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Introducing ‘An uncertain and dangerous decade – preparing the Army for the next ten years’

24 July 2020
Accelerated Warfare
Strategy
Soldiers walking away from view towards aircraft rear ramp

We have been a favoured isle, with many natural advantages for many decades, but we have not seen the conflation of global, economic and strategic uncertainty now being experienced here in Australia and in our region since the existential threat we faced when the global and regional order collapsed in the 1930s and 1940’s. This is a sobering thought, and it’s something that I have reflected on quite a lot lately as we’ve considered the dire economic circumstances we face.

That period of the 1930’s has been something that I have been revisiting on a very regular basis, and when you connect both the economic challenges and the global uncertainty, it can be very haunting. But not overwhelming.

It requires a response.

(Prime Minister, The Honourable Scott Morrison, releasing the 2020 Strategic Update, 01 July 2020)

The ‘futures statement’ Accelerated Warfare, released in 2018, described that change in the world was accelerating and that the pursuit of adaptability was the Army’s only realistic response. This has proven to be an understatement. The bushfire season from late 2019 into 2020 saw a ‘call-out’ of Reserves—an act normally associated with mobilisation for defence—and a large-scale commitment of the Army to disaster relief. A pandemic has since followed—once considered an outlier possibility—seeing the Army again called forward as part of a significant Defence commitment. Concerningly, the related economic crisis that has since unfolded appears to be exacerbating tensions between nations. The Prime Minister, the Honourable Scott Morrison, summed up the future while releasing the 2020 Strategic Update as: ‘even as we stare down the COVID pandemic at home, we need to also prepare for a post-COVID world that is poorer, that is more dangerous, and that is more disorderly’.

Organisations throughout Australia are trying to understand events so they can make decisions where certainty is impossible while trying to create new models to explain what might come. An uncertain and dangerous decade – preparing the Army for the next ten years aims to initiate a discussion about the Australian Army’s next decade as it prepares to face a range of challenges. The paper speculates on a future hinted at in the 2020 Strategic Update, following trends to identify areas and issues that may demand an Army response—either as part of the Defence team or independently as an organisation. However, it also provides steps to preparing for this future.

An uncertain and dangerous decade – preparing the Army for the next ten years is divided into three parts. In the first part, the paper asks what has changed, and what issues might appear to define the decade. The second part extrapolates from these issues and hypothesises what their impact will be. The final part identifies what the Army must consider in preparing for this future.

Australia has an Army that has proven well-prepared. That being said, there are many decisions before its leaders that will need to be made as circumstances continue to change. Time is of the essence as changes in the strategic environment have been as swift as they have been significant. The Army has considered many problems and has vast reservoirs of recorded knowledge to support its decision-making. However, it must now overcome the gap in its thinking between what ‘is’, and what ‘ought to be’. It is now time for the conversation—and, more recently, the ‘contest of ideas’ stimulated by Accelerated Warfare and the suite of Army strategic guidance—to be directed to overcoming the specific problems that might prevent the Army from reaching its full potential. It is the time for mental energy to be directed to answering fundamental problems that will shape the Army of the next 10 years.

‘An uncertain and dangerous decade – preparing the Army for the next ten years’ is the latest Australian Army Occasional Paper and can be accessed here.

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.