Tactical and Strategic ‘Readiness’ for the Australian Army
Executing What Has Been Started
Eighteen months ago, Army released its capstone narrative, ‘Army’s Contribution to Defence Strategy’, which defined the current and future operating environment as well as its vision, frameworks and culture. These documents and Army’s modernisation design principles of Connected, Protected, Lethal and Enabled seek to balance the current and expected readiness demands of being both ‘Ready Now’ and ‘Future Ready’.
The Defence White Paper states the world is complex and changing, requiring Army to be prepared to face a range of future challenges. The Chief of the Defence Force recently emphasised the White Paper narrative, stressing the need for the Defence Force to ‘engage and prepare’. Testament to this requirement is the fact that militaries all over the world are investing heavily in advanced military capabilities as well as emerging technology such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, power management, energy storage, advanced communications networks, quantum information systems and biotechnology.
Notwithstanding the pace and rate of change described in the White Paper and other strategic documents, it is important to remember that great power competition does not inevitably lead to great power conflict. Armies must be able to defend the nation during times of war as well as provide force options to government during periods of ‘competition’ below the level of armed conflict. While rival states present significant challenges as they pursue advanced capabilities and weapons of mass destruction to gain regional influence and ensure regime survival, so too does ‘non-traditional’ security challenges, to include terrorism and natural disasters. It is for this reason that the Australian Army must also focus and invest in regional partnerships, burden-sharing and long-term investment, especially in Asia and across the South-West Pacific.
Readiness is an enduring Army priority. Tactical readiness prepares forces to address the current host of challenges as the last two decades of operational commitment demonstrates. Tactical readiness, however, is insufficient to prepare Army for strategic competition and conflict. Strategic readiness focuses more broadly on time and observing grand strategy; it involves a contemplation of how Army, as part of the Australian Defence Force, leverages ‘matters of state’—specifically national power, geography, industrial capacity, political economy and demographic—to ensure future readiness. The notion of tactical and strategic readiness as an organising theory reflects the central idea of Army In Motion—it represents the requirement to be both ‘Ready Now and Future Ready’.
Army has historically been very effective at achieving tactical readiness. Recent deployments in support of the bushfire catastrophe across Australia, as well as the government response to the COVID-19 pandemic throughout 2020, attest to the effectiveness of Army’s ‘Ready Now’ posture. Army’s readiness focus on deployable ‘units of action’, from individuals and small teams through to formation level responses, reflects the strength of Army’s training system with its emphasis on individual and collective skills, tactical leadership, and effective command and control.
Strategic readiness is how Army becomes ‘Future Ready’. Strategic readiness relies on institutional mechanisms necessary for future challenges, including, but not limited to, Army’s ability to modernise, mobilise, experiment, trial, and evaluate. Army must be able to conduct Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) in support of the Australian Defence Force’s emerging joint warfighting concept (Army has developed its future operating methodology via its internally released land operations concept document). The notion of strategic readiness is one such mechanism. The Army is now two years into its most transformational change since the end of the Vietnam War. Army has prioritised its Strategic Readiness along four modernisation principles—Connected, Protected, Lethal and Enabled.
The future network is how Army connects. Mission command and the continuous integration of combined arms and joint capabilities is a focused priority. This network must include advanced information technology, hardware and software integration, and electromagnetic signature management. Army will deliver this network by fielding command and control capabilities capable of leveraging ‘the mesh’ as well as integrating commercial solutions informed by structured test and experimentation activities. Inserting future technology via periodic refresh initiatives provides the flexibility to augment and integrate emerging IT capabilities, ensuring greater resilience and the ability to ‘out-pace’ threats and adversaries.
The Army will develop the next generation of manoeuvre as part of its protected concept methodology. Development, experimentation, and rapid prototyping must be employed as Army re-capitalises its mobility systems to ensure overmatch against future threats. Future protected systems must employ greater firepower, mobility, and protection. They must be future ready by being able to integrate with manned- unmanned teaming systems. Robotics are here. Army will make use of them in order to preserve soldiers for the decisive phase of close combat. The competing issues of weight, space, architecture, power, and integration must be accommodated to enable Army’s protected manoeuvre system that ‘spirals’ capability development as technologies mature. When considering the planned investment over the next decade, Army as a protected capability must be seen in terms of its increasing lethality, manoeuvre and survivability. Future parallel investments in littoral force projection platforms will offset force weight, making Army more capable of rapid deployment and response.
Army will improve its lethality through the introduction of advanced artillery and missiles. This includes hypersonic technology that accelerates Army’s strategic fire capabilities alongside air and maritime strike systems. Extended range capabilities will create windows of opportunity for the Joint Force to exploit. Future precision missiles as well as enhanced air defence systems will realise greater range, lethality and survivability. Long Range Precision Fires capabilities recognise the advantage afforded to the Army by Australia’s geography, specifically the advent of the ‘1000 kilometre tactical bubble’ that describes the stand-off range and targeting opportunities that future long range strike systems bring to the modern battlefield.
The training and equipping of soldiers is critical to the notion of how Army enables strategic readiness. Improved weapons, sensors, body armour and training requires ongoing investment. Army must also understand how strategic readiness requires rapid prototyping, development, and procurement of future systems to avoid unacceptable lag-times in terms of fielding new technologies and equipment. Enhanced night vision, head-up display, and the full introduction into service of an effective synthetic and simulation training environment are examples of how Army can better work with industry partners to refine future needs and requirements.
Key supporting components to strategic readiness include systems of critical infrastructure, especially estate and logistic facilities. These systems enable Army to deploy from its bases, critical to its force projection. Ports, roads, airfields and railheads are essential to soldiers and their equipment. Strategic readiness requires Army to think about its facilities and estate in the same manner as it contemplates its deployable warfighting capabilities. This also includes the forward positioning of equipment, munitions and materiel.
Army’s greatest strength comes from people—soldiers, families, employed civilians and veterans. Caring for soldiers and their families is key to Army’s Strategic Readiness. Army’s culture is grounded in its enduring values of Courage, Initiative, Respect and Teamwork. These values are timeless and true. Army relies on strong leadership to increase resiliency. Army remains an all-volunteer force that must attract and retain talent; recruiting and technical skills are critical.
In Modernisation and reform, with the support of the recently formed Headquarters, the Australian Defence Force has created irreversible momentum towards a ready, modernised, multi-domain-enabled Army. As a human endeavour, warfighting requires establishing and maintaining relationships and is critical to what the Army does. Army does not operate alone. Army relies on its sister services, allies and partners to posture for future threats, project power and deter rivals.
Army is ‘Ready Now’ in terms of tactical readiness. Operational commitments in 2020 attest to this. Planned investment over the next decade will ensure its strategic readiness; Army must be ‘Future Ready’ for the challenges that come next.
 Tactical and Strategic Readiness as a term has been used by the Army of the United States to describe its own modernisation continuum. For more, see https://www.armed-services.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/McCarthy--McConville_03-26-20.pdf
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.
Editor's note: This Land Power Forum post is now open for discussion.