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Planning to Not Lose: The Australian Army's New Philosophy of War

In peacetime, the most important task of any army is to think about the requirements for future war and to prepare accordingly. As JFC Fuller observed, ‘preparation for war or against war, from the grand strategical aspect, is the main problem of peace’.[i] As war never stands still, much of this preparation should be spent on learning from past wars, examining the potential of new weapons and considering changes in strategic environment, in order to adapt to emerging conditions and to take advantage of, or create, new opportunities.[ii] The past contains the building blocks of the future, and the foundation upon which to base deep thinking, but the past must never be assumed to dictate the future. Again to quote Fuller, ‘the past is only a road to the future’.[iii]

War stands at a decision point. Military leaders will need to decide on the future course of how their organisation will fight in the future. Often such occasions are a result of a change in the available technology that unlocks a new way of war, such as the transition from muscle power to mechanical power, or the opening of new domains to contest, such as cyber. Less frequently, the shift is a result of a societal development. For example, the acceptance that all citizens of a state have a stake in its preservation only emerged during the French Revolution. This realisation resulted in the levée en masse and the fielding of enormous armies.[iv] Humanity once again stands at the crossroad of a significant period of transition in which there is the potential for militaries to reshape the art of war significantly.

How the current factors, explained below, that are driving change in the art of war intersect and interact remains speculative, as the end-point of their effect on war lies in the future. However, speculation, when it is based upon a deep knowledge of the past, provides the only effective tool with which to explore and understand the unknown. This is why it is so important for military professionals to study history: if you do not understand how the present came to be, you cannot perceive the forces of change. When periods of transition have occurred in the past, astute military leaders reinterpreted their art of war to seek advantage over possible adversaries. German military theorist General Friedrich von Bernhardi, writing during his own period of transition—the technological advances and social shifts that occurred in the decades preceding the First World War—summarised the necessity for the military to address change. He wrote:

Constantly we become aware of new forces in nature, and press them into our service, continuously obtaining thereby fresh means for conducting war. New problems must be faced, new grounds for activity are opened, and these must be considered in their mutual relationship. Theory, and what it teaches, must accommodate itself to the changed conditions under which war must be carried out. Theory is thus always subject to development, and from time to time must be cast into new moulds.[v]

Quantum computing promises to be our era’s new force in nature.

Marshal Foch, a contemporary of Bernhardi, believed war shared a trait with the other fields of great human endeavour—they are never closed. The present, Foch observed, is marked by the visible horizon but the horizon moves as humanity advances. War, he wrote, ‘is truly unlimited ground’.[vi] Accordingly, a willingness to seek out the opportunities change offers is a hallmark of a smart military.

The Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Rick Burr, has taken the lead here in his Accelerated Warfare and Army in Motion initiatives.[vii] This paper embraces the Chief of Army’s direction to think about coming challenges and to offer possible solutions. It outlines a future philosophy of war for a future war-fighting requirement. I believe that what I propose is fit for the future, not the past. Despite the discomfort this proposal may occasion among some of the force’s members, change is coming. The choice is simple: embrace change or accept defeat.


[i] JFC Fuller, The Reformation of War, Hutchinson & Co., London, 1923, p. 215.

[ii] The literature of military change is a large one. Among the best are Barry R Posen, The Sources of Military Doctrine: France, Britain, and Germany Between the World Wars, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1984; Williamson Murray and Allan R Millett, Military Innovation in the Interwar Period, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1996; James S Corum, The Roots of Blitzkrieg: Hans von Seeckt and German Military Reform, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, 1992; Macgregor Knox and Williamson Murray, The Dynamics of Military Revolution: 1300–2050, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2001, and Stephen Peter Rosen, Winning the Next War: Innovation and the Modern Military, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1991.

[iii] Fuller, The Reformation of War, p. 236.

[iv] On these periods of transition, see Knox and Murray, The Dynamics of Military Revolution.

[v] Frederich von Bernhardi, On War of To-Day, Karl von Donat, trans., Hugh Rees, Ltd, London, 1912, p. 2.

[vi] Marshal Foch, The Principles of War, Hilaire Belloc, trans., Chapman & Hall, London, 1921, p. 16.