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Accelerated Warfare and the Puzzle of the Future

Soldier drone operator on right, wheeled drone on left; left side of image has honeycomb overlay

There is an accelerating rate of change in warfare. Over the past two hundred years, an accelerating trend can be identified of ever increasing lethality, fires range and surveillance distances, coupled with devolved authorities to ever decreasing levels of rank and experience. This trend will see Battle-Groups, currently O5-led (Lieutenant Colonels), that are inherently joint and interagency in nature. Combat-teams, currently O4-led (Majors), will be empowered with significant capabilities—such as Joint Fires and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities—and will wield commensurate combat power to that of historically much larger formations. What comes with this trend should be the recognition that force concept development, force structure, training, education and recruiting processes should all be proactively adapting with this future in mind. 

There are indications that this future is coming regardless of our comfort with its implications. Change is being driven by the fiscal costs of large-scale deployments; the casualty risks of long-range fires capabilities against airfields, naval formations and forward operating bases; and the demographic challenges with the Australian recruiting base. A recent U.S. Centre for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) report, leveraging Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) analysis, concurs and recommends adjustment to American military force concepts and force structures as a result. The title provided to this concept—Mosaic Warfare—is in itself instructive.  

In 2008, General Jafari of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) divided Iran’s military command-and-control into 31 distinct units, each of which could function independently in the case others were hit or destroyed—a strategy termed ‘mosaic defense’. The concept uses the metaphor of ‘mosaic tiles’ of localised irregular cells operating amongst the people, thereby enhancing resilience within its command and control structure. These cells employ popular resistance and empower local leaders to exploit opportunities within their geographic region. Since its implementation, this concept has been aptly demonstrated throughout conflicts in the Middle East and indeed demonstrating that we might have much to learn from this competitor.  

The DARPA/CSBA Mosaic Warfare concept is based upon the central idea of creating:  

 ‘adaptability and flexibility for U.S. forces and complexity or uncertainty for an enemy through the rapid composition and recomposition of more disaggregated U.S. forces using human command and machine control.’  

This concept aims to reduce dependencies upon the exquisite platform-centric capabilities currently dominating U.S. modernisation efforts, noting that the technological benefit to be gained from such capabilities is likely to be fleeting. Lessons from history have shown that technological innovation-adaptation competition requires new ‘break-out’ concepts of force employment. The concept, therefore, expands kill chains into webs, exploit Artificial Intelligence (AI), autonomous logistics concepts and devolved electronic and information warfare capabilities in a way that some practitioners involved in the U.S. wargames have described as ‘small, scalable and beautiful’

The Australian Army could consider the blending of the U.S. Mosaic Warfare concept with appropriate inclusion of the IRGC’s irregular warfare concepts and our own cultural norms, such as a culture of mission command. Such a blended concept might then serve as an azimuth for moving the Australian Army Accelerated Warfare framework into a modernisation concept. Such a concept would, in simple terms, involve the devolution of Multi-Domain Battle to a Company-level fight. It would see the stretch goal of adopting manned-unmanned teaming (MUMT) to the individual soldier level. It would see the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) tools to support decision-making by millennials who have used such algorithms all their lives. With distributed command and control nodes, empowered with a broader range of manned and unmanned fires capabilities, a recon-strike complex expands to ‘enmesh’ formations fighting amongst the people, in the crowded, connected, congested, littoral environment in which conflict will arise. 

The image introducing this article offers us a glimpse of this future. With a system of unmanned capabilities, the Air Force loyal wingman concept is expanded to that of a ‘tireless digger’—hauling supplies, establishing surveillance hides or providing a fires solution—all of which are expendable should robust electronic warfare and counter-battery fires capabilities be brought to bear. The Australian Army is well placed to consider such a future, building upon its extant Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) strategy produced by the Robotic and Autonomous Systems Implementation and Coordination Office (RICO) in Future Land Warfare Branch

Where MUMT is devolved to the individual level, the complexity of tactical command will increase, requiring rank and education realignment for respective levels of empowered command. It also necessitates Army to undertake trade reinvestment and/or adjustment for servicing and maintenance of RAS. The employment of AI will demand a much higher programming-literate workforce, as algorithms require understanding and adjustment, so that commanders can trust their judgements and that the system is learning the right lessons. Finally, the context of such change must not be forgotten. It will be within a congested environment, where actions need to influence the local population if they are to service political ends. Information Operations planners, empowered with AI systems trawling social media services, is an expanding gap that Army will need to address. This recognition, framed in the context of multi-domain effects, elevates Accelerated Warfare prescriptions from the Land domain, into Mosaic Warfare’s inherently joint framework.  

Army was once comfortable with devolved responsibility recognising that ‘every soldier is a sensor’. Into the future, we must invest in the ‘strategic corporal’ to command multiple multi-spectral sensors, shooters, unmanned systems operators, influencers, and ultimately, become an empowered decision-maker.  

The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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