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A response to ‘Transitioning from Exercise to Warfighting’ posted 21 May 2017

In his post, ‘Transitioning from Exercise to Warfighting,’ MAJ Mitchell suggests that "The maturity of technological amphibious power projection over the coming 10-15 years displays challenging the art and science of warfare." 

The evolution of art and science of warfare is a constant professional challenge, faced by every generation of the Australian Army officer corps. Neither the World, nor technology, waits for any military force to accept this challenge. The ‘amphibious’ in itself is a concept began in the 1930s, and is not just ‘mature’, but decidedly showing ‘old age’. It is in fact impotent, except for the lowest intensity permissive entry, tactical contingencies. This fits the USMC needs because it is a fleet ground combat element and largely deploys as an MEU battalion group. Higher intensity denied entry contingencies are dealt with by fleet and joint ‘fires’.

The Australia Government however requires a strategic force capable of executing strategic operations with strategic effects while lacking access to strategic assets and many unaffordable Advanced Technology systems. Nor can it rely on the USN which is two weeks away in sailing.

The US DoD had not considered strategic projection of force on land operations since 1952, and failed to execute such an operation in 1990. Yet Hughes advises that “The seat of [strategic] purpose is on the land”, and “A ship’s a fool to fight a fort.”[1] With all due respect, it seems time for the Army to rethink the entire USMC ‘received wisdom’ of ‘traditional’ amphibious doctrinal concept and technologies in the same way that in 1918 the 1st AIF prudently reconsidered Allied Infantry doctrine to evolve what became the first steps towards the modern Combined Arms tactics. Small professional military forces can also assume leadership in revolutions in military affairs.

There is a cognitive impasse in the statement because it seems to base success of force projection solely on technologies, the Science of War. In fact victory had always gone to the innovator in doctrine, the disruptive Art of War practitioner. The relationship is close, as Hughes points out “doctrine is the glue of good tactics”, but “to know tactics, you must know weapons”. Here, the ‘you’, is the Australian Army, which must know own weapons, and deny this knowledge to future opponents. This will in turn deny future opponents the knowledge of the Australian Army’s tactics, and the ability to elaborate the Australian Army’s doctrine from this knowledge, because it is the doctrine which is “the war winning edge”.[2] Given the proverb is, that "A wise man is strong, a man of knowledge increases strength" (Prov.24:5), then denial of knowledge increases this strength exponentially.

‘Technologies’ seem to equate to the Attritionist mindset, representing the very popular in the US DoD (and ADF’s DSTG) operations analysis of warfare that supports the argument for pursuit of Advanced Technologies regardless of their affordability because it offers predictability of effects in advance of combat events. The “Art of War” appears to correspond to the Manoeuverist mindset, encouraging achievement of competitive advantage in warfare through the application of manoeuvre and mission command, that capitalises on denial of knowledge to inflict on the opponent the Clausewitzian “chance, friction and uncertainty of conflict” while continuing own planning within ‘bounded uncertainty’; there is no prediction of effect in advance, but when effects are produced, they are disproportionate to the resources employed, i.e. ‘punching above the weight’. It is the military professional, not the engineer that ought to determine where the challenges and the solutions are in the application of force.

Maj. Mitchell also suggested "For example, there is a requirement for a sea-based remote piloted aircraft strike capability launched either from amphibious shipping for shaping fires, which autonomously collaborates to swarm to support defensive and offensive missions, and overwhelm the adversary's use of the radiofrequency spectrum." 

The concept of Amphibious Warfare is in principle predicated on the ability to secure complete surprise, so the enemy lacks even a warning order. It seems to me a swarm of RPV (or manned) strike aircraft delivering 'fires' prior to lodgement would constitute a failure to achieve the Principle of Surprise by the landing force. Principles of Surprise and Speed, are obligatory for a force structure that lacks Mass. These are just the principles of war. In Taekwondo, Theory of power, "The emphasis on speed and agility is a defining characteristic of taekwondo and has its origins in analyses undertaken by Choi Hong Hi. The results of that analysis are known by ITF practitioners as Choi's Theory of Power. Choi based his understanding of power on biomechanics and Newtonian physics as well as Chinese martial arts. For example, Choi observed that the power of a strike increases quadratically with the speed of the strike, but increases only linearly with the mass of the striking object. In other words, speed is more important than size in terms of generating [combat] power. This principle was incorporated into the early design of taekwondo and is still used."

This must be the principle thinking behind Australia's Amphibious Concept, not the USMC concept of ‘manoeuvre’ from the sea so dependent on attritional ‘fires’. Moreover, while in the attritionist conception of joint operations, the word ‘joint’ is an adjective, in the manoeuvreist conception of joint operations, the word is a noun. Where the attritionist will seek to aggregate combat power before projecting, the manoeuverist will execute the projection with the available combat power, albeit with the opponent utterly unprepared to defend, never mind retaliate. Where the attritionist ‘strike’ is a powerful punch delivered in the ‘boxing ring’ in accordance with rules of warfare, the manoeuvreist ‘strike’ is a ‘king hit’ delivered on the expediency of the contingency, with rules written in-the-moment.

Note though the quadratic increase in power in the microcosm of personal combat art is not directly translated in the macrocosmic application of this conceptual framework to projection of military force. The cumulative design intent of stealth and speeds of operation, mission and tasks planning and execution in the strategic intelligence preparation and transit, operational reach and tactical assault produce far greater multiplier of combat ‘strike’ (projection) power.  It is this cumulative multiplier effect that makes the long held aspiration for “punching above the weight” possible for the ‘featherweight’ force structures such as the ADF’s 1st Division.


Written By: Greg Chalik


About the Author:
After starting his career in the IT industry operations and logistics, Greg completed a B.A. at University of Sydney's Department of Government (int'l rel. & economic history). After stints in the healthcare and finance industries, Greg set out to pursue lifelong interest in military history, technology and doctrinal experimentation (wargaming). In 2005 Greg embarked on an ambitious research project, seeking transforming warfare concepts in the littoral that affordably defeat anti-access measures. Since then, Greg achieved considerable innovation in strategic, operational reach, and tactical doctrinal designs coupled with armoured vehicle design and use in the context of the Australian POE. Greg argues that the Australian Army is the key element in an effective implementation of the Australian future Maritime Strategy.


The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government. Further information.

[1] Fleet tactics and coastal combat, Wayne P. Hughes, Jr., 2nd ed., Annapolis, MD : Naval Institute Press, 2000., p.26

[2] LAND400 CONOPS, COL A.R. Meacham DDG CAFS, Army Military Strategic Planning, 1 Dec. 2011, Canberra, p.11 (Capability Advantage)

Army: Courage. Initiative. Respect. Teamwork.
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