Designing an Integrated Force: Alignments and Challenges


2017-05-08 By Robbin Laird

The Williams Foundation has provided a crucial venue for thinking through the challenges of building a flexible, agile 21st century combat force grounded in a capability to fight and win in a high intensity combat setting.

The background is a real world effort by the Australian government to recapitalize their defenses forces via the acquisition of new platforms, leveraging legacy ones and shaping an integrated force going forward.

Integration is crucial not simply because Australian forces are relatively modest; but with new equipment coming on line, capabilities such as software upgradeability in key platforms and the digital revolution provide a unique opportunity to rethink integration.

Rather than pursuing after market integration or simply connecting stove piped service platforms after the fact with a bolt on network, how might integration be built from the ground up?

The approach being taken is not theological or an application of set of propositions or laws written down in a guidebook.

The approach is to work greater integrative processes within and among the services, and to highlight the need to pose hypotheses along the way concerning how greater integration is achievable where appropriate and ways to achieve more effective outcomes for the development of the force.

It is a quest which is being shaped by realigning organizations, and trying to build from the ground up among the junior officers a willingness to shape interconnectivity from the ground up.

It is about building a 21st century network of operators who are empowered to find force integration solutions, again where appropriate or service specific outcomes appropriate to the different warfighting domains.

Shaping a way to conduct the quest is very difficult; but the ADF is clearly been empowered to do so by Government.

Such a quest inevitably will fail and succeed along the way; but without setting this objective from the ground up, it will be difficult to change the operating concepts and the then the concepts of operations which can drive the transformation of the force.

The United States may have Joint Forces Quarterly; the ADF has a transformation process underway.

And for the United States, even when the Aussies are adopting out own platforms, they are doing so in a very different context in which force integration is set as a strategic goal, rather than the pursuit of service modernization.

In effect, the Aussies are providing the experimental model which can be quite relevant to others, including the United States.

In the mid 1990s when I worked at the Institute for Defense Analyses, one of the tasks on which I worked was for the Roles and Missions Commission. One of the key tasks, which the Congress had tasked the Commission to pursue, was to determine what the United States might learn from allies.

We worked hard on our white paper but when delivered to the Commission we were told by a very senior member of the Commission: “Good work; but why did you really examine the question? We are so much bigger than any of our allies, there is very little we could learn from them or apply to our own practices!”

Unfortunately, not much as changed in the attitude of many defense civilians, but many leaders in the US military do not share such views, notably with allies and the US adopting some of the same key platforms at the same time, like P-8, Triton, and the F-35, and some allies operating more advanced equipment than the US itself.

After the April 11, 2017 seminar I had a chance to discuss the challenges with Air Vice-Marshal Mel Hupfeld, Head Force Design in the Force Design Division in the Department of Defence as well as Brigadier Jason Blain, Director General Force Options and Plans, Force Design Division.

The office is a joint office and the time spent was really a discussion of what the office was doing and the challenge of shaping an effective way ahead.

Indeed, the discussion for that was what it was, very much highlighted the approach which is a work in progress rather than the forced application of a set of solutions to the complex evolving organism which a modern defense organization certainly is, and one such as the ADF which is very globally engaged and learning combat lessons on the fly.

BG Blain presented at the seminar and in his presentation highlighted the focus on the force design cycle, which the office has developed to map out ways to put in place an ongoing realignment of the force structure towards more joint solutions.

At the heart of the effort is a shift to a stream approach whereby functions become crucial frameworks for platform decisions, modernization decisions and future investment decisions moving forward.

Slide from presentation by BG Blain to Williams Foundation Seminar, April 11, 2017

Obviously this is a work in progress and perhaps always will be.

The challenge is to get in place a template which allows for greater capabilities to shape force integration but in an ongoing manner; more of an directive ongoing inquiry rather than a fixed point on the compass.

Slide from presentation by BG Blain to Williams Foundation Seminar, April 11, 2017

A key effort has been to align processes within the Department to maximize the possibility that a joint consideration is built into the acquisition, operational concepts and doctrinal development processes.

At the same, concrete outcomes need to be demonstrated to highlight that all of this work makes a difference in terms of the deployed force as well.


The Force Design office consists of approximately 180 personnel and consists of two interactive branches. On looks at evolving futures and then works from that analysis to the development of appropriate operating concepts.

The second looks at current operations and training and draws lessons learned which amounts to “harvest the best and leave the rest” moving forward.

And obviously, they tie in with other organizations, such as Defense Science and Technology, and the Defense Industry Policy Division.

A key partner is the Joint Capability Management and Integration Division in the same area of the Department of Defence.

Both Divisions work together for the Vice Chief of the Defence Force (VCDF), to provide support to his role as the Joint Force Authority to ensure an Integrated Force by Design. This organization shapes the architecture for integration and interoperability for the evolving force. They work on the integrating enablers for the force, including that of C4ISR Design.

“We look at force development options and assess gaps and opportunities as we move forward.

“We examine as well what capabilities are not longer most useful to us.

“Through VCDF, who also holds authority as the Chair of the Defence Investment Committee, we then make proposals to government concerning our judgment about investment decisions from a joint perspective.”

The other part of the Force Design office deals with defense preparedness and mobilization.

Air Vice-Marshal Mel Hupfeld (centre) chats with industry partners during the Industry Event held during the Avalon International Airshow 2017. Credit: Australian Department of Defence

This effort requires the office to consider the whole of the defense of Australia concept and approach.

What capabilities does Australia need for integrated territorial defense?

A number of themes were highlighted in the discussion with Air Marshal Hupfeld and BG Blain.

First, shaping a cross departmental narrative about the design of the integrated force as a guiding effort is an ongoing challenge and requirement in shaping decisions about the development of the operating force.

Second, ensuring that there is thrust forward is crucial. Concrete outcomes need to be defined and executed to ensure visible forward thrust which will in turn drive further change. How will we do rapidly in six months what the Department would normally take three to five years to do?

Third, the reshaping of operational concepts around the ongoing design of the integrated force is a key aspect of the ongoing challenge. And taking that down to the next level, namely, the concepts of operations, is crucial because a key foundation for success is empowering the younger generation of officers who are leading the force design in practice being down with the introduction of the new platforms.

“We have CONOPS for the current fight but we need to shape future CONOPS as the pull function for the design of the joint force.”

BG Blain during a panel session held at the Williams Foundation Seminar on Integrated Force Design, April 11, 2017.

Fourth, there need to be successful case studies along the way to create a demonstration effect for the Department and beyond.

In short, shaping a way ahead for the design of an integrate force is a work in progress.

But what is required is to extract modernization of the current force combined with new platforms and enablers to shape the ongoing capabilities of the ADF as an integrated force.

As John Blackburn put it in an interview after the seminar:

“Now where we’re at now is moving to the next stage, of applying a bit of thrust as one of the speakers said, getting on with building this integrated force and not just talking about it.

“We see elements of force integration in the United States, but the integration there is by each Service.

“There’s integrated force happening within Navy with NIFC-CA.

“The USAF is looking at their future, Aerospace 2030 concepts.

“We have to follow the ideas in the U.S. but take one step further.

“Because we’re small, we might be able to take the step straight to JIFC-Australia, Joint Integrated Fire Control for Australia.

“We want to learn from the U.S., follow it closely, but actually take a step which is hard for the U.S. to do because of its size, and that’s go truly integrated by design across the whole of the joint force.”