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Plugging Australia’s multi-domain long-range strike gap

Defence Connect has spoken to a group of strategic policy experts and former service personnel about the role of multi-domain, long-range strike capabilities, combining each of the ADF's branches to maximise in enhancing Australia's strategic deterrence capabilities.

Defence Connect has spoken to a group of strategic policy experts and former service personnel about the role of multi-domain, long-range strike capabilities, combining each of the ADF's branches to maximise in enhancing Australia's strategic deterrence capabilities.

Multi-domain operations represent the future of military capability and operations, seamlessly integrating intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, command and control, and strike capabilities, serving as both a tactical force multiplier and strategic deterrent to reshape the modern battlefield. 

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Meanwhile, the region’s growing anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) and strategic deterrence capabilities are placing renewed focus on the need for a combination of multi-domain next-generation Australian long-range strike capability.

Australia as a relatively lean military middle power has been dependent on a suite of long-range, deterrent focused platforms, ranging from the Royal Australian Air Force's Cold War-era Canberra bombers and the Oberon class submarines through to the F-111 long-range tactical strike bombers and the troubled, but now increasingly capable Collins class submarines. 

However, as the region's strategic dynamics and ambitions have evolved over the past two decades, strategic capabilities have evolved accordingly. This has been driven by the introduction and proliferation of increasingly cost-effective and highly capable Russian, Chinese and in some cases European platforms narrowing Australia's traditional long-range strike and technological advantage rapidly. 

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Accordingly, each of the Australian Defence Force's branches serve a unique and specialised role within the broader capability package.   

Recognising these challenges and opportunities, Defence Connect spoke to a group of strategic policy experts and former service personnel to discuss the role of multi-domain, long-range strike capabilities, combining each of the ADF's branches to maximise in enhancing Australia's strategic deterrence capabilities.

MAJOR GENERAL (RET'D) GUS MCLACHLAN – former Commander Forces Command, Australian Army

Speaking to Defence Connect exclusively in late 2018, Major General McLachlan explained the role of Accelerated Warfare in developing the Army into a strategic linchpin for the wider ADF joint force. 

MAJGEN McLachlan explained that a core component of this future focus is the introduction of key platforms and technologies to ensure that Army remains ahead of potential adversaries, while also being capable of leveraging the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and strike capabilities of key Navy and Air Force platforms, like the Air Warfare Destroyers, Canberra Class amphibious warfare ships, the E-7A Wedgetails and the F-35A. 

"It [Accelerated Warfare] is Army's response to the ADF's journey to develop an internet of things (IoT) approach to data gathering nodes across the services, like Navy's AWDs and Air Force's F-35s, and then Army being able to provide a shooting solution, should it be required," MAJGEN McLachlan said. 

For Army, key projects like LAND 400 Phase 2 and Phase 3, LAND 19 7B, the future surface-to-surface long-range strike missile and integrated air defence platforms provide the service with the ability to leverage key inter-service platforms like AWD and F-35 to develop a robust shooting solution and a unique A2/AD network in response to the rapidly evolving technological and geopolitical realities of the region.  

"We're always going to be small. We're always going to have a relatively small number of these high quality platforms. So, the ability to network them and achieve a single system of sensors and shooters, potentially a ground force that's persistent and difficult to dig out, and deploying some of those sensors into marathon choke points [e.g. Malacca or Lombok Strait] and so on," MAJGEN McLachlan said. 

PETER JENNINGS, PSM – executive director, Australian Strategic Policy Institute 

Jennings was quick to point out that while the existing ADF was the most capable it has ever been, largely as a result of the material investment and operational engagements of the last two decades, there was room for improvement, should Australia need to operate alone or with limited allied support.  

"We need to be placing more effort into developing the long-range strike capability, this includes things like cruise missiles, which can be launched by platforms across the ADF. We also need to place greater emphasis on upgrading the capability provided by Collins, not just as a stop-gap, but as an imperative, as these submarines will continue to form the point of our deterrence spear for some time yet," Jennings added. 

"While we have to ask what are the sorts of capabilities we can field now, we also have to ask what are the capabilities we will need to field in the future, out to 2040? This is where an organisation like DARPA becomes particularly powerful in helping the us to locally develop key technologies which will provide us with a tactical and strategic deterrent in the future."

DR MALCOLM DAVIS – senior analyst, Australian Strategic Policy Institute

Dr Davis highlighted the importance of leveraging and integrating key platforms as a "system of systems", saying, "The fifth-generation force has to be capable of operating across, land, sea, air, cyber, EM and space, and that is a core component of the transition to the joint force. We have to have systems of systems, not just stovepipe platforms that are capable of connecting across a network and that is what is driving the AIR 6500 Integrated Battle Management program."

"Starting this conversation is part of a broader discussion ahead of the 2020-21 white paper. We have recognised that a) we can't have same white paper as 2016 and b) we need to start seriously responding to the changing strategic reality, which will require a wholesale review of the force structure and force posture and a renewed focus on long-range strike and power projection," Dr Davis told Defence Connect.  

"The capability provided by the future submarines will be delivered too late, that means we need to work with the US on developing a potent air-based long-range strike capability. Boeing's unmanned 'loyal wingman' concept unveiled at Avalon 2019 goes part of the way, but the ranges we have to cover necessitate a larger, longer-range platform, which could open the door to Australia leasing a squadron of the B-21 Raider bombers." 

Given the debate on the role of Australia as a military power in the face of mounting regional tensions, have your say on Australia's participation in developing a credible long-range strike capability 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..  

Plugging Australia’s multi-domain long-range strike gap
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