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Fifth Generation Army – Leadership and Ethics in 2040

Australian Army Occasional Paper No. 10

Will the military modernisation measures that Army takes today prepare our ADF men and women for the leadership and ethical challenges of tomorrow?  In AARC Occasional Paper 10, we stand in the shoes of soldier Smith facing the prospect of their first combat operation in 2024.  This Land Power Forum article is an abstract from that Paper.

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) ethos is derived from that of our broader society. And in turn, Australians define something at the core of national identity through the ADF. Australians are proud of the ADF and the ADF’s history. They need and want the ADF to represent the best of Australian values. And Australians will be direct in telling the ADF if we have let them down.[i]

The year is 2040 and Australia is again at war. Corporal or Lieutenant Smith, an every-person-leader known as Smith, is deployed on their first operation. Serving since 2035, Smith, as a Joint Professional Soldier, has trained, educated, tested, practised, rehearsed, learned, failed and tested again. Tomorrow, Smith leads their first combat patrol. As the commander, they are anxious, apprehensive and not quite satisfied with their preparations. Continuously assessing risk, Smith knows that in war, against an enemy violently competing to achieve advantage over our forces, information is incomplete, inaccurate, and contradictory.

Smith is a member of the fifth-generation Australian Army. In the early 2020s, the so-called fourth-generation Australian Army gradually transitioned to the fifth-generation force through a series of changes in Australia’s strategic posture. These changes were first articulated in the 2020 Defence Strategic Update:

Our region is in the midst of the most consequential strategic realignment since the Second World War, and trends including military modernisation, technological disruption and the risk of state-on-state conflict are further complicating our nation’s strategic circumstances.

The Indo-Pacific is at the centre of greater strategic competition, making the region more contested and apprehensive. These trends are continuing and will potentially sharpen as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

For Smith, their peers and their teams, leadership is defined as empowering people to share their talents with the world through enabling inclusive teams to ethically achieve their personal, professional and cultural potential. Ethics are defined as ‘good habits of behaviour … cultivated through practice’ that ‘limit suffering and destruction caused by war’, based on the five Defence Values of service, courage, respect, integrity and excellence. For Smith, the ‘ethical decision is the military decision’, where leadership and ethical behaviours are ‘part of the decision making process, tempered by training, experience, and observations’.

Unifying leadership and ethics with humility, Smith strives to serve and command ‘as the best-behaved person in their organisation’ and through that behaviour Smith aims to become ‘the difference in their organisation’ between success and failure.


[i] Australian Defence Force, ADF Leadership, ADF Philosophical Doctrine, 0 Series: Command, Edition 3 (Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 2021), p. 2.

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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