Policy, the Australian Maritime Strategy and Future War

Major Leon Young’s recent article galvanised me to consider his question if we wished to avoid the dystopian future for the preferred utopia, how should we design the force to operate in crowded, connected, lethal, collective and constrained environments?

I decided to go back to first principles. In Hew Strachan’s recent book Direction of War, he highlights that if war is an instrument of policy, strategy is the tool that enables us to understand war and gives us the best chance of managing and directing it. Elsewhere he suggests the single most important task for strategy is to understand the nature of the war it is addressing.

The recent Defence White Paper outlines the government’s policy for the Australian Defence Force (ADF). I thought it would be useful to consider the development of the ADF’s strategy to confirm that the policy set out by government for its armed forces, is consistent with the ADF’s capabilities (or its future design) and the true nature of war.

The 2016 Defence White Paper clearly sets out three policy objectives (strategic defence objectives):

  1. Deter, deny and defeat any attempt by a hostile country or non-state actor to attack, threaten or coerce Australia.
  2. Support the security of maritime South East Asia.
  3. Provide meaningful contributions to global responses to address threats to the rules-based global order, which threaten Australia and its interests.

The recent revolution in policy is that all three Strategic Defence Objectives will guide force structure and force posture. In an earlier blog, I highlighted that Art Lykke distilled strategy into three parts: Strategy = Ends + Ways + Means. These three policy objectives are the ends. First of all what are the ways of achieving the three policy objectives? Army outlined a potential way as Joint Archipelagic Manoeuvre Concept, which requires Army, as part of a joint force, to apply focused maritime control operations that deny an adversary’s access to, or ability to control, the key routes (as the graphic from the latest Defence White Paper shows) within a maritime archipelagic environment. Support for this way comes from policy, which demands that the ADF help to protect our maritime borders, secure our immediate northern approaches and proximate sea lines of communication and enable us to project force in the maritime.

The concept also addresses the means. It argues that the Army must contribute to sea and air control bubbles adjacent to key strategic maritime choke points. The capabilities expounded by this concept do not exist in Army’s current force structure. The government’s latest policy appears to agree with the way laid out by the Joint Archipelagic Manoeuvre concept with a shopping list of new and enhanced means:

  • New long-range rocket system will further enhance firepower from mid-2020s to complement Army’s existing artillery capability. The new system will be capable of providing fire support to defeat threats at ranges of up to 300 kilometres
  • New deployable short-range ground-based air defence weapons will enter service by the early 2020s to replace the existing RBS-70 system.
  • New medium-range ground-based air defence weapons will be acquired in the mid to late 2020s to help protect valuable assets
  • New deployable land-based anti-ship missiles to support operations to protect deployed forces and vital offshore assets

Policy ends will align with strategy in terms of ways and means by the mid to late 2020s if Army alongside its sister services develops the Joint Archipelagic Manoeuvre Concept into a Maritime Strategy. Finally, does the future Maritime Strategy outlined above understand or bridge the nature of the war it is attempting to address?

War has an enduring nature as a violent clash of wills between organised states and/or groups, and a changing character that reflects political, technological and societal change. It is difficult to predict the character of the next war, but its enduring nature provides planning constraints for the development of strategy.

War is an essentially human activity, an interaction between human organisations. It is in the nature of war for there to be a human enemy with an independent mind and will who is committed with variable skill, determination and capability to unhinging our strategy. The force will require realistic training against a competitor to build resilience. War involves friction, chance and opportunity. The force will require adaptability and the ability to generate accurate data for it weapon systems in a contested environment. War is risky, violent and lethal. The force will require modern deception measures, mobility and protection.

Determining how to incorporate these four new capabilities into Army’s force structure whilst remaining true to the nature of war in a maritime environment is the topic for a future post.

Lieutenant Colonel Mark Mankowski is the G33 at Headquarters Forces Command and studying a Master Advanced in Military History with the Australian National University.

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.