Australian Army Modernization: An Update from Brigadier General Mills


2017-04-26 By Robbin Laird

During my recent visit to Australia to attend the Williams Foundation seminar on integrated force design, I had a chance to discuss Army modernization with the head of the effort, Brigadier General Chris Mills.

This is the third time I have had the opportunity to interview Mills, and during this interview, he provided an update on how the Australian government was approaching defense modernization and the evolving Army perspective.

At the heart of the Australian Army modernization effort is ensuring enhanced lethality and survivability for the modular force packages being shaped by a 21st century approach to force development and integration.

The objective of Army modernization is to empower smaller army units and ensure their modular integration into larger force packages, as and when required.

Army modernization is focused on evolving and developing capabilities which provide for agility, flexibility and integration.

And to do so, Army is relying on joint capabilities, whether ISR, fires or C2.

But it must also ensure that its ground maneuver elements have sufficient organic combat power to operate on their own as well.

Australian Army officer Brigadier Chris Mills, Director General of Army Modernisation, officially launches the Human Performance Network research at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra, on 12 December 2016

In one of the earlier interviews, this is how BG Mills put it.

Question: In some ways, what you are describing is taking the mental furniture of the Special Forces and applying more broadly to the Army?

Answer: That is a fair way to put it. The Special Forces are generally able to access a whole range of joint effects for their particular tactical tasks. As a result, allowing small teams to achieve large effects.

We need to take, as you said, that mental framework and apply that to what we call the joint land force.

Within the ADF context the joint land force refers to all of those services that are collectively working to fight with Army to fight the land battle . By its nature that joint land force is by its nature, purple.

Importantly, not only do you have to package this small team appropiratly, but we have to ensure these small teams are capable of being dynamically repackaged on the fly with joint effects. For example, if a combat team now needs additional EW because of a change in threat or mission, the combat team will be able to leverage the required additional EW support from the joint force in time frames far quicker than the past.

The reality is that as we move beyond this decade we need to be capable of pushing support further down from division level and making it more readily available and more dynamically available to the small group level.

Empowering the small group with joint effects in seconds and minutes not hours and days.

 Slide from presentation by BG Wainwright, Williams Foundation, April 11, 2017

The time responsiveness of an Air Tasking Order that’s 72 hours old is really not going to cut it.

I would suggest that time line needs to be radically truncated.

The Chief of Army made the point at the Airpower Conference that in many ways we are still using procedures and approaches that go back to World War II for air-ground operations; this makes no sense in terms of technological advances and operational shifts.

We need to shape a 21st century approach.

It is also no longer just about air-land integration, it is about multi-domain integration at the small group level.

During our April 2017 discussion, BG Mills highlighted the evolving approach to defense modernization for the ADF.

With the new Defence White Paper, a new organization was created namely, the Defence Innovation Hub.

According to an MoD White paper released on December 2016:

On 25 February 2016 the Government released the 2016 Defence Industry Policy Statement (Industry Policy Statement).

The Industry Policy Statement, together with the 2016 Defence White Paper and the 2016 Integrated Investment Program, set out the Government’s strategy to enhance Australia’s defence capability including through collaboration with defence industry and other science and technology research partners.

A key element of the Industry Policy Statement is the establishment of the Defence Innovation Hub (Innovation Hub) for the Department of Defence (Defence).

The Innovation Hub will rationalise and simplify the existing Defence innovation programs into a streamlined program that nurtures and matures proposals through a single innovation pipeline.

Critical to the success of the Innovation Hub will be a supporting policy framework to transform the way that Defence approaches innovation and collaborates with industry and other research organisations.

The Innovation Hub is connected as well with the Defense Science and Technology Group’s Next Generation Technologies Fund.

“The Defense Innovation Hub, which works under Kate Louis which was announced in December of last year, has a significant amount of funds to support innovation initiatives, and it’s also linked to the Defense Science and Technology Group’s Next Generation Technology Fund.

Working with DSTG and the Innovation Hub provides the Australian Army with opportunity to solicit good ideas from industry, and then look at working with the respective companies at shaping innovative technologies to the point where they can eventually affect major capital acquisition projects.”

BG Mills then went on to describe some examples of innovation over the past three years, which illustrate how Army wants to shape its modernization approach.

The first example was the development and acquisition of a micro-UAV, a product that he highlighted during a presentation at the Williams Foundation last year.

“It started with an Army Innovation Day in which we put the challenge to industry of providing a small UAV which could be used by small army units.

“A number of companies trialed their capabilities and we then picked one – the Black Hornet – for further trials.

“We established a trial in one of our brigades and within Special Forces. It was deployed to Iraq for a short period of time.

“We like it. Patrol reports were very favorable.

“We are now looking to enter into a contract with a company to procure enough nano-UAVs to equip every one of our platoons and vehicle troops with its own nano-UAV.”

A second example and one that involves working with the Innovation Hub involves the development of autonomous vehicles and how these vehicles should inform “our future requirements.”

The LAND 400 project is seeing the replacement of the venerable M-113 with a new vehicle. According to the Ministry of Defence:

 LAND 400 – will acquire and support the next generation of Armoured Fighting Vehicles (AFV) with the firepower, protection and mobility to defeat increasingly lethal and adaptive adversaries well into the future.

 LAND 400 will deliver enhanced levels of survivability to the Joint Land Force including sensors, weapons and information systems which will be networked to strategic intelligence platforms.

At its foundation, the project will deliver replacements for the Australian Light Armoured Vehicle (ASLAV) and M113 Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) fleets.

The project will also provide specialist Manoeuvre Support Vehicles (MSV) to properly enable Army’s combat brigades to undertake joint land combat.

LAND 400 has four discrete phases:

  • LAND 400 Phase 1 – Project Definition Study (completed).
  • LAND 400 Phase 2 – Mounted Combat Reconnaissance Capability, primarily enabled by the Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle (CRV) mission system (the ASLAV replacement)
  • LAND 400 Phase 3 – Mounted Close Combat Capability, primarily enabled by the Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) (the M113 APC replacement) and MSV mission systems.
  • LAND 400 Phase 4 – Integrated Training System

This is a major procurement program within MoD for Army modernization.

But BG Mills highlighted the importance of a potential offshoot program to be supported by innovation involving the development of autonomous vehicles technologies, which could complement the main acquisition project.

“One of the options we could explore is to take legacy vehicles, such as the M113, and install an autonomous vehicle kit.

“As a result we could get a vehicle which could be used for the dirty and dangerous missions which are currently being done by our troops. Further more this would be a relatively cheap and value for money option for the Australian tax payer.”

“For example under this context the M113 could now become an autonomous resupply vehicle. I need the resupply to go from X to Y. Its protection level is not as high as our manned vehicles, LAND 400, but it doesn’t need to be. There’s just bullets, beans, etc. in these vehicles, but they can make their way autonomously from point X to point Y.”

Another example where autonomous capability could be leveraged in the army modernization approach is to replace humans doing counter-mine searches with autonomous vehicles.

“I don’t want a man or a woman doing that in the future.

“I want an autonomous robot, autonomous vehicle, clearing the ground in front of the patrol.

“There are a number of companies around the world that have got very advanced autonomous vehicles robotics that could do that task now.

“We’re looking to run trials in the back end of this year and throughout the next couple of years.”

The Army is modernizing and doing so within the evolving joint context.

“The Australian Army is presented with the opportunity of transforming itself.

“It’s really understanding and ensuring that we get more than the sum of the individual parts, that they work collectively together and what we get is more than just the individual pieces of equipment.

“And for us, this means a focus on a modernized combined arms team.”

“We need to ensure that as we modernize the combined arms team, that it is configurable, with the right troops and equipment for the task, and scalable, with the right number of people, from a combat team of about 200 people to a battle group, three to five combat teams and their support elements, to a brigade, 3000 to 5000 people, which is three to five battle groups and their support elements, and ensuring that the glue that makes the collective capability operates effectively in a range of combat settings.”

When I was last in Australia, the LHD trials were starting and the Army was looking at ways to make effective use of this new capability.

I asked him to provide an update on progress to date.

“It is going well.

“We have put our Land battlefield management system on the ship and we can now use it to prepare for ground force insertion.

“We can do collaborative planning on the ship digitally and then prepare the force for deployment off of the ship.”

“Next we are looking to incorporate beyond line of sight communication capabilities to the Land battle management system on the ship and to have that ready by the next Talisman Saber exercise.”

Editor’s Note: For a look at the Australian Army’s Battle Management System, see the following: