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The Fifth-Generation Australian Army

Leadership and Ethics in 2040


The Australian Defence Force (ADF) ethos is derived from that of our broader society. And in turn, Australians define something at the core of national identity through the ADF. Australians are proud of the ADF and the ADF’s history. They need and want the ADF to represent the best of Australian values. And Australians will be direct in telling the ADF if we have let them down.[i]

The year is 2040 and Australia is again at war. Corporal or Lieutenant Smith, an every-person-leader known as Smith, is deployed on their first operation. Serving since 2035, Smith, as a Joint Professional Soldier, has trained, educated, tested, practised, rehearsed, learned, failed and tested again. Tomorrow, Smith leads their first combat patrol. As the commander, they are anxious, apprehensive and not quite satisfied with their preparations. Continuously assessing risk, Smith knows that in war, against an enemy violently competing to achieve advantage over our forces, information is incomplete, inaccurate, and contradictory.[ii]

Despite Smith’s pre-patrol anxiety and personal humility, they draw confidence from their own and their team’s planning, rehearsals, battle procedure and risk assessment. These actions are globally enabled through the Australian Joint Multi-Domain Force’s intimate capabilities, combined with over-the-horizon and remote assets. Enhancing Smith’s confidence, their training, education and experience includes frequent collaboration, cooperation, interoperability and integration with joint, interagency, regional, coalition and multi-sector partners. Multi-sector partners include organisations demonstrating leadership, ethics and innovation in communities, technology, commerce, finance, industry, training, education and research.[iii]

Through training, education and experience Smith understands that ‘Soldiers are not in the Army. Soldiers are the Army’.4 Smith’s service is culturally framed through leadership, accountability, humility, ethics, professional curiosity, and values.5 Their people and their teams are ready for an operating environment experiencing accelerated change. Smith’s five years of service and preparation in the Australian Army includes experience in three environmental dimensions—human, physical and information—integrated into five warfighting domains: maritime, land, air, cyber and space. Smith’s and their team’s skills are practised, tested and rehearsed through the full spectrum of cooperation, competition and conflict.[vi]

Smith’s understanding of leadership and ethics is developed through discussion, case studies, critical thinking, education and training and, in their workplaces, by the Australian Defence Force (ADF) concept of Double Trust[vii] For Smith, their peers and their teams, Double Trust obligates them to defend Australia’s values and interests by force, while continuously upholding those values in their organisational leadership, behaviours, culture and conduct[viii]

For Smith, their peers and their teams, leadership is defined as empowering people to share their talents with the world through enabling inclusive teams to ethically achieve their personal, professional and cultural potential. Ethics are defined as ‘good habits of behaviour … cultivated through practice[ix] that ‘limit suffering and destruction caused by war’, based on the five Defence Values of service, courage, respect, integrity and excellence.[x] For Smith, the ‘ethical decision is the military decision’, where leadership and ethical behaviours are ‘part of the decision making process, tempered by training, experience, and observations’.[xi]

Unifying leadership and ethics with humility, Smith strives to serve and command ‘as the best-behaved person in their organisation’ and through that behaviour Smith aims to become ‘the difference in their organisation’ between success and failure.[xiii]


[i] Australian Defence Force, ADF Leadership, ADF Philosophical Doctrine, 0 Series: Command, Edition 3 (Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 2021), p. 2.

[ii] U.S. Marine Corps, Warfighting, Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1 (Washington DC: Department of the Navy, 2018), pp. 1-1–1-18.

[iii] Australian Army, Forces Command 2020 to 2028: Supporting Army’s Contribution to Defence Strategy, Enabling Army in Motion, Mastering Accelerated Warfare and Upholding Good Soldiering (Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 2019), p. 1.

[iv] Lewis Sorley, A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1999), p. 370:

After the war in Vietnam, the first unqualified strategic loss in the history of American arms, the Army went into the wilderness. General Creighton Abrams, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army, led it out. In his words, ‘Soldiers are not in the Army. Soldiers are the Army.’

[v] Lieutenant General Rick Burr, ‘Statement from the Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Rick Burr, AO, DSC, MVO, on Actions Following the IGADF Afghanistan Inquiry Findings’, media release, Australian Army, 19 November 2020 (accessed 1 July 2021). Thanks to Brigadier Richard Vagg for adding ‘professional curiosity’ to this idea (note to author, 25 January 2021).

[vi] Lieutenant General Rick Burr, Army in Motion: Accelerated Warfare Statement, Australian Army, 22 October 2020 (accessed 1 July 2021).

[vii] Ted Chitham, 2020, ‘Andrew Hastie - SAS Must Put Honour Before Glory’, Alliance of Defence Service Organisations, at: (accessed 4 November 2021).

[viii] Andrew Hastie, ‘Honour Before Glory’, The Australian, 24 November 2020, p. 12. Thanks to Colonel Gabrielle Follett for enhancing this idea (note to author, 12 January 2021).

[ix] C Peterson and MEP Seligman, Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 14; Michael Hawking, Farr A Curlin and John D Yoon, ‘Courage and Compassion: Virtues in Caring for So-Called “Difficult” Patients’, AMA Journal of Ethics, April 2017, pp. 357–363 (accessed 1 July 2021).

[x] Major Kevin Benson, The Ultimate Justification: Ethical Principles and Tactical Decision Making (Fort Leavenworth KS: School of Advanced Military Studies, United States Army Command and General Staff College, 1992), p. 4.

[xi] Ibid., p. 14.

[xii] Professor Sandra Harding, ‘Summary of Proceedings’, North Queensland Women’s Leadership Forum, Townsville, Australia, 8 August 2017. Chaplain Stephen Brooks, Colonel Gabrielle Follett and Colonel David O’Hagan (Retired) all emphasised the importance of humility in ourselves, our purpose and our service (notes to author, 5 January 2021, 12 January 2021 and 1 February 2021).