On September 28, 2022, the Sir Richard Williams Foundation held its latest seminar. The title of the seminar was “enhancing the lethality and survivability of the integrated force.”
At the seminar, the three service chiefs as well as the head of defence design provided key contributions to framing answers to these questions.
They were joined by a distinguished group of presenters from the analytical world, defence industry and government. And next month, I will publish a report on the seminar itself.
The ADF faces a double challenge.
First, there is the transition away from land wars to preparing forces for higher intensity operations against global authoritarian powers. I have written several books which address how challenging this shift is for a whole generation of warriors and policy makers who have only known the land wars as a core focus for their defense forces and efforts.
But Australia faces a second challenge affecting the future of the ADF as well: where is the ADF going to operate primarily in the direct defense of Australia? What exactly is the defense perimeter for Australia? How best to operate within that defense perimeter? And how to sustain the force for the time needed to prevail in conflict or crisis management?
After the seminar, I had a chance to talk with the Chairman of the Williams Foundation, Air Marshal (Retired) Geoff Brown, to get his perspectives on the seminar and the way ahead for the ADF to deal with these challenges. He also provided a preview of the next seminar to be held in the first quarter of 2023.
Having written the reports on the seminars since 2014, it was clear to me that the ADF was changing focus from 2018 on with regard to how to deal with the high-end fight. Seminars dealing with long range strike and on shaping a fifth-generation manoeuvre force especially underscored the nature of the shift.
According to Brown, “it is becoming apparent that the timeframe for getting it right has shortened up significantly. This means that the normal pace of acquisition to shape the way ahead for the ADF is too slow. Accelerating acquisition for major platforms is very difficult, so we need to look at other elements of the force to do so.
“We need to focus on the low hanging fruit to increase more rapidly our defence capabilities. At the seminar, several aspects of such an approach were highlighted, such as rapidly closing the gaps in the communications infrastructure. We need to do the tasks which we can more rapidly bulk up the force. Increasing crewing ratios by looking for ways to shorten the training process. You bulk up the force by leveraging commercial solutions that are available now.
“Accelerating the procurement of unmanned systems that can be developed quickly is one way we can get a much better deterrent posture than we have now.”
I noted that the entire shift to building out a kill web force provided a solid foundation for doing so as the focus in building out the kill web is focusing payloads to missions, not platforms to missions. And in the robotic areas AI areas there are a number of low hanging fruit, there a number of missions to payload capabilities which can bulk up the force.
Brown noted; “We are seeing in the Ukraine conflict a number of examples of the Ukrainians using Western weapons and various gap fillers to do in a month what Western forces would need three to four years to do if we stay in the business-as-usual approach.
“We can no longer afford two and a half years of staring at our navels while we decide which path we’re going to go on; we’ve actually got to make procurement to operations decisions in a much timelier manner.”
He then highlighted the example which came from a presentation of how umpires made decisions at cricket matches. The core point of that presentation was simply that the initial umpire decisions have a high probability of getting it right; an extended review process added greater accuracy but delays as well. As the presenter put it: “The gut feelings if the umpires were almost always right.”
Brown underscored that we need more rapid procurement to operations decision making and lengthy reviews on procurement choices really impeded combat innovation rather than enabling it.
And given the compressed time line of dealing with the threats facing Australia meant that time was of the essence in accelerating the ADF’s combat capability.
What comes next in terms of the Williams seminar series?
Brown: “That is a good question and we are in preliminary stages of sorting that out. I think we will revisit, maybe reinforce, what our priorities need to be going forward. In this seminar, we’ve looked at the challenge of enhancing the lethality and survivability of the force.
“I’d like to focus the next one on how to speed up our processes to get enhanced capabilities for that twin challenge in the next three to five years.”