inevitably longer, more demanding and more visceral than imagined by those who speak, in my view, with undue certitude about the character of the next war.

War requires national resilience, national means and national will.

Our strategic environment has and will continue to change unevenly and at pace.

And our ability to adapt must be similarly agile.

As part of the ADF, your Army must be able to field and sustain relevant and credible land power options for our government.

Including the things that only an Army can do – land combat – the demands of which are more lethal, more complex, and certainly more consequential than they have been in a long time.

Your Army is transforming to keep pace with the changing character of warfare.

To prevail in 21st century your Army must be better connected, protected, lethal and enabled.

Your Army will make a greater contribution at the operational and strategic levels, through new and transformed capabilities such as long-range fires, littoral manoeuvre, cyber, space, information warfare, and special operations forces.

Your Army is modernising its scalable, world-class combined arms fighting system that gives our soldiers the best probability of mission success in the most lethal environments and the best chance of coming home.

I will come back to this point in just a few moments, as it has been the subject of recent debate.

Your Army is enhancing and expanding its health, logistics, engineering and aviation capabilities, as well as our command and management in order to be in a better position to modernise and scale, and contribute to mobilisation.

Underpinning all this is the application of new and emerging technologies.

We are focused on four areas – Robotics and Autonomous Systems, Artificial Intelligence and machine learning, Quantum and human performance optimisation.

We are also adjusting our posture by leveraging the potential of the Total Workforce System (full-time, part-time and everything in between) and investing capability and capacity in Western Australia, South Australia, the Northern Territory and Tasmania; seeking to leverage joint basing and the dispersal and the resilience of our estate across 157 Army locations across the breadth and depth of our nation.

Your Army is our people. Australian soldiers.

We are equally active in modernising ways in which people can serve to help us generate the flexibility and the capacity we require.

We are transforming the way we train, building partnerships, and embracing contemporary learning approaches to thinking and to education – its leveraging the incredible potential of our people.

Through these efforts, and others, your Army is better postured to project strategically – onshore and offshore, and respond to crises if and as they occur.

So having briefly explained the full breadth of Army’s contribution to the Joint Force, I’d like to come back and return to the only part of the ADF capable of fighting in the most lethal land environments.

We call that the Combined Arms Fighting System.

In stark contrast to H. R. McMaster’s maxim – there are some whom speak with undue certitude and detail about how the next war will unfold.

Those commentators will inevitably be right, or wrong, but they are not the ones that will be required to execute in operations and do the fighting that is required.

That task inevitably falls to soldiers.

To illustrate this point, the wars that we have fought in the last couple of decades, the trajectory of our strategic circumstances, and the entanglement of our national interests over the past three and a half decades, bears little resemblance to predictions that characterise the thinking in 1986 [that delivered the 1987 Defence White Paper].

The point here is not who is right and who is wrong, but the very unpredictability of war.

It is about dealing with the world as it is and not how we might wish it to be.

Australia has and will always require its ADF to provide a broad range of options for our Government – and it is Government who makes the decisions that are of significant consequence to the lives of those who serve.

There are more than 102,000 names on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial, and 81,745 of them are soldiers.

As the Chief of Army, I have a duty and an obligation to do everything I can possibly do to prevent more names being added to those solemn bronze plaques – and to provide best strategy and domain warfighting advice to our elected representatives, via the CDF and our Secretary.

Australia requires our ADF to be relevant and credible in all five warfighting domains.

That is the requirement.

In the Land Domain relevance and credibility require the means to prosecute land combat in the most lethal of environments and against the most lethal of opponents.

Unfortunately, most commentary around land combat capabilities – especially armoured fighting vehicles – is not well informed.

For example, some confuse a wide range of vehicles generically as ‘tanks’.

The fact is that just like a warship or combat aircraft, the land combat capability is a system.

To remove a component of the system is akin to letting a guided missile frigate sail without a Vertical Launching System, or a Joint Strike Fighter take to the skies without Electronic Warfare Self Protection.

If we cannot predict when, where and how the next war might unfold, we must consider other frames of thinking.

And I think going back to the formula proposed by Professor Paul Dibb that threat equals intent times capability is a good starting point.

He noted recently that intent can change at any time; so it is best to focus on capability.

So when we apply that logic globally or even just regionally, we can see that most state and non-state actors have significantly more lethal capability than ever before.

The helmets, body armour and lightly protected vehicles with which we equip our soldiers today provides protection for their heads and their hearts from 7.62mm rounds.

In relative terms, our soldiers are just as vulnerable today as their forebears on Gallipoli or the Western Front.

Every regional actor has well in excess of this level of capability.

So we need to be very clear: We owe it to our soldiers and their families to ensure every component of the combined arms fighting system is fit for purpose, to enhance their survivability, their lethality and ultimately their probability of mission success.

The Combined Arms Fighting System that protects our soldiers today has at its core a 60-year-old Armoured Personnel Carrier.

We can and we must do better – and we have a plan to do so.

On current trajectory, in the middle of this decade (around 2025-26), we will have fielded a world class system that is relevant, credible and offers better protection for our soldiers to ensure mission success and the best chance of bringing them home.

If I can now conclude by explaining how Army’s modernisation is unfolding here in Western Australia.

Our 13th Brigade is growing and evolving – increasing the number of our full-time workforce and providing more opportunities for more West Australians to serve in either a full or on a part-time basis.

Enhanced command and control arrangements in the headquarters of the 13 Brigade have increased its scale and its capacity for operations on the West Coast and its approaches.

And we have created or enhanced capabilities in the 10th Light Horse Regiment, the 13th Engineer Regiment, and assigning new roles to parts of the 16th Royal West Australian Regiment.

I just spent the last few days with our teams in the Kimberley and the Pilbara, where they are ‘always on’ every single day – providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in the most remote areas of our state’s north with cutting edge capabilities and making a huge contribution to bringing together and participating in a whole of government intelligence gathering framework.

And of course based here in Perth is Special Operations Command – West, centred on the Special Air Service Regiment which conducts some of the nation’s most sensitive missions.

All of this provides your Army with the ability to scale and mobilise in, to and from Western Australia and abroad.

But of course, we cannot do it alone.

Leveraging one of Army’s key strengths – teaming – we have focused collaboration with government, industry and academia.

With the Western Australia Police Force, Australian Border Force, Maritime Border Command, and various intelligence agencies, we maintain a united network for the defence of Australia, including here in the West.

With BHP, we collaborate on automation and secure communications, electrification and quantum technologies, as well as pathways that allow us to share our workforces.

With the University of Western Australia’s Defence and Security Institute, we realise the challenges of the future and contribute to research, engagement and education on defence and security issues.

These are just a few examples.

Service in your Army offers a sense of purpose and an opportunity to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

And the opportunity to serve some of the best people you are ever likely to come across who are united in a common purpose – professionals who are committed and you can trust with your life.

Your Army is not standing still – especially not in here in Western Australia.

We are Ready Now and Future Ready.

Thank you, and Good Soldiering.