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Australia and the Revolution in Military Affairs

Australia and the Revolution in Military Affairs by Michael Evans
22 December 2016

This paper examines the way in which Australia has responded to the post–Cold War concept of a Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA). It argues that, between 1994 and the present, Australian thinking about an information-age military revolution has gone through two distinct phases: a period of informal debate and a period of institutional theorising. The informal phase of Australian RMA thinking lasted from 1994 until 1997 and represented a period of intellectual speculation under the rubric of Defence of Australia strategic guidance. During this time, research into the RMA was decentralised and was based largely on the single services and the Defence Science and Technology Organisation.

Beginning with the publication of Australia's Strategic Policy in December 1997, the Australian Defence Organisation's approach to the RMA moved into a second phase during which the debate about future warfare became institutionalised. The Howard Government formalised the theoretical concept of the Knowledge Edge under which Australia would seek to exploit new information technologies to achieve greater military effectiveness in the 21st century. An Office of the RMA (ORMA) was created in Australian Defence Headquarters to direct an indigenous information-age research and development program. The paper examines the methodology and progress of the Knowledge Edge program, including the impact of the White Paper, Defence 2000: Our Future Defence Force, on future Australian RMA-style research. Various challenges to the Knowledge Edge initiative—including the problem of balancing budget requirements, management practices and operational commitments and reconciling political differences about the ultimate purpose of the ADF— are analysed. An assessment of the White Paper's ten-year Defence Capability Plan is also undertaken.

The paper suggests that, although the Knowledge Edge initiative will continue to face serious fiscal constraints as well as problems in maintaining coherent strategic analysis, the program has considerable long-term potential. In terms of RMA-style theorising, Australia is now second only to the United States, and this progress provides a valuable ‘middlepower model' for other states to emulate. Finally, it is argued that Australia's adoption of a Knowledge Edge – RMA scheme represents one of the least understood, but one of the most significant developments in the Howard Government's fiveyear attempt to realign Australian defence strategy to meet 21st-century conditions.

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Last updated
22 December 2016
Army: Courage. Initiative. Respect. Teamwork.
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