LANPAC 2023 keynote address

17 May 2023

Aloha and good morning to you all.

I’d like to start by commending this wonderful forum that is LANPAC 2023.

Surely, there is no more relevant focus for us than “the role of the land forces in the Indo-Pacific and our contribution to the Joint Force in peace and war”.

And certainly no more relevant a peer group and community of interest than is here before us today.

The short video I just played provides a short snapshot of the Australian Army today – where we are focused on our Fight Tonight responsibilities – to be Ready Now, and some of the ways in which we are adapting to ensure that we are Future Ready.

In General Flynn’s keynote address yesterday, he provided us with a compelling summation of the changing character of competition and conflict; how these trends are affecting the stability and security in our region today; and most importantly the role that land power plays in both addressing the key risks of the present and leveraging the opportunities that they create.

These trends affect us all, and highlight that the purpose and the value of fora such as LANPAC, which brings us together to understand how we might better work together.

This morning I have been asked to offer a perspective on the contemporary challenges of maintaining military readiness.

As the program notes, it is an Australian perspective - and through the lens of a soldier who fights as part of an integrated team. And given the company that I am in today, indeed the people in this room, I offer my thoughts with a deep sense of respect and humility.

Based on the discussions that I have had with many of you and our partners over the past year, I would also note that while the character of the challenges we face varies from nation to nation – the nature of these challenges is remarkably consistent.

Balance – Discontinuity and Continuity

Let me begin with what has not changed – and the first point I’d like to make is about balance. The challenge of balancing the discontinuities and continuities of war and indeed competition.

We must be ready for the contingency missions today, while at the same time fulfilling our responsibilities to build a force that will be capable of prevailing against tomorrow’s challenges – institutional development, transformation and modernisation.

Achieving this sometimes elusive balance is the essence of the readiness challenge for senior leaders.

Secondly, it remains the case that the ultimate expression of national will and resolve is putting soldiers on the ground, among populations, and in harm’s way.

Thirdly, warfare is an enduringly human endeavour – a fundamental clash of wills between nations and people, as millennia of human history and the history of warfare itself can attest.

And fourthly, and in stark contrast to its enduring human nature, warfare’s character is always changing. In other words, change too is a constant.

Perhaps what is different in our time is the rate of change – a point that was well made before by Mr Young Bang. 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”.

The velocity of change in geopolitics, global economics, the environment and technology combine in new and often surprising ways, creating both opportunities and threats.

Among them is the promise of battlespace transparency, greater clarity, awareness and understanding in near real-time, informing better and faster decisions while accelerating speed of execution.

And yet, fog, friction, chance and the agency of individuals highlight the very unpredictability of warfare, which will always unfold in ways that are never planned and seldom envisaged – and we will inevitably do so in a typically protracted way.

The excellent panel discussion yesterday highlighted the relevance of the ongoing war in Ukraine in validating what we intuitively know about the enduring nature of warfare, but we would do well not to assume that these maxims are self-evident to others.

Especially in a time when the ‘conventional wisdom’ is that the so-called next war will somehow be quick, decisive, clean and fought at ever increasing distances without ‘getting our hands dirty’ (so-to-speak).

The war in Ukraine highlights that deterrence can fail; the fragility of the ‘rules based order’ – which is surely a historical anomaly unique to period in history known as Pax Americana, and the return of an era where some state actors seek to use force to impose their will on others.

Importantly for us, the war in Ukraine poignantly demonstrates the need to continually adapt.

The challenge for us today is to ensure we are adapting fast enough to be equal to the challenge.

For most of us here today, that means being able to explain, to field and to sustain relevant and credible land power options for our respective governments.

I’d just note that relevance and credibility are the judgement of others – they are the judgement of the pacing threat, our allies and our partners.

And here I offer a sincere thanks to Dr Jack Watling, who spoke yesterday on the Ukraine panel, for his clear thinking and articulation of the value proposition and utility of land forces.

While he wrote that for the British Army, it is of universal relevance and application in my view.

The three fundamental characteristics of land forces that distinguish them from the other domains are presence, persistence, asymmetry.

The presence land forces maintain among populations, the persistence of effects we can deliver, and the asymmetry we impose on an adversary.

I have taken the liberty of adding two further characteristics that I think are also unique to land forces – utility, and value for money.

Utility, by offering a wide array of scalable and responsive options in both peace and war – from domestic Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief to combat operations, tasks that can be competently executed by pretty much any Army unit or formation.

And value for money, for while Armies generally tend to be less capitalised of the services, they demonstrate a valuable return on investment through their consistent and sustained use across the spectrum of conflict.

Land forces need to be ready for all contingencies, but given our current and changing strategic circumstances, what does readiness actually mean?

What does it look like? And importantly, what is at stake when land forces are not fully prepared?


Our history tells us that the consequences are potentially severe and we would all do well to heed General Flynn’s call to action – the time is now!

Readiness is essentially a coalescence of our myriad endeavours – recruiting, our families, retention, training, equipping, our facilities - building and sustaining infrastructure - and our resilience, our culture and our leadership.

Put simply, readiness is not a means to an end, but our purpose. Our purpose is to be ready.

But to be ready for what?

‘Always on – persistent partnership’

I like the term ‘always on’ – persistent partnership.

We live in an era of near persistent surveillance across the electromagnetic spectrum, and in an era of strategic competition.

What we choose to protect, what we choose to expose, and what we do every day – whether that’s at our home station or working with partner and allies within the region – all create operational effects.

It’s a mindset change that is required in the first instance, as we create those effects – whether that’s knowing and understanding our area of operations, whether that’s shaping, whether that’s demonstrating.

These are all operational effects, and they are always on, and they are always being noticed.

Working together with allies and partners at home and abroad, harnessing the strengths of others and using them to our collective advantage, and enhancing our ability to scale and mobilise if required.

Working together in meaningful and more sophisticated ways creates perhaps the most important operational effect in support of deterrence – that is a demonstration of collective will and resolve, and of the capacity and capability to give effect to that will and resolve.

Ultimately, we build readiness to deter war and maintain security and stability.

Peace through strength, as General McConville puts it.

Operating Environment

I do not need to tell this audience that our strategic circumstances have indeed changed.

The velocity of change is accelerating, and at the same time our warning time for conflict is decreased.

There is now a pressing need to adapt more quickly to the changing character of war in order to fulfil our purpose of deterring conflict and protecting the interests of our respective nations.

The challenges we face are multi-domain and they are multi-dimensional. They are occurring within the so-called grey zone, and in most cases require a whole of nation or whole of government, and certainly a combined and joint approach from a military perspective.

There have been changes in what our government expect of its Army and what the integrated force and our allies and partners need of us.

Armies across our region are being asked to do more things, in more places, more of the time.

For the Australian Army, our activity rate throughout 2022 is a useful snapshot of what the current demand signal looks like.

In short, our readiness has challenged Australia. Demand continued to rise while supply continued to move in the opposite direction.

About 20 per cent of our total force deployed on domestic support operations – most of which were assisting the Australian community impacted by the pandemic and unprecedented flooding events in many parts of the country.

And I’d just like to add here a note of thanks for very substantial commitments from our partners in Papua New Guinea and Fiji who came to our assistance in our time of need.

Concurrent to this domestic effort, we had more than 3,000 soldiers involved in 89 regional activities, working with allies and partners.

And more than 50 per cent of our force participated in individual training – that is courses in our world class training and education system.

Our force did this, all while transforming our Army – to be better connected, protected, lethal and enabled.

Making a greater contribution at the operational and strategic levels through new and enhanced capabilities.

All of this at a time when resources, which includes time, money, people and machines, were under increasing pressure.

Since then, we have seen an increased demand on budgets and rising costs due to inflation, and supply chain disruption.

There are persistent challenges to workforce, including in recruiting and retention.

And there has been increased demands on our vehicles and equipment, while we deal with obsolescence.

The hard truth for us is that we are consuming readiness faster than we can build it.

But, despite these trends, my view is that we live in a time of great opportunity, with challenges can be overcome.

So what do we do?

Our Response

I’ve always found very useful the 26th president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, who said: “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, wherever you are”.

And that is really the standard we work to everyday.

I offer a few thoughts here – six of them in total – and I hope they resonate with some, if not most of you.

And certainly the Australian Army is not unique or alone in taking these particular perspectives or approaches. Indeed, we are doing it alongside many of you.

The first is we do more together.

We must consider President Roosevelt’s maxim through the lens of the strong and abiding partnerships with allies and regional partners.

What we can achieve together with our collective sum of land and joint capabilities and resources is indeed significant.

Because in an era of great power competition, having more friends is frankly a better situation than having less.

Secondly, change is a constant - it always has been - and so too is our need to adapt.

There has and will continue to be changes to the scale and scope of our capabilities, the sequence and the pace of delivery, how we are organised, how we train and the resources available to us and how we prioritise and apply them.

Our formations will increasingly become more specialised, and we will increase the use of robotics and autonomous systems, the application of artificial intelligence and machine learning, of quantum technology, and human performance optimisation throughout and across every aspect of our force.

Thirdly, we need to be able to see ourselves better – better than in the past.

That is to make honest and holistic assessments of our capabilities, our capacity and our competency.

We make these assessments not by rule of thumb, or some professional judgement, but through the increasing application of data and analytics – measuring readiness and its components in terms of combat effectiveness.

And in defining combat effectiveness, we are using a new rule of thumb, the 70:20:5 is our framework for combat effectiveness.

70 per cent of a crewed unit is the minimum.

20 weeks spent, and given to junior commanders to work up their teams to a point where they are concurrent and competent to do their job and to be force assigned.

The five relates to a level of training at the Combat Team Level.

So, if a call sign is not at the 70:20:5 level, I am unable to force-assign for operations. It gives us a clear line in the sand to aim toward, and importantly be able to express risk and compete for resources based on our readiness and our capacity to provide the data and the evidence to support our assertions.

Force Generation, Operation Generation and modernisation can no longer be discrete activities, rather they are simultaneous endeavours.

And this brings me to the next point, and that is activity design.

Activity design needs to be multilateral, multilevel and multi-domain, live and virtual, contiguous and continuous.

This is not about doing more – we have neither the time nor the resources for that – but doing more with what we have, leveraging the mix of capabilities and teaming with others.

The acme of integration and convergence is to be greater than the sum of our constituent parts.

Exercise Super Garuda Shield last year in Indonesia serves as an excellent example of exactly these points, but is also a good segue to my fourth point about activity design.

Exercise Garuda Shied has grown in size and scale to become one of the largest joint, multinational exercises in the Indo-Pacific region.

It provides an excellent example of a full mission profile approach to combined and joint training - testing the way in which we plan protect, command and control, conduct entry operations, execute and sustain combat operations and redeploy.

In other words, it tests every part of our combined force, at every level, and across all phases of an operation.

Last year’s exercise involved more than 4,000 soldiers from across 14 countries, and comprised field and maritime training events, amphibious and airborne entry operations, air defence exercises, and training in both maritime and urban environments.

It is a great credit to our team mates of the TNI [Indonesian National Military].

Exercises like this not only helps to strengthen bilateral and multilateral relationships, but they build enduring confidence and trust through improvements to military responsiveness – and therefore readiness.

My fifth point is that people – soldiers – remain at the centre of all we do, and they are the sole and central component of readiness.

We are modernising the way in which we educate, train and experience our soldiers.

Our posture can be adjusted by leveraging the potential of what we refer to as the Total Workforce System, which includes both our full-time and part-time workforce, our public servants and our industry partners.

This model is intended to have a number of effects, but includes offering far more flexible career paths for people already serving, while also sustaining capability by recruiting and retaining the right people through a more attractive set of conditions of service – including their pay – but also leveraging two things that really motivate people to serve.

They are purpose and people. Serving alongside people that are likeminded, and ultimately you can trust – potentially with your life. We think that has a great appeal in the society in which we live today.

The Total Workforce model offers the potential of giving teams greater professional and technical integration in key areas such as health and logistics, while improving our ability to scale, and adding further capacity as required.

And finally, my sixth point for your consideration, we want to understand how we use what we already have in new ways.

How do we apply new and emerging technology to legacy systems that we have today? The adaptive use and re-use of existing vehicles, equipment and facilities is an area of significant opportunity.

Some examples, include the application of autonomy. We have conducted live force experimentation with one of our mechanised infantry units – testing and evaluating a combat team of uncrewed combat vehicles as part of a battle group.

We have worked with industry and academia to develop the algorithms and sensors to effect autonomous driving systems - leader/follower technology.

Easy on civilian roads, but more difficult among the clutter of our operating environment.

We have been experimenting with electric propulsion technology in our Protected Mobility Vehicles.

Electrification technology, when combined with alternative fuels such as hydrogen, can increase energy performance in our existing vehicle fleets while simultaneously increasing our sustainability and our resilience in the field.

There is certainly a pressing need for land forces to adapt more quickly to the changing character of war to fulfil our purpose of deterring conflict.

It involves us coming together to use our imaginations and to leverage the incredible capacity for innovation across land forces – using what we have now in new and creative ways, more closely and integrated as a team.


I hope this brief perspective on how the Australian Army is responding to the contemporary challenges of building and maintaining military readiness has been useful in some way

I might just finish on three points.

The first is, and to quote General Flynn, the time is now – and we are it. Readiness starts today and our collective readiness is at the heart of deterrence.

Secondly, we learn by doing and through partnering and through collaboration. In an era of great power competition, it is good to have more friends.

Thirdly, innovation must be an applied endeavour – it is about using our imaginations to leverage the incredible capacity of soldiers across our forces, using what we have now in new and creative ways.

Thank you very much for your attention today.

A video of the Chief of Army Keynote Address is available on Vimeo.