Outcomes of ‘Spring Short Thoughts Competition’ 2023
Army’s approach to accelerated preparedness
In October, the AARC launched its spring series ‘Short Thoughts Competition’ on Army’s approach to accelerated preparedness. The purpose was to encourage authors to think about the activities Army can undertake now to achieve success in future and the types of capability that would best prepare land forces for future operational tasks. In a resource constrained and competitive workforce environment, our contributors specifically addressed the opportunities for accelerated preparedness presented by robotics and autonomous systems (RAS).
The insightful and innovative nature of responses submitted as part of the Spring Short Thoughts Competition is worthy of specific acknowledgement. Submission topics included technology innovations, strategic RAS applications and tactical employment of RAS to address a diverse range of challenges Army may face in future. The ideas, from across industry, academia, the ADF and wider population, show the immense intellectual capital of those willing to contribute to the transformation of land power. The AARC wishes to express its sincere appreciation to all participants who shared their expertise, strategic insights and passion. These contributions provide meaningful opportunities for Army to continue preparing its land forces.
The submissions have now been assessed by Director General Future Land Warfare (FLW) with three winners selected and a further two submissions commended. Winners will be awarded a book prize and travel to attend the FLW Littoral Commander War Game in Q1 2024. Entries to the spring series Short Thoughts Competition, including those listed below, have been published to the Land Power Forum.
- CAPT Jason Kirkham, ‘Fires in the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Army’s Kill Chain and Targeting Automation for the Defence of Australia’. This article addresses the application of RAS in indirect fires and targeting responsibilities. Specifically, it calls out loitering munitions, automated kill chain software and AI-accelerated targeting cycles. Kirkham argues that RAS can uplift Army’s divisional firepower capability, improve platform endurance and enable integration into the Integrated Force. Notably, the article also addresses the requirements for humans to remain in the loop and for robust control measures, especially to safeguard human authority over targeting and preserve morality in conflict. Kirkham provides important insights into the ways Army can leverage RAS to realise the DSR-directed transformation to be ‘optimised for littoral manoeuvre and operations by sea, land and air from Australia, with enhanced long-range fires’.
- SGT Adam Wawrzkowicz, ‘Economies of Scale Provided by Automated Solutions: Smart Deception’. This entry argues the ADF should be equipped with high-impact, low-cost capabilities able to enact asymmetric strategies. Specifically, it outlines deception opportunities presented by RAS to affect a strategy of denial. Wawrzkowicz draws out lessons from the US Ghost Army of WWII to demonstrate the clear asymmetric value deception employed by land forces can have in saving lives and deterring threats before they manifest. His article outlines that RAS can provide the realism and scale required to achieve effective deception in an operational environment defined by near-pervasive ISR, diffusion of information platforms and increasing cultural diversity.
- Mr Khuong Nguyen, ‘Embracing automation and robotics in the modern ADF’. This submission addresses the ways in which RAS can remediate workforce and concurrency challenges. Specifically, it identifies time-saving opportunities, a reduction in physical burdens and a transfer of risk for some high intensity tasks. Nguyen focuses on tasks, specifically domestic emergencies, that land forces have been increasingly employed to support. He claims ‘The use of existing and emerging autonomy and robotic systems at scale by Army can both enable greater assistance of civil authorities while also reducing personnel demand’. Nguyen goes on to make a salient comparison of Australia’s land forces against its regional neighbours. Such a comparison clearly highlights that Australia has an unfavourably-sized Army workforce against the likely number and breadth of tasks in the emerging strategic environment. The article presents two key requirements for the adoption of RAS at scale in Australia: 1) possessing a diversity of RAS technologies; and 2) maintaining a level of sovereign capability. Nguyen concludes by suggesting Australia look to international examples, such as in the US and in the Ukraine, to shape RAS implementation and inform our own scaling concepts.
- Mr Jerimy Tucker, ‘The Robotic Revolution: Better Innovation as a Catalyst for ‘Accelerated Preparedness’ through RAS’. This article demonstrates that RAS offers opportunities for force multiplication, integration and equipping personnel. It also addresses the need for rapid innovation to develop and acquire innovative technologies. Tucker calls for changes in the Defence innovation process, specifically identifying obstacles to rapid capability acquisitions. He notes lengthy committee processes, contracting standards, risk aversion, domain/service stove pipes and bureaucracy all impede achieving accelerated preparedness.
- Mrs Hannah Woodford-Smith, ‘Assessing autonomous options in force design: A decision support model to evaluate force composition’. This submission outlines a decision support model for senior leaders to use when considering asymmetry in the application of RAS for operational tasks comparative to conventional force structures. It is designed to generate debate on the model to enhance its utility. Woodford-Smith identifies the layers of analysis required to assess force design options, including analysing effect, force composition, costs and constraints, sustainability and force generation. She notes collaboration between industry and Defence is essential to conducting specific segments of the analysis identified in her model such as understanding the National Support Base as well as availability and producibility of RAS technologies.
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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