Where the Shore Meets the Sea
Land Power and the Future Littoral Environment
The future operations for which Australian land power will be required will almost certainly fall within the Indo-Pacific region. Thus, the future of land power will be in the littoral environment. This will require an Army ready to conduct dispersed operations across a number of coastlines and islands, acting independently or in concert. Above all, this will require integration into the joint environment, working with sea and air power as part of a holistic maritime strategic construct. The future land force will need to conduct or support anti-air, anti-ship, surveillance, and core infantry and light armoured operations in a littoral environment. Much of the necessary transformation will also be of a general nature: drones and loitering munitions will play a part in all future land environments, littoral or not, and many changes will be inherently required for future operations.
The Indo-Pacific is Australia’s primary operating environment. It covers a vast area of the globe, containing a multitude of different cultures, environments, resources, allies, and potential adversaries. A common feature of this geographic reality is that it is dominated by the littoral operating environment. This consists of coastlines across the region and the many islands located in the Pacific, Indonesia, the South China Sea, and into the Indian Ocean. In response, the United States Marine Corp (USMC) has developed a new concept, the Martine Littoral Regiment (MLR), specifically for this environment and the associated requirement to conduct ‘Expeditionary Advance Base Operations (EABO)’ in the littoral. Unsurprisingly, the first MLR was stood up in Hawaii, while the next two MLRs are envisioned as being based in the Pacific theatre. In the Australian context, it will be critical to similarly project power into the region, to protect Australian interests as well as to threaten those of an adversary. This might involve an Army formation, for argument’s sake, called an ‘Army Littoral Unit’, deployed in a permissive or non-permissive environment in a littoral location protecting an Australian Sea Line of Communication (SLOC), or threatening the SLOC of an adversary. It is clear that the Indo-Pacific, mentioned 25 times in the 2020 Defence Strategic Update, will be the focus of Australia’s national interests, and the littoral environment that defines this region will demand the Australian Army to be ready to conducted operations there.
What this means in practice is that the Army will need to transform into a force able to conduct dispersed operations across the shores and islands of the Indo-Pacific. This will require a truly Joint Army working with the RAN and the RAAF. First and foremost, the future Army will need to conduct combat operations against an enemy force, either offensively against an enemy ashore, or defensively against an enemy seeing to disrupt a littoral position. In this sense, the Army will still need to do what it does now as the ADF’s ground combat arm. This is its core role in the Joint force. Nevertheless, the Army will need to integrate even further into the Joint construct. An Army unit operating in a littoral environment may well need beach reconnaissance from RAN Clearance Divers, followed by a Deployable Geospatial Support Team (DGST) to bring in follow forces. At the same time, they would be reliant on Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) from RAN and RAAF assets. An initial lodgement would almost certainly be reliant on RAN amphibious ships. However, once in place an Army littoral unit would then need its own maritime assets as recognised by the Army’s Land 8710-1A program for an Independent Littoral Manoeuvre Vessel (ILMV), similar to the USMC’s larger-scale Light Amphibious Warship designed for independent manoeuvre around the littoral environment.
Aside from a solid foundation of logistics, achieving this level of transformation within Army will require robust communications and comprehensive ISR for situational awareness and targeting. The littoral is a busy environment, requiring a force to monitor maritime, air, and land movements in the surrounding area. The maritime areas of the Indo-Pacific can be one of the most heavily trafficked of all sea spaces in the world, especially when considering the need for a future force to focus on friendly and enemy SLOC. Such a force will require more than just organic targeting and fire control systems for any Anti-Ship Missiles (ASMs) embedded within an Army littoral unit. For instance, operating the Naval Strike Missile (NSM) with a range in excess of 100 nm will required targeting information fed in by RAN and/or RAAF units to be effective out beyond the horizon. This capability could come in the form of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) organic to the Army littoral unit, or more likely from information provided by RAN surface units, helicopters or by RAAF UAVs like the Triton or P-8 Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft. In a coalition situation, targeting information could come from allied sources, or could be passed from the Army littoral unit to an Allied unit for targeting. This will require effective data link systems with Allies.
The recent sinking of the Russian cruiser Moskva in the Black Sea by the Ukraine demonstrates the need for accurate targeting information. It does not demonstrate the obsolescence of surface warships or the superiority of ‘Anti Access/Aerial Denial’ systems. If that were the case, the entire Russian Black Sea Fleet might well be expected to be at the bottom of the sea, not just Moskva. No, what is clear is that what makes such land-based anti-ship weapons successful is the ability to find and target ships in a vast body of water, usually filled with non-warships, and that modern warships require up-to-date anti-ship missile defences and training. Consequently, for an Army littoral unit to provide effective sea denial, it needs ISR to find and target enemy warships and high value units, at long distance and in a crowded sea space.
Finally, there are the emerging systems that any future land force will need to acquire and operate across all domains, not just in the littoral environment. Such systems include drones of varying size and capability, loitering munitions, and man-portable anti-tank and anti-air systems. The urban counterinsurgency operations in Marawi, Philippines and in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, demonstrated the utility of UAVs and autonomous systems of all manner of capability, armed and unarmed. The 2020 fight between Azerbaijan and Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh, and especially the Ukraine-Russia war of 2022, have demonstrated their abilities in conventional, major power conflict by providing ISR, targeting data for naval strikes and artillery, and armed drones both large and small in action against armoured vehicles, supply convoys and even small patrol boats at sea. Some of these platforms are large fixed-wing, high altitude and long endurance types that will be operated by the RAAF, but there are countless smaller systems in use by the Army today and in development that will boost situational awareness, targeting ability, and lethality. While it will probably not be necessary to train every single person in their use, UAV operator training should be as widespread as possible. More than that, personnel will need to be trained in their maintenance to keep systems running in the field for extended periods of time. This could include the use of 3D printing in the field, a regional support base, or even a RAN ship to produce spare parts for UAVs and indeed other systems. Something which has not been developed at scale is the use of UAVs for cargo delivery, and this has vast potential in the future environment, especially in dispersed operations in the littoral environment as envisaged here. As it stands, insufficient investment has been made, and it is doubtful it will replace the cargo carrying capacity of manned aircraft. Nevertheless, it has great potential for delivering critical supplies such as medical kits, and also important items such as spare parts for any number of systems, including other UAVs. On the flip side, the ubiquity of such systems means that anti-drone systems, soft and hard kill, will be needed to counter an enemy’s use of UAVs. No matter the future operating environment, but especially for dispersed operations in the littoral, UAVs will be critical to the future of land power.
Transformation is always a risky business, and never more so than in warfighting. The Australian Army of the future must be agile and adaptable in many different operating theatres, prioritising the Indo-Pacific littoral. That is where Australia’s national interest is greatest and therefore, where the ADF will be needed most. Operating as part of the Joint Force, the Army will need to conduct expeditionary operations in the littoral, both defensive and offensive. It will need to be equipped for land combat to defend one or more positions, while utilising strike capabilities such as ASMs to establish sea denial ‘bubbles’. The proliferation of cheap and capable UAVs and ‘loitering munitions’ will require new training and new logistics support systems, all plugged into a truly joint ISR and battlefield awareness system. This will help create an Australian Army ready for the future of land warfare.
This article is an entry in the 2022 AARC Short Writing Competition, 'Transforming Land Power'.
 For an excellent look into the Indo-Pacific construct, its history, and future prospects see: Medcalf, Rory, Contest for the Indo-Pacific. Why China Won’t Map the Future, 2020.
 The US Marines (USMC) defines the littoral as a seaward portion from the open ocean to the shore that must be controlled to support operations ashore and a landward portion inland from the shore that can be supported and defended directly from the sea. Dean and Brown, ‘Littoral Warfare in the Indo-Pacific’, Australian Army Research Centre Land Power Forum, 21 April 2022, https://researchcentre.army.gov.au/library/land-power-forum/littoral-warfare-indo-pacific
 Dean and Brown, ‘Littoral Warfare in the Indo-Pacific’, 21 April 2022.
 United State Marine Corp, ‘MARINE LITTORAL REGIMENT (MLR)’, 2 August 2021, https://www.marines.mil/News/News-Display/Article/2708146/marine-littoral-regiment-mlr/; 3rd MLR was stood up in Hawaii on 1 March 2022: Eckstein, Megan, ‘Standup of Marine littoral regiment will usher new gear into Pacific theater’, 1 March 2022, https://www.defensenews.com/naval/2022/02/28/standup-of-marine-littoral-regiment-will-usher-new-gear-into-pacific-theater/
 See: Sea Power Centre – Australia, Australian Maritime Operations, 2017, p. 243.
 Australian Government Department of Defence, 2020 Defence Strategic Update, 2020.
 Australian Army, Army in Motion: Army’s Contribution to Defence Strategy, Edition Two, 2020, p. 30.
 Consideration would need to be given if they were put under the command of an RAN officer, given the dispersed nature of such potential operations and the navigational and seamanship training required in such a situation. The USMC LAW will indeed be commanded by a US Navy officer in a similar circumstance. Australian Defence Magazine, ‘Raytheon, Austal and BMT aim for Land 8710-1A’, 5 May 2022, https://www.australiandefence.com.au/defence/land/raytheon-austal-and-bmt-aim-for-land-8710-1a; Eckstein, Megan, ‘Navy Officials Reveal Details of New $100M Light Amphibious Warship Concept’, United States Naval Institute News, 19 November 2020, https://news.usni.org/2020/11/19/navy-officials-reveal-details-of-new-100m-light-amphibious-warship-concept.
 From a modified Bushmaster vehicle, the proposed ‘StrikeMaster’ as part of Land 4100 Phase 2. Bostock, Ian, ‘Australian industry mates Bushmaster ute with Naval Strike Missile’, Defence Technology Review, Issue 84, March 2022. The story notes that the CEA Technologies CEATAC radar can be used to provide closer range detection and tracking but that the system would most likely utilise targeting information from external sensors and systems.
 Noting that the US apparently provide corroborating targeting information to the Ukrainian forces. For one of the more clear-headed analyses out there, see: Ozberk, Tayfun, ‘Analysis: Chain Of Negligence Caused The Loss Of The Moskva Cruiser’, Naval News, 17 April 2022, https://www.navalnews.com/naval-news/2022/04/analysis-chain-of-negligence-caused-the-loss-of-the-moskva-cruiser/. On marine traffic, there are several open source resources, for instance: https://www.marinevesseltraffic.com/2013/04/marine-traffic.html. It is worth noting this is not all marine traffic, and the large number of small fishing vessels, pleasure craft, and other miscellaneous vessels won’t be captured.
 A recent, cautious look at some examples as might be gained from the war for the USMC’s current transformation: Williams, Noel, ‘Insights for Marine (and Beyond) Force Design From the Russo-Ukrainian War’, War on the Rocks, 31 March 2022, https://warontherocks.com/2022/03/insights-for-marine-and-beyond-force-design-from-the-russo-ukrainian-war/.
 On some of the future potential uses of UAVs and autonomous systems in the maritime ISR realm, including autonomous surface vessels, see: Adams, Richard, Nash, John, and Andrews, Sean, ‘For Your Situational Awareness. Autonomous Systems and Constabulary Tasking’, Journal of Indo Pacific Affairs, Vol. 05, Issue 2 (Mar-Apr 2022), pp. 21-25.
 3D printing having been used by the frigate HMAS Parramatta in 2020. ‘Navy Turns to 3D printing solutions to support fleet at sea’, Defence Connect, 31 January 2020, https://www.defenceconnect.com.au/maritime-antisub/5496-navy-turns-to-3d-printing-solutions-to-support-fleet-at-sea
 For a look at the problems as they stand now, and how they might be developed, see: Jacobsen, Mark, ‘The Dubious Prospects for Cargo-Delivery Drones in Ukraine’, War on the Rocks, 25 May 2022, https://warontherocks.com/2022/05/the-dubious-prospects-for-cargo-delivery-drones-in-ukraine/
Adams, Richard, Nash, John, and Andrews, Sean, ‘For Your Situational Awareness. Autonomous Systems and Constabulary Tasking’, Journal of Indo Pacific Affairs, Vol. 05, Issue 2 (Mar-Apr 2022), pp. 16-30.
Australian Army, Army in Motion: Army’s Contribution to Defence Strategy, Edition Two, 2020.
Australian Defence Magazine, ‘Raytheon, Austal and BMT aim for Land 8710-1A’, 5 May 2022, https://www.australiandefence.com.au/defence/land/raytheon-austal-and-bmt-aim-for-land-8710-1a .
Australian Government Department of Defence, 2020 Defence Strategic Update, 2020.
Bostock, Ian, ‘Australian industry mates Bushmaster ute with Naval Strike Missile’, Defence Technology Review, Issue 84, March 2022.
Dean, Peter J. and Brown, Troy Lee, ‘Littoral Warfare in the Indo-Pacific’, Australian Army Research Centre Land Power Forum, 21 April 2022, https://researchcentre.army.gov.au/library/land-power-forum/littoral-warfare-indo-pacific.
Defence Connect, ‘Navy Turns to 3D printing solutions to support fleet at sea’, Defence Connect, 31 January 2020, https://www.defenceconnect.com.au/maritime-antisub/5496-navy-turns-to-3d-printing-solutions-to-support-fleet-at-sea.
Eckstein, Megan, ‘Standup of Marine littoral regiment will usher new gear into Pacific theater’, 1 March 2022, https://www.defensenews.com/naval/2022/02/28/standup-of-marine-littoral-regiment-will-usher-new-gear-into-pacific-theater/.
- ‘Navy Officials Reveal Details of New $100M Light Amphibious Warship Concept’, United States Naval Institute News, 19 November 2020, https://news.usni.org/2020/11/19/navy-officials-reveal-details-of-new-100m-light-amphibious-warship-concept.
Jacobsen, Mark, ‘The Dubious Prospects for Cargo-Delivery Drones in Ukraine’, War on the Rocks, 25 May 2022, https://warontherocks.com/2022/05/the-dubious-prospects-for-cargo-delivery-drones-in-ukraine/.
Medcalf, Rory, Contest for the Indo-Pacific. Why China Won’t Map the Future, Melbourne, La Trobe University Press, 2020.
Ozberk, Tayfun, ‘Analysis: Chain Of Negligence Caused The Loss Of The Moskva Cruiser’, Naval News, 17 April 2022, https://www.navalnews.com/naval-news/2022/04/analysis-chain-of-negligence-caused-the-loss-of-the-moskva-cruiser/.
Royal Australian Navy, Australian Maritime Operations, Sea Power Centre – Australia, Canberra, 2017.
United State Marine Corp, ‘MARINE LITTORAL REGIMENT (MLR)’, 2 August 2021, https://www.marines.mil/News/News-Display/Article/2708146/marine-littoral-regiment-mlr/.
Williams, Noel, ‘Insights for Marine (and Beyond) Force Design From the Russo-Ukrainian War’, War on the Rocks, 31 March 2022, https://warontherocks.com/2022/03/insights-for-marine-and-beyond-force-design-from-the-russo-ukrainian-war/.
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