Australian Force Integration and Allied Interoperability: Facing and Meeting the Challenge


By Robbin Laird

Canberra, Australia

I have been coming to Australia for five years and working the seminar reports for the Williams Foundation in support of the Australian Defence Force Modernization.

This modernization process has been very much focused not simply on recapitalization of the force but shaping a new approach to force integration.

And force integration will yield a more capable and effective force able to better defend Australian sovereignty and contribute more effectively to overall deterrence in depth in the Pacific.

Yet there is an inherent challenge which faces the United States as it comes out of a long period of fighting the land wars and relying upon geographically defined command structures.

The geographical commands are organized to shape forces used in a particular geographical area and in the conditions of land warfare against a non-peer adversary many of the tasks are almost fed ex in nature in terms of logistical movement of force and force aggregation, and joint operations understand in terms of supporting ground operations, even if air enabled.

This becomes very different in the face of peer adversaries where the need is to have an effective integrated force postured to dominate rather than simply to collate force up against a relatively slow moving adversary without force on force capabilities that can compete with you.

The challenge of shifting from the geographical commands to an integrated targeted force capability was highlighted in the interview we did with the then head of NORTHCOM Admiral Gortney in 2016.

As Admiral Gortney put the challenge:

We are a different combatant command than the other geographic combatant commands, and the reason is who’s in charge in dealing with the threats to the homeland.

In contrast, NORAD is pretty clear-cut.

It is an air mission command, although the changes over time have been significant facing the command. NORAD was born in the Cold War when the air battle was going to occur above the Great Lakes and over the Seattle area…..

The rise of China and the new Russia are driving a reconsideration of the NORTHCOM mission, for we really do need a commander for the homeland in a more classic sense. But when we were stood up it was not done to deal with more traditional or classic defense threats.

But the challenge for us is to shape what we in the US Navy call the NIFC-CA or Naval Integrated Fire Control—Counter Air battle network solution for North American defense. Put in simple terms, we need to shape a more integrated air and maritime force that can operate to defend the maritime and air approaches to North America as well as North America itself.

It is a question of shaping in this case the US and allied integrated forces able to deal with a peer competitor threat rather than relying on geographical commands to administer military force against a relatively limited capability by adversaries directly against the force.

In my visit to the Australian Air Warfare Centre located at RAAF Edinburgh on August 10, 2018, I had a chance to discuss the challenge of how force integration was shaping the need for new approaches to working with allies.

In my last interview with Air Commodore Joe “Vinny” Iervasi, he addressed the key challenge of how do we learn what we have not done before?”

In this interview, the focus was upon the challenge of both Australia pursuing a force integration strategy and at the same time working out ways to work effectively with allies.

Air Commodore Iervasi put it this way:

We talk about two things, integration and interoperability.

Integration is about the internal mechanisms of putting your force together and operating it across multi-domains.

Interoperability is how your force interfaces with another force.

For the Australian Defence Force, we are driving to deliver military effects as an integrated Joint Task Force, as we believe that is the most effective fighting force, particular for multi-domain warfare. If we are leading a campaign, then we’d inherently design the campaign and associated command and control on the basis of a Joint Task Force.

However, if we are contributing to someone else’s campaign, then our force ‘fit’ will be influenced by the design of that particular campaign. The main point in case is operations with the U.S.

Generally speaking, the U.S. conducts operations within their respective geographic combatant commands under a component framework, utilizing a supported/ supporting command and control arrangement. The consequence of this arrangement is that we have to disaggregate our Joint Task Force to be accommodated within the relevant component.

This inherently poses a dilemma for us; do we retain the integrity of our Joint Task Force and seek accommodation within that campaign to operate as such, or do we fallback to the component model? Either way, there are implications for the way we plan, organize, train and prepare for operations.

Put in other terms, if Australia enhances its warfighting capabilities through force integration and task forces, how does the United States work with such a force? 

One solution would be to task assign or geographical assign a task within a coalition operation but what might be other ways to deal with the opportunities opened up by the Australian approach to force integration?

But Air Commodore Iervasi sees the Aussie challenge as somewhat similar to the US Marine Corps working within the broader US force structure.  The US Marine Corps has shaped an integrated force, which is designed to operate that way for a period of time or within an area of operation, but its integration does challenge the USAF and the US Navy in terms of how best to operate with such an integrated force.

This challenge is reflected in the Aussies approach to working the F-35 within their force integration efforts.

On the one hand, the Aussies are working closely with the US Navy in developing P-8, Triton and F-35 integration.  However, the USAF mission is different to that of the USN, and therefore their mission integration priorities are also different.

Accorinding to Air Commodore Iervasi: “The differences in mission between the U.S. services is reflected within the components of a combatant command. Whilst the U.S. has sufficient mass to be able to segregate missions, a small-medium force like the ADF does not have that luxury. We are required to be interoperable across a broad mission set, and therefore we need to keep abreast of the different integration priorities of the U.S. services.

“There’s a segregation of responsibilities about what they do but we don’t fight that way.

“We’re trying to fight as an integrated force across all the warfighting domains.”

Another aspect of the force integration approach, which we discussed, is the impact which force integration might have on an adversary.

Air Commodore Iervasi: “Does the demonstration or the perception that your force is integrated essentially provide a deterrent effect?

“That is “I can’t just now attack the land force because I know it’s so interconnected with other things, I don’t know where I’m being attacked from.”

“Or “my ability to dominate has now diminished.”

“Does that actually produce a deterrent effect?”

One might conclude that perhaps the challenge which Aussie integration as well as USMC modernization pose for the broader US force structure could provide a critical lead in point for significant innovation in reshaping C2 able to leverage the kind of force integration which new technologies such as the F-35 pose to the US force structure, as currently operated.

The featured photo shows Royal Air Force Air Commodore Alistair Seymour, Commandant Air Warfare Centre, signs the visitors’ book at the Air Warfare Centre (AWC) at RAAF Base Edinburgh with Air Commodore Joe Iervasi, AM, South Australian Senior Australian Defence Force Office and Commander AWC..

The RAAF Air Warfare Centre (AWC) hosted the inaugural Trilateral Commanders’ Initiative on 23-27 April at RAAF Base Edinburgh, incorporating visitors from the United States Air Force and Navy and the Royal Air Force.

The establishment of the AWC, under Plan JERICHO in 2015, was to build collaborative relationships with coalition partner AWC equivalents to promote integrated 5th Generation warfighting.

April 23, 2018.

Credit: Australian Department of Defence