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‘Holding the Door Open’ – Securing a Point of Entry to Facilitate Littoral Manoeuvre in the Near Region’ - Part Two

Army’s Role in the Strategy of Denial: Point of Entry Security in the Urban Littoral Environment

A Royal Australian Air Force Airfield Defence Guard from No. 2 Security Forces Squadron secures Wellcamp Airport, Toowoomba as Australian Army soldiers from the 8th/9th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, dismount a Royal Australian Air Force C-17A Globemaster apart of Exercise Ram Stallion.


The Defence Strategic Review (DSR) directs Army, as part of the multi-domain and cross domain Integrated Force, to contribute to the strategy of denial. The DSR lists several functions that the Integrated Force must be able to undertake to achieve this strategy and these can be usefully understood as part of a paradigm of ‘anti-access/area denial’ (A2/AD)[1]. Within them, Army – the generator of land forces - is most likely to play a role in the ‘area denial’ component, either as the force element delivering the denial effect itself or enabling/facilitating the operations of other force elements and/or cross-domain effects.  Whether or not land forces will provide the strategic effect itself, it must anticipate a role in getting Australian Defence Force (ADF) elements ‘safely and securely’ onto the ground in littoral regions. This enabling function will be required across the conflict spectrum, including, for example, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations, Non-combatant Evacuation Operations (NEO) or ‘Advise and Assist’ missions during a period of competition. If the situation moves beyond crisis and into conflict, the denial strategy requires land forces to be ready to deploy into the near region to effect and/or enable multi-domain fires. In most cases, the force, and especially its logistic component, will have to move through a Point of Entry (POE).

The Criticality of Point of Entry Security

The starting point for this article is that the DSR directs Army to conduct and support littoral manoeuvre in the near region as part of a strategy of denial. For this it will require a POE from which to either conduct tasks itself or through which it will facilitate other cross and multi-domain elements to deploy elsewhere. ‘Securing’ a POE is therefore a high priority implied task for Army’s land forces and one that may be assigned to elements beyond the dedicated Australian Amphibious Force (AAF). The AAF may be unavailable – or it may be inappropriate to deploy it - for a range of strategic, operational, or tactical reasons, especially the possibility that the specialist amphibious force is committed to another concurrent operation as part of the denial strategy.

The ADF is unlikely to conduct an opposed landing against defences and is not being developed for that task, however it does need to prepare to operate in a contested environment, even if it is conducting a non-warfighting task such as HADR or NEO. This assertion is predicated on a situation in which a near-region country grants ‘access, basing and overflight’ (ABO) and supports the POE force while a potential threat still exists. Such a threat may take the form of small groups of adversary special forces, insurgents or disaffected armed groups that may have some high-technology weaponry as well as the means to target long-range systems. In short, we may expect that while conducting littoral manoeuvre, our land forces may be threatened through the electro-magnetic spectrum, (EMS), in the ‘near air’ and in close ‘brown water’. In response, therefore, land forces must be ready to achieve and maintain a specified level of security at an air or sea point of entry (A/SPOE) against such cross-domain conventional and non-conventional threats, even in the competition phase.

It is essential to define what ‘securing’ a POE means within our concept of operations as this is a critical task with significant implications for Army capability requirements. To ‘secure’ something requires a force to first ‘gain possession of’ and then ‘prevent…its destruction or loss.’[2]  This means the POE security force must protect itself, deny information to the adversary, and must have taken such measures to be forewarned of, and able to respond to, any adversary action against it. The magnitude and difficulty of the POE task will vary profoundly with duration, threat, responses required to threats and the micro geography, especially the extent to which urban structures overlook the A/SPOE.

For an APOE, initial actions may entail linking up with host nation forces, taking possession, or facilitating access to an airfield and surrounding infrastructure. In any event, as a minimum it would involve physically ensuring that the area within the secure perimeter is free of adversaries. While airfields are inherently huge expanses of ground, typically, they are maintained unobstructed. A unit sized force that has the capability to swiftly deploy as small elements across the site can feasibly check buildings and installations relatively quickly. However, the openness that assists such swift clearance also provides an opportunity for a small number of adversaries to disrupt such operations.  This places great importance on pre-landing reconnaissance or liaison. The true magnitude of the security task is largely determined by what must be achieved by way of initial clearing of the airfield, followed by the extent of operations required to maintain security or respond to limit the threat from ‘outside the wire’. This security task may or may not continue after the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) expeditionary combat support element is established and operational. The reality is that if the host nation is not involved in the security task, it is unlikely that RAAF will be able to deploy sufficient personnel.

For a SPOE, an Army force element is likely to be tasked alongside the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and dedicated pre-landing forces to secure a port ready for tri-service port control and stevedoring operations. While harbours, like airports, are large, there is far greater variability in the size of the area to be secured and ports will often have discrete dock areas separated by water that have to be checked and occupied. It is clearly desirable that any securing force is able to insert by watercraft, and certainly a proportion should be able to conduct waterborne patrolling. It is also more common that SPOE are over watched by built-up areas, although transport shipping is not quite as vulnerable to light handheld weapons as aircraft are. Broadly, the geographic complications of dock areas, including their multitude of buildings, equipment handling machines and cargoes, combined with the possibility of over watch, may make initial securing a slow task.  Nevertheless, maintaining security may be easier to achieve because water typically limits available approaches.

Securing the Urban Littoral

The central tenet of this series of Land Power Forum articles is that POE will almost always be located in the urban domain. They will therefore typically be surrounded by structures that greatly complicate operations, and populations that add further challenges[3]. Army must therefore train and equip itself to mitigate these demands. The first and central issue is the population.

Cities, large or small, will have people residing, working and operating within them. Attitudes to an ADF insertion (even when approved by the host-nation) may differ wildly. Some populations may respond positively where people actively help and act as a sensor system, allowing a relatively small force to maintain security. In other situation, however, one or more segments of the local population may respond with violent hostility. History repeatedly shows that the behaviour of intruding forces has turned local populations against them. In addition, there is always the risk that an adversary deliberately provokes a military force to take disproportionate and/or culturally offensive responses which alienates the host population further.  Concurrently, future urban operating environments will almost certainly include various domestic and international government and non-government organisations, whose actions are likely to be indifferent or even actively opposed to any immediate military imperative.

Cultural comprehension, social sensitivity, and the ability to communicate is therefore crucial at every level of Army, from the command teams to individual deployed elements, to avoid politically deleterious missteps. Significant analysis is required to determine how this might be achieved in the various countries within our region, but the model of several days’ orientation training used to prepare for Middle East operations is likely to be far short of what is required. Troops will also have to anticipate interacting with state and non-state covert actors of various allegiances who use the physical and human terrain to mask their actions. The war in Ukraine has shown that the information contest is almost as important as the kinetic one, and in the age of real-time media, military actions will be judged on appearance and ‘optics’ as well as the actual impact of the actions themselves.

The urban environment is characterised by man-made above and below ground structures that possess tangible political, financial, cultural, emotional, religious and humanitarian value, as well as direct military value. The presence of buildings anywhere around the A/SPOE will confuse situational and spatial awareness, and where they overlook airfield or harbour-mooring areas, these structures will represent a huge challenge.  Not only might they be used as a firing point, the ubiquitous smartphone now offers opportunities for a concealed adversary or hostile sympathiser to pass target data almost undetectably – and it may be used in real-time. The presence of larger structures does not necessarily mean that the security task is more difficult than in cityscapes with smaller structures, only that it will have a necessarily different character. Beyond a superficial understanding afforded by a building’s exterior façade or streetscape’s appearance, the internal structures will remain largely opaque to remote observation or aerial reconnaissance. This situation will confound both the ‘gaining’ and ‘retaining’ security functions.

The systematic manual clearance of a substantial number of buildings, or even only those that overlook key areas, can be a huge task. The ideal of applying a security element to clear and observe both the interior and exterior of buildings as well as the ground and immediate airspace around them may well be unachievable. The dual effect of the manmade terrain, combined with the requirement to clear sufficiently an area around the point of entry, will likely have a disaggregating effect on unit formations. Similarly, operating within buildings constrains peripheral observation and reduces the ability to directly supervise and command troops. Conversely, buildings offer concealment and vantage points for observation. At high levels of threat, they can be hardened to provide dominating elevated positions or highly survivable defiladed ones deep inside buildings. Indeed, under such circumstances an urban environment may be demolished and deconstructed and then reconstructed to create defensive points or canalise movements into certain areas. While it is not anticipated that a POE force would have to defend against a significant conventional attack during initial littoral manoeuvre, they should certainly be trained and equipped to defend logistic nodes, and this should include deploying well forwards to act as an urban screen force.

When the broader operational effects of the littoral are overlaid on that of the urban, a richer problem for a POE security force is created. Leaving aside any potential shore based A2AD systems (of whatever range or complexity), there may be friendly and (potentially) adversary surface and sub-surface manned and unmanned vessels within the ‘brown water’ of the immediate offshore area. Such vessels may also be the platform to launch unmanned aerial vehicles, conduct mining, fire missiles or deliver foreign special force into the area. These vessels can influence the security of a POE and therefore must be accounted for in the security task. This is not to suggest that, if securing an SPOE, Army’s land force units must exclusively emphasise waterborne patrols to counter waterborne threats, but they must be able to understand how the maritime domain may influence its ability to complete their ‘secure’ mission.


Securing an A/SPOE in the urban littorals of Australia’s near region will be a difficult endeavour, even in the competition phase. Yet within the DSR this is a clear-cut task for Army: to contribute to the strategy of denial as part of the Integrated Force through the generation of land forces practised in littoral manoeuvre. The confluence of the traditional land-based threats, with those of the electro-magnetic spectrum (EMS), the ‘near air’ and the ‘close water’ are potent challenges. Of all the components of the Integrated Force, it is Army that is best able to meet such challenges. Given this context of a POE into the urban littoral, and the essential tactical tasks to conduct a ‘secure’ mission, the author contends that the minimum sized entity required is a battlegroup. How this unit is structured and potentially deployed on task is the subject of Part Three of this Land Power Forum series.

Complete Series:

Part One: ‘The Primary area of Military Interest’ – Understanding the Urban Littoral Environment in the Near Region

Part Two: Army’s Role in the Strategy of Denial: Point of Entry Security in the Urban Littoral Environment

Part ThreeThe Question of Urban Perimeter Observation Post Numbers

Part FourThe Question of Urban Position Minimum Strength

Part FiveEnhancing Capability to Secure Urban Points of Entry


[1] Australian Government, National Defence. Defence Strategic Review, Commonwealth of Australia, 2023, p. 49 and pp 53-55.

[2] As per the Australian Defence Glossary, ‘secure’ is defined as ‘to gain possession of a resource e.g. personnel, equipment, infrastructure, terrain, or information, without force, to make such disposition as will prevent, as far as possible, its destruction or loss by an adversary’s action.’

[3] The complicating effects of the physical environment and the complexities introduced by the human and informational aspects are unpacked in a series of articles under the heading ‘The 12 Challenges of Urban Warfare’.

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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