Sir Richard Williams Foundation Conference address

28 September 2022

I wish to begin by acknowledging the Ngunnawal people, the traditional owners of the land on which we gather today.

And I pay my respects to their elders, past, present and emerging.

Good afternoon.

To Air Marshal Geoff Brown, Chair of the Sir Richard Williams Foundation, thank you for the invitation and opportunity to share an Army perspective at this Sir Richard Williams Foundation seminar.

There were three things that caught my attention when I received the invitation to join you today.

First, the invitation itself from the Sir Richard Williams Foundation ­- synonymous with airpower and specifically its very successful advocacy for our world class 5th generation Air Force.

My view is that the Sir Richard Williams Foundation is the best practice in the promotion of relevant and focussed professional dialogue, debate and advocacy for air power.

My own service can learn a great deal and I welcome your expanded focus on the Joint and Combined force.

Your thinking and advocacy has the potential to be the rising tide that lifts all boats.

Second, today’s focus on the ‘integrated force’.

And third the themes of lethality and protection, which find resonance in the design principles of the Army Objective Force – connected, protected, lethal and enabled.

Dr Alan Dupont’s eloquent, impactful and succinct strategic assessment this morning reinforced the scale and scope of the potential challenges that lay ahead, the importance of velocity in the development and delivery of capability.

Of particular note are, firstly, the need to take a longer term view.

And secondly, the much less certain, more complex, and frankly dangerous environment – one where our nation needs more options not less.

My proposition is that Australia needs and is capable of fielding a Joint Force that is relevant and credible in all five warfighting domains – land, sea, air, space and cyber.

In the land domain, relevance and credibility require a broad range of capabilities including the means to prosecute land combat in the most lethal environments and against the most lethal of opponents.

To be able to bring to bear the full effects of the Joint Force to ensure mission success and the survival of our people – our soldiers on the ground, in the dangerous space and among the complexity of populations and their towns and cities in which they live.

And equally, to be able to contribute land domain effects in support of Joint and Combined Force operations.

Enduring Nature of Warfare

My proposition is formed in the logic that warfare is a national endeavour – as indeed is deterrence – and that both require national resilience, national means and national will.

The nature of warfare is both enduring and enduringly human.

A fundamental contest of wills fought between nations and people to which a millennia of human history can attest.

In stark contrast to its enduring nature, war’s character is always changing, and with ever increasing velocity.

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

In Army, we describe it as Accelerated Warfare.

Ever increasing in velocity, as changes and advances in geopolitics, global economics, demographics, environment and technology combine in ways that continue to surprise us and create both opportunities and threats.

But as to the character of the next war, and here I am quoting General H. R. McMaster: “We have a perfect record in predicting future wars… and that record is zero per cent”.

There is a prevailing commentary today that speaks with undue precision and certainty about the ‘next war’.

It generally comes from a perspective that focuses exclusively on the changing character of war, which either dismisses or ignores its enduring nature.

It discounts the effects of fog, friction, chaos and individual agency on the course of a war.

It describes a symmetrical response in a single modality of warfare.

It supposes will can be imposed and can be resisted at ever increasing distance and without having to close with an adversary.

It focuses on the outcome of the first battle or battles rather than the war.

It imagines that the next war will be short, decisive and clean.

And it confuses targeting and tactics for operational art and strategy.

Unfortunately, history, including Australia’s history, does not support these hypotheses.

The unpredictability of war demands an ADF that is relevant and credible in all domains, and integrated – as a system of systems – that has the best probability of mission success whether deterring war or prevailing in its contest.

Army’s Contribution to Defence Strategy

Army’s contribution to Defence strategy to a relevant and credible ADF, is designed to transform, modernise, enhance posture and integrate the Army of today.

It is designed and iterated through the Army Objective Force.

And to prevail in the 21st century, Army must be protected, connected, lethal and enabled.

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

We are modernising our scalable, world-class combined arms fighting system – which is a system of systems in and of itself.

It is the only part of the ADF capable of fighting and persisting in the most lethal of land environments to give our soldiers the best probability of mission success, and the best chance of surviving and coming home.

We are enhancing and expanding our health, logistics, engineering and aviation capabilities, as well as our command and management laydown in order to be better positioned to modernise, scale, and contribute to mobilisation.

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

We are transforming the way we train, build partnerships, and embrace contemporary learning approaches to thinking and education – to leverage the incredible potential of our people.

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 through an applied, ‘learn by doing’ approach with industry and academia.

We are also adjusting our posture by leveraging the potential of our Total Workforce System (full-time, part-time and everything in between), investing capability and seeking to leverage joint basing opportunities and the dispersal and resilience of our estate across the 157 Army locations that span the breadth and depth of our nation.

Challenges to relevant and credible land capability

But there are two key challenges to delivering relevant and credible capability in the land domain today, and it is here where I need your help.

The first is what might be described as conventional wisdom that describes with great certitude how the next war will unfold.

It is a perspective that does not contemplate an ADF that will need to be able to fight on land, in complex and urban terrain and among populations – either in support of Joint Force air and maritime manoeuvre, fires, or indeed to prosecute Joint land combat.

The second is how this thinking intersects with the necessary prioritisation of resources.

The land domain is the least modernised and Army the least capitalised service.

This in itself is not the issue – but reapportioning resources beyond the point where the ADF is relevant and credible in the land domain most certainly is the point.

These two contemporary challenges are consequential for the future of our Army, for a relevant and credible Australian Joint Force.

Our quest for an integrated force is built on the assumption that we are more than the sum of our constituent parts – but equally each of the parts must be viable in the first instance.


So, to characterise my perspective as the Chief of Army.

As the steward of a national institution and our profession.

Accountable for land domain warfighting expertise and advice, and most importantly, for assigning land forces that are capable of mission success – whatever the mission may be.

And ensuring that every one of our soldiers has the best chance of surviving and returning home to their family.

With a 60 year-old Armoured Personnel Carrier at the core of our Joint Land Combat system, I am professionally and personally very concerned.

We can and must do better.

So, please, if you are serious about delivering an integrated force – relevant and credible in all domains – I could do with your advocacy and your support.

Thank you.