Chief of Army address to the United Services Institute of the ACT
The Ryan Review: enhancing professional mastery in the Australian Army through renewal of training, doctrine and education.
Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen.
Thank you all for coming out this evening. Could I first thank Mick and the Institute for the invitation, Sir Angus, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we are meeting this evening, the Ngunnawal people, and pay my respects to their elders, both past and present.
I appreciate the invitation to address the United Services Institute this evening about what we are doing to enhance the professional mastery of the Australian Army. The Institute fulfils a useful role in promoting better understanding of defence and national security issues within the Australian community. It’s important that we have venues where the public can participate in the national security and defence conversation. Organisations such as the United Services Institute provide a public service. I am aware of the efforts of Mick and his committee to build the ACT Branch of the Institute, which I heartily endorse. Looking around the room tonight it appears your efforts are working. This is good news for those of us looking to develop the conversation with the nation, for me, about the Australian Army, but also the wider ADF.
I realise that there might be an expectation that a Service Chief talking to a body such as this, at a location such as the Australian Defence College, might be addressing strategic policy matters while standing in the Centre of Defence and Strategic Studies. But, as you know, we recently received a new Defence White paper. We have a surfeit of freshly minted strategic policy, available for all. And it has been widely dissected and discussed in many fora. Instead, I am going to address something that the Army is actually doing today and into the future. Something I see as vital to the future of developing a joint land force. And something which I think is actually quite appropriate to be talking about standing in the Australian Defence College.
Last weekend I returned from an overseas trip. During that trip I effectively ‘book-ended’ the Australian Army’s operational history. In France and Belgium, I participated in the centenary commemorations of the Battle of Fromelles, and the naming of six hitherto unidentified Australian soldiers who fell in that battle and were laid to rest. At Polygon Wood and Pozieres, I had the privilege of taking part in the interment of the remains of unknown Australian soldiers who have been recovered from where they fell. A few days later I was in the Middle East Region and Afghanistan, visiting our soldiers currently on operational service there. It will perhaps come as no surprise to you to hear me say that our soldiers in Afghanistan and the Middle East region are doing their job well.
In reflecting on both groups of Australian soldiers encountered on the trip, contemporary and those of a century ago, I am struck by both continuity and change. Continuity, in that the service of our men and women today under our Rising Sun badge in Afghanistan and the Middle East region, reflects the values displayed by our Australian soldiers on the Western Front in the First World War. Change, in that our troops today are undeniably very well trained and educated in their military profession before they deploy. Arguably, the same could not be said about our soldiers 100 years ago. Professor Jeff Grey, the Australian military historian and good friend of the Australian Army who we sadly and suddenly lost last week, went so far as to conclude in his Military History of Australia that ‘…the 1st Division [of 1914] was probably the worst-trained formation ever sent from Australian shores’.
This, of course, changed during the course of the war. For those interested in how the professional mastery of the 1st Australian Imperial Force (AIF) developed during the course of the war, and the 1st Division in particular, I can commend the research and publications of Dr Bob Stevenson, a former infantry officer.
Naturally, any Chief of Army will seek to ensure our people are masters of their profession. The minimum acceptable level being; better than we are today, because it’s a competitive business and resting on your laurels can be fatal. And certainly, I never again want our professional mastery to be anywhere near the levels described in 1914. This is vital to ensuring Australian soldiers can prevail ‘in the first fight of the next war’. While this has always been the need, the imperative is stronger than ever.
This year’s Defence White Paper details six key drivers that will shape the development of Australia’s security environment out to 2035. Briefly, these drivers are:
- The roles of the United States and China and the relationship between them, which is likely to be characterised by a mix of cooperation and competition.
- Challenges to the stability of the rules-based global order, including competition between countries and major powers trying to promote their interests outside of the established rules.
- The enduring threat of terrorism, including threats emanating from ungoverned parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The attack in Nice occurred as I was landing in France last week, and the attack on the French priest also occurred. These are very real threats and they are as apparent to our allies as much as they are to us.
- State fragility, including within our immediate neighbourhood, caused by uneven economic growth, crime, social, environmental and governance challenges and climate change. Very real challenges with very real Australian support or leadership functions that might arise in certain circumstances.
- The pace of military modernisation and the development of more capable regional military forces, including more capable ballistic missile forces. The world is not making things easier, and technology is available to all. My people often use the phrase ‘the democratisation of lethality’.
- The emergence of new complex, non-geographic threats, including cyber threats to the security of information and communications systems. These are so apparent in the recent conflict in the Ukraine.
Depending on how these drivers play out, the security challenges we face in 2035 may be quite different. What is almost certain is that our present ‘high tech’ capability edge will have been eroded, at least to some degree, in the face of expanded military capabilities within the Indo-Pacific region. Our present ‘technological advantage’ may well be just the future ‘entry level’ of competiveness and survivability for the Australian Defence Force in 2035. While we work energetically in maintaining a technological edge, others do too. In an era of similar technological capability, it is our people who will provide our future edge. Particularly in a small force. This means that it is vital we also think about how we build our future capability, and how we build it and blend it with advanced technologies, and how we develop our people.
An important factor in this is the revolution in education and training which is occurring in the world. The Australian Army cannot afford to miss out on it. There is a great opportunity to seize if we get our engagement with this revolution right. We know that both the Millennials and Generation Z, who are key to our future capability, do not take well to didactic lectures in classrooms. Neither do I, actually, so it’s not them only.
For those unfamiliar with the term, ‘Millennials’ (also know as Generation Y) are the current sergeants and captains in the Australian Army. Now this term, the Millennials, refers to the generation born between the 1980’s to the early 1990’s. My Aide de Camp is a Millennial, so I have first hand knowledge of these people! There are some interesting traits commonly associated with Millennials. They are technical and web savvy, and that’s great. Born into an emerging world of technology, they have grown up with smart phones, laptops, tablets and other gadgets. As a generation of people constantly plugged into technology, it has become an essential aspect of their life.
Millennials feel rewarded by work arrangements that offer more flexibility and the chance to work with new technology. The Millennials are confident and ambitious. Expectations typically need to be managed because as soon as they begin in organisations they are confident they can take the CEO’s job. Organisations need to manage these expectations without stifling creativity and development. When I was in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet I was surrounded by them. And they are really, really smart and if you unleash them they do fabulous things. I see that in our sergeants and captains in the Army as well. You’ve just got to unleash their potential. Giving them the resources they require for development is a way businesses, like an Army, might look to keep this group happy, fulfilled, inspired and determined to stay. Millennials have high expectations of their employers and expect this to be matched. And they are not afraid to seek employment elsewhere if the ambition and opportunity they aspire to is not met. That sounds pretty reasonable. I know plenty of sergeants and captains; they are doing a fantastic job and I can cope with that.
Then we have Generation Z (Gen Z). They are the people born between 1995 and 2009. For the Army, the first Gen Z people are currently our young recruits and officers, either in training now or just completed. We are told they like their privacy and are more cynical than Millennials. And they also have some intriguing attributes.
Gen Z is taking multi-tasking to a new level. They prefer to be on five screens at once, not the two screens of the Millennials. The Millennials are just so old-fashioned! Now, I see five and six and eight screens in our command centres – we do this – and the young people at the leading edge of Gen Z can do extraordinary things that, quite frankly, my brain wiring cannot do. They experience what researchers have termed ‘4 dimensional thinking’. Because their minds are streaming in so many directions, they are ‘hyperaware’ of their surroundings. When they are talking to you, they are not looking over your shoulder; they are looking everywhere and talking to you at the same time. And if we thought Millennials were addicted to technology, these young people are taking it to a new level. In surveys, Gen Z teens have placed technology in the same category as air and water. They simply cannot imagine living without being connected all the time.
The attributes of the Millennials and Gen Z have serious implications for the manner in which we engage the capacities of our changing workforce. We need to change our approach to a philosophy of ‘whole of life’ learning enabled by technology. Now, I have heard of ‘whole of life learning’ my whole of life. But these people are living it and not accepting the rhetoric without the reality. They have too many choices otherwise.
Whether in the office, on the train home from work or somewhere remote on duty, they are connected. They expect to be connected, and they are engaged in learning and contributing.
For these reasons, in February I directed the Army’s Director General of Training and Doctrine, Brigadier Mick Ryan, to examine the future development of our people. His study, now known as The Ryan Review, was to focus on improving education, training and doctrine. The aim was to ensure we could build both individual and collective professional mastery within the Army, in our contemporary and future force, for both our soldiers and officers. I want to highlight that the study did not arise out of any immediate concern with system failure. It is simply ‘best practice’ to periodically review such a system vital to producing our future capability edge. The review found that a majority of the people engaged believed the Army’s approach to education, training and doctrine was not broken. But if you were thinking from the perspective of a Millennial or Gen Z person, they may say it is profoundly broken. The point is that the truth lies between. We are on an evolution and if we don’t understand it we will be maladapted.
My descriptions of the Millennials and Gen Z, by definition, by necessity, are stereotypes. They are descriptions of generic demographic groupings. They are not statements about particular individuals. Many would say that the Gen Xs in the Army are a bit more progressive than Gen Xs generally. And that the Millennials and the Gen Zs might be a little bit more conservative than the ones I have described. That is why this ‘in between space’ needs to be understood. We need to connect a generation ago and build a system that evolves to a generation ahead. But I think if we don’t understand the main population demographics we are going to find our recruiting opportunities drying up. People will be rejecting the lifestyle, the environment and the learning space we are providing to them.
The time between the initiation of the study and the delivery of the final report was short for a review of this nature. Short, but intense for those involved. The review team consulted widely across the Army, and beyond, to gain the insights which have been developed.
Now, some have remarked that the scope of the review was not exhaustive. This is a fair observation. It was never the intention to investigate every challenge facing education, training and doctrine in the Army. A natural tension exists with respect to the scope of any review – between covering every thing, and taking quite a long time to do so, or covering the right things. I am after the right things. And looking for some impact and momentum to push broader change and innovation. The underlying premise was let’s do that, grab the low hanging fruit and strive and drive for that innovation progressively.
The review examined our training, our education, our doctrine and what you could say was our system as a complete package. For those of you who wish to read the entire report, it is available on the Army website;www.army.gov.au. I would like at this point to acknowledge the considerable effort of Brigadier Ryan and his team who put this report together in just three months. Let’s just look at some of the key findings.
Foremost, and reassuringly, the Australian Army does possess all the ingredients of a world class, education, training and doctrine system. It needs to evolve, it needs to do better, but the elements are all there. And we do recruit some of the finest young men and women Australia has to offer. We are the beneficiary of very good training infrastructure and a well trained and developed instructor workforce. Most importantly, we actively think about and seek to shape our future as part of a joint and Defence approach.
Yet, as the review notes, these assets alone do not guarantee world class education, training and doctrine, as a system, into the future. The constituent elements of that system are, as I said, generally sound. But they are not knitted together in a cohesive manner, guided by a strategic view of Army’s future human capacity needs.
Furthermore, the review found Army has a tradition of focusing on training, and I think we excel at training and the day to day activities of operations. But we are not necessarily attending to, as strongly, the value of education and the value of doctrine. Clearly, we need to be equally attentive across that spectrum of training, education and doctrine. The review also found we could better exploit ‘futures’ studies to help the Army generate individual and collective professional mastery over the next two decades.
What we will do is produce a unified strategy for the development of our human capacity. Looking to see an explicit system, driven by an understanding ofArmy Human Capacity. It will provide direction to be executed through mission command at schools, training centres and units, connected by our understanding of those demographic drivers and how we want to build a force fit to win. We will develop subordinate strategies for workforce, career and talent management, training and education.
Innovation, importantly, needs to be embedded in learning methodologies and nurtured at all our schools. In that regard, if you go to the Australian War Memorial you will see extraordinarily impressive ways of connecting to an audience. It is world’s best practice in the museum space. It doesn’t feel like a museum, it feels like a learning space – and you see people learning. And I want that, in a contemporary military space. But I want it distributed, I want it networked, I want it virtual. I want it working in ways that no matter where our people are, learning is occurring.
We need to build this resource online. We need to make it accessible and we need to design it around Army’s professional development priorities. We need to provide the resources that will enable the self-initiating and self-studying officer, soldier and non commissioned officer (NCO) to prosper. The online resources will also support the conduct of training in units for not just the individual, but to also support the conduct of collective training development experiences. In this regard you could point to the Royal Australian Armoured Corps, who as a corps, when you reflect across all of the corps in the Army, has the most deeply embedded commitment to professional learning that I see anywhere in the Army, and that I have seen throughout my career. A commitment to learning as individuals and to learning as units, it is very, very impressive. It is something that, somehow or other, they ingrained into their corps’ DNA long ago.
I am also aware of the need to pay far more attention to our modernisation objectives and access to the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) qualified personnel of an Army that is seeking to be fully digitised, networked, connected to our sister services and enabled for joint partner coalition operations. This is not an Army that can simply operate with a back pack and a rifle. It’s not now, and it’s never going to be again. And even a soldier, doing lower level contingency operations that might not require the more advanced level of mechanisation of warfare, will have heads-up displays, will have multiple radio systems. We will have a whole range of technologies that can be ‘piped’ to that soldier under one guiding philosophy – head up, eyes on target, and hands on weapon.
If you can’t fit the technology into enabling the soldier to do his or her job, I am not interested. We had a period of experimenting with soldiers looking down at flat screens on their chests. That is death to a soldier in an unexpected circumstance – and we always end up putting our soldiers into unexpected circumstances. Having people who get the technology inherently, not just because they have been living with the iPad since they were born, but because they actually have training and education in STEM subjects, is as important for the Army as it is for the other Services, as it is for the rest of our society.
In cooperation with Defence’s Chief Information Officer and the Australian Defence College, we will develop a plan to implement distributed learning. I want to use a series of trials. Basically, a progressive effort of spiral development, trialing, extending, opening up avenues rather than one size, one system, one implementation and one block redundancy the moment it arrives. And that means an expectation that what we have as corporate knowledge can be made accessible, or as accessible as it can be, to your personal digital system.
Now, in the doctrine space, we really need to do a lot of work shaping the hierarchy, structure, de-jargonising and encouraging it as material that is so relevant and contemporary that people want to read it, people seek it, people are contributing to it. And that is something that right from the beginning of my appointment I have been working with Brigadier Ryan and colleagues on.
And finally, with regard to collective training, in our major exercise activities, such as Exercise Hamel, which has recently been completed, we really need to be looking at that exercise from a five and ten year campaigning perspective. As in campaigning for the capability development of our Army through the medium of that exercise. One brigade in the box; one brigade (minus) acting as enemy; another brigade coming forward with its digital headquarters to get ready to go into the box. Partner nations from the ABCA community participating. Virtual and constructive simulation. A division operating as a joint task force within an enabled coalition, as the higher headquarters, generating that friction between headquarters that is the reality of operations. Special operations playing a role. You have the whole of the Army dropping in on that exercise on an annual basis and we need to think about it as a long term integrated development pathway for the Army. And that is something which we will see progressively develop.
In his recent valedictory speech the former Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr Peter Varghese, spoke of the need for ‘radical incrementalism’ in making organisational level change. He also spoke about the value of going ‘with’ rather than ‘across’ what he referred to as the ‘cultural grain’ of an organisation if you want to ensure change is institutionalised. I think Peter is absolutely correct. Such an approach will inform Army’s implementation of the initiatives I have outlined broadly from The Ryan Review.
Implementing all of the initiatives within the Review will involve a considerable body of work. And it will be a matter of years rather than months. In some aspects it is a matter of a philosophy and a culture of learning. I am sure we will, of course, learn things on the way, learn by doing and adapt as we go. I am comfortable with that; it should be a natural part of the process. If you can’t adapt you are in the wrong force.
The question arises as to how we will know if we have been successful. I believe there are three key performance indicators for this in the longer term. The first goes to the quality of our individual people. You know you are doing something right – that you have good people – when your allies request for your individual officers to deploy as embedded personnel in their units and headquarters. When, beyond the normal diplomatic niceties and assurances, they genuinely want your people. I have an example from the recent past.
When I was in Afghanistan, a senior U.S. officer stated the U.S. really liked the work being done there by Singaporean Armed Forces Imagery Analysts. The U.S. had told the Singaporeans this. But the U.S was not just being polite. You know they really mean it when they seek an Australia interlocutor to encourage the Singaporeans to provide more analysts. I think that is a key performance indicator (KPI) which shows your people are truly operating at the highest end of individual military capability. This is where we want to be.
The second KPI regards one’s originality, quality, clarity, writing and thinking about the profession of arms. If we are doing well, our ideas will be reflected and circulated in the global discourse about the profession, defence and security. Our concepts will be discussed. Our thoughts and ideas will be accessed, referenced and reflected in increasing numbers of citations. Prominent, credible organisations will seek to engage with us. Our people will be in demand at conferences. And our thinking, our structuring and our responses to problems, will appear in books and journals that we don’t publish. Again, an objective way of acknowledging that we are driving best practice.
I am, on occasions, distraught by the jargon that we confuse ourselves with. I don’t think, for example, that there is ‘hybrid warfare’. I think there is warfare and there are interesting tactics being applied by various countries in operations at the moment. I don’t think there is such a thing as a ‘complex attack’. There are just attacks, and some of them are well orchestrated and designed, and others are not. I don’t think you necessarily have to use the term ‘joint’ if you have truly embedded ‘joint’ into the entire theme of your operation and the philosophy and approach you take to your business. One day I would like us to get to the point where that term, when it is appended to things such as ‘strike fighter’ or a ‘military appreciation process’, or, as I like to talk about, the ‘joint M1A1 Abrams tank’ – is gone. We just don’t need that word anymore because it is redundant. Unfortunately there are too many circumstances where too much writing, I am going to say in the Army in particular, is too clouded with lack of clarity of thinking, lack of clarity of expression, lack of clarity of understanding.
The third KPI is perhaps obvious. If, whether in synthetic, training, field exercising, or battlefield environments, our units are ‘winning’, then surely we are doing something right. I would rather not have that as the first and only mechanism to realise that we have got something wrong. It is, as I have said, at that point where fatality looms if you have stuffed things up.
Standing in the fields of France or Belgium among the graves of thousands, thousands of Australian soldiers does have a way of focussing the mind of Chief of Army. As does visiting our soldiers in harm’s way on contemporary operations. I am deeply aware of my responsibility to ensure the Australian Army prepares our soldiers, the bedrock of our capability, in the best way possible to meet the challenges of our contemporary and future security environment with the raw material of our young Australian citizens who chose to step forward and serve.
The Ryan Review does represent a plan of action for Army in this campaign to enhance the professional skill and mastery of our people. That is not to say that this will be a simple task. As with all large institutional programs for change, there are cultural, implementation and technical risks. We are alive to those, we will manage them, but I am sure that we will be confronted and challenged by them. Success will give our people the best chance to prevail in the ‘first fight of the next war’ and beyond. Hence, to my mind, success is the only outcome we can accept.
Thank you for your interest.