The Australian Army’s approach to the Indo-Pacific
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The Australian Army’s approach to the Indo-Pacific
Lieutenant General Rick Burr, AO, DSC, MVO
Chief of Army
Keynote Address to LANPAC 2019
Honolulu, USA, 21 May 2019
Aloha and G’day.
It is great to be back here in Hawaii, and it is great to be back as part of the USARPAC team. It is great to see many friends from USARPAC, PACOM and around the region. It is great to be back here in your company and have the opportunity to strengthen those person-to-person relationships.
I was here for the first LANPAC in 2013, as the Deputy Commanding General of USARPAC. I commend General Ham and the AUSA for your leadership in supporting the US Army, and sponsorship of this forum that brings together people around the region. LANPAC brings together military, government, academia and industry – we are all partners. This is an enterprise and it is all about partnerships.
I also extend my appreciation to those in the audience who attended the Australian Army Land Forces Seminar 2018, held in Adelaide last year. Your participation made it a very successful activity, and I will take this opportunity to issue a warning order for my Chief of Army Land Forces Seminar 2020 to be held in Brisbane over the 1st to 3rd of September 2020.
I would like to extend my thanks to General Brown for your leadership of USARPAC, for this initiative, but also your support of the Australian Army, indeed of all armies represented this year. The United States and Australia are long standing allies. Last year we celebrated 100 years of mateship which takes us back to when we fought together in the First World War. This alliance remains the cornerstone of our Australian Defence Strategy.
On Saturday, Australia held a federal election. Our previous government has been returned with a majority, and continuity of Australia’s Defence policy can be expected.
Again, thank you for the opportunity to speak here today.
The focus of my address today is Australia’s approach to the Indo-Pacific.
I am conscious that the audience here today is already well aware of the strategic importance of this region. The fact that we conduct events such as LANPAC is a testament to this fact.
Already this morning, we have heard about some of those fundamental elements that make the Indo-Pacific an area of great opportunity as well as a potential source of threat. Specifically, General Brown and the panel discussions have provided great context on the economic vitality, impacts of a growing population and the concentration of commercial shipping that flows through this important region.
Similarly, we know that the Indo-Pacific enjoys the world’s greatest information density, social media connectivity, and e-commerce volume.
Overlayed across these socio-economic factors are a complex web of geopolitical relationships that continue to exist in conflict, competition and cooperation simultaneously.
It is no wonder that Australia’s Defence Minister in 2018 stated that the Indo-Pacific is a system made up of geopolitical relationships, a system where major changes in one part affect what happens in other political, military, economic, social, informational and infrastructure parts of the wider Indo-Pacific system.
So what does this mean for all of us here today? Firstly, whilst we all operate in a unique national context, we share common interests and challenges. It also means that strong partnerships across the region will continue to be extremely important to the collective security and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific. We act better as a collective through shared understanding, cooperation and respect.
It is in this context that I will provide some insight into Australia’s approach to the Indo Pacific, and specifically, the Australian Army’s contribution to this endeavour.
To achieve this, I will talk to three key themes:
- Our national context - where does Army fit in Australia's approach to an open and prosperous Indo-Pacific
- Our focus on strong Army-to-Army partnerships in the region as part of this approach, and
- What accelerating change in our region means for the design and ethos of our Army.
So, what is the Australian approach to an open and prosperous Indo-Pacific?
We advocate and seek to protect an international order in which relations between States are governed by international law and other rules and norms.
We are pragmatic; we do not seek to impose values on others. However, Australia is a determined advocate of liberal institutions, universal values and human rights.
At the core of it, Australia seeks an Indo-Pacific that is stable and prosperous.
Australia continues to be committed to a range of measures to strengthen Australia’s partnerships with other Indo-Pacific nations.
We live here together.
We are neighbours, friends and partners.
Like all Indo-Pacific nations, Australia cannot escape geography, demographics, climate or history. We live with the reality of a more strategically crowded region. Natural disasters and climate change, drugs and arms trafficking, piracy, illegal fishing, conflict and terrorism are additional complications.
With such diversity and complexity across this broad part of the world, there must be accepted norms and laws. Without such measures, the system will not function.
Australia also understands that we achieve the best results when we listen, and when we work at a pace that allows all to remain comfortable. It is about shared respect and long-term meaningful partnerships.
Australia seeks regional interactions that contribute to stability, to security, to unconditional national sovereignty, and to sustainable and resilient economies. Australia is always a willing partner in the democratic process.
Indeed, in recent months, at the request of the Solomon Islands Caretaker Government, Australia and New Zealand provided support during their elections to solve some of the practical problems associated with a dispersed population and demanding geography. This included logistic, communications and contingency planning support, and support to help transport election materials and personnel to regional centres during the polling period.
Australia also provided police support to the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force to assist the planning and delivery of policing services during the election. Advisers from the Australian Electoral Commission supported the Solomon Islands Electoral Commission to raise voter awareness.
This is one example of our partnered approach; it demonstrates that Australia seeks to work in partnership across the whole-of-government as we assist our friends. Whilst the Australian Army is prepared to lead in these partnerships, we recognise that this will not always be the case. Therefore, being comfortable working within the joint and inter-agency environment is essential for our Army’s contribution to the region.
Australia embraces practical ways to support sovereign capacity building in partnership with our neighbours.
There is a strong consensus that significant infrastructure investment is needed to support growing populations and increasing trade throughout the Indo-Pacific. Although estimates vary as to the magnitude, this clearly presents an opportunity for nations to work holistically and collaboratively.
For example, in late 2018, Papua New Guinea invited Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the United States to work together in support of their aim of raising reliable access to electricity from 13% to 70% of all Papua New Guineans by 2030.
Australia is also collaborating with Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Vanuatu on other sovereign infrastructure projects.
Through a mutually agreed partnership between Governments, the Australian Defence Department is assisting in the redevelopment of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force Lombrum naval base on Manus Island; the Republic of Fiji Military Force’s Blackrock Peacekeeping and Humanitarian and Disaster Relief Camp; and the upgrade of Vanuatu’s Mobile Force infrastructure at Cook Barracks and Luganville.
These facilities, when realised, will expand the capacity of our neighbours to their benefit, and to the international community’s benefit when we think of the effect of contributions to UN Peace Keeping Operations around the world.
The impetus for these infrastructure agreements is our Government’s increased focus on the Indo-Pacific.
The Pacific Step Up is a whole-of- government program that strengthens our already longstanding and comprehensive engagement program that reorganises and better coordinates our activities in the region.
This foundation of deliberate engagement also enables more dynamic responses to the unpredictable and increasingly frequent natural disasters that pervade our region.
Australia has shown ourselves ready to lend a hand in these times of need.
We offer aid and assistance during a time of crisis. This is what friends and neighbours do.
Conducting these operations is part of who we are as an Army, defence force and nation: we protect and support people. It brings out our best.
Defence Force logistics, health and C2 capabilities deliver capacity, speed of response and are capable of withstanding difficult environments.
It is important that nations practice the deployment of these capabilities within the region.
Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2019 has recently provided an outstanding opportunity to do this. This is the most recent edition of an annual program that employs our highly capable Landing Helicopter Dock ships, with relevant embarked capabilities, across the Indo-Pacific. This regional engagement activity, similar to USARPAC’s Pacific Pathways, allows our joint force to connect with partners on their own soil. This year included training with regional partners in India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, and Indonesia.
Learning how to operate in local conditions, and connecting with the people who live in our region, makes us stronger and better partners.
It makes us a more capable and connected Army
There is a distinct role for our Army within the scope of Australia’s approach to the Indo-Pacific.
While I acknowledge the vital importance of all components of the joint force, there simply are unique roles that soldiers on the land must do.
A contemporary example of such a mission has been counterterrorism training in the Philippines.
Following the siege in Marawi, Mindanao, the Governments of the Philippines and Australia agreed to work together to build enhanced capability to counter extremist threats. The Australian Army offered our contemporary experience of conducting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting da’esh and the Taliban.
We trained together, and we learned much from this mutual exchange of concepts and hard-earned knowledge.
We might offer learning to others, but we always learn so much more in return. That is what partnership is about.
I would note here that our Army-to-Army operational engagements are not restricted to activities within the Indo-Pacific region itself, but extend to third locations – whether it be working together with our NZ friends training with the Iraqi Army in Iraq, or working together with Fiji on peacekeeping operations in the Sinai.
Working together on the global stage really highlights the strength of our multinational and multilateral partnerships here at home.
Our new dedicated Pacific Support Company will continue to work with South West Pacific Island nations, to better understand requirements and support capacity building and resilience efforts. This approach will strengthen preparedness and is focussed on people; the idea of preparedness and people are, I believe, fused together.
Through training, exercising and education we continue to develop an appreciation for our environment and the rich cultures within the region. The strength of military relationships in ensuring a stable region cannot be over-stated.
Mutual respect, enhanced capability and shared learning leading to deeper understanding is fundamental.
The initiatives I have just described are important work.
But, friendships are not just built on work; most friends work and socialise together. Our Army, our people, strengthen relationships through sport, cultural events, music and religion.
The ability to share an interest inspires vibrant and tangible connections between communities in Australia and with our partners.
Just recently, the Australian Army Band and our rugby teams enjoyed music, sport and comradery in Tonga.
These activities and rich cultural experiences generate priceless good will and support from communities, and exponentially grow our people.
Australia puts great stead in the power of cooperation and friendship to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific.
At the same time, our militaries must keep a clear eye on the unlikely but dangerous.
For this reason, our Army must be institutionally prepared for war.
We do not seek it, but we are obliged to be prepared for it.
Technology, competitive geopolitics, ideology and resource scarcity have always, and will continue to, drive the form or character of warfare.
The rate of change is increasing. In the Australian Army, we have termed this phenomena accelerated warfare.
In fact, Accelerated Warfare is the title of our Army Futures Statement. We have identified the challenges we will face, many of which were addressed in the panel discussions earlier today. We must operate across cooperation, competition and conflict, in all domains, up close and at distance.
Accelerated Warfare demands continuous modernisation, adaptation and innovation.
Government direction has focused the Australian Defence Force on maintaining a technological edge over potential adversaries on land, at sea, in the air and increasingly in space and cyber space.
Ten years ago, we might have described these last two domains as “emerging” but they have now quite clearly emerged.
These efforts emphasise the joint force and coherent ‘whole of force thinking’ about investment, the role of industry and research, and interoperability.
The Australian Navy is deep into developing a maritime capability not seen in Australia since the Second World War. This recapitalisation will aquire a fleet of 55 leading edge vessels: submarines, frigates, and patrol vessels. These new vessels will complement the current fleet, which includes the Landing Helicopter Dock ships employed on regional exercises and humanitarian aid and disaster response operations.
Australia’s Air Force is oriented on the introduction into service of F-35 JSF. This aircraft adds to the current and planned capabilities, including Super Hornet, Growler, the E7 Wedgetail with its advanced air battlespace management capabilities, and the P8 Poseidon and MQ4 Triton UAS for enhanced maritime surveillance.
In addition, our Air Force possesses a highly capable transport fleet of C-17, C-130, and C-27. These capabilities have not just enabled us, but also our partners in the Indo-Pacific to achieve their needs, including the recent movement of a critical Vietnamese health facility to South Sudan by C-17. Our ability to assist in this way – in support of friends – is a great shared benefit of these aircraft.
Army benefits directly from the modernisation of our sister services.
A strong Australian Defence Force is good for Army.
Our Army is also acquiring new capabilities. My priorities are for us to be more Connected, Protected, Lethal, and Enabled. And to operate at the speed and scale demanded by Accelerated Warfare, we need to think and operate as systems, and we need to be not just Joint-by-design, but Integrated-by-design. We have to think like this throughout our capability development cycle.
Army’s protected manoeuvre capability will be enhanced through the acquisition of Boxer 8x8 combat reconnaissance vehicles, for example, but it must be more than just a new CRV. It will be a node on the network, fully connected, enabling and leveraging effects from all other domains. For this reason, our network and battle management system are my number one priority.
Army must also become more lethal in the future through land based fires, enabling effects in all other domains.
I am pleased with our recently approved Integrated Air and Missile Defence project and together with the project to acquire long-range fires will ensure that the Army supports the Joint Force and creates dilemmas for adversaries through cross-domain engagement.
Our modest sized Army and Defence Force has invested deeply in ensuring we have an effective amphibious capability, offering enormous regional versatility.
The image behind me shows one of our Landing Helicopter Docks, the HMAS Canberra, and on the deck is an Australian Army Tiger helicopter.
This capability, the deployment of armed helicopters on an Australian ship, represents how far our joint force has come in recent times.
Our Army is increasingly required to contribute to cyber defence and operations in the information domain, and new investments in Information Warfare will be necessary.
Generating these capabilities is challenging traditional models of recruiting and remuneration but is driving innovations across our work force – turning risk into opportunity.
Our future force will also need to understand and employ Robotics and Autonomous Systems and make use of data analytics and machine learning to enhance decision-making.
The Australian Army is actively exploring these ideas through a Robotics and Autonomous System strategy released last year. This has set our requirements for experiments, trials and development. Partnerships with Australia’s industry and scientific communities is the foundation of this work.
If this has a familiar ring to it, I would not be surprised.
Most of us, I’m sure, are confronting the problem of integrating multiple domains into a single joint force, and a single, coherent operational concept. Seminars, conferences and exercises are opportunities to confront these challenges together. In July the Australia – US bilateral exercise Talisman Sabre offers an opportunity to do.
TS19 is designed to practise our respective military services and associated agencies in planning and conducting Combined and Joint Task Force operations, and improve the combat readiness and interoperability between Australian and US forces. This year we are grateful to have a total of approximately 25,000 participants, including forces from New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Japan.
Having described the Army’s modernisation I am conscious of falling into the trap of assuming that technological superiority alone is sufficient for superiority in war and warfare.
It rarely is.
We should routinely remind ourselves that people, ideas and application matter most.
Our people are our Army. They lead, inspire and make a difference where it matters. They are our competitive advantage.
Over the past 12 months, we have invested our intellectual energy in understanding the implications of accelerated warfare for the design and ethos of our army. We are coming to a point where our articulation of Army’s Contribution to Defence Strategy is close to finalisation. Expressing our value proposition in this way highlights the fact that our Army is ‘always on’, and ‘always ready’ to respond should conflict arise, or should a disaster strike. We will describe our imperatives of being a credible combat force, a partnered force, a people force and a joint and integrated force. These attributes reinforce the joint force need and maximise our value proposition.
We have wrestled with the ambiguity imposed by warfare in cyber and information domains, the ability of adversaries to change shape and form, or incrementally increase and calibrate violence to narratives and deception that at times defy traditional military responses.
Our strongest realisation was that our Army must be continually in motion to prevail in this disruptive environment – managing current readiness, while at the same time proactively adapting to be ready in the future.
Our ethos and mindset is an Army in Motion.
An Army in Motion is open to always learning, and comfortably contests and develops the ideas about how it fights.
An Army in Motion willingly experiments with new technology, adopting those that work and discarding those that do not, but always in the context of seeking an untapped potential advantage.
An Army in Motion institutionalises physical, cultural and moral development of our people.
Organisations in motion change the shape and make up of teams quickly and confidently. Army to Army, Army to Defence, Army to partners and allies. Creating people-to-people connections that span nationality, belief systems and culture to build strong teams oriented around shared purpose.
The central dimension of Army in Motion is to be Ready Now and
Future Ready; the dynamic tension between balancing preparedness for the requirements of today, and what we need to do differently to meet the challenge of tomorrow. Army uses this framework to prioritise resources and assess risk when making capability decisions.
Army in Motion also prescribes the framework through which we consider our own organisation in simple and cogent terms: Preparedness, People, Profession, Potential and Partnerships. Our mission is one of Preparedness, our People are our competitive advantage, we are grounded in our Profession and use this to achieve our Potential. We do these things collaboratively and with Partners.
And to enhance the ability of our people to be in perpetual motion, to advance new ideas, to manage change, to work with partners, we have relaunched our cultural optimisation program known as Good Soldiering.
This program sets out the behaviours of our profession, importantly centred on the fundamentals of establishing high performance teams. These teams may be within our Army or our joint force, but just as often they will be with a partner in the region, with Defence Industry to develop a new capability, or a non-government organisation assisting in disaster relief.
Developing people who can contribute to, and where appropriate lead, multi-disciplinary teams operating in cross-cultural environments is key to enabling people as our competitive advantage.
Of course this is what we are doing here at LANPAC as well. Enabling people-to-people links as the foundation of technical and tactical interoperability; as the foundation of trust.
I am grateful for the opportunity to talk about the Australian Army, an Army in motion, and an engaged, agile and innovative Land Force for the Indo-Pacific. Part of a Defence Force and nation with a commitment to a transparent, rules based system that benefits the Indo-Pacific region.
Thank you to all of you for what you all do, and for your own commitment to these same goals.
Thank you, and Good Soldiering.