Modern warfare has rapidly evolved over the last three decades, from high-tempo, manoeuvre-based operations that leveraged the combined capabilities of air, sea, land and space forces to direct troops, equipment and firepower around the battlefield during the first Gulf War, to low intensity, humanitarian and peacekeeping operations in southern Europe and the south Pacific, and the eventual rise of asymmetrical, guerilla conflicts in the mountains of Afghanistan and streets of Iraq.
This evolution has forced a major strategic rethink in militaries around the world, particularly as peer and near-peer competitors continue to invest in key technologies and combined arms capabilities, leveraging off the lessons learned over the preceding decades.
Australia is no different.
The introduction of Plan Beersheba in 2011, and the shift towards developing a truly 'combined arms' force capable of leveraging Australia's traditional advantages in high-tech platforms, world-class infantry and 'espirit de corps', serves as the nation's first attempt to modernise and recapitalise the Army to face the fluid tactical and strategic challenges of the 21st century battlefield.
Building on the success of Plan Beersheba and its focus on developing a networked, hardened and highly flexible combined arms force, with a dedicated amphibious landing capability, Accelerated Warfare recognises the impact of key external factors and the capacity of the Army to integrate within the ADF's burgeoning 'joint force' doctrine, namely:
- Geopolitics: The Indo-Pacific regional order is defined by a rapidly changing threat environment and operating spectrum of co-operation, competition and conflict. The days of unchallenged coalition operations are quickly fading as state and asymmetric actors all develop capabilities that threaten the natural advantages Australia and its allies have leveraged for supremacy over the past 50 years.
- Threat: Indo-Pacific Asia's operating landscape is changing. Adversaries, including violent extremist organisations and state-based threats, can now control and influence all operating domains. Future strike capabilities will not just be physical but also digital, executed often at the speed of a mouse-click. Sophisticated anti-access, area denial (A2/AD) capabilities offer the ability to deny manoeuvre while distributed systems that are ‘smarter’ and smaller are becoming increasingly essential to survivability. Networking will be critical in terms of generating a system capable of ‘co-operative engagement’.
- Technology: As in civilian life, technology is changing the way war is fought. The rapid development turn around of technologies like UAS, the proliferation of non-traditional intelligence gathering devices, the convergence of big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics and precision strike capabilities all present significant challenges, not only to operations, but to the decision-making process of soldiers and commanders.
- Domains: The reach of sensor and precision fire means Army must be across all domains and comprehensively integrate across them. Space and cyber have not been fully contested in previous wars and there is limited knowledge on how conflict in these domains will play out in the future. Army's ability to operate in the traditional air, sea and land domains are at risk of being debilitated from space and cyber, yet there is also great opportunity in these domains for military advantage.
Tying off the loose ends of Beersheba
While a key component of Beersheba is the development of specialist Australian amphibious elements, combining infantry, armour, air and artillery assets to enhance the combat effectiveness, deployability and survivability of Australia's Army, particularly as the centre of gravity for global power re-orientates to our region and its unique operating environments.
Supporting this major recapitalisation and strategic reorientation is the major redevelopment programs across both Navy and Air Force, particularly the introduction of the Canberra and Choules Class amphibious warfare ships, which have supported the development of Australian amphibious elements.
The shifting focus towards specialist amphibious warfare capabilities, combined with the structural reorganisation of the Army to focus on integrating infantry, armour, artillery, combat signals, engineers and support elements across Army's three regular force combatants – 1st, 3rd and 7th Brigades – served as the fundamental basis for refocusing the structure and combat capabilities of the Army between 2011 and 2017.
Accelerated Warfare expands on the objectives of Beersheba to recognise the role Army will play in the 'joint force' and the growing impact external factors will play on the Australian Army as it engages in the implementation of key strategic defence objectives: "These changes intersect to create challenges across and within domains. This is why Army needs a joint and integrated mindset. No single system can address the breadth of vulnerabilities and opportunities. Army must prepare for war on land and be ready to act in other domains from the land in an integrated and coherent way."
Army's role in the era of strategic competition
"Preparing for war is Army’s mission. Meeting this mission delivers capability and capacity for conflict, and also allows Army to contribute to the joint and integrated force for competition and co-operation," Army’s Contribution to Defence Strategy articulates the role and expectations of the Australian Army in the Indo-Pacific region.
Essential to guaranteeing the success of the Australian Army in this period of unprecedented geo-strategic competition and technological revolution is an understanding of the 'multi-domain' battlespace, Army's role in driving innovation across robotics and autonomous systems, the cyber and information battlespace and the growing challenges presented by A2/AD environments.
Army’s Contribution to Defence Strategy seeks to condense these factors and focus on three key facets of strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific, namely:
- Strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific where states and non-state groups use coercive means below the threshold of war to gain advantage and disrupt other actors. Crisis situations may be used as a way to gain positions of geographical or informational advantage. This is being referred to as grey zone competition.
- Information operations and cyber attacks on civilians and government that blur the line between coercive action and conflict.
- Weapon proliferation including missiles and nuclear, radiological, biological and chemical weapons by states, terrorists and armed groups.
Ready now, future ready
Army has recognised the growing need for it to not only meet the tactical and strategic responsibilities required of it in the contemporary threat environment but, critically, future ready with a focus on enhancing the future capabilities identified by the Australian government.
"To be an Army in Motion, Army has adopted a ready now, future ready mindset:
- Army is ready now: contributing to the joint and integrated force for today’s global operations, partnering with other armies in our region and responding to disaster, crisis and conflict.
- Army is becoming future ready: increasing our agility and capacity, introducing new concepts and capabilities, and focusing on training as the driver of change.
"Army’s people own Army’s ready now, future ready mindset. It is their individual, collective and every day actions that ensure Army’s contribution to Defence is effective, for operations today and in the future."
This focus on developing the future force is at the core of Accelerated Warfare and the concept of an Army in Motion, and will play a critical role in developing Army as a key component of the 'joint force'.
As Australia's role in Indo-Pacific Asia and the strategic balance of power continues to evolve, the Australian Army will be called upon to fulfil a range of roles beyond those it has conducted over the past 50 years. Power projection and the application of 'hard power' in both a high and low intensity capacity will dramatically reshape the Australian Army despite an unprecedented level of investment.