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Land Forces 2018 Pt 2 - New Direction, New Communities

23 October 2018
Land Forces 2018 Pt 2 - New Direction, New Communities

Land Forces 2018 was great. I just wanted to state my position clearly and up front. I also must disclose that I was a part – admittedly a very small part - of the organisation that put the event together, but my use of the word ‘great’ represents no bias or exaggeration on my part. Being great, however, doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been better, nor that we shouldn’t strive for better for 2020. My focus in the first of these two posts was on reinventing Land Forces as a ‘festival’ in order to engage new audiences. In this post, my focus will be on the Army reaching out to those industries that were conspicuous by their absence from the exposition held in Adelaide.

The Adelaide Convention Centre trade floor was packed with all the usual suspects. Thales was there, as was Harris, Rafael, Lockheed Martin, Hanwha, Boeing and Airbus, and I could go on. All of the states were present, as well as the Northern Territory and the ACT, and several universities participated. In addition to the giants of defence industry, scores of small companies came to the show and their wares were amongst the most interesting.  On display was equipment that addressed the breadth of land warfare, from weapons to battlefield management systems and logistics. The Australian Army Drone Racing Team sacrificed a few of their ‘toys’ for those ready to give it a go.

Virtually everything that was in Adelaide in 2016 was again present this year. So what was missing? Why the concern? Why this lack of contentment?

The concern is exactly that: little was different. In an age of tortuous development cycles, two years may not seem very long. But I would maintain that these are not normal times. It is becoming increasingly clear that the art of war is on the cusp of a significant shift as disruptive technologies emerge and are incorporated into the art of war. There were some hints of these technologies in Adelaide - the presence of drones has been normalised and virtual reality systems are no longer a novelty - but the displays offered by the titans of defence industry looked just like they have in the past. Where were the representatives of the coming disruption?

I believe the problem is that the Army and Defence are not reaching out to the right companies. New domains of war have been recognised (such as cyber) or will soon be (such as social) and the military’s ability to seek advantage in information, cyber and electronic warfare has grown immensely in recent years. War can no longer be limited to the viewpoint of a single environment. Even ‘Joint’ is now inadequate and future war is being defined in terms of Multi-Domain. Taken together, these developments are seeing a greater emphasis on the cognitive aspects of waging war.

Driving this disruption are advancements in a range of technologies including big data management, quantum computing, additive manufacturing, artificial intelligence and social identification. Not all are commercially practical, but the time when they will be is not far off. However, with the exception of a small booth representing an additive manufacturing company, none of the industry leaders in the exploitation of human cognition were present. 

I would argue that the metric for success for 2020 would be to have the unknown future of war, not just the known future, represented on the trade floor. To do this, Army and Defence must reach out to companies whose excellence lies in the exploitation of cognition. This would include household names such as Google, Amazon, Twitter, Facebook and the other giants of data exploitation, in addition to less familiar ones. Army should also build on its existing academic ties in the traditional areas of strategy and defence studies to attract thinkers with expertise in sociology, psychology, anthropology and other fields that advance the understanding of the human.

I do not accept that what I am suggesting is terribly radical. In fact, it should be a fairly obvious step to take. After all, there are reasons why cognition-exploitation companies are now amongst the most valuable in the world. Nor am I saying that the next Land Forces should abandon the old guard. There is much continuity in every period of disruption and the Army will continue to require the weapons and support systems with which we are all familiar. However, if Army is to prepare for future war it must welcome new companies into the Australian community of defence industry. Land Forces 2020 would be a great place to start.

Written By: Dr Albert Palazzo

About the Author: Dr Albert Palazzo is the Director of War Studies in the Australian Army Research Centre.

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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