Chief of Army address to the RAAF Airpower Conference
Good Afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we are meeting today and pay my respects to their elders, both past and present.
I have been invited to provide a perspective on Army’s plan to integrate fielded and new capabilities, in my role as the ADF’s land capability manager. I spoke late last year of my profound commitment to the value, indeed the necessity, of joint, inter-agency, coalition and allied operations, as the best and most sustainable way to pursue our nation’s interests.
I cannot envisage any contemporary or future scenario where ‘land’ capability will operate in isolation from the joint force. And this is especially true when considering the issue of air-land integration. Accordingly, I will frame my remarks today in the context of joint land combat capability – the Army’s unique contribution to Australia’s national capability.
Our experience in Afghanistan (and the wider Middle East area of operations), over the last decade has allowed considerable contemporary insight into air-land integrated operations. ADF members have gained valuable experience operating across the spectrum of the joint air-land battlespace.
While often we were utilising ADF capabilities and assets, more often than not we operated within a construct provided or significantly enabled by Coalition (US) assets and architecture.
Indeed, at the commencement of our involvement in Afghanistan, the Army (and the ADF) could not conduct such activity on our own. Yet, informed by our recent experience, and with the new capabilities currently being fielded or acquired, we are on the cusp of being able to routinely do so.
This is important, for more than the obvious reason that it enhances the joint force’s battlefield performance. Our recent experience in the Middle East has confirmed the vitality of effective air-land integration in the contemporary joint battlespace. For the ADF to remain a useful alliance partner into the future it is essential that we can operate jointly, combined and with the right level of air-land interoperability.
Also important, will be the ability for us to generate effects independently, or as a lead nation, across these domains if and when Australia feels compelled by our sovereign or common interests to respond to any regional contingencies.
The enduring purpose of air-land integration remains to ensure delivery of the right effect in the battlespace, at the right place, at the right time. And to be able to keep doing so, gaining and driving home the initiative – and preferably setting the campaign by our own design rather than our adversary’s.
We need to continue to improve the means and rapidity with which a situation is understood, decisions are made, resources assigned, tactical effects delivered, and outcomes promulgated to commanders, capitals and communities. Recent decades have shown that a key change in the character of war is the speed of transmission of ideas (that is, information / data). This requires us to be more agile in our understanding of the battlespace and also in our ability to execute. Once again, suggesting the importance of integration.
Conceptually this is elegantly simple. Of course, in practice it quickly becomes difficult as multiple actors and capabilities combine with environmental effects and the friction ever present in the battlespace. Clausewitz and many others have been telling us this for over 2000 years.
Network integration is challenging - not all information can be shared equally.
It takes time to determine what information should be shared, with whom, to best enable the delivery of the right effect at the right place at the right time.
The critical requirement from an air-land integration perspective is to be able to filter the necessary information for a commander, but at the same time make more of it available to the battle staff to process in order to make better sense of what is going on.
While digital systems and platforms make it easier to source information, they can also make it harder to make sense of it. As an example, the Army can generate an immense amount of data within a combat brigade headquarters. But much of this data is often of little sense or utility to a fused air-land picture in the conduct of operations.
Commanders need to be conscious of the paralysis of analysis that can happen to them as a result of these new systems and the large data flows they possibly generate. They also need to be alert to the electro-magnetic signature we’ve created in our brigade headquarters, and the missile systems likely to be targeting them.
While C4ISR systems generate a lot of data, much of it can be regarded as the ‘new normal’. A key challenge which then emerges is how to find the 'needle’ in what may be ‘a haystack full of needles'. The air-land integration work being conducted by the Army’s Land Network Integration Centre (LNIC) with Air Force seeks to make sense of this through trial, experimentation, testing, and understanding.
The LNIC was established to provide myself as the Chief of Army and capability manager with a better understanding of the land network. Inherent in this is an understanding of how we conduct joint land combat, and what it means to move and present information and intelligence to commanders to support operational and tactical decisions.
LNIC has been given the remit to understand the networks, systems, applications, and therefore the means, to move information in the battlespace. To do this effectively means working closely with the Air Force to understand the new generation fleet, and the data it will generate.
We have a fulltime RAAF officer within the LNIC as a conduit to Air Force, with which we share many connections. We are working very closely with Plan Jericho to understand the challenges shared between the two services. Most recently the LNIC has supported Air Force in:
On-route mission planning using C-17, Wireless networks for air platforms, and Airborne communications bridges linking air and ground systems.
We see will see a trial of some of this work during Exercise Jericho Dawn at Puckapunyal later this week. A Tiger helicopter and a Super Hornet will demonstrate the exchange of positional data and free text using a Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN). There is a lot of work being done on new capabilities which are coming that will enhance air-land integration. These are just a few examples.
The Army is already a connected and technologically advanced force. What is coming down the pipeline will exponentially develop the force. The objective of our efforts is to move as quickly as possible from what I describe as the ‘divergence’ of multiple systems, bearers, boxes, air-gaps and work arounds that currently characterise the technologically advanced but bloated Army brigade headquarters to the ‘convergence’ of small, data-assured, common-view, multi-function, universally connected digital networks; without becoming vulnerable to catastrophic cyber collapse.
In pursuit of this objective, the Army has a range of projects intended to progressively develop our capacity to, among other things:
deliver a Battle Management System (BMS) system and digital radio backbone to the force to address the needs of a joint battlespace communications system; provide new platforms and digital communications to Australian and allied close air support platforms; develop the land force’s ‘sense, warn and locate’ capability; and enhance Army’s Ground-Based Air and Missile Defence (GBAMD) systems, which will also aid airspace surveillance to ensure friendly force deconfliction of artillery, mortars, fixed and rotary wing platforms and unmanned aerial systems.
The Future Land Warfare Report 2014 assesses the battlespace will be a more lethal, crowded, connected, constrained and collective environment. (And we couldn’t and shouldn’t forget the other services, agencies and partners in there as well).
These 'meta-trends' support the case for acquisition of more autonomous ISR systems, capable of undertaking the 'dull, dirty and/or dangerous' work the joint force is often required to undertake.
Over the next decade the ADF will operate a suite of autonomous aerial vehicles. Unmanned systems will augment an array of manned airborne sensors, including Army's Tiger ARH and the Air Force’s Poseidon, Growler, Wedgetail and JSF platforms. And of course, we shouldn’t forget the contribution that will be offered by the Hobart Class Air Warfare Destroyers in building an ADF networked picture.
The amount of information our increasingly sophisticated ISR platforms will be able to collect will test our joint networks and analytical capabilities. A forthcoming paper written by members of Army Headquarters Modernisation and Strategic Plans Division notes:
Since 1999, Army has binged on technology and has arguably overwhelmed its analytical capacity and in turn decision making processes, with terabytes of raw data, across the full spectrum of sensors
This is a truism across all services and headquarters. The authors go on to describe a clear and present issue with what they term ‘the collection / analysis imbalance’.
The magnitude of this challenge brings into focus the need for common architectures, data formats and analytical functions across the joint force.
We are ready to capitalise on the decision advantage offered by new ISR capability. But we must also seek to address the wider integration and management implications of increased data collection and flow.
The final materiel capability piece I want to briefly mention this afternoon is the Houston Review. Some in this room may be aware that in October last year I asked the former CDF, Sir Angus Houston, to conduct a review of Australian Army Aviation. His review will be complete soon. The terms of reference are broad.
I am seeking a holistic review of the rotary wing capability in the Army, as an element of ADF Aviation, to determine if and how it could be generated more effectively.
This is an important study – the rotary wing aviation capability is an integral part of joint air and land combat. Army Aviation sits across the seam between land and air power. As the capability manager I want to explore how we can utilise it to facilitate even better integration outcomes.
We live in an era where there is an implicit assumption that technology is good, therefore more technology is better. Given the cost and complexity of most of these new capabilities, we must be sure that the initiatives being pursued actually provide the utility we seek.
This requires some critical thought about the measures of effectiveness (qualitative and quantitative) that would provide demonstrable evidence of the improvement in our systems and their integration. It may also answer key investment questions such as whether we need to broadly improve everywhere or at specific touch points between air and land C2 (the seam) at which information flow can be improved?
But the most significant challenge relates to our way of thinking about air-land capabilities and their employment. The Director of Army Research, Dr Al Palazzo, suggested in his recent primer Forging Australian Land Power (a pamphlet that I recommend to all present) ‘”nvestment in leadership intellect is the most important capability improvement”. I want to consider the implications of this against the context of the capability initiatives that I have outlined today.
The challenge for intellectual leadership is to imagine the use of new and emerging capabilities in novel ways, preferably before our adversaries do! Much of what we discuss as new ‘capability’ is actually new ‘means’. We know that platforms or systems in isolation do not deliver new capability. How we use them, and think about their use, is important to realising capability. In fact, I think it is fundamentally critical. Until we innovate and adapt with respect to our ‘ways’ our capability investments efforts will not achieve their full potential.
The Future Land Warfare Report 2014 identified ‘how we fight’ as a principal question:
Is the Army willing to fundamentally change its traditional command, control and communication structures and processes, in particular the Army’s unit and formation headquarters, to maximise the advantages of access to joint effects and the enhanced networking of digital systems?
This is a question that has been at play for many years. We must be willing to leave the relative comfort of the present and embrace alternative, credible possibilities. I will have a little bit more to say about this in a few days time at the Williams Foundation Seminar.
If I might go back to where I started – with our recent experience in Afghanistan.
When acknowledging the experience gained and lessons learned, we must also acknowledge the unique circumstance. There was no adversary Air Force. Similarly, the Taliban’s use and integration of the cyber and space domains with the terrestrial conduct of their operations was limited to non-existent.
We are comfortably pre-disposed to imagine future war through the prism of recent experience. Instead, we should consider the impact of a future where the provision of air support directly to land force manoeuvre is necessarily limited. A future where we assume our adversary has ‘useful’ air, space and cyber capabilities, they are in play, and our headquarters had better be small, mobile and difficult to detect.
The Future Land Warfare Report 2014 (page 6) identified “constrained access to information domains” as one of the principal questions which Army must consider if it is to adapt to the future battlefield. It poses the question to what degree the Army can adapt and ensure it is able to operate effectively in a digitally contested and constrained environment without information assurance. Not as well as we may like, I suspect at the moment.
The answer to this question is fundamental to the future of our integrated air-land capability when one considers the purpose and nature of the capabilities I have previously outlined. We need to take what we have usefully learnt from our current experience while developing our capabilities for a plausibly different and more difficult future operational environment.
In my preface to the Army’s modernisation plan I wrote of the ”tension between solving contemporary problems and imagining the Army of the future”, and noted that today’s decisions will open or close off future opportunities.
Naturally, we want to keep as many opportunities open as possible.
We will seek to balance the inherent tension between present and future needs with the aim of optimising the contribution of air-land integration to joint land combat. This is an objective wholly sympathetic to Air Force’s Plan Jericho vision “to develop a future force that is agile and adaptive, fully immersed in the information age, and truly joint”.
Army looks forward to working with our Joint partners to realise this vision.