The Australian Army in Transition: The Perspective of Lt. General Simon Stuart


By Robbin Laird

In his presentation at the recent Indian Ocean Defence & Security Conference, the recently appointed Chief of Army, Lt. General Simon Stuart highlighted how he saw the way ahead for the Australian Army.

“War is a national endeavour, and as a so-called middle power, we fight alongside allies and partners. As to the character of the next war, and to quote General H. R. McMaster, “we have a perfect record of predicting future wars… and that record is zero percent”.

“So we must be prepared for the fight beyond the opening battles, as wars are inevitably longer, more demanding and more visceral than imagined by those who speak, in my view, with undue certitude about the character of the next war.

“War requires national resilience, national means and national will.

“Our strategic environment has and will continue to change unevenly and at pace. And our ability to adapt must be similarly agile.

“As part of the ADF, your Army must be able to field and sustain relevant and credible land power options for our government. Including the things that only an Army can do – land combat – the demands of which are more lethal, more complex, and certainly more consequential than they have been in a long time.

“Your Army is transforming to keep pace with the changing character of warfare. To prevail in 21st century your Army must be better connected, protected, lethal and enabled.

“Your Army will make a greater contribution at the operational and strategic levels, through new and transformed capabilities such as long-range fires, littoral manoeuvre, cyber, space, information warfare, and special operations forces.

“Your Army is modernising its scalable, world-class combined arms fighting system that gives our soldiers the best probability of mission success in the most lethal environments and the best chance of coming home….

“Your Army is enhancing and expanding its health, logistics, engineering and aviation capabilities, as well as our command and management in order to be in a better position to modernise and scale, and contribute to mobilisation.

“Underpinning all this is the application of new and emerging technologies.”

The Chief of Army spoke at the recent Williams Foundation seminar on the evolution of the ADF in the new strategic environment. The day after his presentation, I had a chance to meet with him in his office to discuss some aspects of his thinking about the way ahead for the Australian environment post-Middle East land wars.

At the heart of any change is determining how best to work with the joint force in the direct defense of Australia, which includes significant demands to operate in the littoral regions adjacent to Australia and out into relevant areas of the Pacific.

We started by discussing the strategic environment. Lt. General Stuart underscored that Australia was a middle power, not a great power. This means that working with allies and partners in the region effectively was a core competence which the Army needs to develop, enhance and maximize. He argued that their exercise regimes in the region as well as working with Pacific partners was a key part of this effort.

He argued that “we are a convening power.  What is our strategy?

“Fundamentally it comes down to working with the alliance we have with the United States and other like-minded states, to promote shared interests. And in those contexts, we are focused on being a net contributor to alliance security as well as our own.

“And we are addressing how we work together to build the interior lines of defense in the region – to use land – parlance in the Indo-Pacific.”

How do you further enhance and develop such an approach?

According to Lt. General Stuart: “You take the architecture that already exists through the multilateral activities we do with Indonesia on activities like Garuda Shield, Balikatan with the Philippines, Cobra Gold in Thailand, Talisman Saber in Australia. You build those out as multilateral activities, and connect them in a way that strengthens international partnerships while enabling a persistent multilateral presence.

“And that persistent presence and multilateral interaction has a range of key strategic aspects. First, we get to know the environment and how to operate within it. We get placement and access where our multilateral forces need it. We can leverage the relationships, and importantly we provide an alternative to what the authoritarian states are offering as a future for our partners in the region.

“If we need to respond militarily in the region, we already have a grid and network established. We will have communications networks in place and have exercised mission command. And we have already worked through multilateral formations, so that you have a working C2 model, with all the authorities, in place and an understanding of how you plan, how national authorities affect your planning, how you force project, how you do logistics, and who’s going to contribute what to which part of any potential fight.”

But he argued that “we are not fit to purpose today to be able to do what we need to do in this strategic space.”

We then discussed some aspects of the transition for Army which he envisaged to make the Army “fit for purpose.”

He highlighted the need to be able to deploy long range fires in a joint context. We did not discuss how to do this at length, but in my view, it is not simply the ability to fire from the Australian continent or to move first to littoral locations in an Army context. With the emergence of kill web technologies, and third party targeting, the Army working with Navy and Air Force can shape innovative new ways to cross-target adversarial positions in a variety of new ways going forward, including the use of various robotic or autonomous systems.

Lt. General Stuart highlighted the need significantly to enhance the ability of the Army to become mobile in terms of littoral operations. He noted: “We need to be able to thicken our capacity for independent littoral maneuver and also be able to reinforce and disperse our amphibious capability in a meaningful way.”

He underscored: “Our 1st Brigade up in Townsville was previously our medium weight brigade. It will now be our core littoral maneuver formation. And this is a capability that our army hasn’t had since 1946. And we are building the capability for the brigade to enable us to maneuver in the littorals of our continent and in the region.

“But it has the capacity for inter-theater, independent intra-theater movement as well. It can also aggregate and disaggregate as part of our amphibious system. We are focused on force dispersal and mobility and providing us with utility to launch a range of different force packages either independently or as part of a combined or multilateral activity.”

Lt. General Stuart underscored that working with the USMC in terms of the MRF-D rotational force was assisting in this re-design process as well.

This means as well a shift in how to organize the Army.

He highlighted this aspect as follows:

“We’ve been organized for the wars of the last two decades at the brigade level. We need to move that to the division level to provide the standing headquarters, which are JTFs as well as divisional headquarters and provide our two-star special operations command with the kinds of C2 or C4 capabilities where they can actually command operations in their AORs that incorporate joint and combined agencies.

“We are organized today on a very much just-in-time efficiency model. We need to be now organized in our warfighting structures that are always on. New and emerging tech, Robotics and Autonomous Systems, Artificial Intelligence and machine learning, quantum and human performance optimization will all have an important impact on our logistics enterprise and in the Combat Service Support space.”

As well the modernization of the Army, we also discussed Army’s aviation enterprise as a broader set of challenges.

He summarized this thrust towards the future in the following terms:

“We are in the cooperative development program for precision strike missiles. We are looking at common effector sets with our navy in the longer term. Our contribution to space and cyber adds significant robustness to the joint effort given we are too small to have separate organizations.

“And we have completely reoriented our special operations capability along functional lines, and are highlighting special warfare and technical enablement to move us away from the focus of the past two decades to what we need to be doing in terms of unconventional warfare and other capabilities to contribute to deterrence in our region.”

Lt. General Stuart argued for the continued need for armor as well. “We need to modernize that bit of the army that needs to be hardened and protected to be able to guarantee overmatch in time and space and in a distributed way. If you look at it from a full-time brigade formation level in the Australian Army, it’s one out of nine formations.

“It’s not the bulk of the army, but at the end of the day, we’ll have about a brigade’s worth of armor capability to provide, what we used to call a commander’s reserve for those less lethal, less mobile, and less protected formations.”

I will finish this article by highlighting how the Chief of Army concluded his speech in Western Australia for it contained important insight into the key role which the Australian Army can play in terms of the direct defense of Australia understood in terms of its own continent.

“If I can now conclude by explaining how Army’s modernisation is unfolding here in Western Australia. Our 13th Brigade is growing and evolving – increasing the number of our full-time workforce and providing more opportunities for more West Australians to serve in either a full or on a part-time basis.

“Enhanced command and control arrangements in the headquarters of the 13th Brigade have increased its scale and its capacity for operations on the West Coast and it’s approaches.

“And we have created or enhanced capabilities in the 10th Light Horse Regiment, the 13th Engineer Regiment, and assigning new roles to parts of the 16th Royal West Australian Regiment.

“I just spent the last few days with our teams in the Kimberley and the Pilbara, where they are ‘always on’ every single day – providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in the most remote areas of our state’s north with cutting edge capabilities and making a huge contribution to bringing together and participating in a whole of government intelligence gathering framework.

“And of course based here in Perth is Special Operations Command – West, centered on the Special Air Service Regiment which conducts some of the nation’s most sensitive missions.

“All of this provides your Army with the ability to scale and mobilise in, to and from Western Australia and abroad.

“But of course, we cannot do it alone. Leveraging one of Army’s key strengths – teaming – we have focused collaboration with government, industry and academia. With the Western Australia Police Force, Australian Border Force, Maritime Border Command, and various intelligence agencies, we maintain a united network for the defence of Australia, including here in the West.

“With BHP, we collaborate on automation and secure communications, electrification and quantum technologies, as well as pathways that allow us to share our workforces. With the University of Western Australia’s Defence and Security Institute, we realise the challenges of the future and contribute to research, engagement and education on defence and security issues.

“These are just a few examples. Service in your Army offers a sense of purpose and an opportunity to be part of something bigger than ourselves.”

Lieutenant General Simon Stuart, AO, DSC

Lieutenant General Stuart assumed command of the Australian Army on 02 July 2022.

Enlisting as a soldier in 1987, Lieutenant General Stuart was commissioned into the Royal Australian Infantry Corps in 1990.  He has over thirty-five years’ experience across a range of leadership, operations, training and program management appointments in Australia and overseas.

Lieutenant General Stuart’s regimental experience was in the 2nd/4th and 2nd Battalions, Royal Australian Regiment, culminating in command of the 8th/9th Battalion from 2008-10.

He has commanded on operations on five occasions at the company, Joint Task Force, brigade and force levels in East Timor, Afghanistan and Egypt/Israel respectively. His early career included significant training experience, while his staff appointments have largely been in capability development. He has worked in joint, whole of government, international and multi-national environments for most of the past 20 years. Most recently, Lieutenant General Stuart has fulfilled the role of Head of Land Capability in Army Headquarters after a three year deployment in command of the Multinational Force & Observers from 2017-19.

Lieutenant General Stuart is a graduate of the Royal Military College – Duntroon (1990), the United Kingdom’s Joint Services Command and Staff College (2003), the United States Army War College (2015) and the Harvard Business School Advanced Management Program (2022). He holds a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of New England and Masters’ degrees in Project Management (UNSW), Arts – Defence Studies (Kings College, London) and Strategy (US Army War College).

Lieutenant General Stuart’s honours and awards include his appointment as Member of the Order of Australia (2011), the Distinguished Service Cross (2014) and advancement to Officer of the Order of Australia (2020). He has also received a number of foreign awards, including those from the United States, Timor Leste, Columbia, Uruguay, Czech Republic and Japan.