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Forward From The Past: The Development Of Australian Army Doctrine, 1972-Present

by Michael Evans
22 December 2016

This paper examines the development of Australian Army doctrine from the end of the Vietnam War in 1972 to the publication of Land Warfare Doctrine 1, The Fundamentals of Land Warfare in March 1999. It analyses the rise of Army doctrine for continental defence operations in the 1970s and dissects the trend towards low-level conflict in the 1980s. The paper looks closely at the logic behind the Army in the 21st Century (A21) Review and the Restructuring of the Army (RTA) initiative in the 1990s. The impact on the Army of Australia's Strategic Policy 1997 and the important transition in the late 1990s from a continental to a maritime doctrinal focus are assessed. The paper contends that Army doctrine became increasingly rigid, insular and divorced from contemporary strategic trends during the first half of the 1990s and it investigates the reasons for these developments.

The paper then attempts to assess how successful the Australian Army has been in formulating doctrine over the past twenty-seven years. To this end, problems of strategic guidance, difficulties of central direction, the impact of the Army's powerful tactical tradition and the officer corps' intellectual approach to doctrine are analysed. The paper argues that the success of doctrine development must be measured against its ability to promote the interrelated elements of learning, anticipation and adaptability in a military organisation. It is suggested that the Army performed well in the first category in the 1970s and 1980s, but largely failed to anticipate new trends and to adapt to the ramifications of dramatic political and strategic change during the first half of the 1990s. The paper assesses the content of the new Fundamentals of Land Warfare 1999 and argues that the Army must view doctrine as a journey rather than as a destination. Finally, it is suggested that the Army must take the opportunity to use the new Land Warfare Doctrine (LWD) series to devise an innovative and dynamic approach to land warfare in the 21st century.

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Last updated
21 December 2016
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