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Coming to terms with the modern way of war: Precision missiles and the land component of Australia's joint force

The purpose of the concept series is to explore ideas about warfare, particularly those ideas that may improve how the ADF goes about it. The concept series therefore supports the functions of force design and force development. Each volume in the series will address a single bounded problem. by Colonel Chris Smith and Dr Albert Palazzo.

The Australian Government intends to acquire land-based strike capabilities in the 2020s. While these sorts of capabilities are not new to many of the armies of the world, they signify a distinct shift in the character of the Australian Army, which has lacked a long-range strike capability (at least since the end of the days of coastal artillery). New deployable land-based anti-ship missiles, a long-range rocket system, armed medium-altitude unmanned aircraft, and a mobile surface-to-air missile system will enable the ADF to strike deep into Australia’s maritime and air approaches and to dominate the sea and air from the land. Being deployable, these systems can be sent off shore providing even greater depth to the nation’s security.

The changes that these weapons are causing in the art of war are likely to be significant. While the future can never be accurately foreseen, one change that is becoming clear is the potential of long-range land-based strike weapons to tip the balance between the offence and the defence in war in favour of the defender. Long-range precision missiles, combined with advanced sensors, give the defender the potential to create killing zones with enormous depth encompassing the air, sea and land. 

Tactics that currently allow an attacker to manoeuvre in the face of fire and close with an enemy may become too expensive and uncertain to attempt. A lodgement on a shore protected by an enemy armed with precision missiles may become all but impossible without incurring great losses of people and machines. And, as the thresholds of cost and access to missiles and advanced sensors reduce, these systems may proliferate and become commonplace, perhaps possessed by lesser powers and even non-state actors. It is wise, therefore, for Australia to deny an adversary any advantages these weapons may offer while creating opportunities for itself.

This paper is intended to spark a discussion about the future of Australia’s land forces in light of advances in land-based precision technologies. It will explore a number of questions, ideas and possibilities with a view to encouraging others to participate in the discussion. Army welcomes feedback, criticism and support from all; not just military professionals but also members of the academic, defence industry and think tank communities. After all, the
potential changes in the character of war that these technologies may cause are not issues of theoretical or practical importance for the Army alone. Rather they are of importance for the future security of Australia and its interests.