2016-03-18 By Robbin Laird
On March 17, 2016, in Canberra, Australia, the Williams Foundation held a seminar looking at the evolution of fifth generation enabled combat transformation which focused on new approaches to air-land integration.
And the seminar followed the two-day RAAF Airpower Conference, which addressed a broad range of airpower issues, and during the second day explicitly looked at the RAAF’s transformation approach, Plan Jericho.
Over the next few weeks, I will publish several pieces on the discussions over the three days, as well as a report for the Williams Foundation on their conference.
Next up is a look at new approaches to air-sea integration as well, and one of the major participants at the air-land integration seminar would certainly be relevant to the air-sea integration seminar, namely the USMC which is working at the seams of air-sea-land integration.
In addition, we will be publishing several interviews with the RAAF and the Royal Australian Army to provide further perspectives on the evolving transformation approach.
The former Chief of Staff of the Royal Australian Air Force, Geoff Brown, was the organizer for the event, and provided navigation throughout the day through the diverse presentations, as well as providing significant input to the final event of the day, the panel with senior leaders.
The current Chief of Staff of the RAAF, Air Marshal Leo Davies, provided an overview on the RAAF’s approach to transformation and his priority on shaping new approaches to operating with the ground forces. It is not just about having a new fleet; it is about shaping new capabilities for the joint force, but one which is to be understood as multi-dimensional and not simply about who is supporting whom in a particular operation.
Several themes stood out from the Seminar.
The first was how significant the rethink on Army’s part really is.
The Chief of Staff clearly underscored that the land wars of the past decade are not the template for moving forward and saw the need and opportunity to shape new ways to integrate airpower with ground maneuver forces in providing for more effective capabilities in the contested battlespace.
The second was the reshaping of Army modernization to achieve the force envisaged by the Army Chief of Staff.
Brigadier General Mills, the head of Army Modernization, provided a hard hitting look at the Army and how the evolving force could shape a more distributed operational and decision making force, one which he saw as providing for 21st century ground maneuver forces.
The third was the clear synergy between the USMC and Plan Jericho.
Lt. General Davis, Deputy Commandant of Aviation, provided a comprehensive and hard hitting presentation on how the Marine Corps was evolving under the influence of the new technologies, the Osprey and the F-35, and how the focus of the Corps was upon “equipping the 21st century Marine,” rather than “manning the equipment.”
Davis highlighted that the Corps was working at the seams of air-land-sea integration, and described how he thought the tiltrotar revolution started with the Osprey would continue. He also provided an update on how the F-35 was fitting into the USMC’s overall approach to transformation.
He noted that the young pilots for the F-35 were already pushing the envelope on Close Air Support, and flying the F-35 into Nellis ranges through complicated red threats and being able to come out the other side and provide the maneuver force with various types of support, fires, ISR and C2.
The fourth was a clear response to industry to the Plan Jericho challenge to evolve differently in relationship to the evolution of the Australian Defense Force.
The Northrop Grumman presentation provided a clear look at the evolution of C2 capabilities in line with a transformed force; the Rockwell Collins presentation looked at how the JTAC role will change with new technologies; the L3 presentation provided a look at how commercial technologies could be leveraged to provide for the kind of cost effective and dynamic technological innovation which could support the connectivity needs for the RAAF.
And in an interview with the “Jericho Twins,” Group Captains Jake Campbell and Pete Mitchell, they underscored that indeed C2 transformation was emerging as a key thread for transformation in shaping a way ahead.
There were other threads to the discussion which we will highlight in the days to come, including, the evolution of training to build a 21st century force, the evolution of the remotely piloted aircraft to work in an evolving battlespace, the challenge of ensuring that we get the right information to the right people at the right time, the evolution of Army force projection with the new RAAF airlift capabilities, and the future of providing for forward air control from the air in the contested battlespace.
What is clear is that the Aussies are at the cutting edge of the rethink of how to reshape an integrated 21st century force.