Opening address - Chief of Army Symposium 2023

29 August 2023

Before I begin, I wish to take a moment to acknowledge Sunday’s tragic aircraft accident on Melville Island that claimed the lives of three US marines and injured many others.

Our thoughts and prayers are with our US brothers and sisters, the families of Major Tobin J. Lewis, Captain Eleanor LeBeau and Corporal Spencer R. Collart, and all members of Marine Rotational Force – Darwin.

This tragedy comes just a month after we lost four Australian soldiers in a helicopter accident during Exercise Talisman Sabre 2023.

We are all feeling it deeply. Our hearts go out to their families and friends.

Let us make sure our service is worthy of their sacrifice.



Minister for Defence Personnel, the Honourable Matt Keogh, MP.

Shadow Minister for Defence, the Honourable Andrew Hastie, MP.

Western Australian Minister for Police, Road Safety, Defence Industry & Veterans Issues, Honourable Paul Papalia CSC MLA.

A very warm welcome to my international counterparts.

Your presence here demonstrates a commitment to our strong and abiding partnerships.

To my Army and ADF colleagues.

Distinguished guests from the academy and defence industry.

Soldiers of the Australian Army, the 3000+ who are deployed, standing watch or stood to for short notice contingency response.

And those joining us online and here as participants, including those whom are part of the junior and senior NCO Fellowship and Senior Enlisted Leader Forums.

We are working every day to build your inheritance – the Army that you will operate, lead and command.

Personally, it is a privilege to be here in my hometown on the lands and waterways of the Whadjuk-Nyoongar people.

On behalf of us all gathered here for CAS23, I would like to pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging, and extend our sincere thanks to Uncle Barry Windmar for your warm welcome to country, and for the very moving performance by Jayden, Ash, Nathan, Dylan and Dylan.

More than personal nostalgia, I selected Perth as the location of this year’s symposium for several relevant reasons.

It is home to an enhanced Army presence that we have been building over the past few years.

Home to an innovative defence industry.

And home to a strategically focused academy.

Moreover, Western Australia plays a vital role in our nation’s economy and is our nation’s gateway to the Indian Ocean.

Together with its western and northern geographic orientation, these factors coalesce to provide a unique perspective on the contemporary challenges that face our nation and indeed our region.

I am very grateful for the support of the Western Australian Government at all levels, to Defence West, and the community of Perth – especially the staff at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre for accommodating us.

I am delighted to see that of the 64 companies participating in this year’s Army Robotic Expo, nine are from Western Australia.

My thanks to you all for your participation in the contest of ideas that helps our Army to think deeply and broadly about how we can best adapt to meet the challenges and leverage the opportunities of the future.

Our Army’s contribution here in Western Australia is worthy of a few moments of reflection.

Of the more than 7,000 ADF people in Western Australia 3,000 are soldiers. 

They represent six per cent of our Army and a broad cross section of capabilities.

The 13th Brigade here in the west is growing and evolving, and has proven to be a catalyst for innovation and transformation for the rest of Army.

In the past two years, it has increased the number of our workforce, both full-time and part-time, and provided more opportunities for West Australians to serve our nation.

Thirteen Brigade headquarters has built its command and control capacity, demonstrating the benefits in projecting force and prosecuting operations and exercises across the north west of the country.

There are new and enhanced capabilities in the 10th Light Horse Regiment, the 13th Engineer Regiment, and the 16th Battalion Royal Western Australia Regiment has received new roles.

Our Regional Force Surveillance Units in the Kimberly and the Pilbara are ‘always on’, providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in the most remote areas of Australia’s North West.

They make a significant contribution to bringing together and participating in a whole-of-government intelligence-gathering framework.

And doing so with an intimate connection with people, country, its distinct patterns of life, and access across the north of Australia and its approaches.

Based here in Perth is Special Operations Command – West, centred on the Special Air Service Regiment, conducting some of our nation’s most sensitive missions.

The transformation of our special operations capability for the 21st century serves as a contemporary example of how our Army is adapting quickly and purposefully.



Accordingly, it is my pleasure to open the Chief of Army’s Symposium for 2023.

Our theme this year is ‘Adapting Army’.

We have been directed “to transform and be optimised for littoral manoeuvre operations by the sea, land and air from Australia” as part of the integrated force.

We must therefore adapt.

And that is the purpose of this symposium – soldiers teaming with innovators and thinkers from academia and industry, the ADF, and with our allies and partners.

We cannot do this alone. It is a team effort.

We have an exceptional line-up of talent over the next two days to stimulate and lead our thinking.

Ultimately, it is the application of our thinking and collaboration that I am personally most interested in.

The Army Innovation Day, Army Quantum Technology Challenge and Army Robotics Expo, are all focused on the application of new and emerging technology and concepts to the operational challenges of today and tomorrow.



So as we turn our minds to these challenges, consider this scenario.

For some years, our strategic focus was on the Middle East North Africa region.

Australian soldiers, alongside our Allies, were locked in a fierce contest with an Axis aligned to neither our values nor the rules-based international system.

In a harsh and contested environment, our soldiers distinguished themselves; achieving tactical success within their area of operations, seizing and holding key terrain, defeating their enemy.

However, as a new threat emerged, one much closer to home, we adapted quickly, redeploying to defend the immediate approaches to our continent.

For Australia and Australians, conflict had seemed distant – something that happened literally on the other side of the world.

And yet it arrived on Australia’s doorstep faster, and in a more visceral way, than anyone had imagined.

Our sovereignty and our way of life were threatened.

Accordingly, our nation’s strategic focus shifted rapidly to what we now refer to as the Indo-Pacific region.

Likewise, our Army adapted for operations in our immediate region, and optimised for littoral manoeuvre. 

I am referring, of course, generally to the events of 1942, and specifically to the events of 1943 when our Army participated in the liberation of occupied New Guinea during the Second World War.

The 80th anniversary of Operation POSTERN is in just a few days’ time on 4 September.

It was a joint forcible entry operation near Lae on the north coast of New Guinea.

A truly joint and combined operation, POSTERN involved all three services and forces from both Australia and the United States.

Importantly, it involved the 9th Australian Division, which spent most of 1941-42 in North Africa, fighting major engagements against the forces of Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps at Benghazi, Tobruk and El Alamein.

The 9th Division returned to Australia in early 1943 and quickly adapted for jungle warfare and amphibious operations in the Pacific against the forces of Imperial Japan.

On the morning of 4 September 1943, the 9th Division’s assaulting brigade disembarked from US Navy watercraft onto the marshy beaches east of Lae, in what was the first large scale amphibious landing by an Australian formation since Gallipoli.

The 7th Australian Division were landed by US transport aircraft on Nadzab airfield, and through the dense jungle, assaulted Lae from the west.

The two Australian divisions raced each other to Lae, their rapid overland advance delayed by rivers swollen by monsoonal rain and a determined enemy. The advance was achieved through the application of decisive joint effects on the ground in close quarters combat.

Lae fell to the Australians on 15 September, the start of a series of successful operations that continued along the north coast of Dutch New Guinea.

The 80th anniversary of Operation POSTERN reminds us that our Army has always adapted to the changing character of war.

As General Charles Flynn said in his keynote address at LANPAC earlier this year: “It is on us – it is on all of us – soldiers at every rank and Army civilians at all levels, to know our history”.

A solid understanding of our past plays an important role in preparing for the challenges of our future.

Understanding our history allows us to learn quickly from the hard won experience of those whom have gone before us.

The most valuable learning comes from our past failures.

It gives us confidence in uncertain times.

To Mark Twain is often attributed the aphorism “History does not repeat, but it does often rhyme”

We have been here before - our Army has previously been adapted at littoral manoeuvre in our region.

It is in our DNA, and I have every confidence to do so now.

In another, more recent example, just last week, I attended the national service to commemorate 50 years since the end of Australia’s involvement in what our nation called the Vietnam War.

No doubt the Australians in the audience are familiar with the mournful ballad “I was only 19” by John Schumann and the folk band Red Gum. It has become something of an Australian classic.

In the penultimate verse, a young digger named Frankie is wounded by a land mine at the same moment that Neil Armstrong was taking that giant leap for mankind and setting foot on the moon.

Those lyrics contain more than poignant sentimentality for those of us with a sense of history.

At the very zenith of American power-as an American astronaut - was fulfilling President Kennedy’s boldest aspiration - the United States and its allies were engaged in a visceral war in the physical and human terrain of Vietnam.

Reflect for a moment on the paradox of July 1969.

Humanity had slipped the bonds of earth to leave footprints on the Moon. Yet here on earth Americans and Australians were fighting a very determined foe.

In that war, we enjoyed air supremacy. We were able to orchestrate joint operations against the enemy’s capital city almost with impunity.

Yet in the contest of wills – that elemental characteristic of war as old as humanity itself – we did not prevail.

Lest anyone doubt the enduring relevance of Clausewitz’s most cited dictum look to Ukraine, where a highly motivated army is defying an enemy that enjoys significant technological and scale advantages.

And despite the media obsession with various platforms deployed by both sides in that grim conflict, the enduring and essential nature of war is discernible.

The ultimate point of decision is on the ground and among the people – as it has been in every war since humans have recorded history.

Ultimately, one side will force its adversary to accept a political order achieved by imposing its will upon the other.

I suspect that any Russian soldier with experience in Chechnya would endorse the proposition that the nature of close combat in complex terrain has not changed very much in the occupied territories of Ukraine despite the proliferation of UAS and missiles.

No soldier, no scientist, no scholar, no legislator has yet solved the immutable problem of the final metres of the ground assault.

I offer these examples to emphasise the balance we must achieve between the enduring human nature of warfare, and its ever-changing character.


Context – Balance

Our purpose is to ensure that our soldiers have the very best education, training and equipment to survive and prevail in today’s complex multi-domain battlefield.

The possibilities of technological advancement present myriad opportunity for Armies – so long as they are applied in the context of this balance.

Because technology alone will not guarantee victory.

And to quote Admiral Sam Pararo, Commander of the United States Pacific Fleet: “Technology does not replace tactics”.

That is why our focus is on the application of new and emerging technology which will enhance the utility of land power in the Indo-Pacific region in the 21st Century.

To be sure, the ultimate expression of national will and resolve is putting our soldiers on the ground, among populations, and in harm’s way.

We have the obligation to have done all that we can to ensure mission success and to bring our people home safely.

Major General Mick Ryan, tells us in his book War Transformed: “to truly revolutionise war, people and institutions must develop new methods of fighting and new ways of organising; these are human, not technological endeavours”.

It’s not just military professionals like Admiral Paparo and General Ryan that offer this wisdom.

The world-renowned scholar and expert in security and technology, Audrey Kurth Cronin, in her book Power to the People makes a similar point.

She writes, “despite the breathless claims of many technology promoters, what is crucial today for national security is not the transformative power of the new technologies, but the transformative power of human beings throughout the world to adapt them to unanticipated purposes.

So our challenge today is to understand how best to apply new and emerging technologies for best effect.

Our Army remains primarily focused on four technology areas: Robotics and Autonomous Systems, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, Quantum Technology and Human Performance Optimisation.

The application of these technologies, is in my view, most likely to provide us with a military advantage, and enhance the utility of land power.

As Dr Jack Watling describes, there are three fundamental characteristics of land forces that distinguish them from other domains – presence, persistence and asymmetry.

I would add two further unique characteristics of land forces – versatility, and value for money.

Versatility, in that pretty much any Army unit or formation is capable of the broadest angle of missions, from HADR to combat.  

And value for money. Armies are the least capitalised of the services, and pound for pound, deliver the best return on investment.


The Challenges

Having explored the importance of our history and the question of balance, how then do we grapple with the challenges that the application of new and emerging technology presents?

My answer to that question is that we engage with the challenges by harnessing the vast intellectual capital in our Army to leverage our capacity for innovation

As Andrew Marshall writes, “the most important goal is to be the best in the intellectual task of finding the most appropriate innovations in the concepts…to fully exploit the technologies already available, and those that will be available in the next decade or so”.

I ask each of you here this morning to think about how you might contribute to bringing that rhetoric to life in our systems, structures, doctrine and TTPs.

When considering the many opportunities that technology presents, we will do well to heed General James Rainey, CG US Army Futures Command’s advice.

He notes “the quest for the possible is blinding the achievable”.

The application of AI is a useful case study to explore this point.

In her address to the national press club of Australia in July, the Chancellor of ANU, the Honourable Julie Bishop, noted the warning from AI’s creators that “superintelligence could be the most impactful technology ever… in the wrong hands, it could be dangerous”.

When the Chancellor was interrogating ChatGPT about the potential dangers of AI, it gave a surprising response (and I am paraphrasing here):

It said: “there may be issues with ethics, bias, accountabilities, and the potential for misuse… privacy and security could be exploited…it could entrench societal inequities…and could damage…entire communities, industries and countries.”

In this case, AI’s challenges began well before any algorithms were executed.

Indeed, AI has a lifecycle – and with it, some unexpected ethical concerns.

In her book, Atlas of AI, Kate Crawford talks about the mineralogical layer of AI.

She says: “AI extracts far more from us and the planet than is widely known”.

Without the extraction of critical minerals and rare earths, often referred to as ‘conflict minerals’, you cannot manufacture contemporary computers with the computation power sufficient for AI.

There is therefore a nexus between the costs and causation of AI’s extractive impacts – and importantly, the value of its application to deter, prevent or engage in conflict.

AI might even promote conflict, through the exploitation of human labour and critical resources around the world.

It requires concentrated geopolitical power and the consumption of vast amounts of energy for its production.

Rivalries exist over access to and extraction of the inputs required by AI, which are resulting in the very consequences we are seeking to deter.

History is full of examples of strategic rivalries underpinned by the competition of ‘conflict minerals’ and other natural resources.

There is the possibility that the manufacture and production of AI is no different.

With this in mind, we need to understand first principles when discussing the impact of revolutionary technology.

Another consideration is the reliability of data that forms a key component of AI’s ecosystem.

Kate Crawford calls this algorithmic exceptionalism – the idea that because AI systems can perform uncanny feats of computation, they must be smarter and more objective than their flawed human creators.

This may be true in the closed world of a game, but when AI intersects with the physical world, we must be alive to its limitations.

Data is never ‘clean’ – it is biased, has exaggerated norms, and can be deliberately and mistakenly tainted by misinformation shaped by humans and our institutions.

Indeed, technology is no silver bullet for the Armies of today.

We need to be clear-eyed in understanding the boundaries of technology.

The more we know about its limitations, the better we can appreciate and utilise its potential.


The Opportunities

Despite these challenges, the potential for technology to transform our operational advantage remains incredible.

When used to enhance our existing systems and capabilities, the possibilities of new and emerging technologies seems limitless.

Within the context of war’s ever-changing character and enduring nature, I am of the belief that the following three areas is where technology can help our Army achieve balance:

1. In reducing risk;

2. By preserving the human in the loop; and

3. By generating scale and mass.

Cogniscent of war’s changing character and its enduring human nature, technology possesses the ability and the potential to distance soldiers from the most dangerous of tasks.

We must offload risk to technology where possible and appropriate to do so, because trading blood in the first contact with our adversaries is unacceptable.

The second opportunity is technology’s promise to preserve the human within the loop to do the things only the human must do – make decisions about the ethical application of force.

Army is a system of systems – a human and technological ecosystem fused by vast amounts of trust and training.

Leveraging technology to perform the mundane and repetitive tasks within this system will free up the human capacity to be where it is required – including the application of lethal force.

This is the reason why Human Performance Optimisation remains one of the focus areas of Army’s emerging technology.

The third is technology’s ability to help generate mass and scalable effect through human-machine teaming.

Robotics and Autonomous Systems can directly improve firepower, force protection and manoeuvrability.

And noting our Army’s modest size, teaming RAS with humans offers the potential to increase our mass and effect without the need to significantly expand our workforce.

It merges the art and the science of war – melding the expertise and the strategy of the soldier, with the mass and the effects of the machine.

Together, it is a significant force multiplier.

We risk wasting opportunities like this if they are not considered in the context of their application, and that is the purpose of the robotics expos, quantum challenge, and Army innovation day.



I wish to conclude my remarks by reiterating my welcome and my gratitude for your support to the Australian Army.

This impressive gathering reminds me of the wisdom of a RSM who gave evidence to the Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide last year.

He said with confidence and humility “None of us are as strong as all of us”.

Together we can harness the best minds, the best technology, and the sense of common purpose to deliver an Army capable of protecting this nation’s interests in an increasingly dangerous world.

It is not melodramatic to reflect in closing on the solemn calling of the soldier in a democratic society.

The soldier enters into a contract of unlimited liability with the nation that may entail the sacrifice of their life in service.

As General Douglas MacArthur reminded the cadets at the United States Military Academy in 1962:

“Every other project, great and small, every other purpose, public and private, will find another for its accomplishment. But you are the ones who are trained to fight.”

The privilege I have to lead our nation’s soldiers comes with the obligation to ensure they have what they need to fight, win and come home.

It is a contract of unlimited liability, not to be taken lightly or squandered.

They deserve the very best we can muster in return.

Thank you for helping Australia deliver it to them