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Combat Power Beyond 2022

A Shadow Uncrewed Aerial System from the 20th Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, is launched at Townsville Field Training Area, Queensland

Four New Principles of War

The Principles of War (POW) that we ascribe to have long been studied and advocated in military institutions.  Based on the post-World War One work of Major General J F C Fuller CB, CBE, DSO, their importance as a foundation for the conduct of warfare has been reaffirmed over the years.  Originally there were nine Principles, with the tenth being added subsequently (initially referred to as ‘Administration’, it is now known as ‘Sustainability’).

The pace of technological advance over recent decades has been mirrored by massive changes in the nature and conduct of war.  More so than shifts in the political landscape, it is technology which is the real driver of changes in our strategic environment and threats to our security. 

While the current ten Principles of War remain fundamental to operations by the ADF, planning for ‘Transforming Land Power’ is inevitable, bringing with it consideration of whether additional principles are needed to help define how we come to grips with the evolving battlefield.  Specifically, the paradigm shift in technology calls for a revision of our core philosophy regarding the conduct of war.  This article proposes four new Principles of War for the guidance of commanders.

At present, the biggest threat to national security is that posed by the inherent vulnerability of our computer and electronic systems.  Attackers can not only disrupt them, but also manipulate them for ulterior purposes, while gaining access to the most sensitive intelligence.  This action and counter-action used to be known as electronic warfare, i.e. denying the enemy the ability to reduce our combat effectiveness through communications jamming and intercept.  While the nature of the threat remains fundamentally the same, our exposure to it has increased a hundred-fold in recent years.  Not only can vital military networks now be shut down, but so too can those on which the nation’s civilian infrastructure depend. 

Given that an aggressor can severely constrain our military capacity and damage our economy without firing a shot, it is not surprising that the Australian Government has moved quickly to allocate $10 billion over the next decade to strengthen our cyber security (defensive) and countermeasure (offensive) capability.  POW 11 Cyber-Security: The safeguarding of military command and control networks and weapon systems against enemy disruption, while exploiting the capability to interfere with theirs.

Satellites and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have given military forces an unparalleled ability to conduct battlefield surveillance by day and night, unhindered by weather conditions.  UAVs comprise both drones (autonomous control) and Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPV).  It is likely that preprogramed drones will be produced in massive numbers, making them expendable and capable of saturation coverage.  Thermal and electronic signatures are like fingerprints in terms of identifying targets, while the slightest change in the landscape can be quickly identified by computerised time-lapse imagery.

It must be assumed that satellites and UAVs will dominate the battlefield of the future.  While it is now possible to hide the body heat of a soldier, such technology cannot be relied upon to ensure that the manoeuvre of forces will be concealable in the quest to achieve surprise.  A new mindset is required to deny the enemy early warning of deployments.  Speed of response will be more and more critical, as will all other measures to compensate for the proliferation of airborne surveillance systems.  POW 12 Battlefield Concealment: The ability to conceal the movement and location of manoeuvre forces from the enemy’s satellites and UAVs.  There is presently no known DSTO research project related to this, nor any allocated training priority.

It is these same airborne platforms which can be used to guide missiles, with deadly accuracy, to attack targets on the ground.  Active Protection Systems (APSs) can counter this threat by detecting incoming missiles and initiating explosive devices to defeat them.  Such so-called Hard Kill systems can also defend against kinetic energy projectiles.  While a DSTO project is current, neither priority nor resources are known to have been allocated at levels consistent with the imperative to transform land power in this respect. 

Recent footage from the conflict in Ukraine, showing the effectiveness of missiles controlled by Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPVs), has led to some alarmed commentators decrying that “the tank is dead!”.  Of course, this is nonsense.  Nevertheless, the battlefield has changed and the ADF must respond to the threat quickly and with conviction.  POW 13 Protection Against Remote Piloted Vehicle Controlled Missiles: The ability to protect Armoured Fighting Vehicles and significant targets such as headquarters, against remotely piloted precision guided missile attack on the battlefield.

Mobility was one of the original Principles of War, later replaced by Flexibility. This principle refers to the degree of mobility inherent in a force which facilitates Surprise, Concentration of Force, Offensive Action and Flexibility.  This concept is the crux of mobile warfare; relying as it does on the ability to travel at speed, cross-country, to close with and engage the enemy.  It is well known that any force whose deployment is confined to roads and which lacks protection, cannot succeed on the modern battlefield.  Ukraine’s request for Bushmaster protected mobility vehicles is unsurprising in this respect.  POW 14 Rapid Force Mobility: The ability to maximise combat power though the rapid deployment of forces across all types of terrain, by day and night and in all weather conditions.

The provision of armoured mobility for infantry used to be a role of the RAAC.  It is yet to be seen whether or not infantry operating their own Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs) is the best solution.  Despite this, there is no doubt that maximising land force mobility has to be one of Army’s major goals. It was surprising, therefore, to see the following recent news report:

“A major Defence project to build up to 450 new, armoured vehicles in Australia [LAND 400 Phase 3] could be dramatically scaled back as the government looks to prioritise military spending in other areas, such as cyber security.  []

Cyber-security prioritised at the expense of Rapid Force Mobility; one Principle of War sacrificed in favour of another… Are we serious?  One explanation is that a government advisor has simply attempted to balance the books without any consideration of the military implications.  How can land power be transformed for the better when Rapid Force Mobility is reduced?  This is undoubtedly a question for the Australian Army Research Centre to address as a matter of priority. 

In conclusion, the rate of technological change necessitates a review of the fundamentals underpinning the conduct of war.  The transformation of Land Power, in turn, brings with it new Principles of War for the guidance of commanders.  It is clear that decisions such as the pending reduction in Rapid Force Mobility will significantly reduce the combat power of the land force.

This article is an entry in the 2022 AARC Short Writing Competition, 'Transforming Land Power'.

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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