How does the Australian Army Defend our Immediate Region? – Part 2
In a previous LPF Post, I introduced Dr Albert Palazzo’s controversial argument that the best outcome of a future conflict for Australia, is not to lose - and that not losing must be the basis of Australia’s new military philosophy. This philosophy is deterrence through denial or seeking to deny the enemy its objective. To support this analysis, I focussed on Land Warfare Doctrine 3-0-3 Formation Tactics 2016 as applied to the historical scenario of the Falkland Islands conflict in 1982. For the purpose of analysis, I cast Australia in the role of a non-nuclear Argentina dealing with an adversary similar to a nuclear capable Britain.
In Part 1, I concluded that an area defence posture is not appropriate for the effective defence of Australia’s immediate region. While the enemy may have comparable mobility and is unlikely to have air superiority except within range of the air defence systems organic to their task force, the amount of area to defend is too deep and wide for our force. In this Part, I continue the Falklands Island analogy and consider whether a mobile defence posture has more potential to support an effective defence of our immediate region.
Mobile Defence of the Immediate Region
With an offensive task force, consisting of embarked aircraft and an amphibious capability, enroute to Australia’s immediate region to seize terrain vital to our national interest, a mobile defence is appropriate when one or more of the following circumstances exist:
- When the defending force’s tactical mobility is equal to, or greater than, the enemy even though the latter has numerical superiority. As outlined in the last section, Australian forces would have commensurate mobility using RAN platforms. If we consider our air mobility assets paired with A2AD capabilities, we would also have greater mobility than the example of the British military in the Falkland Islands. The effectiveness of this capability was recently demonstrated when a RAAF C-17 provided air mobility to a USMC High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HiMARS). Conducted as part of a trial, the C-17’s advanced navigation and communication equipment was used to pass targeting information to the US artillery system in flight. Group Captain Bull, the Commanding Officer of 86 Wing stated that ‘when the HIMARS is offloaded, it could immediately employ munitions, and if needed, it can be rolled right back onto the C-17A and take off before an enemy can determine its location.’ This concept was analysed as Joint Archipelagic Manoeuvre in 2016.
- When the AO and the environment enable the defence to be organised in great depth and over a wide frontage. Part 1 of this paper highlighted the immensity of the area of operations. In this context, it is clear that a mobile defence would require C-17 capable runways across the immediate region to ensure the ADF had a greater mobility than the attacking maritime force. A piece by Colin Leggett writing in The Cove in July 2020 highlights how long it would take to build such a facility. Discussing a 2007 exercise at Bradshaw Training Area involving a Joint Rapid Airfield Construction (JRAC), Leggett cites (then) Chief of Air Force’s remarks that ‘[t]he construction of a C-17 capable runway within 22 days and subsequent construction of two C-17 parking aprons using Joint Rapid Airfield Construction pavement stabilisation techniques within 96 hours was no small task, and that is before taking into account the unseasonal 70mm of rain that fell during construction’. This capability is likely to become more important in the future.
ADF doctrine emphasises that, throughout the mobile defence, it is essential that commanders focus on the destruction, or neutralisation, of the enemy’s centre of gravity rather than simply trying to destroy forces. I am a fan of the simple Dale Eikmeir approach to the centre of gravity. Specifically, if the enemy Task Force is coming to seize (verb – critical capability) key maritime terrain, then the centre of gravity is the main effort or the enemy maritime task force. The amphibious ships (noun) are one of the critical vulnerabilities. For the land force to contribute to the destruction of the centre of gravity, it requires land based anti-ship cruise missiles.
Chris Smith and Albert Palazzo argued for this capability in August 2016. Similarly, Paul Dibb and Dr Richard Brabin-Smith reasoned that acquiring a highly credible accurate, long-range missile strike must now assume the highest priority in the government’s defence planning. The number of missiles is also important. In the scenario under examination, the British were prepared to accept the risk of the five Exocet missiles that had been delivered to the Argentine Navy. It would have been different if the full order of 10 missiles had been in the Argentine Navy’s munitions depot at Tierra del Fuego where the Super Etendard launch aircraft were based at the start of the war.
Implications of Analysis
In Parts 1 and 2 of this article, I have tested Palazzo’s proposal for a ‘new philosophy of war’ against the scenario provided by the Falklands Campaign. In so doing, I have considered the relative merit of both area defence and mobile defence postures for the maintenance of Australia’s national security interests in our immediate region. In doing so, several principles emerge that may have broader application to the ADF. These include:
- A mobile defence is more appropriate for the ADF conducting deterrence through denial in our immediate region.
- Australia’s land-based A2AD assets, which provide a persistent all-weather capability, need to be capable of Joint archipelagic manoeuvre. C-17 capable airstrips in our immediate region are a critical to ensure our forces are more mobile than the adversary.
- Land based anti-ship cruise missiles produced in Australia are critical to the A2AD capability. This requirement should be a priority of the Sovereign Guided Weapons Enterprise.
- Australia needs to develop a specific ADF joint warfighting doctrine for deterrence by denial in our immediate region. This could include:
- How (where) this defensive battle would be commanded. Robert Leonhard writing in 2017 suggested that the fundamental shift in information flow has come from the growth in sensor technology and its marriage to higher headquarters. Satellites, signal intelligence, and airborne radar systems (along with enhanced ability to conduct and project human intelligence) have combined to paint a radically different picture to the senior operational commander. Perhaps the Chief of Joint Operations will fight the defensive battle from Bungendore.
- In land doctrine, reserves are used to counter enemy penetration, to counter attack, or to respond to unforeseen or unplanned circumstances as it is essential that the cohesion of the defence is maintained. Rather than comprising of land forces, these reserves are likely to be provided by the Air Force and Navy. This is another argument for control at Headquarters Joint Operations Command, with its assigned Air and Maritime operations centres.
- A battlefield dominated by lethal long-range firepower and the defensive philosophy compels units to disperse, disaggregate and go to ground. The benefit of disaggregation is that it lessens the killing effects of firepower, but there are disadvantages too because dispersed forces are less able to mass. Advances in robotic autonomous systems will help with mobile fires, sensors and transport. Delegation of authorities from the operational to the tactical level is also a key consideration when communications are disrupted.
- It is important that a defensive campaign is fought in coalition or with our alliance partners. This could move the problem from a mobile defence for the ADF to an area defence for a coalition. There is the chance that we could face this threat alone. This was the situation the ADF faced briefly against the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy during the Second World War when the British Empire prioritised the defence of the homeland over its Far Eastern colonies. However, it is much better to have self-reliance in alliance.
The aim of this article has been to contribute to the debate started by Albert Palazzo about the future role of the Australian Army in Planning to Not Lose: The Australian Army's New Philosophy of War. If firepower is in the ascendancy over manoeuvre, if Australia is a status quo power and if we may face an adversary that threatens our national interests alone, then it is logical to adopt a denial through deterrence or a defensive mindset. If these three assumptions are turned into facts, then a joint mobile defence is the best tactic based on the analysis in this article. For the land force, long-range precision missiles that can destroy amphibious ships, as part of a connected, protected, lethal and enabled team, are vital to ensuring the credibility of this capability.
This two-part article has been focused at the tactical level of war, and it is important not to conflate tactics with strategy. Specifically, while this analysis has supported a tactical joint mobile defence, it does not necessarily follow that such a tactic would force an opponent to desist at the strategic level. Strategy is about obtaining success from war through a clearly defined theory of victory. Interestingly, a strategy of denial is the military strategy recommend by Elbridge Colby for the United States. Perhaps an examination of Albert Palazzo’s defensive philosophy at the strategic level is a topic for a future article in the Land Power Forum.
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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