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Holding the Door Open

Securing a Point of Entry to Facilitate Littoral Manoeuvre in the Near Region

Australian Army soliders from 10th Force Support Battalion's Amphibious Beaching Team await the arrival of troops on an Lighter Landing Craft during Exercise Trident 2022 near Shoalwater Bay Training Area, Queensland.

The recent release of the Defence Strategic Review (DSR) has brought littoral operations – and all that these entail – back into the limelight. The Australian Army has received explicit guidance that it ‘must be transformed and optimised for littoral manoeuvre operations by sea, land and air from Australia, with enhanced long range fires.’[1] This new specialised focus will be a challenge for Army. Although it possesses a strong pedigree in littoral operations, this pedigree has been weakened by the vagaries of time and the necessity of making successive trade-offs in priorities due to cost and other strategic imperatives over the last eighty years. As such, the Australian Army that conducted joint, multi-divisional amphibious landings in 1945 is not the Army of today.[2]

As strategic direction shifted over the last half century, Army’s interest in littoral and amphibious operations, and its understanding of what a maritime strategy and mind-set (as opposed to a navalist strategy and mindset) means for Army, has waxed and waned. The most recent impetus for increased interest in littoral operations was the acquisition of the specialised amphibious ships which has allowed Army units to rotate through the amphibious work-up and deployment process. Prior to and concurrent with these ship purchases, authors such Michael Evans, Al Palazzo, David Kilcullen and Peter Dean have written on various aspects of maritime strategy and littoral operations. Detailed amphibious doctrine and tactics, techniques and procedures have been forgotten but are now in the process of being rediscovered or recalibrated for the modern context. Army lacks many of the specialised ‘tools of the trade’ to enable littoral operations - although this deficiency too is addressed explicitly in the DSR: there is a requirement to accelerate the introduction of new platforms and capabilities. This provides an incentive for Army to ‘dust off’ and draw from hard-won bodies of knowledge to flesh out and fortify the emerging concepts of littoral manoeuvre operations.

The DSR, written in the context of great power competition, directs Army to focus on the Indo-Pacific, as it is ‘Australia’s region…(which) faces increasing competition that operates on multiple levels – economic, military, strategic and diplomatic – all interwoven and all framed by an intense contest of values and narratives.’[3]  More pointedly, the DSR states that the ‘defence of Australia lies in the collective security of the Indo-Pacific’ and that Army (as part of the ADF) must ‘defend Australia and our immediate region’, deter an adversary’s projection of power from the northern approaches, and contribute to collective security in the region.[4] There are both explicit and implied tasks here: a strategy of denial in the near region will require force projection in a littoral environment (be that warfighting, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) operations or other effects such as advise and assist missions). The projection of such effects will also require a point of entry.

In response to the DSR’s twin-fold guidance to clarify the area stretching from ‘maritime Southeast Asia into the Pacific’ as the ‘primary area of military interest’,[5] and for Army to become adept at littoral operations, the Australian Army Research Centre (AARC) has produced a four-part series to promote further discussion. This series will be published on the Land Power Forum over the coming weeks.

The series takes, as its starting point, the assumption that Army will be required to secure a point of entry in the littoral. This task will be undertaken across the competition/conflict spectrum in order to complete a number of warfighting and non-warfighting operations. Part One describes the area of operations this action will take place in – this is characterised as the urban littoral due to the confluence of cities on, near or affected by coastline in our near region. This part is a condensation of a previously published AARC Occasional Paper, ‘The Worst of Both Worlds’: an analysis of urban littoral combat.[6] Part Two describes likely tasks for Army in the region’s urban littoral based on the DSR’s guidance, including how all of these require a point of entry to be secured. Part Three takes the ‘so what?’ observations from the first two articles and discusses the likely unit of action for a point of entry security force, and how it may be structured and employed to achieve its tactical tasks. Finally, Part Four examines the opportunities for innovation and technology such as AI, autonomous vehicles and robotics to assist a force to ‘hold the door open’ in the region’s urban littoral.[7]

[1] Australian Government, National Defence. Defence Strategic Review, Commonwealth of Australia, 2023, p. 58.

[2] Dayton McCarthy, The Oboe Landings, 1945, Australian Army Campaign Series – Number 32, Big Sky Publishing, Newport, 2023.

[6] Dayton McCarthy, ‘The Worst of Both Worlds’: An analysis of urban littoral combat, Australian Army Research Centre Occasional Paper, April 2018.

[7] The term ‘holding the door open’ is taken from Davis, Major James, Strategy, Theory, Tactical Possibilities and the Design of Amphibious Concepts, School of Advanced Military Studies, Fort Leavenworth, 2012.

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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