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Putting the Band Back Together – Part One

An Enabled 1st (Australian) Division

Australian Army soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment and the 5th Aviation Regiment conduct small boat patrols during Exercise Black Cutlass 2023 off the coast of Townsville, Queensland.

A Division is one of the four best commands in the Service-a platoon, a battalion, a division, and an Army…A division, because it is the smallest formation that is the complete orchestra of war and the largest in which every man can know you.[i]

Field Marshal Viscount Slim

On 07 July, the Chief of Army (CA) stated, ‘We are setting conditions today to enable Army’s transformation. We are reorganising to reinforce our division headquarters to better command and control operations and establishing permanent command relationships with the brigades that they will fight with’. Clearly the CA is interested in putting the ‘orchestra of war’ back together.  

This Land Power Forum post argues that the division is the appropriate highest echelon of command for the Australian Army. This is because divisions are able to conduct independent operations and this capability is necessary in response to contemporary threats requiring the conduct of large scale combat operations. Based on this assessment, the post contains two parts. The first part, published here, considers the need to reinforce the division as Army’s largest unit of action. A follow-up post will discuss the requirement for more formations in an enabled 1st (Australian) Division.

Historical Analysis of the Australian Division

An excellent resource for examining the organisation and tactics of a division is the Australian Army’s The Division in Battle Pamphlet No 1 from 1970.[ii] This document does not refer to infantry brigades, but identified that there should be nine infantry battalions in a division. In terms of armour, the normal allotment of ‘Army troops’ from Land Command was one tank squadron, one armoured personnel squadron and one anti-tank squadron. Each division contained three field artillery regiments, one medium battery and one locating battery as well as one light anti-aircraft regiment. While there were no artillery brigades, the artillery was grouped and commanded by the Commander Royal Australian Artillery.

A selection of covers from the Australian Army's "The Division in Battle" series of pamphlets. Pamphlet No 1 enlarged and centred.

Supporting this capability were three field engineer squadrons and an engineer support squadron commanded by Headquarters Royal Australian Engineers. A construction squadron and a bridge troop were also provided by Land Command. In addition, there was a complement of signals for command and control, and an electronic warfare signal squadron. There was also aviation (reconnaissance squadron), intelligence, psychological operation and civil affairs. Finally, at the divisional level there was an extensive ‘services allocation’ consisting of supplies and transport, medical, dental, ordnance, electrical and mechanical engineers, provost, postal, pay and a divisional training unit to hold and train reinforcements.

What is striking about the divisional structure articulated in The Division in Battle pamphlet in comparison to Army’s current structure is the absence of brigades, with the grouping of combat support – such as artillery – under a commander. In addition, to the structural differences, Army’s contemporary structure lacks the enabling capabilities from the 1970 model such as construction engineers, electronic warfare, aviation, intelligence and psychological operations. Before confirming that these capabilities are required in a modern division, it is worth reviewing the contemporary operating environment to understand the employment of the Division as a unit of action.

Large Scale Combat Operations and the Emerging Threat

The Defence Strategic Review argues that major power competition in our region has the potential to threaten Australia’s national interests, including the prospect of major conflict. At his speech on 07 July, the Chief of Army acknowledged this threat when he highlighted that regrouping to Divisions ‘will accelerate our preparedness for operations today, build the necessary persistent partnerships, and generate capability in support of our operational concepts’. He also stated that ‘the 1st Division is renamed the 1st (Australian) Division…[as the name] better enables the employment of Australian Divisions within partner and coalition environments…’.

The Australian Army is not unique among its allied and partner militaries in implementing force structure initiatives to meet emerging security challenges. For example, the spectre of large scale combat operations (LSCO) loom large within the 2022 edition of the US Army’s Field Manual 3-0 Operations. This manual’s foreword states that ‘we [the US Army] continue to advance in the Army’s greatest transformation in over 40 years, as we pivot from decades of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism to LSCO’. With the concept of LSCO raised repeatedly, the manual categorises these types of operations as fighting that occurs against a peer enemy, able to contest the joint force in all domains. In this high threat environment there are generally significant enemy advantages in one or more domains, particularly in the early phases of conflict and when operating close to its territorial borders. LSCO typically entail high tempo, high resource consumption, and high casualty rates. Further, LSCO introduce levels of complexity, lethality, ambiguity, and speed to military activities not common in other operations. Self-sufficiency appears to be a requirement for divisions in this context.

The contemporary threat is well articulated within the context of LSCO. The CA clearly sees the division as the appropriate formation and echelon of command for this threat context. Next, it is worth returning to the role of the division and examining why it is back in vogue.

The Role of the Division in LSCO

A well-supported assertion is that the divisional structure is the most appropriate formation for the self-sufficient conduct of combat operations.  For example, in its 2019 review of the role of divisions in LSCOs, the US Army Combined Arms Center reflected that, since at least the turn of the 20th century, the US military division has been characterised as ‘complete in all its parts and capable of acting independently at any time’. The events of the Second World War reinforced the value of the ‘division [as] a self-contained unit made up of all necessary arms and services, and complete in itself with every requirement for independent action incident to ordinary operations’. A similar view exists in Australia. As Duncan Foster observed on the Land Power Forum in August 2022, ‘[t]he Australian Army first raised divisional sized formations during the First World War. At the commencement of the war, the division was seen as the smallest organisational level that could be self-sufficient in combat and administration, and was considered an ‘all arms’ formation’. Therefore, a Division needs to be capable of independent operations, especially if the Australian Army requires interoperability with our allies and partners. Non-western militaries hold similar views.

Since 2016, the Russian military has come to conceptualise the division as the primary unit of action in the ground domain. As such, ongoing efforts exist to scale up the battalion tactical group structure to enable operational manoeuvre. While recognising the value of this structure, particularly in the context of LSCO, Russian proponents of reform nevertheless recognise the inherent complexities involved, particularly in terms of logistics, power projection, command and control, as well as the integration of reservists. There are many problems with large-scale manoeuvre in the current conflict in Ukraine. These are related to the ubiquity of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms closely integrated with fire support. In this context, Ukraine has struggled to scale its offensive combat operations beyond the company-level within the context of a brigade and to date has failed to break through the Russian defensive lines in occupied Ukraine.


Part One of this article has outlined the historical structure of an Australian divisional. The best description of this structure was in the seminal 1970 Pamphlet, ‘The Division in Battle’. This structure was reviewed in light of the Chief of Army’s July 2023 pronouncement regarding the 1st (Australian) Division. The key capabilities currently missing are the enabling brigades that empower the division to conduct independent operations. The capacity to conduct independent operations is an important requirement due to the contemporary threat environment posed by LSCO and the requirement for interoperability with allies and partners. In Part Two, this article will outline the need for the force assignment of additional enabling brigades to 1st (Australian) Division to enable independent combat operations.

[i] Slim, William, Defeat into Victory: Battling Japan in Burma and India 1942-1945, Cooper Square Press (2000), 3.

[ii] Chief of the General Staff, The Division in Battle: Pamphlet No 1 – Organization and Tactics, Army Headquarters (Directorate of Military Training, 1970), Chapter 3.

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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