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Chief of Army addresses the National Defence University of China

Lieutenant General David Morrison, AO, Chief of Army, address to the National Defence University of China.
6 May 2014
Lieutenant General David Morrison, AO
Chief of Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison, National Defence University of China, Beijing, China

Check against delivery.

It is a supreme honour to be invited to address this eminent institution today. Yours is an ancient civilization and it has given the world much wisdom in every field of thought including military thought. You know all too well the enduring demands for strong national defences. Your nation was united then reborn in war. Only through fighting were you able to expel and invader and become a nation again. Today, China’s armed forces form an indispensable part of regional efforts to ensure peace, stability and security. Despite our different histories, and different modes of expression, we see the importance of military power in similar ways. Military power is a central component of any state and a necessary precursor to peace.

As soldiers we know better than most the terrible price that war exacts from soldiers and civilians alike. Regardless of our different tongues, we understand a common language that assists a true meeting of our minds. Each of our Governments has published White Papers which commit our Armies to the preservation of peace. Each of our nations’ White Papers are defensive in intent. In the words of the Chinese proverb “One shouldn’t have the heart to harm others but must be vigilant so as not to be harmed.” This reflects our mutual desire to be strong in order to preserve peace and to protect our sovereignty.

This is a good thing. Our nations are linked through deep bonds of trade and hopes for stability and prosperity across the region. Many thousands of your young people come to Australia to study. More and more Australians are coming to China as well. Just as our societies are beginning to engage more, so too we are building deeper Army to Army links to grow mutual understanding and trust. Such military diplomacy is one of the strengths of this great centre of learning. As soldiers we have much to offer one another in cooperating to build a secure region.

Today I wish to describe what the Australian Army is doing to modernise and adapt to the demands of modern warfare. We are a small army, which means we have to be responsive and agile, yet the challenges to all who fight on land are broadly the same. The challenges of digitization face each of us although on vastly different scales. The size of your Army makes digitization essential but it also makes it very difficult and expensive I am sure.

Warfare is a uniquely brutal, dangerous human activity. It has shaped human history and is likely to be a factor in human affairs throughout our lifetimes. Our Army has been at war for over decade. Much of what I say today will be informed by that experience though, as you know, there are many other influences which force planners must take into account when designing Armies for the future. In our terms we must plan to fight a potential future war even while we are engaged in the present war.

Much of what I am about to say will be unsurprising. All Armies face similar constraints in adapting to the land environment. We cannot predict the future, so we conduct research into changes to technology, we monitor the tactics and emerging behaviours, and of course we conform to the policy directives of our government while trying to achieve our goals within the budgets provided.

The primary influence on how an Army is structured and equipped is the guidance and funding which its political leaders provide to it. The Government decides our priorities and publishes these in White papers. All of you will be familiar with this process. If you examine all of Australia’s White Papers since the year 2000 you will observe a steady shift in emphasis, which has had significant implications for the way our Army is organized and equipped.

When the crisis in the stability of East Timor erupted in 1999 Australia- under a mandate from the United Nations-and with cooperation from Indonesia, led an International Peacekeeping Force to restore security. This was an opportunity for us to modernise our Army to respond to an emerging crisis. For example, the East Timor mission exposed deficiencies in our Army and the joint enablers required to move and sustain forces away from our home bases. Our strategic lift and deployable logistics, in particular, had languished. The then Howard Government resolved to urgently remediate those key elements of capability.

The working hypothesis of the Government was that if the Australian Defence Force was obliged to conduct another contingency operation in our immediate neighbourhood then we would be able do so with more confidence and less strategic risk than we did in 1999. Much of the modernisation of the Australian Army, which has been implemented since that time has been shaped by that reasoning.

Two lines of operation in particular were prescribed by that national policy aspiration. Notably, the Government decided that the ADF should be able to conduct a sustained operation on a scale similar to that of 1999 in Timor, while still being able to simultaneously deploy a battalion group to another urgent contingency of shorter duration.

This carried enormous implications for our organisation, collective training and readiness cycles and also for the range of capabilities we maintained. First and foremost the Army had to be more deployable, especially through mastery of amphibious operations. Secondly, our collective training and readiness cycles had to be geared to providing standard brigade groupings capable of rotation on sustained operations.

This may sound very obvious and logical, but it constituted quite a challenge to the Australian Army as it had evolved between 1975 and 1999. We had attempted to maintain a wide range of capabilities in our force structure for too long. This was a legacy of the two great global wars of the 20th Century when our small permanent forces had essentially provided small cadres of specialists and a core mobilization component for mass citizen armies. It was appropriate to that time and those conflicts.

However, in an era of professional standing armies, abbreviated warning times and the requirement for agility and rapid deployment, it was no longer sufficiently responsive to our needs. Furthermore each of our major brigades was equipped differently and trained to fight differently. This ultimately was an inefficient way to manage our people and our vehicle fleets.

Moreover, it made it impossible for our Army to rotate a standard brigade on sustained operations as required by our Government. Our peace time organizations had to be hastily thrown together for each different operation. There is a difference between modularity and hasty improvisation. The case for a standard brigade structure was compelling.

Under my leadership the plan to reform our brigades to create standard, multi-role combat brigades is named Plan BEERSHEBA, which commemorates a famous battle in which our mounted cavalry fought with great distinction in the First World War. The plan will yield 3 standard combat brigades enabled by 3 specialised aviation logistic and ISR brigades, all of which in turn can be rounded out by 6 reserve brigades which are at the highest level of readiness and capability in our history.

Plan BEERSHEBA builds on excellent work done by my predecessor, which rationalised and streamlined our individual and collective training systems and brought greater coherence to our raise train and sustain functions. The net effect of these initiatives is an Army that adapts to lessons from operations more rapidly and introduces them into our training cycles, while ensuring that we are structured to plug into our Joint Operational Command seamlessly. Our single services raise and train soldiers, sailors and airmen but they are handed over to integrated joint headquarters both in Australia and overseas when they fight. The Army’s own force generation cycle and structure had failed to keep up with the new ‘jointery.’ This had to be rectified and it has been.

Changes in the character of war also provided impetus for major changes to our structures and equipment. Between our last War in Vietnam and the invasion of Iraq the physics of the battlefield had been transformed. The term revolution is misused too often in military affairs. However, the cumulative effect of enhanced kinetic lethality, enhanced precision in targeting, all woven together by unprecedented amounts of information and seamless links between sensors and shooters has been disruptive and probably revolutionary in its effect on the conduct of land warfare.

The tempo and lethality of modern battle is unprecedented. To survive and win land forces must be well protected but also agile. They must also be able to be able to survive a hit – especially one delivered at close range – if they are operating in complex terrain against an enemy capable of immersing himself among the people. This is increasingly the nature of the physical and tactical environment and our analysis suggests this trend will only intensify. In turn, our troops must be able find the enemy amid a cluttered, dynamic battlefield and engage them discriminately without hitting the wrong targets.

Again, ever since the Timor mission in 1999, we recognised that we lacked combat weight. Our highest readiness units were light infantry and our main battle tank was no longer deployable against modern anti-armoured weapons. We urgently moved to ‘harden’ our Army. Through a series of rapid acquisitions and longer term enhancements to our land forces we essentially leapt the decades of decay to renew our combined arms, close combat capability. The analogy I use is that an Australian combat team could not have survived in the first battle of Fallujah. Today our basic infantry/ armour team could engage in that fight and win. And that level of lethality and complexity is equivalent to anything that similarly equipped conventional forces could throw at us.

Most of the enhancements to our land forces have represented an urgent effort to bridge a gap in our combat weight, which was exposed by the harsh audit of actual war. We absorbed the lessons of the unconventional wars of the past decade rapidly and well. We took remedial action. And it paid off. However, we have also embarked on the most comprehensive re-equipment in our history as permanent professional Army.

We are procuring a range of joint enablers and battlefield management systems which will enhance the common operational picture that commander and troops share. Kill cycles, including those reaching back to lethal joint fires will become increasingly compressed. And our troops will move, fight and be sustained by a common fleet of vehicles capable of surviving against modern conventional adversaries, though as I have said there is now little meaningful distinction between conventional and unconventional forces in terms of their ability to kill armoured vehicles. All in all it is an ambitious program but we are squarely on the axis of advance and our Government is committed to delivering the force.

Finally we are introducing a robust amphibious capability. This will assemble the missing piece of the jigsaw, which the government asked to assemble in the guidance contained in the 2000 White Paper. As part of our joint team Army will soon be able to deploy and sustain a brigade group within our archipelagic approaches and can exploit entry by air or sea for the rapid insertion of a battalion group. The sea platforms we have procured do not equip us for high intensity, non-permissive entry over the beach. Rather we can envisage a ranger of missions from humanitarian support to assisting friendly neighbours with contingencies of lower intensity similar to our major expeditionary operations to Timor in 1999 and 2006 and The Solomon Islands in 2003.

My service as Chief of the Army has been very challenging and has occurred during the most interesting of times. I was prepared for this role by serving in key appointments, in which I implemented significant elements of our reform agenda in the 4 years before my promotion. This has ensured that the Army has adhered to an agreed plan for modernisation in which each improvement to our equipment or our structures has been endorsed by all of our senior command group. This has been very beneficial.

It has been a pleasure to share my vision for our Army with you today. Our lives as soldiers provide us with a common bond and common desire for peace and stability. I hope we can learn more from one another through frank discussion and questions. As a proverb says “A thousand cups of wine do not suffice when true friends meet, but half a sentence is too much when there is no meeting of minds.” I have spoken significantly more than half a sentence, but feel that I am among true friends.

Last updated
23 January 2017
Army: Courage. Initiative. Respect. Teamwork.
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