By Robbin Laird
Research Fellow, The Williams Foundation
The most recent Williams Foundation Seminar was held in Canberra, Australia on September 28, 2022. The seminar was entitled, “Enhancing the Lethality and Survivability of the Integrated Force.”
The seminar in effect provided a scene setting for discussing the next evolution of the ADF generated by the evolving strategic environment and the much wider demand side of dealing with security and defense that really requires a whole of nation approach.
Since 2018, the Williams Foundation seminars have turned towards the major transition facing Australia and its partners and allies namely, the global confrontation between the 21st century authoritarian states and the liberal democracies. Rather than simply maintaining a “rules-based order,” the ADF and its allies and partners are now contesting the clear efforts of the major authoritarian powers to displace this order and replace it for a world safe for the authoritarians.
And we have seen the Russians move from “hybrid warfare” to open industrial age warfare with some new aspects of the conduct of war introduced into the war as well.
We have entered a new historical epoch, and determining how to deter, defect, contest and defeat major powers becomes part of the new context facing the ADF and the Australian nation.
There are obviously no quick fixes for such challenges, but a major re-orientation for the ADF and Australia is required.
As has been noted by a sage former senior U.S. defence official: “We have 80% of our force now which we will have in 20 years.” This means that reworking and reorienting the force you have but introducing new elements to make your force more lethal and survivable is a major part of the challenge from a force building perspective.
The seminar speakers highlighted various aspects of what needs to be done to provide for rethinking the way ahead for the force but in the context of what is realistic to do as well as what needs to change to get the job of deterrence done effectively.
At the heart of the shift is focusing on the direct defense of Australia, and working Australian geography to advantage.
This means that the joint force needs to focus on how to work together to defend the continent and project relevant power into the region.
This means as well that the new power projection instruments – those represented by cyber and space – neither of which is geographically limited are now part of the deterrence and warfighting efforts.
If we can consider there is a return to a core focus on the direct defense of Australia and shaping an understanding of the strategic space defining Australia’s defense perimeter, how might the current ADF force be restructured in a template which allows for the kind of innovation going forward that will enhance ADF direct defense capabilities?
How might new capabilities be added over the near to mid to longer term that enhance this defense restructuring to extend Australia’s direct defense capabilities?
In other words, if one focuses on the priority of the direct defense to Australia, what kinds of force restructuring might be necessary for the current ADF?
And then ask what new capabilities are coming into the force or could be integrated into the force in the near to midterm, what would that ADF look like as an integrated combat grid over the extended area of operations?
If one re-shifts the focus of your force, one has to ask what is most relevant and what is not in such a strategic shift; and then determine what one needs to form the relevant concepts of operations for that force,
It is crucial as well to find cost effective ways to enhance that forces capabilities and train appropriately to shape the most lethal and survivable force possible within the various constraints facing the nation.
But that raises another key point. If indeed the priority of the defense of Australia is from the continent to the first island chain, then the resources necessary to do so are much greater than the ADF will possess.
What kinds of infrastructure can be built in the relevant areas of sustained operations?
How to enhance force mobility throughout the region?
How to shape mobile basing options and capabilities?
These challenges obviously require key innovative efforts for reshaping the joint force and requires government to consider investments and approaches beyond that which would be considered narrowly considered for a defence budget.
The September 28, 2022 seminar provided a significant look at the reframing challenges and to how to think about the way ahead.
This is how the Foundation invitation highlighted the seminar:
The aim of the September 2022 seminar is to examine specific measures which enhance both the lethality and survivability of an integrated Australian Defence Force. It will examine gaps and opportunities in the 5th generation force and identify priorities which accelerate preparedness for complex, sustained, high intensity operations.
Since 2013 the Sir Richard Williams Foundation seminars have focused on building an integrated 5th generation force. Recent seminars have evolved from the acquisition of new platforms to the process of shaping and better understanding the environment in which the integrated force will prepare and operate. Moreover, they have highlighted the challenges of acting independently at an accelerated tempo and in sustained, high intensity, complex operations across all domains.
Almost a decade later, the 2022 seminars reflect on the journey towards a 5th generation force and identify gaps, opportunities, and priorities for the development of next generation capability in the face of new threats and new risks, paving the way for the 2023 seminars.
Despite the operational challenges, the framework and apparatus of the 5th generation force is substantially in place. And while there is still plenty of work to be done, the shift from a focus on platforms to a broader appreciation of an integrated 5th generation system of systems represents an important milestone.
As identified in the March 2022 seminar, there is a shared understanding of the scale of the challenges ahead for both defence and industry, and across coalition partners, too. However, the strategic circumstances continue to deteriorate at an alarming rate, driving the need for prioritisation in both what and how we acquire new capabilities.
On top of that, there is the challenge of progressing integration with the force-in-being as well as the future force. The need to balance the requirement to ‘fight tonight’ with the ability to meet future threats is vitally important, noting that the force we will have in 20 years’ time will contain 80% of what we have today based upon a series of major systems with an upgradeable software core.
Towards a Lethal, Survivable, and Affordable Force
The September seminar will develop the ideas identified in March and expand on the theme of an increasingly sophisticated and time-sensitive ‘lethality-survivability-affordability’ trade-off necessary to build a balanced and relevant force. A trade-off which is set within the context of a need for increased deterrence, decision-making advantage, and a commercial reality that we no longer have the time to establish the competitive tension the acquisition system has traditionally demanded to demonstrate best value for money.
The seminar will focus on the gaps and opportunities as they relate to the broader requirements of the Australian Defence Force, notably in terms of enablers and integration priorities. Above all, it will focus on preparedness and the need to focus on outcomes which improve training throughput and performance at the force level, backed up by enhanced fuel, infrastructure, weapons, basing, and supply chain resilience.
A core consideration will be the need for an increasingly integrated relationship between Defence and system providers to develop the industrial depth and responsiveness necessary for future operations. A relationship which works towards a better understanding of our industrial production capability needs, while recognising that competition in some areas has the unintended consequence of reducing overall sovereign production capability and capacity.
Another area of interest is the need for greater exploitation of technology to enhance human performance and decision making at the force level to complement training systems associated with individual platforms and weapon systems. Improving training system effectiveness and efficiency, described in terms of ‘Mission Rehearsal’ at the March seminar, not only increases throughput but also ensures the enterprise is ready to operate across the spectrum of conflict while being disrupted, deceived, and degraded.
To introduce different perspectives from elite, high performance sport, the Seminar also includes former Australian test umpire Mr Simon Taufel. For five years he was formally recognised as the world’s best cricket umpire based upon his consistent ability to make accurate decisions under pressure and his ability to integrate technology into real time decision-making.
In the final session, Service chiefs will provide insight into their thoughts about the future operating environment and key observations and lessons from the transition to a networked integrated force.
In later articles, I will highlight the presentations, as well as insights from interviews conducted in September 2022 with service chiefs, industrialists and analysts to expand the discussion of the challenges and opportunities to meet the challenges discussed at the seminar.
See also, the following:
And for my book which brings together The Williams Foundation seminar discussions and assessments from 2014 through 2019 see the following: