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Delivering a strong land force into the future: the Australian Army Journal Winter 2015 edition

The Australian Army is not just facing an uncertain future operational environment, it is also in the midst of a fundamental rethink about its role in national security, its structure and how it operates on a day-to-day basis. With a Defence white paper due shortly, structural changes resulting from Plan Beersheba now taking effect, and the imminent application of First Principles Review recommendations, the newly published edition of the Australian Army Journal has a series of articles that have utility for the conduct of warfare and underscore the intrinsic value of a strong land force into the future.

The realisation that the character of war is changing is not radical. In our ongoing efforts to understand this though, two articles examine a core phenomenon that is shaping the way we view future battlefields – social media. Professor Audrey Kurth Cronin, Army’s EG Keogh Visiting Chair for 2015, makes a compelling argument on how mobile phones, the internet and related social media have enabled broad democratisation of communications throughout the world. While this has had many positive effects for humanity, it has also allowed a variety of non-state actors to build a mobilising narrative that can manipulate diaspora communities and shape identities. This ‘cybermobilisation’ has polarised political communities and enabled the growth of a powerful underworld of malicious actors like criminal networks, gangs, terrorist groups and so on. More concerning is manner in which some groups have gathered a following. The Islamic State in Syria and the Levant (ISIL) uses the internet to recruit doctors, teachers, engineers, entire families and young brides — this creation of a pseudo-state will challenge both governments and militaries well into the future. We have no choice, says Cronin, but to attack the message.

On the intricacies of this message, Captain Sean Childs provides a compelling analysis of the ways in which ISIL subverts Western principles and narratives. By mobilising proxy disseminators, manipulating Western principles, and presenting a guise of authenticity, ISIL has taken control over the narrative. This control needs to be wrested back and a counter-narrative created that legitimises, encourages and empowers the qualified moderate voice of the global Muslim community with the support of the West. Childs contends this must be the narrative not simply a counter-narrative. To both Cronin and Childs, ISIL will fail because creating and governing a new state is more difficult than ever. Victory will be expensive, difficult, and a long time in the making though.

Several articles focus more directly on how Australian forces are shaped by both the larger security environment and directly during war. In the first of these, Lieutenant Colonel DJ Beaumont argues that logistics shapes and influences the way armies function operationally; at the core, logistics defines the way armies actually fight. In this, the second of two articles (the first published in the journal’s Summer 2015 edition), Beaumont evaluates Army’s modernisation initiatives, including the Hardened and Networked Army concept and Plan Beersheba, using the US Army’s creation of a medium-weight Stryker brigade combat team. His analysis shows how sustainment-induced ‘friction’ shaped the way this force ultimately fought. As the Army moves ‘beyond Beersheba’, the Stryker model provides a vital lesson on capability and force design that should not be ignored.

Major Andrew Maher’s article, on the other hand, looks more broadly on how Australia’s maritime strategy could shape Army’s development of a regional special operations force. In his view, working with other nations to create a ‘pre-crisis’ mindset would build deeper strategic partnerships and contribute positively to the region’s security and stability. This, in turn, would enhance Australia’s maritime strategy and enable archipelagic defence in depth. Lieutenants Chris Hughes and William Leben argue that the Army will need to train all soldiers for the urban terrain, not just special operations forces. In their vision, investing in building a multinational, large-scale urban warfare training centre would build ties across the region and ensure commanders and their units could conduct their core business — winning the land battle — in the crowded urban littoral. Finally, Major Jodie Lording presents the findings of her research into Reserve service and resignation. With a drop in Reserve numbers from around 24,000 in the early 1990s to 13,500 currently serving members, this is an important study with implications for Army’s total force design. Understanding Reserve members’ unique motivations to serve is essential to the sustainment of future forces.

Colonel Tim Gellel identifies several important lessons in command from the capture of Rommel’s intelligence unit, Unit 621, by an Australian battalion in North Africa in July 1942. Balancing risk of capture with quality and timeliness of intelligence has always been a challenge for commanders. Achieving mission success while limiting friendly force casualties and avoiding harm to non-combatants remains the highest priority for commanders at all levels and for governments. Modern armies rely on intelligence advantages to offset a reduced tactical footprint, but Gellel convincingly evaluates the cautionary lessons the Australian capture of Unit 621 provide on the balancing of intelligence requirements with potential risk of compromise.

With the rollout of the soldier combat ensemble underway, Dr Deane-Peter Baker and Warrant Officer Class One W’s article on the effectiveness of the Browning Hi-Power Mk III offers some interesting perspectives. Arguing that the moral aspect to force protection goes beyond the operational imperative to preserve warfighting capability, they present convincing evidence that the Browning may not meet the requirements of either the current or emerging combat environment.

This edition of the Australian Army Journal offers compelling directions for Australia’s land forces beyond Beersheba. Key writers also review some of the top books on strategy in the Asia–Pacific, Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and the effects of structural reform on the Australia’s military post-Second World War. To commemorate the Centenary of Anzac, it also includes reviews and recommendations for further reading on the Gallipoli campaign. Enjoy!

The Australian Army Journal is the primary forum for Army's professional discourse. It facilitates debate within the Australian Army and raises the quality and intellectual rigour of that debate by adhering to a strict and demanding standard of quality.

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.

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