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With NDS and IIP out of the way, we’re still no closer to understanding what is meant by ‘Impactful Projection’

It is the cause du jour for Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles: “Impactful Projection”. But despite the release of the National Defence Strategy and the Defence Strategic Review, we’re still a little light on the details behind the concept of “Impactful Projection”.

It is the cause du jour for Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles: “Impactful Projection”. But despite the release of the National Defence Strategy and the Defence Strategic Review, we’re still a little light on the details behind the concept of “Impactful Projection”.

Everyone has no doubt heard of the KISS principle or “Keep it simple, stupid” when it comes to explaining complex or confusing subjects, particularly to the uninitiated.

Strategic policy is no different, particularly in today’s era of multiple competing narratives, access to mind-boggling levels of information, and an increasingly contested global order that is diametrically different to the one much of the Australian public has come to expect as normal.


Breaking down and explaining the complexities, challenges, and opportunities of this new era to the Australian people has become increasingly important and, unfortunately, two-minute soundbites on the nightly news simply don’t cut it any more.

This reality is particularly important for the concept of “Impactful Projection” as part of “National Defence”, the two core principles of the Albanese government’s Defence Strategic Review and the recently released 2024 National Defence Strategy (NDS) and 2024 Integrated Investment Program (IIP).

“Impactful Projection”, a concept championed by Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles is explained as, “I think, increasingly, we’re going to need to think about our Defence Force in terms of being able to provide the country with impactful projection, impactful projection, meaning an ability to hold an adversary at risk, much further from our shores, across kind of the full spectrum of proportionate response. Now, that is actually a different mindset to what we’ve probably had before.”

Many an average punter could be excused for reading that and being even more thoroughly confused than when they started.

The release of both the 2024 National Defence Strategy and 2024 Integrated Investment Program in the past few weeks has only served to double down on the “vagueries” and the costs associated with delivering a doctrine of “Impactful Projection” that Minister Marles further explained as, “the National Defence Strategy emphasises the need for impactful projection that can enable a strategy of denial which in turn is capable of deterring a potential adversary from projecting force against Australia. This includes the capability to hold the military assets of an adversary at risk at greater distance from our shores”.

I also have to confess, while I understand the individual words used by the Deputy Prime Minister, I am still at a bit of a loss for what it all means, and if I am at a loss, I feel for the average Australian who tunes in on their way into the office or while they’re cooking dinner and wrestling kids to finish their homework.

So I will endeavour to do my best to explain it while adhering to the KISS principle, hopefully, that will also illuminate and stimulate debate about whether what has been proposed in the NDS and IIP is up to the task of delivering “Impactful Projection”.

A strategy of denial or impactful projection?

It is easy to become confused when the Deputy Prime Minister stated the need for Australia to embrace “Impactful Projection” as a mechanism for delivering a “strategy of denial” aimed at our primary area of military responsibility.

Helpfully, Minister Marles added a little bit of colour to the concepts that provided a little further clarification for both the “Impactful Projection” and the “strategy of denial” terms, when he stated, “Our Army will acquire 42 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems which will be equipped with Precision Strike Missiles and Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems. This will take Army’s firing capacity from a tactical range of 30 kilometres today, to operational and strategically relevant ranges beyond 500 kilometres and will be at the heart of the Army’s new Long Range Fires Regiment.”

It is important to understand that this long-range fires capability based on the HIMARS and integration of the Precision Strike Missile (PrSM) will provide the Army with, as the Deputy Prime Minister described, “strategically relevant ranges” of beyond 500 kilometres. But let’s take 500 kilometres at a minimum, from the cul-de-sac of Allen Avenue, on Larrakeyah Barracks in Darwin, that will provide Army with the range to strike somewhere in the middle of the Timor Sea.

Meanwhile (for argument’s sake), from the athletic stadium at Changi Navy Base in Singapore, PrSM-equipped HIMARS would provide coverage approximately halfway down the Strait of Malacca and just shy of Indonesia’s Riau Islands at the southern end of the South China Sea, so in some ways, it is pretty decent coverage. But one has to remember that Australia will only have a limited number of HIMARS with an Army that is “prioritised” for littoral operations but seemingly lacking in sustainable mass.

Navy and Air Force have a mobility advantage over Army in this instance, with the Navy in particular having a significant mobility advantage that enhances the range and striking capacity of deployed weapons like the planned Block IV and Block V Tomahawk missiles both with a range in excess of 1,600 kilometres slated for entry into service across the Navy’s major surface combatants and future nuclear-powered submarines.

For contrast, Navy’s next-generation anti-ship cruise missile, the Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile, has a range in excess of 250 kilometres, again afforded a boost in range as a result of the capacity for major surface combatants and submarines to move rapidly across the region. Navy’s strike capacity will also be enhanced through the acquisition of “smart sea mines“ under SEA 2000, providing Australia with a critical capacity to lock down critical chokepoints.

Air Force is also set to benefit from the acquisition of the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) set to be integrated into the Air Force’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and P-8A Poseidon fleets, respectively, providing them with the range of 370 kilometres for the LRASM and the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range (JASSM-ER) which provides the Air Force with a striking range of “over 900 kilometres” to be integrated into the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fleets, respectively.

On paper, this combined joint force seemingly delivers a highly capable and adaptable capacity for delivering a deterrent capability via a “strategy of denial” as described by the Deputy Prime Minister. But the reality of long-range and long-term sustainability of high-intensity combat operations raises questions about the mass of the Australian Defence Force.

However, apart from the sea mine capability and arguably the Tomahawks, all of these platforms, despite what the Deputy Prime Minister says, are tactical weapons systems being adapted and moulded into a “strategic-for-purpose” capability, effectively undermining the concept of “Impactful Projection” as a central component of a “strategy of denial”.

So, perhaps we could say we have “tactics of denial” as opposed to a “strategy of denial” and how does this relate to the concept of “Impactful Projection”?

Long-range fires aren’t power projection

Accordingly, if one is to infer the meaning of the Deputy Prime Minister’s “Impactful Projection” concept, he means to project Australian military power further from mainland Australia in defence of our critical national interests, indeed, this seems to be a correct inference when you look at statements made by Minister Marles during his speech launching the 2024 NDS and IIP.

“The platform for Australia’s projection is our northern bases ... To contribute to regional security, we must be able to project. To resist the coercion that would come from the disruption of our sea lines of communication, we must be able to project. And to defend Australia’s interests in the geography-less domain of cyber, we must be able to project,” the Deputy Prime Minister explained.

This inference is further reinforced by the traditional definition of power projection as described by The Dictionary of Military Terms as produced by the United States Armed Forces, which defines power projection as the “capacity of a state to deploy and sustain military forces outside of its territory”.

Now, obviously, the advent of the cyber domain and space blurs the definition given the lack of “deployable” forces to contest these domains, but the frame of reference is on “impactful projection” in our region.

Ultimately, this brings me to the conclusion that long-range fires, no matter the range, are not “power projection”. It is more a case of long-range fires capability providing a marginal strategic benefit without the necessary investments and capability development being made to deliver truly “Impactful Projection”, as explained traditionally.

Equally, it appears that Australia is once again trying to purchase a Ferrari or Aston Martin on a Toyota Camry budget.

Final thoughts

Unfortunately, I don’t think I have necessarily made the definition easier to understand, so perhaps it is easier to just state what we really need is true, power projection capabilities to secure our national interests.

As the strategic environment continues to deteriorate and the complexity of the challenges that face Australia continue to evolve, the ADF will be required to undertake increasingly complex, high-intensity operations, potentially against peer competitors.

Doing so will require an increase not just in the complexity of the platforms and capabilities fielded but also the manpower deployed, to enable the ADF to respond to threats reliably and consistently in our primary sphere of influence.

This is reinforced by Strategic Analysis Australia’s defence economist, Marcus Hellyer, who stated: “While the term ‘impactful projection’ might be novel, we shouldn’t be surprised at the underlying message, which calls for greater combat power, force-projection capabilities, and self-reliant strike capabilities.”

But what does this radically different ADF look like?

With a planned increase of the ADF manpower by around 30 per cent by 2040, the ADF will begin to slowly build muscle, combined with the animosity towards high-intensity combat capabilities like armoured vehicles, tanks, and even some questioning the utility of major surface combatants. We seem to be left with more questions than answers.

It is clear that both the Australian Defence Force and the Australian people will need to become accustomed to a more robust military capability for the nation in the coming decades. However, we have to learn the lessons of the past, from both our own history and that of comparably sized and even great powers, lest we repeat the tragic mistakes that led to Australia’s abysmal state of preparedness in the lead-up to the Second World War.

In order to avoid repeating history, it is clear that Australia and the ADF must begin to view expeditionary capability and the underlying doctrine, force structure, and platforms as a fundamental component of the nation’s new strategic paradigm.

Only our capacity to deploy to defend and support our regional partners and in defence of our interests through “impactful presence” will ensure that Australia’s critical sea lines of communication remain unmolested in the era of great power competition.

Get involved with the discussion and let us know your thoughts on Australia’s future role and position in the Indo-Pacific region and what you would like to see from Australia’s political leaders in terms of partisan and bipartisan agenda setting in the comments section below, or get in touch with This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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