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Maximising ‘defence in depth’: Linking JORN, AIR 6500 and A2AD

JORN has long served as a key force multiplier for the ADF, providing unprecedented over-the-horizon surveillance capabilities to monitor contingencies and co-ordinate responses to the north of the continent. Combining this capability with the growing power of integrated air and missile defence systems, in unison with advanced, multi-domain ‘shooters’, provides traditional ‘defence in depth’.

With roots dating back to the Second World War, JORN is one of the longest standing defence projects in Australian history. Responsible for providing a state-of-the-art defence system and wide area surveillance across the nation's northern approaches, JORN plays a vital role in supporting the Australian Defence Force’s air and maritime operations, border protection, disaster relief and search and rescue operations.


The advent of multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRV) during the Cold War and the rise of hypersonic ballistic and cruise missiles in recent years have constantly undermined efforts to develop a reliable, cost-effective and survivable missile defence system and capabilities – including challenging the advanced variants of the AEGIS missile defence system mounted on US, Australian, Japanese and South Korean warships and utilised as land-based air and missile defence systems.

In particular, the complexity of modern missile systems, combined with speed, improved manoeuvrability and re-targetable systems has required a layered approach to tactical and strategic missile defence, adding both cost and complexity to missile defence countermeasures. Missile defence is broken down into three layers, each requiring different levels of technology and platform, namely:

  • Tactical: Designed to counter short-range, tactical ballistic missiles designed to travel less than 1.5km/s. Tactical anti-ballistic missiles (ABMs) typically have short ranges, from 20-80 kilometres, and are designed to provide area defence for major infrastructure including cities, ports, airfields and forward-deployed military bases. Currently fielded defence systems include the US MIM-104 Patriot, Israeli Iron Dome and Russian S-300V systems.
  • Theatre: Countering medium-to-intermediate range missiles designed to travel at approximately 3km/s providing defensive coverage across a localised region of military operations (typically a radius of several hundred kilometres). Currently fielded systems include the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD), Israeli Arrow and Russian S-400 systems.
  • Strategic: Designed to counter long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of travelling at approximately at 7km/s. These systems rely on a complex series of sensors, targeting computers and anti-ballistic missile systems to counter threats. Current examples include the Russian A-135 system responsible for the defence of Moscow and the US Ground-Based Midcourse Defence system responsible for defending the continental US from missiles launched in Asia.

JORN, Australia's world-leading over the horizon technology, provides wide area surveillance at ranges of 1,000 to 3,000 kilometres, and plays a vital role in supporting the ADF's air and maritime operations paves the way for developing a uniquely Australian layered defence system combining an Integrated Air and Missile Defence (IAMD) Battle Command System (IBCS) with multi-domain, anti-access, area denial (A2AD) capabilities. 

AIR 6500, Plan Jericho and distributed lethality 

AIR 6500 and Plan Jericho serve as the basis for Australia's pursuit of a complex, integrated air and missile defence system responsible for providing a range of capabilities – ranging from tactical air and missile area defence for forward deployed Army expeditionary units, through to a layered, continental air and missile defence system. 

At the core of these programs is a focus on developing a complex 'system of systems' linking the disparate family of platforms and systems, like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, E-7A Wedgetail, P-8A Poseidon, Hobart Class and Hunter Class, which will provide a quantum surge in the way the ADF conducts independent and coalition operations.

AIR 6500 is a joint battle management system that will interconnect the many disparate platforms, systems and sensors across the air, land space, electromagnetic and cyber domains into a collaborative environment that provides shared situational awareness of the battlespace and the ability to rapidly plan responses to threats.

Supporting the introduction of the $1 billion AIR 6500 program is the $1.2 billion AIR 2025 Phase 6 upgrade of JORN, which will focus on enhancing the capability of the JORN system to provide 24-hour military surveillance of the northern and western approaches to Australia, maximising the nation's 'defence in depth' capabilities.  

Further supporting these continental air and missile defence and the underlying A2AD capabilities is the growing long-range, distributed lethality capabilities of the ADF's broader network of 'sensors' and 'shooters', including systems like the Hobart Class, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, E-7A Wedgetail, P-8A Poseidon and the recently announced $2 billion LAND 19 Phase 7B program.  

Malcolm Davis, senior analyst at ASPI, explained the importance of the integration of such capabilities, and the importance of leveraging and integrating key platforms as a 'system of systems', to Defence Connect, 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 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."

This focus on distributed lethality is echoed by former commander, Forces Command, Major General (Ret'd) Gus McLachlan, who explained the role of each individual platform within the broader 'system of systems' or 'joint force' from the Army perspective: "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."

Each of these platforms form part of an intricate jigsaw puzzle, each filling a unique purpose within the broader 'joint force' concept – coming together to form an integrated tapestry of capabilities. As part of this, the ADF will also acquire ground-based active electronically scanned array radars from around 2020, expanding Australia's access to air and space situational awareness information, including through space-based systems.

These platforms, operating individually, serve an important role within the broader 'joint force' concept of the future ADF however, when integrated, these capabilities serve as part of the development of a broader integrated air and missile defence and A2AD system responsible for establishing a complex, 'defence in depth' network capable of shifting Australia's role in the region. 

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Maximising ‘defence in depth’: Linking JORN, AIR 6500 and A2AD
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