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Deterrence and Firepower: Land 8113 and the Australian Army’s Future (Part 1, Strategic Effect)

16 July 2020
Strategy
Rocket with trail and red sunset background

Introduction

Land 8113: Long Range Fires is a momentous acquisition program for the Australian Army. I believe it will revolutionise the Army’s way of war, as well as the land force’s place in the strategic defence of the nation; its effect on defence capability will be transformative. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I suggest it is not too far to say that the significance of precision Long Range Fires on the character of war will likely rank with the introduction of the airplane and the tank. This blog, and its subsequent follow up, will unpack my bold claims in two parts. Here, in Part 1, I will consider the strategic effect of Land 8113. In Part 2 I will focus on the organisational and cultural challenges Army must overcome if Land 8113 is to deliver on its promise.

It is increasingly clear that defensive firepower is once again in the ascendant; its strength is again more powerful than the offense. The defender can now create ‘No Man’s Lands’ that dominate a potential battlespace with lethal fire at great depth, much as China is doing with its anti-access/area-denial (A2AD) system. As I have written elsewhere, the greatest challenge facing today’s commanders is how to manoeuvre across what I have called the ‘2000 kilometre killing zone’. However, what if you do not want to cross the killing zone? What if your plan is to establish one to hinder someone else’s ability to manoeuvre? This is exactly the situation in which the Australian Army will find itself when it fields its Long Range Fires capability.

The implementation of a long-range precision strike system offers great opportunity for the Australian Army. Through Land 8113, Australia will acquire surface-to-surface missiles that will enable the establishment of its own defensive zone; a recreation of the No Man’s Land of the First World War measured not in hundreds of metres, but thousands. I believe this acquisition will prove revolutionary in Army’s contribution to national security, in co-operation with the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).

Rethinking Army’s Contribution to National Security

Long-range precision strike in combination with long-range sensors will give
Australia
the ability to deter adversaries from manoeuvring against Australian territory and interests. For deterrent effect,
Australia
has traditionally looked to a great power partner. Upon Federation, the British ships assigned to the Australian Station continued to call Sydney home and did so until their replacement by the newly formed RAN in 1911. The purpose of the interwar Singapore strategy was to provide the Royal Navy with a base from which to operate against an adversary trying to operate in the region. Singapore’s fall to the Japanese in the Second World War was a shock, but did little to change Australia’s preference for a great power protector. Australia immediately accepted the protection of the United States. In 1951 the position of the United States as Australia’s protector was formulised with the signing of the ANZUS Treaty. The Alliance remains the bedrock of Australian security to this day, as does its inclusion in the American nuclear umbrella.

Once the promise of Land 8113 is achieved, and with the capability incorporated into Australia’s own A2AD system, a new capacity for the ADF to deter potential adversaries on its own will materialise. This represents an enormous leap in ADF capability, as well as responsibility and trust. For the national psyche this could prove a turning point. Amongst defence commentators there is a line of reasoning that thinks, because of its tradition of dependence, Australia has not been able to embrace its full sovereignty. Instead, the country has been mired in its adolescence. Creating an Australian A2AD system does not require Australia to abandon its American connection—the Alliance will continue to provide many benefits—however the ultimate endpoint for Land 8113 is a more sovereign and mature Australia. Hopefully the country, its leaders and citizenry, will be ready. 

For the Army, however, there is a second and even more far-reaching consequence of the acquisition of precision strike—a role in the strategic defence of the nation. Since Federation, the Australian Army has fought at the forefront of the nation’s wars, and has proven its worth at the tactical and operational levels. Its role at the strategic level has always been less pronounced. With some frequency defence analysts have gone so far as to envisage the Army’s role as a mopping-up force for use against any enemy troops that eluded the RAN and RAAF and managed to reach the nation’s shores. Many readers will be familiar with the Defence of Australia Policy, which guided Australian security decisions from after the Vietnam War to the late 1990s, and the trivial role it offered the Army. Less familiar, but similar, would be the interwar policy in which the Government prescribed the Army’s main mission as the rounding-up of enemy raiders who sneaked past the main defence provided by the RAN. More recently, the Army’s strategic role has been defined in terms of providing a regional presence or a meaningful contribution to a coalition operation—both useful roles but not strategically dramatic.

Once it becomes capable of contributing to deterrence through the fielding of the mobile missile force that Land 8113 will provide, the Army will gain a much more significant and undeniable strategic role. In peacetime and in war, the Army’s utility to national security will increase and the ADF will contain three mutually dependent, equal and integrated services; frankly, a first for Army at the strategic level. Even more importantly, by embracing these new strike capabilities, the Army will no longer be bound by the limits of the operational domains. Instead, the Army will be able to achieve effects in the sea and air domains as if they were the land. In fact, it will not be an overstatement to say that land will again be the dominant domain because of the Army’s ability to create deterrence and inflict pain on an adversary in the other domains.

Australia’s possession of an independent deterrent capability need not have a negative effect on the Alliance with the United States. In fact, it is likely to strengthen it. The United States will probably welcome an Australian A2AD system because it would create a safe base on the southern side of the Western Pacific. This would be a reprise of the role that Australia played in the Second World War. Australia’s ability to dominate a defensive zone several thousand kilometres deep would also reduce the amount of territory that the INDOPACOM would have to secure, allowing the United States to concentrate its assets and attention elsewhere. A more capable Australia can only be seen as a benefit to the United States and the well-being of the Alliance.

Conclusion

Through Land 8113 the ADF will progressively acquire a land-based long-range strike capability, allowing it to create a killing zone throughout the approaches to its territory. This offers
Australia
the opportunity to create an independent deterrence capability across all domains. This is not solely an Army opportunity, as its success will require seamless integration with RAN and RAAF. It will also be technically challenging to coordinate the sensor, the decision-maker and the shooter and to do it within a useful timeframe, but such issues—while daunting—can be overcome. After all, other countries have already accomplished it. I suspect, however, that the greatest difficulties to overcome will be the cultural and organisational challenges that Land 8113 will create. These will be discussed in ‘Deterrence and Firepower (Part 2, Cultural Effect)’ that will follow this blog.

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.