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Policy, the Australian Maritime Strategy and Future War: Part 2

Policy, the Australian Maritime Strategy and Future War: Part 2

In an earlier blog post for this forum, I discussed some of the government’s latest policy, its relationship to the Joint Archipelagic Manoeuvre concept and a shopping list of new and enhanced means. These means included:

  • New long-range rocket system
  • New deployable short-range, ground-based air defence weapons
  • New medium-range, ground-based air defence weapons
  • New deployable, land-based anti-ship missiles.

Tempted as I was to open Janes and look at hardware, there are robust procedures in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) for identifying and procuring major system. These major systems will need to address the full spectrum of maritime challenges the ADF will face in mid to late 2020s. These include the use of non-lethal force by a complex web of civilian entities (trawlers and oilrigs), state non-military actors (coastguards and similar agencies), and military forces.

This article is about how to incorporate these new means into the Army force structure. Mark Ascough previously highlighted that the challenge to acquiring land-based, anti-ship cruise missiles will be ensuring that the Army is adequately resourced for such a mission. So how should the Army incorporate and resource these new major systems into the force structure? Should a new unit be raised or additional capabilities provided to existing units?

These question recognise that Major Systems are just one element of the Fundamental Inputs to Capability (FIC). Examination of three of the other FIC against the context of the 2016 Defence White Paper provides a relevant framework for building the new force structure:

  • Personnel. Missiles and rockets are traditionally the preserve of the Royal Australian Artillery and there is a strong argument for ‘Gunners’ to retain the fires capability. The personnel need to be experts in operating in a land environment, as a key requirement of the unit is mobility to ensure survivability. At the same time, there is the need for the same personnel to be familiar with fighting in the air and maritime domains. They will be contributing to a ‘cross-domain fires’ capability. These skills exist within the Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF) Air Combat Officers (ACO) and within the Royal Australian Navy’s (RAN) Maritime Warfare Officers (MWO) and Combat Systems Operator. Whilst the majority of the personnel required for this capability is likely to come from Army, there is also a strong argument for joint positions to provide these skills. The ADF should also identify allied nations that operate the potential major systems and invest in junior exchange positions. For instance, if second year Lieutenants head overseas next year, on exchange, they are in line to command the first ‘cross domain fires’ batteries in mid to late 2020s.
  • Organisation. Recently, the US Army’s Training and Doctrine Command laid out its ‘Big 8’ initiatives to stay ahead of global threats and maintain overmatch against present and future adversaries. One of the ‘Big 8’ is ‘Cross Domain Fires’. General McMaster outlines that an Army fires unit ‘should be able to do surface-to-air, surface-to-surface, and shore-to-ship capabilities’. If the ADF wants to continue to strengthen our alliance with the United States and maintain a high degree of integration and interoperability, a unit capable of ‘cross domain fires’ is an important consideration. The implication of the requirement for a Cross Domain Fires capable Regiment (CDFR) is to enhance and consolidate existing ADF units rather than creating new ones.
  • Command and management. Command and management are key to incorporating the new capabilities. If the CDFR is to contribute to a maritime strategy, it is likely to from part of the task organised Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), which is Battlegroup sized organisation. If the Ground Combat Element of the ARG becomes a rotational responsibility, the habitual relationships of force generation in a Combat Brigade environment will be vital to the CDFR. The unit also has the potential to influence dramatically the air and maritime domains. A Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) will allow the fusing of target data from RAAF and RAN units and allow any unit (even one that has not actually detected the target) to engage targets. An ACO on an E-7A Wedgetail or a MWO on an Air Warfare Destroyer could press the launch button for CDFR missiles from hundreds of kilometres away.

In summary, there are good arguments for the new major systems to become part of existing units that are capable of ‘cross domain fires’. These CDFRs should remain within the Combat Brigades and be capable of employment with the task-organised ARG. The employment of the unit in a land environment requires Army leadership and staffing; however, joint personnel in the operations team would enable the unit to effectively integrate with the RAAF and RAN through CEC and fight effectively in the air and maritime domains. Exposure of personnel to training and employment of the new major systems, through exchange positions, will ensure the Army is able to contribute to the Australian Maritime Strategy as early as possible.

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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