Skip to main content

Deterrence and Firepower: Land 8113 and the Australian Army’s Future (Part 2, Cultural Effect)

21 August 2020
Strategy
Two soldiers in foreground watching gunnery team

 

Introduction

As describe in Part 1 of this paper, Land 8113: Long Range Fires, is a critical acquisition program that promises to revolutionise the Australian Army’s way of war as well as the land force’s place in the strategic defence of the nation. Part 1 addressed the redefinition of Army’s strategic role in the defence of the nation. This section will consider the effect Land 8113 will have on the culture and organisation of the land force. So profound is the promise of Long Range Fires that the acquisition of this capability will have a transformative effect on how the Army thinks about and prepares for war.

Re-imaging the Army’s Culture

The community and the Army share a clear idea of what it means to be an Australian soldier: it is the image of the Digger which resonates with the nation and serves as a symbol of Australia’s military prowess. For many, from Gallipoli to the present, the soldier is representative of what it means to wear an Australian uniform and to engage in war, usually memorialised as close combat.

The coming Long Range Fires capability will alter the standing of close-combat as the ideal of the Australian Way of War. At different times throughout war’s long history, different arms have dominated—a result of the technological and social characteristics of a particular age. For long periods, the main contenders for the highest position in a force’s status hierarchy alternated between those who fought on foot and those who fought on horseback. Sometimes, however, the artillery emerged as the premier arm. In 1494, for example, Charles VIII of France invaded
Italy
. Marching with his army was a siege-train of at least 40 guns. City after city quickly fell as their high, thin walls—designed to keep out people—collapsed from the impact of firepower. Centuries later, during the First World War, it was artillery which dominated the battlefield and which cleared the way for the infantry’s advance. That dominance remained until improvements in mechanisation advanced the role of the tank, and in the Second World War artillery resumed a supporting role.

With the advent of long-range precision strike, the gunner is again moving to the fore in the art of war. With the implementation of a defensive A2AD system, it will be the gunner who is primarily responsible for the defence of Australia. The ability to strike at great range means that the artillery will commences the battle far before the other arms can join in. Let there be no mistake — I am not saying that there will be no role for close combat in the future. The reality is that to close with and defeat the enemy will remain essential to victory, as it has always been. However, as in the First World War the gunner will become the enabler of close combat.

Culture is always the most traumatic and difficult aspect of a military organisation to change. Those who currently sit on top of the military hierarchy are generally reluctant to give way and prefer to maintain the status quo. The US Marine, Lieutenant General Paul Van Ripper, captured this with his observation, ‘military cultures are like great ocean liners or aircraft carriers: they require an enormous effort to change direction’.[i] The Australian General and former CDF, Peter Gration, was more direct by admitting that ‘the military is a very conservative profession’.[ii] Well into the Second World War, for example, the US Army’s mounted branch (horse mounted that is) sought to maintain the place of their arm, long after the lessons from Europe demonstrated the primacy of mechanisation.

The coming decades will be emotionally difficult ones for those whose primary purpose is close combat. They will need to adjust to a loss of status as the distant strike comes of age. Other trades will rise in prominence too, especially those that enable the gunner, manage the sensors (such as drone operators) and conduct the targeting. Hopefully the other arms will not resist — too much — the change in the hierarchy because the future of the nation is at stake.

Modifying the Army’s Organisation

The forces driving a change in an army’s cultural invariably also trigger a modification to its organisation; there were no armoured units prior to the invention of the tank, for example. A defence budget is a finite resource, as is the ability or desire of a population to allocate personnel to the military in lieu of other valued occupations. While a new capability may bring with it a new supply of money, it will also need new positions to avoid cannibalising other parts of the land capability. Fortunately, Army is scheduled to grow, hopefully by enough.

Still, it needs to be remembered that Army cannot create a true deterrence capability with a boutique missile force. The coming long-range missile capability must be larger and more robust, if the Australian Defence Force is to dissuade a potential adversary from military adventurism. My sense is that Army must field at least three regiments of long range missile artillery if regional powers are to take the capability seriously. A dedicated brigade of long range fires, in other words. To provide less is a case where one might as well have none, since a too small missile force is not a credible deterrent.

Those charged with balancing the competition demands of future personnel allocation have a difficult job. Army is scheduled to grow in personnel, but there are many calls upon the increased establishment. If the growth is insufficient for the needs of the long-range missile brigade that I believe deterrence requires, personnel may have to come from elsewhere within the organisation. This will no doubt be an emotional experience for some, but it may prove necessary.

Conclusion

Land 8113 is a transformative acquisition that will force change upon the Army if it is to maximise the opportunities of long range fires. Soldiers will need to learn how to play a central role at the strategic level of war. They will also need to be willing to accept the cultural and organisational changes that Land 8113 will generate. To deny the renewed supremacy of the defence, and the rising centrality, of the gunner is to misinterpret the changing character of war and likely to doom the Army and the nation to defeat. Land 8113 will require every soldier to ‘adjust’ their position in the force’s hierarchy. In an age of defensive fire ascendency, the gunner will stand tall.


[i] Quoted in Williamson Murray, ‘Does Military Culture Matter?’ Orbis (Winter 1999), p. 28.

[ii] Peter Gration, ‘Challenges for the Australian Defence force into the Twenty-First Century,’ in David Horner, ed., The Army and the Future: Land Forces in Australia and South-East Asia, Department of Defence, Canberra 1993.

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.