In this report, the major presentations and discussions at the Williams Foundation seminar on the requirements for fifth generation manoeuvre held on October 24, 2019 in Canberra, Australia are highlighted along with interviews conducted before, during and after the seminar as well.
What is fifth generation manoeuvre?
The definition by Air Commodore Gordon of the Air Warfare Centre:
“The ability of our forces to dynamically adapt and respond in a contested environment to achieve the desired effect through multiple redundant paths. Remove one vector of attack and we rapidly manoeuvre to bring other capabilities to bear through agile control.”
The Australians are working through how to generate more effective combat and diplomatic capabilities for crafting, building, shaping and operating an integrated force.
And the need for an integrated force built along the lines discussed at the Williams Foundation over the past six years, was highlighted by Vice Admiral David Johnston, Deputy Chief of the ADF at the recent Chief of the Australian Navy’s Seapower Conference in held in Sydney at the beginning of October:
“It is only by being able to operate an integrated (distributed) force that we can have the kind of mass and scale able to operate with decisive effect in a crisis.”
The need for such capabilities was highlighted by the significant presentation by Brendan Sargeant at the seminar where he addressed the major strategic shift facing Australia and why the kind of force transformation which the Williams Foundation seminars have highlighted are so crucial for Australia facing its future.
In the future there will be times when we need to act alone, or where we will need to exercise leadership.
We have not often had to do this in the past – The INTERFET operation in Timor, and RAMSI in the Solomon Islands are examples.
We are far more comfortable operating as part of a coalition led by others. It is perhaps an uncomfortable truth, but that has been a consistent feature of our strategic culture.
So I think our biggest challenge is not a technical or resource or even capability challenge – it is the enormous psychological step of recognising that in the world that we are entering we cannot assume that we have the support of others or that there will be others willing to lead when there is a crisis. We will need to exercise the leadership, and I think that is what we need to prepare for now.
To return to the title of this talk: if we want assured access for the ADF in the Asia Pacific, then we need to work towards a world that ensures that that access is useful and relevant to the sorts of crises that are likely to emerge.
I will leave one last proposition with you. Our assured access for the ADF in the Asia Pacific will be determined by our capacity to contribute to regional crisis management.
That contribution will on some occasions require that we lead.
The task now is to understand what this means and build that capacity.
In short, it is not just about the kinetic capabilities, but the ability to generate political, economic and diplomatic capabilities which could weave capabilities to do environment shaping within which the ADF could make its maximum contribution.