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Chong Ju: Fires for a Future Age

20 June 2018
Chong Ju: Fires for a Future Age

The armour wheels in a perfectly executed turn worthy of a mounted squadron as mortar bombs and 155 shells blast a nearby hill and a Tiger races in for the kill. It’s Chong Ju, the Australian Army’s annual blast fest when Puckapunyal Range reverberates to the sound of explosions. Indeed, it is a blast, literally to the ears and figuratively to one’s pride as the nation’s land force demonstrates what it was designed to do to a military, media and defence stakeholder audience.

Every year the exercise is reported favourably in the popular press as well as defence-focused media outlets. There is even a Defence video. Yet, as the smell of cordite clears from the air, a question forms, exactly what is the message that Army is trying to convey? While Chong Ju is an admittedly awesome display of firepower it is also representative of the current and the past Army. Tanks, artillery and machine guns have been at the forefront of the art of war for a century. Javelins are highly effective but no longer futuristic. Everyone should get it. But the art of war is changing. Where is the Chong Ju that embraces the future potential of war? Where is the Chong Ju that excites with the possibility of new technologies rather than bludgeons one with what is already known?

In contrast to the maybe several hundred observers in Puckapunyal, 40,000 fans packed into the Seoul World Cup Stadium for the 2014 finals of the League of Legends competition. Another 250 million fans watched on-line as 16 teams competed for the million dollar prize. There is also a video, one that we suspect has been watched more frequently than the Army’s Chung Ju, and it is certainly more exciting. These numbers have only grown larger as esport competitions go mainstream. ESPN has an award show for eathletes and some universities now award esport scholarships.  Esports might even make it into the Olympics.

To maintain their edge armies must adapt (like all organisations that operate in dynamic environments). Such armies lean forward into the future and incorporate new technologies and techniques that enhance combat power. Chong Ju is representative of our past. Where is Army using its collective imagination to visualise the digital future it must embrace?

This is not a call to abandon Chong Ju – it has its place – but rather a call to add a digital version that showcases Army’s future capabilities and tests future concepts. The on-line gaming community can illustrate the way forward. As a start Army should field its own gaming teams in online tournaments, or even begin more simply with inter and intra unit competitions. As these skills improve, Army teams could enter the big leagues, competing at international civilian and military events. Perhaps there will one day be an annual Five Eyes tournament that is watched by soldiers around the world.

Becoming a force in the on-line gaming world would have additional benefits. At the very least it would increase Army’s social presence, particularly amongst communities that do not usually find military service appealing. Demographic and social trends suggest that Army will struggle to attract the people it needs for the future, so a widening of the force’s recruitment base is important, particularly amongst higher educated and less fitness prone personnel who may not be ready to serve in the infantry but would be welcome in a cyber corps. Army makes a point in its advertising to show people doing ‘army stuff’ and attracts those who like to challenge themselves. Yet, as the definition of what it means to be a warrior evolves, should not the message Army sends also change? Should not Army seek to engage gamers who may be the digital warriors it needs now and will need in increasing numbers as cyber, social media and artificial intelligence platforms increase in importance? Through its esport teams Army can demonstrate that gamers are not just needed but will find a receptive home for their skills – and that they will get paid, too, to do what they love.

Army routinely organises displays to demonstrate its capabilities. Usually these are static affairs consisting of vehicles parked around an oval. Perhaps the more dramatic ones might include a drone launch or SF soldiers fast roping out of a helicopter. This may appeal to military vehicle enthusiasts, those with an existing relationship with Army or senior personnel of a certain generation. However, how much more exciting for attendees would be the addition of stadium sized screens that depict the equipment in action or highlight future acquisitions?

What is the end point of the embrace of digital? Perhaps there is no end point, other than what enthusiasm and funding allow. But digital opens up many more possibilities in training, recruitment, and interaction with the community than Chong Ju currently allows. Perhaps in the future a battalion task group would conduct its mission rehearsal exercise digitally? Admittedly none of this is in immediate future, but how far off could this be as Army continues the incorporation of digital into how it operates? Chong Ju has served its purpose but a digital Chong Ju promises as much as can be imagined.

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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