Thinking Deep: The need for a Deep Battle Concept for the Australian Army
As the Australian Army contemplates the transformation of land power, one area that is worthy of focused effort is the development of a deep battle concept. Currently, Army lacks a unified concept for how it intends to employ its incoming deep-ranging platforms to achieve advantage in depth. To remedy this, Army must expand its concept of land power to include methods of credibly competing in areas of the battlespace beyond the influence of its close combat formations. To create a deep battle concept, one must consider the evolving nature of war, as well as modifications to the way Army views both its enemy, and the purpose of land combat. Furthermore, a deep battle concept tuned for Australia’s needs should consider the themes of deterrence, information dominance, and multi-domain access.
Any consideration of Army’s future application of land power would be incomplete without due regard for the growing interconnectedness between the close and deep battlespace. While deep battle concepts have existed since WWI, technological advancements have markedly altered the means of executing them. For example, indirect fires systems can reach further and at greater speeds. Sensors, both crewed and uncrewed, have made fire power more accurate. The digital and information age have fused sensing, shooting and decision-making cycles, acting as a kill-chain accelerant. In step with such technological developments has been the professionalisation of battlefield targeting procedures. Russia, for example, has created teams composed of intelligence, fire control and fires delivery staffs who together form ‘strike complexes’. Furthermore, global military powers are investing heavily in sensor-shooter fusion from the tactical through to operational levels, providing them the ability to deliver fires at ranges up to 35,000 km from land. The last decade has seen what Palazzo terms the institution of ‘the 2000 km kill zone’, muddying the distinction between the close and deep battlespace. As the time of writing, the destructive effect of long-range fires on land operations is being demonstrated daily in the Donbas region of Ukraine. These developments are occurring irrespective of Australia’s preparedness for them, thus underscoring the importance of conceptual development.
Army’s Concept of the Adversary
The development of a deep battle concept should begin with the adversary. As a concept, deep battle is incongruent with Army’s concept of a classical training adversary. For decades, Army’s warfighting exercises have focused on close battle against conventional formations. During training, the enemy is traditionally characterised along continental Cold War themes: as an assortment of line combat units. Although this close battle mind-set is essential, it potentially overlooks contemporary developments. The recent infusion of information warfare in the battlespace, as well as the concepts of ‘unrestricted’ and ‘hybrid’ warfare, pose questions about how Army applies violence. Most crucially, these new concepts enable adversaries to initiate targeting and theatre-setting campaigns across great depths of the battlespace. Paired with this is the challenges presented by systems overmatch in firepower, force projection, and sensing. For example, the United States, Russia and China each field long range land-based strike capabilities that are paired with dedicated drone units to enable the delivery of fires deep into their enemy’s rear areas. These complexities necessitate that Army’s perception of the adversary matures from a collection of line combat units to a network of diverse combat systems operating at depths: both in and beyond the confines of the close battle. If Army treats these as problems for another service to solve, it is liable to be dominated by them.
Army’s Concept of Land Combat
Crucial though it is to understand our enemy, a concept for deep battle also requires Army to broaden its concept of the role of land combat. Traditionally, Army conceives of joint land combat solely as the means of achieving decision. Deep battle, however, upends this formula by subordinating the role of land combat to an enabling action, rather than a decisive one. This is because the West is trending towards an increasingly multi-domain approach, where the primacy of a single service or domain is becoming irrelevant, and the coordination of the collective talents of the joint force is central. This trend recognises adversaries’ improving deep battle capabilities, which they use to generate anti-access area denial (A2AD) threats. Against such threats, our traditional close combat formations may be rendered irrelevant until access to the battlefield is gained. In this context, a deep battle concept serves as a vehicle for Army to explore how land power can best enable the delivery of decisive fires and effects from the joint force. To train this concept is to challenge Army’s bias towards fielding trinities of armour, infantry and artillery teams. Instead, Army’s force elements may be composed predominantly of artillery, target acquisition and air defence systems, with a smaller proportion of other arms for force protection.
Theme One: Deterrence
Having discussed the context, the question arises as to the themes by which Army’s deep battle concept should be defined. The first proposed theme is deterrence. Army is acquiring organic deep battle systems that may enable it to eventually range out to 500 km and beyond. In Australia’s Pacific operating environment, where armies must project via risky island-hopping bounds, 500 km holds significant deterrence value. For example, from Australia’s northern coast, fires platforms armed with anti-ship effectors could range southern Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Sea, presenting an anti-access deterrent. One such fires platform under consideration is the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). The inherent mobility of HIMARS, or similarly equipped system, multiplies its deterrence value as it is C-130 deployable, making it rapidly force projectable to airfields throughout the Pacific. This projection of force is practiced routinely by the United States through the conduct of High Mobility Rapid Insertion (HIRAIN) exercises. The deterrence is amplified further when transposing the relative austerity of the Pacific environment, which would cause militaries to congregate at a small number of key ports. If Army, through pre-emptive positioning, could hold the ports at risk from an invading force, it would impose force projection and sustainment dilemmas on an adversary that are not easily remedied below the threshold of conflict. Should deterrence fail, Army’s long-range effectors would reserve the capability to execute deep counter-preparation fires programs to degrade or deny logistic hubs before an invader’s superior mass could materialise.
Theme Two: Information Dominance
The second theme of Army’s deep battle concept should focus on information dominance. Tapping into the information environment would allow Army to influence targets at ranges far surpassing our greatest weapons, hence its importance to deep battle. Through information actions, target audiences could be convinced to resist an adversary’s malign and invasive presence by disrupting rear lines of communication or providing the location of key adversary systems located beyond the range of our organic sensors. At the operational level, the adversary’s branding of the conflict could be delegitimised and rendered untenable in the global commons.
These information effects will never advance beyond good ideas until a centralised coordinating function is assigned to orchestrate information effects in synchronicity with our kinetic warfighting effects. To do this requires Army to build both an appetite and understanding of information effects in a manner equal to its understanding of lethal effects. Such a capability is uniquely suited to Army. Specifically, on account of its persistent presence on the ground, Army constantly interfaces with human terrain, thereby unlocking reservoirs of intelligence and targeting potential. Unified under a central deep battle concept, Army could coordinate all levers of the information environment to collectively render the battlespace non-permissive to the adversary.
Theme Three: Multi-Domain Access
Finally, the third theme is multi-domain access, which is a perennial challenge to the achievement of deep shaping operations. Gaining access, and thereby the freedom of movement and opportunity in the deep, is an adversarial proposition. Typically, a multitude of anti-access threats, such as maritime cordons and integrated air defence, are arrayed to preserve the sanctity of the deep against interference. The cost of removing these obstructors has traditionally been born by Air Force and Navy. However, Army’s acquisition of organic deep shaping fires and sensors would provide the means to contribute to the access battle. This would enable the use of long-range rockets, high endurance UAS, extended range artillery and improved attack aviation in a variety of methods. To achieve this, Army could provide another anti-access strike option that adds all-weather persistence to the presently transitory joint arsenal. This is called cross-domain cuing and target hand-off. Another method would be through deep shaping fires, whereby Army destroys or overwhelms support systems such as air surveillance radars or surface-air jammers. The cumulative attrition of these systems would then create entry windows for joint strike packages to exploit. Army could make unprecedented contributions to joint force synergy, signifying its maturation from a close battle centric organisation into one capable of waging deep battle. Although this topic is not alien to Defence’s warfighting concept library, the Army is yet to generate a widely comprehensible vision to enable its realisation.
The creation of a deep battle concept would fill a widening gap in the Australian Army’s approach to land power; particularly as Army’s deep-ranging system acquisitions are yet to be rationalised under a unifying concept. A deep battle concept requires Army to recognise the increasing interconnectedness of the contemporary battlefield. It also requires adaptation of Army’s concept of the adversary to include a complex network of systems operating both from and into the deep battlespace. Furthermore, Army’s concept of land combat must expand to include its increasingly important enabling function. A deep battle concept relevant to Australia should be built on three themes. The first is the achievement of deterrence effects that maximise the use of long-range effectors to obstruct access to Australia’s approaches. Secondly, complementing our lethal effects should be information actions, intended to impede adversary freedom of manoeuvre. Finally, the concept must also prioritise multi-domain access as a key prerequisite for exposing the enemy’s target-rich rear areas. A deep battle concept will enable Army to graduate from a close combat force to an exponent of unified combat operations across close and deep areas.
This article is a winning entry in the 2022 AARC Short Writing Competition, 'Transforming Land Power'.
ATP 3-94.2 Deep Operations, Headquarters Department of the Army, September 2016
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