Chief of Army keynote address: LANPAC Symposium & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii
We live in a time where the character of warfare is changing rapidly – a rate perhaps faster than ever experienced before.
This is what we in the Australian Army call Accelerated Warfare.
It has been building for some time. The geo-political uncertainty in our region, the strategic shock that came with the war in Ukraine, and the ongoing and escalating impacts of changes to our climate all point to the fact that we are most certainly living this narrative now.
Over the past two years, the Australian Army has been extremely busy responding to domestic crises that include pandemics, bushfires and unprecedented flooding.
Some of these highlight our Army responding to the impact of climate change – a demand we can expect to increase over time, especially within our region.
While not core business, or our sole responsibility, we bring great capability and needed capacity to urgent domestic crises, and our people derive great satisfaction being in the community, working with and helping others — serving the nation and helping to protect our national interests.
Australian Geostrategic Context
I also wish to show you this slide of the Indo-Pacific region, which may be different to how you’re used to seeing it.
This is how Australia views the region – through the land bridge that connects the Australian mainland to southern Asia.
As much as there is plenty of air and sea in the Indo-Pacific region, there is also substantial land.
Land is where the people live, and it is densely populated and complex.
And controlling the land, or indeed helping control the sea or air from the land, is a critical element of operational art for the Defence of Australia and our national interest.
Presence, persistence, and staying power are all critical elements of what land forces can provide.
As part of the Australian Defence Force, an important element of land power is being prepared to operate cooperatively, competitively or in conflict.
And this requirement is certainly more urgent, more complex, and more serious than it has been for a long time.
This morning, I want to paint a picture for you on how regional security dynamics in our region is viewed from an Australian perspective, and how Australian defence strategy has evolved (since I last addressed this audience).
I will talk about the importance of partnerships in responding to strategic uncertainty in our region.
I will also talk more about our Army in Motion and Army Objective Force concepts, and efforts underway that ensure our Army remains Ready Now and ready for the demands of the future.
Defence Strategic Update and the importance of Land Power
After an extended period of sustained operations in Iraq and Afghanistan our commitments there have largely concluded.
Our armies and nations have learnt and evolved significantly from the experience in those theatres.
We recognise the sacrifice and commitment of multiple generations of our people in those demanding operations – including most recently in the rapid evacuation from Kabul. (Itself a demonstration of necessity of troops on the ground.)
Our focus is now firmly fixed on the Indo-Pacific theatre. Here, in our neighbourhood, where all elements of power, geopolitics, technology and populations are accelerating and converging.
The long-term effects of COVID-19 are not yet clear, but we know the pandemic has altered the economic trajectory of the region and has sharpened aspects of the strategic competition between the United States and China.
The world has become poorer, more dangerous, and more disorderly.
Drivers of change have accelerated much faster than anticipated and have led the Australian government to outline a new Defence strategy and capability investments.
Our strategic objectives are:
To shape Australia’s strategic environment.
To deter actions against Australia’s interests;
And to respond with credible military power, when required.
The Force Structure Plan that resources this strategy seeks to build a more capable, potent, resilient and agile force, with investment in Defence capabilities across all domains.
Under this guidance, Land Power – which the Australian Army provides – plays a crucial role for our nation. I will expand on this later.
Lessons from Ukraine
As Land Power professionals we keenly observe the war in Ukraine and rapidly analyse its many insights and lessons.
Ukraine has shown that shaping and deterrence can fail, that assumptions can be wrong, and that events can take on a life of their own.
It shows the character of warfare may have changed, but its nature has not.
That war is fundamentally a human endeavour.
And it has reinforced the utility and centrality of land power in modern conflict.
Being strong, capable and integrated in all domains – land, maritime, air, space and cyber – is critical.
And when fully integrated and employed effectively, land power is a substantial force multiplier to generate military and national power.
It has highlighted once again that warfare is also a story of innovation, rapid learning and adaptation, logistics and endurance.
Of the importance of strategy,
Of leadership, professionalism, resolve, resilience and especially the importance of preparation - what we all do ahead of time, nationally, strategically, and militarily. Planning, organising, training.
Another vital observation from the war in Ukraine is the value of partnerships and shared interests around defending sovereignty.
As like-minded nations rally in support of Ukraine, in the midst of battle and fighting for their sovereignty, efforts to reinforce and sustain their land power have been noteworthy.
Australia, together with the United States and many other likeminded countries, has gifted lethal and non-lethal assistance to Ukraine.
Reflecting very strong bipartisan political support, Australia is pleased to have so far gifted Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicles, M777 howitzers 155mm ammunition and anti-armour weapons.
This has been warmly received, as they continue to confront the relentless offensive by Russian forces.
In our Indo-Pacific region, relationships between people matter. Shared interests matter. Government to government, military to military, people to people…
Strengthening alliances and partnerships in our region is a critical element of Defence strategy to shape, deter and respond.
Training with other armed forces, provides presence and builds capacity and connectedness in our region.
Over recent years, the depth, scale and sophistication of engagements with our partners has evolved significantly.
This has been through bilateral and multilateral training and exercise activities.
Each year, the Australian Army is involved in around 65 bilateral and multilateral exercises with approximately 24 countries.
Exercise Talisman Sabre is the largest bilateral combined training activity between Australia and the United States.
Exercise Talisman Sabre tests our Joint Force. It is a complex field training exercise that involves force preparation (logistics) activities, amphibious landings, ground force manoeuvre, multi-domain strike, urban operations, air combat, and maritime operations — all enabled through the space and cyber domains.
Around 17,000 personnel participated in Exercise Talisman Sabre in Queensland and the Northern Territory in 2021, involving many countries here.
They were working together, sharing skills and knowledge, and demonstrating cooperative defence capabilities fundamental to shaping our strategic environment.
And they did all this in the midst of the pandemic.
The exercise will continue to grow in scope and importance, and is scheduled again for 2023.
Exercise Southern Jackaroo, currently underway in Queensland’s Shoalwater Bay training area, is another good example of partnering for improved security of our region.
It involves troops from the Australian Army’s 7th Brigade working together with the Japanese Ground Self-Defence Force and the United States Marines in an effort to enhance warfighting interoperability.
I am pleased with the strength and depth of cooperation between Australia and Japan now that we have established a Reciprocal Access Agreement and have exchanged Liaison Officers in our operational headquarters to coordinate our engagements.
These examples show what we all seem to increasingly seek.
More ambitious, sophisticated activities with increased complexity, benefitting more of our people and especially our future leaders.
We all understand the value of the close ties our countries share to ensure security and enhance prosperity.
Partnerships cannot be taken for granted.
Sometimes they are contested, and therefore require constant effort.
We have seen this unfold in Solomon Islands, where our respective national interests may be starting to diverge.
Nonetheless we remain absolutely committed to the Pacific family, where together, we have a strong and enduring interest in promoting sovereignty, regional stability, security and prosperity. We are always working to deepen and strengthen these initiatives.
It’s great to see many of the Pacific family here and once again I’d to recognise and thank them for their support to Australia during our recent natural disasters.
We are committed as ever to all our established and valued partnerships, and engagement with and through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Our alliance and defence relationship with the United States is central to our defence policy.
The AUSMIN discussions held in Washington DC last year cemented our Alliances’ firm focus on the Indo-Pacific region – committing Australia and the United States to the advancements in defence cooperation.
They build on existing force posture initiatives that have been in place for more than a decade, notably the US Marine Rotational Force in Darwin.
There was a major development in Australia’s strategic focus in the Indo-Pacific region when a new enhanced trilateral security partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States was announced in September last year.
Known as AUKUS, this partnership builds on our longstanding and ongoing bilateral ties, and will significantly deepen cooperation on a range of emerging security and defence capabilities.
This includes the acquisition of conventionally-armed nuclear-powered submarines for the Royal Australian Navy, which was simply not an option for Australia previously.
But there is much more to AUKUS for Australia than nuclear-powered submarines.
For the Australian Army, it is developing capabilities in quantum technologies, artificial intelligence, robotics, hypersonics and counter-hypersonics.
AUKUS complements our network of international partnerships and security architectures at an important time.
As challenges become more complex and intertwined, collaboration with others helps us to succeed.
This extends beyond the partnerships we share with our allies and friends, to include focused collaboration with industry, academia and research institutes.
People and organisations like those represented here at LANDPAC.
Collaboration like this helps us to think bigger than ourselves, to learn from the ideas and practice of others, and improve our resilience.
Army’s Response - Army in Motion and the Army Objective Force
The Australian Army is responding to the demands of Accelerated Warfare by being an Army in Motion. Ready Now; Future Ready.
This is a philosophy and framework that allows us to be ready now, while constantly evolving and adapting our capabilities, workforce, training systems, organisational structures and command and control to ensure we are future ready.
We all prepare for the future by introducing new concepts and capabilities, and by increasing capacity.
As such, there is an enormous amount of transformation happening within the Australian Army and across Defence.
Extensive capability investments announced by government will dramatically improve our ability to generate land power options for the joint force.
Contributions of both soft and hard power that will give the Australian Army greater operational and strategic flexibility and the means to respond to strategic uncertainty.
Based on what is approved and what we anticipate from our 2020 Force Structure investment plan, we can expect to field an entirely new combined arms capability within the next five years.
We are building these capabilities to ensure our land forces and special operations forces can operate in our region at long-range and up-close, across all domains and across the spectrum of mission types – including the grey zone
As an island nation, Australia recognises the importance of land power’s role within the maritime domain,
The Australian Army will be acquiring new amphibious and littoral manoeuvre vessels that will be more capable, faster, better protected and more tightly integrated within the joint force.
They will help us to quickly and effectively deploy and sustain commitments both domestically and in our near region, including strengthening engagement and interoperability with regional security partners in the Pacific.
We will also be acquiring a new Littoral Manoeuvre Vessel, which will enable us to project all of Army’s current and planned future vehicle fleets.
Giving us much needed capability enhancement, while expanding our options that help us to maintain presence, ongoing sustainment, and the ability to operate untethered from Navy in the region’s maritime environment.
We are also harnessing new and emerging technologies, which include significant investment in Robotics and Autonomous Systems and Uncrewed Aerial Systems, propelling us to a near-term future of enhanced Human-Machine teaming.
For a small army such as ours, Robotics and Autonomous Systems and Artificial Intelligence help us to generate scale, mass, effect and reach across all domains.
It is an essential force multiplier and mitigates risk. Ukraine has dramatically highlighted this.
For example, we have enhanced twenty M113 with a degree of autonomy and are conducting live force experimentation with one of our mechanised infantry units – testing and evaluating the notion of optionally crewed combat vehicles (OCCV).
As with all militaries, the challenge comes from driving innovation into capability, and exploiting the opportunity for competitive advantage through innovative force structure and tactics.
Army published its Quantum Technology Roadmap in April 2021 and has run its inaugural Quantum Technology Challenge.
We are focussed on the application of this most disruptive technology in sensing, computing and communications.
So while we are transforming to keep pace with the changing character of warfare, technology and materiel on its own does not guarantee mission success.
It is the human element that brings the strength to land power.
It’s our people, our leadership and our culture that gives us our advantage.
This gets us to the importance of our people in the Australian Army, whose dedication and professionalism is at the centre of land power.
Our people are our most important capability.
Even in an era of unprecedented technological advancement, people will remain central in our armies. A trained, skilled, professional workforce will be critical to harness the potential of advanced capabilities, to make things work, and continue to work, when disrupted and degraded or disconnected.
Our people, and our culture will determine how effectively we embrace, integrate and leverage mutual strengths when working with each other.
Our emphasis on people and positive culture has significantly evolved.
We are guided by our motto of “Serving the Nation”, and our shared values of Service, Courage, Respect, Integrity and Excellence.
Workforce is our biggest opportunity, and our biggest challenge.
Recognising the increasingly specialist nature of our workforce and market competition amongst other factors, we are designing our Future Ready Workforce requirements.
I am sure this is a shared challenge and an area where we can all learn from each other.
Most importantly, we want to be a learning organisation where our people are able to achieve their potential, purposefully contribute to the team, embrace partners and be open to new ideas.
Good Soldiering and leadership
Good culture and leadership is central to this.
We call it Good Soldiering, which is our shared values, attitudes and beliefs that shape how we operate, adapt and succeed.
Developing leaders at every level is critical. Our future leaders must master our profession, live good soldiering, comfortably work with others to build teams and solve complex problems.
Doing that together, here in the Indo-Pacific, in training and on exercises, is essential.
Finding ways to do this is good for our people, good for our Armies and good for our region.
So as I approach the end of my tenure in this appointment, I reflect on how our region and our approaches to it have evolved, and the challenges we all face in the future.
As ever I am humbled by the incredible men and women who serve, have served, and who will serve in the future.
I am energised when our people get together.
I am inspired by the collaboration and strength of friendships we have developed, that we are always seeking to deepen our mutual understanding and respect, to build and sustain trust and genuine partnership through good times and tough times, for now and for the future. They have always been important. They have never been more important than now.
As leaders of our land forces in this vital region of the world, our leadership, our connectedness and shared endeavour will be critical.
I personally thank you all for what you do everyday, and thank you for your friendship over many years.
I hope you will all be able to attend the Land Forces conference in Brisbane, Australia in October this year, to be hosted by my successor.
Richard M. Burr, AO, DSC, MVO
Chief of Army