Head of Modernisation and Strategic Planning-Army address to the Sir Richard Williams Foundation

Major General Fergus (Gus) McLachlan, AM, address to the Sir Richard Williams Foundation, Australian National Gallery, Canberra, Wednesday, 10 August 2016.

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I’ll start by thanking the Williams Foundation for their advocacy and role.  Following Brigadier Chris Mills’ involvement at the Williams air-land forum, Army has had a series of engagements with the air surveillance community. These have synchronised air-land future digitisation requirements which aim to enable digitally-aided close air support. We look forward to being involved with the Foundation to conduct a combined session at the Land Warfare Conference in Adelaide in September to discuss the development of our role in integrated air and missile defence system. Thanks again for your advocacy and facilitation.

I think Air Marshal Brown was a bit surprised when I called and asked if I could be included in the program for this event. He was right to be surprised, because our Army involvement in the discussion about how to project Australian power in the maritime environment has been intermittent in recent years. In fact, I recently re-read an Army research paper written by Michael Evans, titled The Third Way: Towards an Australian Maritime Strategy for the 21st Century that paraphrased Lord Bryce and said “the history of maritime strategic thought in Australia is like the study of snakes in Ireland: there are no snakes in Ireland.” 

However, the complexity of the modern military operating environment demands new thinking. In a speech in May of this year, Admiral Harry B. Harris, Jr., Commander, U.S. Pacific Command asked, “Do land forces have a role in ensuring access to – and freedom of manoeuvre in - shared domains?” He said, “I believe the future security environment will require the Services to exert influence in non-traditional domains as these domains converge and become more complex, especially if our combatant commands are to achieve dominance across those domains.” Admiral Harris went on to say, “I believe the time has come for our land forces to project power from the land onto the other domains and operate seamlessly across shared domains.”

Now our Army does not come completely cold to discussions about operations in the maritime and littoral environment; but after doing some very important conceptual work under Peter Leahy which produced a document called Manoeuvre Operations in the Littoral Environment (MOLE) and informed the acquisition of the Canberra Class LHD; the Army necessarily turned its attention back to conducting a period of protracted operations in the Middle East and land locked central Asia.

Land forces have been almost continually contributing to a campaign of counter insurgency operations against violent Islamic extremists in Afghanistan and Iraq but as the-then Chief of the Army David Morrison said, we cannot limit ourselves to benchmarking against the Taliban. He gave specific direction for Army to return its focus to what we call foundation war fighting; operations against near peer forces operating sophisticated weapon systems. The Army has made prudent investment in tactical level professional mastery in the maritime environment with the assignment of one of our seven infantry battalions to the amphibious role, and tasking the Division Headquarters to lead the synchronisation of the Army and Navy force generation processes. All of this work has been very successful and will be validated during Exercise Talisman Saber 2017 when the Australian amphibious capability will be tested programmatically to confirm it is fully operational.

But having spent considerable effort developing the “how” of amphibious capability the current Chief of the Army, Angus Campbell, has directed that it is time we re-engaged in the conceptual discussion of the “what and why” of the employment of the Army in the maritime environment. What do the land forces envisioned in the Defence White Paper 2016 contribute to a joint force operating in the maritime or littoral environment and why might they be included in operational plans? The Army wants to be part of an open discussion and debate that will inform the ADF joint force design process in coming years. 

The Chief of Army spoke in March at the Williams Foundation’s seminar on ‘new thinking on air-land’ where he suggested developments in new technological capabilities in the air-land space should also inform conceptual development about how the joint force will operate in the future. He went on to say that these new thoughts are instrumental to capitalising gains made through planned acquisitions and technological research and innovation. The same can be said when exploring the future of multi-domain operations in the sea – land – and potentially space and cyber space. 

The emergence of the 5th generation Air Force and the capabilities of the Air Warfare Destroyer do offer a unique opportunity for the Air Force and Navy to take advantage of the transformative nature of new technology to conduct collaborative engagement and act as alternate sensors and shooters in the different domains. This will provide the opportunity to reduce signature and increase the complexity faced by an adversary. My main argument to you here today is that ground forces, operating as part of this 5th generation network of systems, add further sensor and shooter options and vastly increase the complexity faced by any potential adversary – if we shape the design of the ADF toward this aspiration now.

At the association of the U.S. Army’s general annual meeting in October 2014, the-then U.S. Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel surprised many by suggesting the U.S. Army should broaden its role by investing in what now is commonly called cross-domain denial capabilities – land based systems that can deny adversaries sanctuary or freedom of manoeuvre in other domains. 

A very good example of how land forces can be used to achieve cross-domain effects is provided by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The PLA increasingly emphasises using the land to control the sea and has invested heavily in developing long range land based capabilities such as radars, anti-ship missiles and air defence systems. In time of conflict this would pose challenges for those nations operating within the range of these systems. 

Expanding our own joint force options with land based denial capabilities will pose to future adversaries a vexing challenge in the air, on land or at sea. This might be described as an Australian Anti-Access Area Denial or A2AD envelope, part of a joint system of sensors and situational awareness capabilities, which can add depth to the defence or deter attack and deny freedom of manoeuvre to an adversary. Perhaps as importantly, it can release air and maritime assets to manoeuvre more freely.

It is worth dwelling on this notion of cross domain effects. We are trained as ADF officers to seek to apply our small military very precisely, to achieve maximum effect. We do not seek to attack an adversary’s strength; instead we seek to find areas where they are exposed. We seek to achieve an asymmetric effect and cross domain asymmetry as a concept is not new. We have long hunted submarines from the air – making it difficult for a submarine to strike back at an attacking aircraft. We seek to develop an Army concept that extends this idea further. It will propose that adding a land-based A2AD envelope to the military operations in the maritime environment makes any adversary’s challenge significantly greater as we attack air and maritime systems from the land.

The land adjacent to maritime choke points is most often very complex terrain, comprising dense urban centres or jungle terrain. This type of terrain results in a high detection threshold, meaning relatively large forces can be concealed from airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) systems, particularly if they are disciplined in their use of the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum. A land force pre-emptively lodged and concealed in this complex terrain and able to attack in the air, maritime and perhaps in the future the cyber domain, presents a very specific dilemma to an adversary.

Even non-state organisations like the Hezbollah have demonstrated the disruptive effect rocket forces can have when concealed in complex terrain, on land and maritime forces of even the most advanced militaries. Land forces are able to harden, conceal and disperse their capabilities prior to the commencement of kinetic operations, making them a valuable tool in pre-empting or shaping the nature of conflict. While they retain their normal vulnerability to ground reconnaissance and ground attack, their characteristics increase their resilience relative to air or naval forces while presenting adversaries with added complexity, uncertainty and provide a great range of targets that are costly and difficult to attack.

SLIDE (19-7B Exemplar)

The sorts of land forces I am describing are not just aspirational. The potential that land forces offer to project power into the air and sea domains has been recognised in the Defence White Paper 2016. DWP16 describes new land based cross-domain capabilities, with a focus on wide area air defence, sea denial and long range strike that will allow Australia’s land forces to project power from the land into the air and across the sea.

SLIDE (Land 8113 Ph1 – Long Range Fires exemplar HiMARS)

The Government states that it will ensure that our maritime and land forces have improved strike capabilities, which will include the acquisition of new deployable land-based anti-ship missiles to support operations, protect deployed forces and vital offshore assets.

SLIDE (SEA 4100Ph2 – Land based maritime strike: exemplar Naval Strike Missile)

There is enough experience in this room to understand the challenges with developing capabilities from scratch. These new cross domain capabilities are so much more than just new pieces of equipment. They give evidence to a truly joint force by design in the ADF in which Service capabilities are linked in a single digital system in which many systems can act as sensors to cue others to fire, and where the reverse is also possible. 

I firmly believe that the new authorities resident in the Vice Chief of Defence as the Joint Capability Manager and initiatives like Plan Jericho stand us good stead to design the joint architecture needed to achieve the potential of these capabilities. I can tell you, the Army is completely agnostic about the command and control backbone into which it plugs. I know you have already spoken today about the potential of emerging C4I systems that can link air and naval capabilities. I am here today to advertise that these links must be extended to emerging capabilities in the Army to ensure we have access to air and maritime common operating pictures, and ideally “low latency” sensor to shooter tactical data links. We intend to build an Army that does not just benefit from the air defence envelop of the AWD and the air combat system but rather is part of a defensive system of systems that can free air and maritime capabilities to manoeuvre. 

I hope you can now see why I was keen to participate today. 

Let me finish with a slide that describes an emerging ADF – joint by design cross domain A2AD capability. 

SLIDE (IAMD – Cross Domain A2AD)

You have all seen too many slides with ubiquitous networks defined by lightening bolts – network centric warfare, the joint battle space networked environment – to be impressed by simple cartoons. What I think is different about this slide is that this describes a system that is already under construction. 

In yellow in the bottom left corner, you will see the first Army capability that will join the cross domain joint system, with connectivity designed from the outset to be provided through Project Air 6500, described in the pink boxes. At its heart, will be the Air 6500 C4I “brain”; a system able to receive and transmit data from multiple networks in a seamless manner, transparent to the operator. It will allow machine to machine exchanges with very low latency and very high levels of confidence. The Deputy Chief of Air Force (DCAF) and I have been joined at the hip during the development of the capability narrative, and the capability options to present to government. This system will not be a bespoke, stand alone Army system; it will form a layer or a national IAMD capability.

You can see that Project L8113 – Long Range Fires, and Project Sea 4100/2 – Ground Based Maritime Strike, will be future nodes on a national sensor / shooter network that exploits shared situational awareness to achieve advantage.  

So, to finish: this is the start of a conversation with the Army in which we develop an understanding of our role in a rapidly developing joint system. “Joint” is a term that has meant many things over the years but I think today you will have heard evidence of the need and the opportunity to create a joint force by design in which land, sea and air capabilities compliment each other. They achieve this by creating a much more complete level of situational awareness and by finding ways to engage across domain boundaries to reduce each other’s vulnerabilities. We have much to do to grow and then operate these new capabilities but I can assure you we are excited by the challenge and are delighted by the collaboration that is occurring between the services and the VCDF staff.

Thanks again for including me today.

Last updated
21 December 2016