Shaping C2 for the ADF and Coalition Forces: The Perspective of Air Vice Marshal Mike Kitcher

By Robbin Laird

When I was in Australia in September of last year, I had a chance to talk to the then Deputy Chief Joint Operations (DCJOPS), Air Vice-Marshal Mike Kitcher.

In that interview, he discussed how the refocus on direct defence in Australia affected the Joint Operations Command.

Kitcher noted in that interview: “The focus in this period, up to say 2017, for CJOPS was on operations in the Middle East whilst managing operations in our  region. We clearly have leveraged the earlier experiences in our renewed focus on the conduct of Operations, Actions and Activites, OAA, in the Indo Pacific. We are focused on developing a theatre campaign plan to translate strategic guidance into the OAA we execute in our region to achieve our desired objectives.

“We are focused on ways we can operate as a joint force to optimise our regional OAA  to have the maximum positive effect  in supporting our theater campaign plan. You don’t get the maximum benefits from a joint force unless firstly the services provide you with trained personnel capable of executing joint missions and then HQJOC, through focused joint planning, maximises the potential of the individual components. We have  made good progress along this path but still have a way to go.”

Air Vice-Marshal Kitcher highlighted that we are “now squarely focused on managing operations in a coordinated fashion in our region.” And this means both how to get the best joint force effect but also how to coordinate the ADF effort with core allies in also getting the optimum  coalition effect.

Obviously in working with coalition partners, national sovereignty has to be respected but at the same time for effectiveness in operations coalition forces need to operate in an integrated manner. This is a key tension which needs to be managed, notably in crises where the government of the day will make decisions about the allowable operations of their national forces, these individual decisions may challenge the effectiveness of a coalition force.

At the April 11, 2024 Williams Foundation seminar, Kitcher focused on the C2 aspect involved in the changes we talked about last year.

Distributed C2 for the ADF and C2 directing coalition operations are critical challenges to be met as the ADF adapts to the operating the “focused force” the government has mandated.

Air Vice-Marshal Kitcher presenting at the Williams Foundation Seminar April 11, 2024

At the seminar, Kitcher underscored that “we are focused on building a headquarters that’s  capable of planning, executing, managing regional operations, from competition through crisis to conflict.”

He underscored that the ADF was working on a model different from the American model of the combatant commander.

“The size and scale of the personnel involved in a U.S. Combatant Command compared to the ADF is very different. When we add component commands to a joint operation, we need to have a need to consider the numbers of people that we have available in our component command model. And we need to cut our cloth to the numbers that exist realistically.”

I would personally add observing American command structures that they have generally been very large, and a key change underway is to shift to distributed C2 which is forcing changes in terms of the size of strategic or theater level command.

And not surprisingly, ADF work in this area has an influence on those military commanders who are actually working in innovative ways with regard to C2 innovations,

When Vice Admiral Lewis became commander of the Second Fleet, he focused specifically on how to lean out command elements and empower distributed forces to execute mission command.

This is a subject which we discussed in some detail in our various visits to the Norfolk-based command.

He provided an example of the changes being worked by JOC as seen in the last Talisman Sabre exercise.

And we discussed that further in a meeting later in the month. At that meeting, he discussed with me further the changes in the operational command and control approach.

He argued that “at the seminar, I discussed a component C2 model in which six components were being blended in, namely six components, space and cyber as well as the more traditional air, land, maritime and special forces. At Talisman Sabre we introduced we shaped a logistics coordination command for the entire coalition effort for nearly 30,000 people involved in the exercise.

He assessed the state of the art to date as follows: “We are working to understand the supported and supporting commander roles within the components, and which components are relatively mature, which components have to mature, which components are well versed and operating as components and which components are working hard to design and execute their component functions.

“With regard to our maritime environment where we find ourselves in our region, all of the six components could be the supported commander for particular periods in particular events. But broadly speaking, the air and maritime component is the most logical components to lead in as the supported command with the other components supporting the air and or maritime component across the spectrum of operations.

“And the key relationship then becomes that between the component command and the JOC at the operational level on how to successfully integrate those two functions.”

We then turned to the recent Talisman Sabre exercise experience.

According to Kitcher: “For the first time, we had a single leader of U.S. forces at the Corps level working the U.S. engagement. And each coalition nation had that level of leadership deemed appropriate for the size and scale of their involvement in the exercise.

“That is a model we will continue with. Within JOC we embrace that leadership model, and we embrace as well the engagement various different government departments such as the Australian Federal Police and their embedded liaison officers in JOC as well.”

In short, the kind of impactful presence which Australia is building in the region, C2 is a key element for creation of enhanced capability in the defence of Australia.