Skip to main content

Future Land Warfare Collection 2021: Three into five doesn't go

28 July 2021
D Trials 856 of Single Shock Engine test held at Woomera Test Range Facility. HyShot™ is an international space project led by The University of Queensland (UQ) which involves the launch of a Terrier Orion rocket fitted with a scramjet in an experiment at Woomera, 500km north of Adelaide. Launching of the Terrior Rocket fitted with the scramjet for the aquiring the data for the experiment.

The mid 20th century definition of ‘jointery’ used by the Australian Defence Force (ADF) is increasingly anachronistic. It no longer matches the ADF’s recent operational experience or its anticipated future requirements. Warfare in the 21st century demands that Australia’s defence capabilities—and therefore the joint force—expand to cover two relatively new domains: information and cyber, and space. Much of Australia’s core expertise and capability in these new domains lies outside the ADF. This challenges the orthodoxy of the ADF’s concept of the joint force as based upon three uniformed Services—Navy, Army, Air Force—each operating in a distinct domain.

Australian defence planners faced similar challenges a century ago. The emergence of a new combat domain led in 1921 to the formation of an independent Air Force. Thereafter, the boundaries of inter-Service responsibility shifted regularly as the ADF adjusted to ensure the joint force’s whole exceeded the sum of its parts.

Applying those lessons to the present, the ADF needs to evolve a broader concept of jointery if it is to operate successfully across these newer domains. As with the introduction of air power, the ability to conduct defence operations across the information and cyber and space domains are likely to test the boundaries of inter-Service responsibilities, particularly because of the head start that civilian and other government agencies already enjoy in these specialised fields.

Three into Five Doesn’t Go

The 2020 Defence Strategic Update and the 2020 Force Structure Plan articulate more clearly than before that Defence’s capability streams must span five operational domains: information and cyber, maritime, air, space, and land.[1] In the United States, the emergence of space as a discrete operational domain saw the formation in 2019 of the US Space Force as a separate Service.[2] For the moment, issues related to the ADF’s smaller size, and the absence of an immediate prospect of physical combat in either of the newer domains, mean Australia has not yet seriously contemplated a similar option.[3] Moreover, such capability and subject matter expertise as exists in Australia is concentrated across the Australian Public Service (APS), industry and academia.

Recognition of the new domains exposes the growing obsolescence of the longstanding view of the joint force’s near total primacy as the instrument for operations. Moreover, the commitment of almost 10 per cent of Defence’s future capability investment to these domains—equivalent to around half that dedicated to the land domain—demonstrates their growing prominence.[4]

Those shifts also further blur the boundaries between the Services, which engage in direct combat, and the supporting elements of Defence, which do not. Over the past 20 years, the joint force has seen increased reliance on APS employees and defence contractors embedded at far lower levels and much further ‘forward’ than was the case at the end of the 20th century.[5] The absence of either a distinct physical ‘front line’ or the prospect of direct interpersonal conflict in the space and information and cyber domains makes it more difficult to identify the primacy of one Service’s responsibility over the others’.

Extrapolating those trends suggests that a key future challenge for the joint force is that it needs to be more than just joint. To be successful, the integration of civilian personnel—whether APS or contractor—and civilian-led agencies in direct combat-support roles is increasingly crucial to the joint force, if only because of their existing predominance in the space and information and cyber domains. For the ADF to successfully adapt to these changes, a broader mindset than traditional jointery will be required. 

What’s in a Name?  

The concept of the joint force has evolved over the course of the ADF’s history. The Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force that deployed to ‘take speedy action against the German colonies’ in the New Guinea in 1914 was not a joint force, if only because the term ‘jointery’ was not in use at the time.[6] Instead, the underlying British—and by default Australian—doctrinal concept at that time was termed ‘combined operations’.[7] Arguably Australia’s first deployment of a joint force with an Australian joint command structure came 50 years later with the 1966 appointment of the Commander Australian Force Vietnam.[8]

By the end of the Second World War, the Australian Army uncomfortably attempted to straddle both British and US views of what they respectively referred to as combined or joint operations when describing Army–Navy–Air Force operations.[9] Unsurprisingly this dilemma was most apparent as the Army increasingly undertook amphibious operations—at the boundary where the air, sea and land domains overlap and intertwine—with US forces towards the end of the Second World War.[10] As the British quietly dropped the term ‘combined operations’,[11] the Australian Services increasingly adopted the US term ‘joint operations’ in its place.

Today, ADF doctrine defines the term ‘joint’ as describing ‘activities, operations and organisations in which elements of at least two Services participate’.[12] While that definition has served well for seven decades, it no longer adequately describes how current, let alone future, operations are conducted. Not only does it fail to reflect the growing role of APS employees and defence contractors but also it does not reflect the implications of the newer information and cyber and space domains. Incorporating the capabilities those different partners bring requires the ADF to think beyond its current definition of the joint force with its traditional focus on three domains—air, land and sea.

Accommodating a New Domain

As the case studies in this section will demonstrate, the ADF’s history shows how allocating responsibility for a new domain is not as straightforward a proposition as it might first appear. Indeed, the emergence of the air domain over a century ago created much friction and role conflict that continued to reverberate for generations after.

The ‘Third Brother’

At Federation, Australia’s defence requirements were defined by two domains, land and sea. These were respectively the responsibility of the Commonwealth Military Forces (later the Australian Army) and the Commonwealth Naval Forces (from 1911, the Royal Australian Navy—RAN). By 1912 an air arm, the Army Flying Corps (AFC), had been created. By 1921 the demands of this new domain were such that a distinct new force was created—the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).

Superficially the RAAF’s formation established a clear delineation of responsibilities across these three domains: the RAN would operate at sea, the Army on land, and the RAAF in the air. However, closer examination demonstrates that those boundaries were not so distinctly observed. As the historian of the RAAF’s first two decades points out:

… the decision to form the nation’s air defence resources as a single new service, separate from either the Army or the Navy, but serving their needs, was both the product and the further cause of inter-service rivalry.[13]

When the end of the First World War saw the AFC’s disestablishment in 1919, a government-appointed committee recommended the establishment of a single Australian Air Corps (AAC) in its place. The AAC would ‘be administered by an Air Board (comprised of members of the Naval and Military Boards), but with the wings of the Corps allotted to the … RAN and the Army’.[14] This simple division of responsibility was quickly challenged by the then Chief of the General Staff, Major General James Legge. He argued that ‘“unified control of naval and military aviation was unsuitable for Australia” … and that Australia should have two separate air branches, one each under the control of the Army and RAN’.[15]

The Navy’s Air Force

While Legge’s views did not prevail, the question of responsibility for the air domain did not end with the RAAF’s formation in 1921. In 1925, arguments for a second air force emerged when:

… the Naval Board promulgated an order for the formation of a Fleet Air Arm, a development which the Air Force strenuously opposed because this was seen as the first step towards eventual disbanding of the RAAF as a separate service.[16]

A further surprise came with the purchase of the seaplane carrier HMAS Albatross. It was only ‘when the contract [for the ship] was placed’ in 1926 that the Air Board learned the RAAF ‘was to provide the aircraft to go in this new ship, although there had been no prior discussion’.[17] Moreover, it took until a ‘Cabinet decision in January 1928 not to persist with the Fleet Air Arm concept’.[18] As an early compromise, the RAAF provided HMAS Albatross’s aircraft, pilots and maintenance personnel, while the RAN provided the observer and radio telegraphist crews. Following the decommissioning of Albatross in 1933, the RAAF continued to operate seaplanes from the Navy’s ships until 1948, when the RAN gained approval to form a Fleet Air Arm ‘to operate the fixed-wing aircraft aboard its recently acquired aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney’. This was a significant change:

[The] RAN employed ex-Royal Naval aircrews and began training its own navy pilots, rejecting an offer from the RAAF to provide the aircrew. Meanwhile, RAAF arguments concerning the benefits of centralisation of air assets, maintenance facilities and training were rejected in favour of naval aviation being wholly staffed and controlled by ‘navy men’. By the time [1955] the RAN took delivery of a second carrier (HMAS Melbourne), Australia was operating two air forces.[19]

The Army’s Air Force

As the RAAF historian has described, ‘the establishment of Australia’s third air force was a more incremental process’.[20] Arrangements initially mirrored those employed aboard HMAS Albatross. In 1944, two air observation post flights were raised with RAAF pilots and Army observers to support operations in New Guinea.[21] ‘Frustrated by what it saw as the RAAF’s lack of attention to its requirements’, the Army soon followed the RAN’s lead to establish its own air arm, ‘albeit with continued support from the RAAF’.[22] As another historian, Wing Commander Martin Sharp, observes:

[While] it may have suited the RAAF to be relieved of the responsibility of providing this type of support … the real issue should have been whether the duplication of air effort … ran contrary to the Air Force doctrinal principles of ‘unity’ and ‘centralisation’.[23]

A joint Army–RAAF Army Light Aircraft Squadron, equipped with light fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, was established in 1960. In 1966, this unit was increased to regiment size (it became the 1st Aviation Regiment). This was followed two years later by the establishment of the Australian Army Aviation Corps.[24]

Army–RAAF tensions surfaced during the Vietnam War when ‘the RAAF appear to have been reluctant to deploy its helicopters … which were ill prepared for the task’.[25] Although the RAAF (and also RAN) helicopters ‘established a high reputation for their operations in Vietnam’, it is notable that ‘these achievements may have been overshadowed by shortcomings in command and control’ and that ‘the failure of the RAAF to deal with Army requirements for close air support … added to friction between the services’.[26]

The watershed moment came when the 1987 Defence White Paper confirmed that the government had ‘decided to transfer full command and ownership of battlefield helicopters from the Air Force to the Army’ because they were ‘an important element of the Army’s combat team’.[27] However, that decision ‘ran counter to earlier studies into the transfer of ownership, which found that the costs of moving the helicopters from one Service to another could not be justified’ and, Sharp notes, ‘it is hard to see how the move might have been expected to improve inter-Service relations and Joint cooperation’.[28] As one Chief of Air Staff later publicly surmised, ‘unfortunately professionalism and sound judgement are often stifled by single Service prejudices and a take-over mentality’.[29]

In November 1987, the RAAF’s two main helicopter squadrons transferred personnel and most of their equipment to form the Army’s 5th Aviation Regiment. In 1995 they were joined by the CH-47 Chinook helicopters, which the RAAF had earlier argued to retain.[30]

Thus, within five decades after the RAAF’s formation, the unthinkable had occurred: by the late 1960s, both the RAN and the Army operated their own air forces. Today the Australian Army Aviation Corps is the ADF’s second largest ‘air force’, with approximately 100 aircraft, to which can be added a growing fleet of Army-operated unmanned aerial vehicles, while the Fleet Air Arm numbers around 50 aircraft. Were he alive today, Major General Legge might recognise similarities to the model he had proposed in the 1920s.

Shifting Boundaries

As the following case studies demonstrate, setting aside the difficulties posed by the emergence of a new domain, just managing the boundaries between existing ones has proven complex, with many shifts of responsibilities between the Services.

The Air Force’s Army

Much as the Army has its own ‘air force’, the RAAF has operated its own ‘army’. In 1942, the RAAF followed Britain’s wartime precedent to establish Security Guards Units for airfield protection. RAAF Airfield Defence Guards, as they were later known, participated in the mid-1945 OBOE landings in Borneo, and by the end of the war were organised into Airfield Defence Squadrons (AFDS), with capabilities broadly analogous to an infantry company. Although the AFDS were disbanded shortly after the Second World War, No.1 AFDS was briefly re-raised between 1950 to 1953, before being again reformed in 1992. No.2 AFDS was re-established in 1983, followed by a third AFDS (now Security Forces Squadron) in the early 2000s.  

Air Defence

The RAAF did not follow the Royal Air Force’s lead to operate ground-based air defence weapons until 1958, when it selected the Bloodhound Mark I surface-to-air missile (SAM) to equip RAAF No.30 Squadron.[31] By 1968 the Bloodhound Mark 1 was obsolete, No.30 Squadron was disbanded, and responsibility for all ground-based air defence systems passed back to the Army.

Army already had a long-established history of air defence. Establishing its first dedicated anti-aircraft unit in 1926, within 20 years Army employed 20,000 anti-aircraft gunners in batteries across northern Australia and New Guinea alone.[32] SAMs were first introduced in 1973, when the 16th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment (now the 16th Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery) received the FIM-43 Redeye, followed five years later by the Rapier and from 1987 the RBS-70.[33] In coming years, 16 Regiment will be equipped with the National Advanced SAM System, able to reach targets at distances similar to the Bloodhound’s maximum range of around 35,000 metres.

The Army’s Navy

These shifts in inter-Service responsibilities are not limited to the boundaries of the air and land domains. Since 1943 the responsibility for operating a seagoing green-water amphibious capability has shifted between the RAN and Army four times.[34] Army operated a large watercraft fleet, including landing craft, during the latter half of the Second World War, but relied upon the US Navy for a tank amphibious lift capability in operational areas. In the immediate post Second World War period, this responsibility passed to the RAN, which acquired six Landing Ships Tank (LST). However, the RAN LST were quickly placed in reserve, and all were paid off by September 1951. For most of the next decade, neither the RAN nor Army maintained a seagoing, tank-capable amphibious capability. A 1952 review of responsibilities for amphibious operations proved largely a ‘theoretical division, as the Navy had no policy for acquiring an amphibious capability’.[35]

The 52-ton Centurion tank’s introduction into service provided a catalyst for Army to acquire an amphibious tank-lift capability.[36] From 1959 onwards, the Royal Australian Engineers operated four landing ship medium in support of operations in Borneo and Vietnam.[37] By 1969, the RAN had argued that an Army proposal to acquire a much larger LST[38] exceeded Army’s responsibilities.[39] Army reluctantly accepted this decision and instead ordered eight new Landing Craft Heavy (LCH) in 1969, but resisted a subsequent Chiefs of Staff Committee decision that the LCH should also be RAN operated.[40] The matter was decided in 1973 when the defence minister directed the transfer of the LCH to the RAN.[41]


This essay started by positing that the allocation of considerable resources to the space and information and cyber domains challenges the ADF’s traditional view of the joint force, which is based on the three traditional domains. Against that background, it argues that, as the term ‘joint’ has been used in the ADF’s history to describe the interaction between three different Services as they cooperate across domains and within domains, it no longer adequately describes the desired whole-of-Defence capability effect needed to embrace the role of APS employees and defence contractors. It has shown how the emergence of a new third (air) domain in 1921 posed significant role-definition challenges for the two existing Services. The decision to raise a single force dedicated to that domain was contested and ultimately overturned, but not without generations of shifting positions. This essay has also demonstrated how responsibility for boundaries between the traditional air, land and sea domains has seesawed repeatedly between the Services.

The ADF’s history demonstrates that the introduction of new domains, and delineating the boundaries between them, generates frictions and inefficiencies that undermine the generation of a force with capabilities that exceed the sum of its parts. To avoid those traps, the future joint force needs to be more than just joint. A new conceptual framework, broader than just ‘jointery’ is needed to recognise that the emerging capabilities held and resourced in APS and contractor-led organisations might make those organisations equal partners of, and not just potential rivals to, the future ‘joint force’.

To achieve that, further research is required into inter-Service, inter-government, and government–industry boundaries in these new domains is needed if solutions are to be designed rather than being left to simply evolve. Such research should include determining the extent of capability that needs to be undertaken by a uniformed force, as well as the raise, train and sustain capabilities needed to underpin them. Application of such research could enhance the design of the ‘joint force’, avoiding some of the inevitable inefficiencies that have resulted from a reliance on evolutionary methods based upon survival of the fittest.

[1] Department of Defence, 2020, 2020 Australian Defence Strategic Update (Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia), 35; Department of Defence, 2020, 2020 Force Structure Plan (Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia), 17. It should be noted that the first Defence Planning Guidance ‘provided direction for improving capabilities “in response to emerging challenges in space, missile defence and cyber security”’ in 2010 (Tim McKenna and Tim McKay, 2015, Australia’s Joint Approach (Canberra: Department of Defence), at, accessed 24 August 2020.

[2] It should be noted that the US Space Force has yet to fully separate from its US Air Force origins. For example, US Space Force officers receive their ab initio training at the US Air Force Academy.

[3] It should also be acknowledged that, while close-combat remains the raison d’être of any defence force, the adoption of remote and stand-off weapons, and increasingly autonomous systems, has contributed to a general decline in combat casualties throughout 20th and 21st century warfare.

[4] Space is at 3 per cent and information and cyber is at 6 per cent (Department of Defence, 2020 Defence Strategic Update), 35.

[5] While the official histories of most of the ADF’s 21st century operations have yet to be published, the author has witnessed the increased deployment at deeper levels of APS employees across policy, science and technology, intelligence and even finance roles over the past two decades.

[6] Seaforth Simpson Mackenzie, 1941, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918, Volume X—‘The Australians at Rabaul. The Capture and Administration of the German Possessions in the Southern Pacific’ (10th edition) (Canberra: Australian War Memorial), 23.

[7] War Office, 2013, Manual of Combined Naval and Military Operations (London: Harrison & Sons).

[8] David Horner, 2007, ‘The Higher Command Structure for Joint ADF Operations’ in Ron Huisken and Meredith Thatcher (eds), History as Policy: Framing the Debate on the Future of Australia’s Defence Policy (Canberra: ANU E-Press), 146.

[9] Peter Dean, 2012, ‘Amphibious Warfare: Lessons from the Past for the ADF’s Future’, Security Challenges 8, no. 1, 68–69. Daniel E Barbey, 1968, MacArthur’s Amphibious Navy: Seventh Amphibious Force Operations 1943–1945 (Annapolis: United States Naval Institute), 37.

[10] Australian Military Forces, May 1946, Command and Staff Training: Amphibious Warfare Precis 1—General (Army Headquarters Cartographic Company), 4–5, provides a case in point, as it describes both US and British views on the transfer of command from the afloat commander to the ashore commander but prescribes neither.

[11] UK National Archives, ‘Combined Operations Headquarters, and Ministry of Defence, Combined Operations Headquarters later Amphibious Warfare Headquarters: Records’, at, accessed 6 August 2020.

[12] Department of Defence, 2012, Australian Defence Doctrine Publication—Doctrine (ADDP–D), Foundations of Australian Military Doctrine (3rd edition) (Canberra: Defence Publishing Service), 3.

[13] Christopher Coulthard-Clark, 1991, The Third Brother: The Royal Australian Air Force 1921–39 (Sydney: Allen & Unwin in association with the Royal Australian Air Force), 1.

[14] Martin Sharp, 1998, Command and Control of Battlefield Helicopters: The Search for a Joint Approach (Canberra: RAAF Air Power Studies Centre), 78.

[15] Coulthard-Clark, 78.

[16] Ibid., 216–217.

[17] Ibid., 217.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Sharp, 79.

[20] Ibid., 79.

[21] No.16 and No.17 air observation post flights.

[22] Sharp, 96.

[23] Ibid., 80.

[24] Australian Army Aviation Association, ‘Army Aviation Units at 1 Aviation Regiment’, Fourays, at, accessed 13 June 2020.

[25] Sharp, 96.

[26] Ibid., 96.

[27] Department of Defence, 1987, The Defence of Australia (Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia), 57.

[28] Sharp, 97.

[29] David Evans, 1990, A Fatal Rivalry: Australia’s Defence at Risk (Melbourne: Macmillan), 48.

[30] Sharp, 97.

[31] Royal Australian Air Force, ‘The Bloodhound Missile and Launcher’, at, accessed 13 June 2020.

[32] David Horner, 1995, The Gunners: A History of Australian Artillery (Sydney: Allen & Unwin), 197, 391.

[33] Ibid., 506–507.

[34] The term ‘green water’ describes operations in a nation’s littoral zones but with the ability to operate in the open oceans of its surrounding region.

[35] PJ Greville, 2002, The Royal Australian Engineers 1945 to 1972: Paving the Way (Melbourne: Australian Military History Publishing, Loftus), 372.

[36] Ibid., 378.

[37] JC Laughlin, 1959, ‘Brief History of Army Small Ships’, Australian Army Journal 118, at (100t, 8 x 30-ton tanks; 13 x 3-ton trucks; or 350 tons of cargo). See also Greville, 378.

[38] Brian Alsop, 1996, Australian Army Watercraft: Australia’s Unknown Fleet: From the Second World War to the Present Day (Marrickville: Topmill), 65.

[39] Greville, 397.

[40] Albert Palazzo, 2001, The Australian Army: A History of Its Organisation 1901–2001 (Melbourne: Oxford University Press), 305, referring to COSC Min 56/1971—LCH to RAN.

[41] Royal Australian Navy, 2010, Australian Maritime Doctrine (Sea Power Centre, Royal Australian Navy), at

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.

Using the Contribute page you can either submit an article in response to this or register/login to make comments.