The Innovation Quest through Cultural Badlands

‘But a nation that does not exploit new and emerging technologies, that does not continuously modernise and which does not seek novel opportunities for advantage over potential adversaries will be found wanting when its military is needed.’[1]

In response to COL Smith and Dr Palazzo’s article, Coming to Terms with the Modern Way of War, it is exciting to see that the adoption of advanced technology, such as precision missiles, is being considered as an integral component of force design and development in Army. The introduction into service of increasingly advanced equipment will not only improve our ability to maintain a comparative advantage, but will also enhance our ability to value-add when contributing elements to a coalition Task Force.

Although the direction indicated by this paper is promising, a number of cultural hurdles need to be overcome to ensure that Army takes best advantage of the technological opportunities available to it. Primary amongst these is the general ‘fear of the unknown’ evident in some capability working groups I have attended. Specifically, when less conventional solutions to capability requirements are discussed, the general lack of understanding of these technologies can create a false perception of risk. As such, they are often discounted in favour of off-the-shelf and commonly fielded solutions. Whilst this approach may pay off in the short-term by reducing risk to schedule and cost, the long-term implications can be severe. These could include the introduction into service of a capability that is less effective than it could otherwise have been or, at the extreme, is already outdated or outclassed by similar capabilities procured by other nations with a less risk adverse procurement culture. The second hurdle relates to a general aversion to becoming involved in developmental projects, even if the outcome of such an endeavour could be a solution which would better meet a capability need.

In regards to the first cultural hurdle, the specific technologies I am referring to are soft-kill weapons such as Electronic Attack (EA) and Directed Energy (DE) weapons. Both of these technologies could achieve a significant enhancement of the hard-kill solution currently being investigated to meet Army’s requirement for a Ground Based Air and Missile Defence capability (GBAMD). Of these technologies, the former is the least advanced and has been fielded by a number of militaries, including the ADF, in some form for many years. The inclusion of jammers in the GBAMD solution has been discounted at this stage, however, due to insufficient understanding of the capability. Specifically a concern exists about the implications of such a capability on spectrum de-confliction. Evidence from recent conflicts, however, show that it is vital that this technology be considered as a supplement to traditional hard-kill GBAMD capabilities. Reports from the Potomac Foundation, for example, state that during the Syrian conflict ‘the most successful weapon against drones has not been shooting down but instead a Russian-made self-propelled Electronic Warfare vehicle with a targetable jammer’.[2] Closer to home, the RAAF and RAN have both deployed soft-kill capabilities for decades ranging from relatively crude spectral jammers to more advanced Digital RF Memory (DRFM) based jammers. Whilst the former uses a brute force approach to bombard a threat with RF across a specific band of the RF spectrum, the latter has the ability to generate false returns known as ‘ghosting’ which confuse enemy radar into thinking that a friendly asset is in a different location[3]. Either of these EA capabilities are fundamental in maximising the survivability of RAAF and RAN platforms and would be ideal for Army’s GBAMD system. Not only would it increase system effectiveness but would also reduce the logistic burden and cost associated with large quantities of bulky and expensive effectors.

When used to supplement traditional hard-kill solutions, DE weapons, provide a similar opportunity to significantly enhance a traditional hard-kill GBAMD capability. Although they are generally considered to be highly developmental, successful tests have already been undertaken which display the effectiveness of this weapon against relatively slow and inexpensive aerial targets such as Rockets, Artillery and Mortars as well as UAS. Whilst Army appears to be focused on the challenges associated with these weapons, numerous countries such as the US, UK, Israel and South Korea are already convinced of the opportunities that this technology will provide and are investing heavily to develop DE based air defence solutions. The UK MoD in conjunction with DSTL, for example, is building a Laser DE Weapon Capability demonstrator to enhance the nation’s understanding of laser-based weapon systems[4] whilst the US Marine Corps has already demonstrated a mobile laser weapon and is now working on further developing the technology to supplement their Stinger Air Defence missile system. In conjunction with the US Office of Naval Research, the USMC is expected to demonstrate a fully mobile capability able to engage multiple targets in 2017[5].

In regards to the second cultural hurdle, the tendency to seek of-the-shelf solutions is preventing Army from becoming involved in the collaborative partnerships necessary to ensure we acquire leading-edge solutions to meet our capability requirements. Unless we collaborate with Allied nations, Government and private research institutions to develop these technologies, our ability to defeat rapidly evolving and increasingly inexpensive counter-measures will be compromised. Currently Army has a tendency to avoid these technologies until they are at a high Technology Readiness Level (TRL). If Army chose to participate in collaborative developmental projects, however, it could potentially accelerate the development of these technologies and acquire an enduring and more capable solution to meet our capability requirements. The opportunities mentioned in the previous paragraph to collaborate with other nations in the development of DE weapons is just one example. Another example includes the development of low-cost kinetic C-RAM and C-UAS technologies, such as the US Multi-Missile Launcher (MML). This particular launcher has the ability to fire effectors costing 10’s rather than hundreds of thousands of dollars and, as such, has the potential to provide a relatively inexpensive but highly effective C-RAM and C-UAS solution. This cultural mindset has already been adopted to some extent by the RAN, as seen by their collaboration with CEA Radars to facilitate the development of a world-class Active Electronically Scanned Phased Array Radar. Similarly, RAAF has participated in several developmental projects, one of the more successful being the JDAM-ER ‘Flying Bomb’ which was developed in collaboration with DSTG and private industry.

The incorporation of advanced technologies and less conventional solutions into Army projects will not only help improve capability but will also increase the value of any contribution we make to a coalition operation. As mentioned in MAJ Ellis-Smith’s response to the post on ‘The Lessons of Ukraine for the Australian Army’, it is unlikely that we will be able to contribute on a scale necessary to make a significant difference to the size of a coalition force. As such, we need to focus on developing a niche that will ‘serve to make the force stronger’. Rather than procuring off-the-shelf technology which will, at best, allow us to maintain parity with other nations, we need to focus on exploiting and becoming involved in the development of more advanced technologies which will set new capability benchmarks. These will ensure that we are best positioned to meet evolving threats and deal with the proliferation of counter-measures. In the words of COL Smith, with the potential for future conflict to devolve into ‘…long and exhaustive wars of attrition’, it is vital that Army overcomes these cultural hurdles to ensure that ‘technological solutions are sought and developed to break this potential deadlock.’[6]

 


 

[1] C. Smith & A Palazzo, Coming to Terms with Modern Way of War: Precision Missiles and the Land Component of Australia’s Joint Force’, viewed at www.army.gov.au/Our-future/Blog, on 20 Sep 16

[2] Potomac Foundation, Report Summary – Lessons Learned from the Russo-Ukrainian War, 22 Sep 15

[3] The Attack Counter-Attack Game , viewed at http://www.aerodefensetech.com/component/content/article/adt/features/feature-articles/19412, on 01 Apr 14

 [4] R. Scott, ‘MBDA set for UK laser Weapon Prototype Award’, in Aerospace, Defence and Security, 20 Sep 16

 [5] Office of Naval Research, Ground Based Air Defense Directed Energy On-The-Move

[6] C. Smith & A Palazzo, Coming to Terms with Modern Way of War: Precision Missiles and the Land Component of Australia’s Joint Force’, viewed at www.army.gov.au/Our-future/Blog, on 20 Sep 16

 

 

Roger Dudziak is currently the Project Manager for Army Guided Weapons, Explosive Material Branch. He has an interest in innovative technologies and the opportunities they present for increasing Army's Combat Capability. Roger is also researching the development of thermal control systems for nano-satellites.

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.