2016-04-15 By Robbin Laird
During the Airpower Conference hosted by the Chief of Staff of the Royal Australian Air Force, the co-leaders of the Plan Jericho project, Group Captains Andrew “Jake” Campbell and Peter Mitchell, provided an update on the Plan Jericho effort.
And the approach permeated the discussion at the Williams Foundation seminar on new approaches to air-land integration, notably because there has been a significant effort to better align the airlift and support sector with the evolving approach of the Army and its approach to ground maneuver warfare.
But what highlighted in many ways the approach and the way ahead was seen on Friday after the Airpower Conference and the Williams Seminar, namely in a Jericho Dawn exercise which focused on ways to provide better situational awareness for the ground maneuver force.
I had a chance at the end of the Williams Foundation seminar and the following week AFTER the Jericho Dawn exercise to talk with the co-leads about the exercise and its place and significance within the Plan Jericho effort.
The exercise involved changing how the air and ground communicated with one another in the maneuver space. As such, the exercise could seem to be a look at new technologies to connect the force.
But this would miss the real point of the effort, which is the reshaping the concept of operations and the co-evolution of the ground and air forces.
And the reshaping effort requires an ongoing operational training regime to understand what further changes are required to ensure that the air-ground maneuver forces work in an effective manner.
It is about technological enablement, but changing the culture and approach of the forces as they work the new technology into new approaches.
With regard to the Jericho Dawn exercise delivered on March 18, 2016, the Australian Ministry of Defence described the exercise as follows:
The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and the Australian Army, with support from Northrop Grumman, have successfully conducted a firepower demonstration and a combat team quick attack demonstration at Puckapunyal Military Area in Victoria as part of Exercise Jericho Dawn to display the powerful effects of integrated air and land operations.
The live fire exercise allowed RAAF and Army operators, together with Defence and industry representatives, to observe the combined air and land capabilities in two scenarios.
The operators demonstrated the current capabilities, before trialling new ways to improve air-land integration, including the way that aircraft and vehicles connect and translate information through different communication networks.
Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Leo Davies AO, CSC, said that the demonstration showcased existing air-land operations technologies and processes, and the operational gains that have already been achieved through better integration of systems and information.
“Through today’s demonstration we were able to provide a visualisation of the effects of some of the Australian Defence Force’s capabilities,” Air Marshal Davies said.
The lessons identified from the activity will help shape Defence’s future capability decisions and improve existing training activities.
“Demonstrations such as today are an important means of testing and displaying joint effects.
“We are building on the Air Force’s international reputation for being good at what we currently do, and asking important questions about taking Air Force’s contribution to joint operations even further.
“If this kind of training exercise shows us something we can do that would help Air Force, Army and Navy fight better as a team, then that’s what we will pursue.”
The Australian Army’s Head Modernisation and Strategic Planning, Major General Gus McLachlan, AM, said that greater air-land integration is an important step towards the Army and the ADF working in a joint, combined and interoperable environment.
“Our Army is focussed on two key areas to ensure improved air-land integration. The first is to deliver better communication systems to ensure an agile, efficient and timely response to an intelligent, well-armed and motivated adversary,” said Major General McLachlan.
“The second is to advance how we plan and conduct air-land operations to deliver the right effect, at the right place, at the right time.
“The demonstration highlights how we can better harness the strengths of our team by digitally connecting air and land platforms.
“This increased connectivity enhances awareness and communication. It gives a common operating picture, so we are better able to plan and execute joint operations into the future.”
Chief Executive Australia, Ian Irving said Northrop Grumman has unparalleled expertise developing and deploying airborne gateways that ensure resilient communications of disparate networks and enable a fully networked battlespace.
“We’ve applied this key capability for more than a decade in numerous operational programs, exercises and demonstrations and have seen how effective and transformational networking a diverse force of assets can be,” said Mr Irving.
“Northrop Grumman congratulates Air Force and Army on their initiative in undertaking this technology demonstration and we look forward to continuing to support the ADF as it builds interoperability in its current and fifth-generation force.
“As demonstrated during the Jericho Dawn exercise, the ability to share information and situational awareness from various sources across diverse platforms and domains is critically important in facilitating joint and coalition operations.”
Capabilities involved include RAAF’s C-17A, AP-3C, KC-30A, E-7A Wedgetail and FA-18 Hornet aircraft, as well as the Army’s air-land enablers from the 16th Air Land Regiment, Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopters from 1st Aviation Regiment, and vehicles and equipment from the Combined Arms Training Centre.
The key to understanding what happened is to focus on the two situations being tested.
The first was using the current methods, which rely on voice communication and a ground controller operating as a human switchboard, which means that this person must work deconfliction of assets, which can not see one another.
The second was to rely on an air based “translator” or “machine switchboard” aboard a gulfstream aircraft where the Tiger system (Eurogrid), could be translated into Link-16 and the various ground-air systems able to see one another in the battlespace.
Although important, this shift actually underscored the crucial choke point which is the C2 system.
If the key assets on the battlespace can see one another, and the key units at the point of attack can see how best to attack the adversary, why are they reaching back in the battlespace for a “mother-may-I” general officer?
Even worse, training to absorb data in a fluid battlespace and to react quickly to the right data is a skill set, which one needs when one is not being directed by voice command as well.
“The tactical elements now have better situational awareness, but their command and control network needs to be able to support the decision speed that those linkages now enable.
We now need to make sure that the ground commander can make his decisions in a quicker manner to allow the enhanced situational awareness (SA) to be beneficial.”
They pointed out that in the second phase of the exercise that the exercise director actually had to slow down the exercise because “the call to fires done via the link systems so reduced the time it took to deliver the effect that it was becoming to fast for the VIP observers to be able to see clearly.”
This is probably a good metaphor for what the future holds for the old C2 structure!
But to be clear, the Jericho co-leads emphasized that working through new C2 concepts of operations within the overall transformation of the RAAF was a central lynchpin for change.
“The C2 system itself will need to be as flexible and agile and adaptive as the forces that we put out to deliver the localized tactical effects.
And this is especially true in a contested environment because when the forces lose a particular node, cannot sit around waiting for it return.
They will need to be reactive and adaptive.
We are talking about decentralized C2 as a centerpiece of the evolving force structure.
We need to start focusing on our tactical C2 layer this year and think about how that will interact with our strategic C2 layer.
We’ll be doing a lot of work on this challenge, which is a central one to the way ahead.”
As Group Captain Campbell added:”The C2 system is the potential handbrake in a modern networked force.
Some would argue that C2 has always been the handbrake to ops.
However, in modern warfare, fast and effective C2 will be the difference between winning and losing.”
Editor’s Note: One of the presentations at the Williams Foundation seminar was by Major General (Retired) Goldfein of Northrop Grumman who discussed C2 and the Jericho Dawn exercise which was upcoming the day after his presentation.