The Role of the Australian Army in Australia’ Indo-Pacific Strategy: A Work in Progress


By Robbin Laird

Australia is building an integrated force and working to extend the reach and range of that force.

This is a core effort for the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force and clearly focused on dealing with challenges in the Indo-Pacific region.

But what is the role of the Australian Army in this effort?

Clearly, the Australian Army has been a key player in working relationships such as with Indonesia and Malaysia, and with the new amphibious capability will expand its engagement in the region.

But if we are in the midst of strategic shift from land wars in the Middle East to crisis management in which peer competitors have force on force capabilities which significantly impact on our combat and diplomatic success, what is the role of the ground force?

The Strategic Shift Facing the Liberal Democracies: Williams Foundation Report #8

This is a challenge not only for regular Army forces but for Special Forces as well.

We have dealt in a preliminary fashion with the question of the impact on Special Forces in a recent article, but the question being addressed here is how does a regular ground force, such as the Australian Army, adapt to the new conditions and what force modernization priorities need to be emphasized an highlighted?

The new chief of the Australian Army, Lieutenant General Rick Burr, has provided some baseline elements for answering the question in his initial Commander’s intent published on July 14, 2018 and in his Futures Statement published on August 8, 2018.

The Commander’s Intent highlighted what the Chief of Army sees as an “Army in Motion.”

To be ready now, we must harness the whole Army and leverage the potential of the joint force and the entire enterprise. We need both capability and capacity. We must be physically, morally and intellectually prepared for operational deployment, at any time, wherever we are needed. Army must also transform to capture future opportunities. Being future ready is a way of challenging the status quo; constantly evolving how we think, equip, train, organise and prepare to compete in the future.  

The statement then goes on to note:

The evolving character of war and the realities of an increasingly competitive and disruptive world demand we unlock our full potential. 

We must create and leverage new opportunities to team with other militaries as well as across the joint force, government, industry, academia and community to generate capability advantage. 

We will optimise what we have at every level in Army by thinking of new ways to operate, by experimenting, innovating and accepting risk.  

And the statement concludes with this comment:

Army is always in motion. 

Our next steps will be guided by a strategic framework, and articulation of our future warfighting concept, Accelerated Warfare.

What we can take away from this is a clear emphasis on the centrality of Army working effectively in the joint and coalition force.

That begs the question, that if the joint and coalition force in question in the Indo-Pacific region is engaging in dealing peer competitors, notably China, what role will the Army play and what innovations are crucial to play that role?

With the release of the accelerated warfare statement preliminary answers are provided to this question.

The Challenge

The challenge is described as follows in the accelerated warfare statement:

We live in an era of increasing competition where the rules-based international order is coming under increasing pressure. Being future ready means continuing our contribution to an open and fair international system, and being prepared for increasing volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.


Our region is becoming increasingly defined by a changing geopolitical order and operating spectrum of cooperation, competition and conflict. At the same time, the pace of urbanisation and regional competition in littoral environments is bringing its own form of complexity. These trends are a major factor in accelerating the speed and dynamism across diplomatic, informational, economic and military interactions between sovereign states and other actors.


Our operating landscape is changing – adversaries, including violent extremist organisations and state-based threats can now control and influence all operating domains. The advent of rapidly evolving, easily accessed technology increasingly offers asymmetric capabilities to both established powers as well as non-state actors and even individuals. The ability to sense and strike from long range as well as swarming low-cost technologies are increasing the vulnerability of major military systems.

Future strike capabilities will not just be physical but also digital, executed often at the speed of a mouse-click. Sophisticated Anti-Access, Area Denial (A2/AD) capabilities offer the ability to deny manoeuvre while distributed systems that are ‘smarter’ and smaller are becoming increasingly essential to survivability. Networking will be critical in terms of generating a system capable of ‘cooperative engagement’.


While the nature of war as a contest of wills is enduring, technological disruption is rapidly changing war’s character. These characteristics include the convergence of big data, artificial intelligence, machine-learning, robotics, unmanned and autonomous capability with precision weaponry. Fused, synthesised and assured information for decision superiority is also likely to be an essential battlefield enabler with the challenge to protect this information from disruption and deception.

Technology is not the sole answer. Our challenge is to underpin technological change with a joint warfighting philosophy linked to future investment, force structure, mobilisation and logistics transformation to be relevant, adaptable and survivable in the modern operating environment.


The reach of sensors and fires means Army must address all domains and comprehensively integrate across them. Space and cyber have not been fully contested in previous wars and therefore we have limited knowledge for how conflict in these domains will play out in the future.

Our ability to operate in the traditional air, sea and land domains are at risk of being debilitated from space and cyber yet there is also great opportunity in these domains for military advantage. Future conflict is likely to be across domains where networks and integration are the key to generating military power.

Put together, the geopolitical context, changing threat, disruptive technologies and domain integration means that we must prepare for an accelerating environment. Future warfare, in certain parts, will be fought at the speed of machines with success belonging to the side who can adapt the fastest.

Future advantage will lie with the side who can ‘own the time’ and best prepare the environment.

Let us take some of these items separately.

The ability to sense and strike from long range as well as swarming low-cost technologies are increasing the vulnerability of major military systems.

This is true but the Williams Seminar to be held on August 23, 2018 will focus on how the Aussies can have relevant technologies highlighted here.

And if it is to be long-range strike and active defense, much of that will operate in Western Australia.

What is the Army’s plan to work with Air Force on shaping an active defense and mobile defense of Western Australian defense assets to ensure longer range strike and support for the forces engaged deep within the region?

Future conflict is likely to be across domains where networks and integration are the key to generating military power.

Of course, the reverse is true, namely that Australia needs to have core capabilities to disrupt networks and rip apart adversary combat formations.  What is the Army’s role in the offensive-defensive enterprise?

The US Army at Fort Sill is certainly trying to work through how offensive and defensive systems can support disruption of adversary systems and capabilities, although the US Army is falling short of sorting out how their systems will integrate with Air Force and Naval systems, in operations in an integrated battlespace.

The reach of sensors and fires means Army must address all domains and comprehensively integrate across them.

Of course, this is a major challenge because it boils down to rapid insertion of new sensors and software into combat platforms and integration of those ground based platforms, above all with Air Force.

How is the Australian Army going to address that challenge?

Australian Army Response to the New Threat Environment

The final section of the Accelerated Warfare futures statement addresses the question of how Army will respond to the threat environment.

Within this accelerating context, Army must respond. We must push ourselves to think in creative and unconstrained ways to ensure our warfighting philosophy is appropriate and informs our future capabilities.

Accelerated Warfare as a description of ‘how we respond’ means owning the speed of initiative to outpace, out-manoeuvre and out-think conventional and unconventional threats. It requires excellence in the art and science of decision-making as well as deep thinking about Army’s role in understanding, shaping and influencing the environment.

Our role for creating access, persistence and lethality in the joint force are areas for greater discussion. This includes aligning shared interests to create access to our preferred operating environments, technologies and partners.

We must discuss how we leverage persistent presence through access, endurance and our people-to-people links. Applying lethality on the land, from the land and onto the land for potency and influence across all domains must remain a central focus for our role in the joint force.

As we discuss ‘how we respond’, we will also think about our organisational elements.

Our people must be leaders and integrators who contribute to multi-disciplinary teams, enabling us to thrive in uncertainty, adapt to change and generate solutions.

We must leverage emerging technology as a potential source of advantage, integrating new technologies within the joint force. Partnerships through teaming with our international military partners, industry and academia will be of paramount importance to unlock potential and strengthen relationships for mutual benefit.

We must pull the future towards us rather than wait for it; Army must respond proactively by rethinking our contribution to joint warfighting philosophy, strategy and concepts. I look forward to your engagement as we explore these ideas together, define the next steps and inform our capability development priorities.

The key question of course is where one is doing this.

Geography matters.

Does the Army’s role vary dependent upon which geography within the Indo-Pacific region it will be asked to deploy?

There is no one size fits all integration, and the ADF has emphasized this point with its emphasis on shaping a task force concept.

Where do the ground forces fit within which task forces to deal with which missions and in which geographical sectors in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond?

The new Chief has set in motion an interesting approach and we will see where it will and can go in the period ahead.

For the Williams Foundation seminar report on Land-Air integration, see the following:

Williams Foundation Report #4