Re-setting the Current Force: Shaping a Way for Ahead for the ADF in the Direct Defense of Australia

By Robbin Laird

As noted in the Williams Foundation seminar, 80% of the force which the ADF or its allies will have in 20 years, they have today.

With the refocus on the direct defense of Australia, the initial focus is upon re-setting the current force, re-directing it and find ways to ramp up capabilities in three to five years without the benefit of a significant launch of new platform programs.

In part, this is focusing on ways to operate within Australia to project power from Australia.

Earlier Williams Foundation seminars have highlighted the importance of working ways for the integrated force to operate more effectively as a maneouver force operating within and from Australian territory and being able to operate more effectively in terms of power projection operations from the continent.

For example, at the Williams Foundation conference held on October 24, 2019, and entitled “fifth generation manoeuvre,” a key focus was on the shift in C2 required for a manoeuvre force to operate more effectively projected from Australia into the region.

This is what I wrote after that seminar with regard to this aspect of shaping the way ahead:

“To achieve the kind of agility and decisive effect which 5th generation maneouver can achieve requires a significant re-focus on the nature of the C2 and ISR infrastructure. Such an evolved infrastructure enables the legacy and new platforms which are re-shaping capabilities for the combat force to be much more capable of operating across the full spectrum of crisis management.

“In today’s world, full spectrum crisis management is not simply about escalation ladders; it is about the capability to operate tailored task forces within a crisis setting to dominate and prevail within that crisis. If that stops the level of escalation that is one way of looking at it.

“But in today’s world, it is not just about that, but it is about the ability to operate and prevail within a diversity of crises which might not be located on what one might consider an escalation ladder. They are very likely to be diffuse within which the authoritarian powers are using surrogates and we and our allies are trying to prevail in a more open setting which we are required to do as liberal democracies.

“This means that a core legacy from the land wars and COIN efforts needs to be jettisoned if we are to succeed – namely, the OODLA loop. This is how the OODA loop has worked in the land wars, with the lawyers in the loop, and hence the OODLA loop.

“The OODA loop is changing with the new technologies which allow distributed operators to become empowered to decide in the tactical decision-making situation. But the legalistic approach to hierarchical approval to distributed decisions simply will take away the advantages of the new distributed approach and give the advantage to our authoritarian adversaries.

“But what changes with the integrated distributed ops approach is what a presence force can now mean.

“Historically, what a presence force is about what organically included within that presence force; now we are looking at reach or scalability of force. We are looking at economy of force whereby what is operating directly in the area of interest is part of distributed force. The presence force however small needs to be well integrated but not just in terms of itself but its ability to operate via C2 or ISR connectors to an enhanced capability.

“But that enhanced capability needs to be deployed in order to be tailorable to the presence force and to provide enhanced lethality and effectiveness appropriate to the political action needed to be taken. This rests really on a significant rework of C2 in order for a distributed force to have the flexibility to operate not just within a limited geographical area but to expand its ability to operate by reaching beyond the geographical boundaries of what the organic presence force is capable of doing by itself.

“This requires multi-domain SA – this is not about the intelligence community running its precious space- based assets and hoarding material. This is about looking for the coming confrontation which could trigger a crisis and the SA capabilities airborne, at sea and on the ground would provide the most usable SA monitoring.

“This is not “actionable intelligence.” This is about shaping force domain knowledge about anticipation of events.This requires tailored force packaging and takes advantage of what the new military technologies and platforms can provide in terms of multi-domain delivery by a small force rather than a large air-sea-ground enterprise which can only fully function if unleashed in sequential waves.”

There was much discussion at the September 28, 2022, seminar along these lines.

How to enable the distributed force to work effectively for force distribution but to be able to aggregate to a sufficient extant to deliver the kinetic or non-kinetic effects required for operational success?

For example, AIRCDRE Jason Begley, Director General Joint C4, Joint Capabilities Group, underscored the following: “Resilience in communications is critical to war fighting of any form. But for every new effort we make to work the cyber domain to our advantage, the adversary is looking for ways to disrupt or deny that to us….

“In that conflict, speed will be defined primarily by the pace at which data flows from sensor to decider to effector. This has given rise to a range of concepts.

“You’ve obviously heard of things like Mosaic Warfare, Joint All-Domain Command and Control, overmatch, convergence, and Kill Webs. The actual differences between those are fairly minor because from a design perspective, they all come from the same DNA, mesh networking to assure maximum survivable connectivity from sensor to decider to effector. Their end goal being every sensor, any shooter.”

He argued that working data within a distributed network was a key focus of attention in getting the kind of lethality/survivability mix which was desirable for combat effectiveness in denied combat environments. This is how he put it: “The future is one in which data is actually now the center of things. Need to share has replaced need to know as the driving force. And for anyone, and that would be many in this room who’s enjoyed the NOFORN experience, sharing can be both technically and culturally quite difficult to achieve.

“But the machine speed of the conflict we’ll face in the future means we have to achieve that same speed of information maneuver. If we don’t, we will fail. And the answer to that is to pivot from network-centric designs to ones that are data-centric.”

Several of the speakers highlighted the key role which manoeuvre warfare would increasingly play as the integrated force is reworked with the Australian continent as a launch point.

For example, Air Marshal Chipman noted in an interview held the day after his presentation to the conference: “We need to focus on ways to enhance dispersion, agility, movement, and manoeuvre as a force. We need to understand how we will manoeuvre as an air force and that encompasses the ground and air infrastructure that’s required to do that. And we need to manoeuvre as a joint force. We need to have a joint scheme of manoeuvre that involves both ground and air elements.

“And in building out the ADF as a joint force, the challenge is to enhance the readiness and capabilities of the current joint force to deliver enhanced capabilities for the direct defence of Australia but at the same time position the ADF for force modernization and capability enhancements.”

Air Marshal Chipman underscored: “We will fight with what we’ve got today. And for the next 20 years, possibly up to 80% of our future order of battle will have already been fielded today.

“But If you look at the quality of our platforms and the quality of the training and the quality of our people, then we’re as well placed for a nation of our size as we could be with our air power, with what we’ve got today.

But the challenge can be put this way. He noted: “It’s how we use air power to achieve that agility, how we use it to make sure that we are survivable and that we can get mass to the right point when we need it to influence the battle space. It’s that approach that we are changing with our focus on force agility.

“We are focused on agile combat employment and thinking about dispersal, moving quickly, moving lightly, even with F-35, taking small numbers of maintainers and less support equipment than we would typically require at a major base.

“Our approach will take us to a kill web environment, but we will be looking for ways to accelerate our mission threads in such an environment and we’ll be looking for ways to make sure any new capabilities are integrated and operational as quickly as possible.

“And the two areas that are of greatest focus to me are integrated air missile defence and space. With the integrated air and missile defence piece, there’s a lot of opportunity to work with Army.

“With regard to the space domain, we are focused on the evolving interfaces between air and space. With effective integration, we can have joint fire systems so that I can achieve effects throughout the joint force from common systems.

“I believe that the integrated air missile defence project is a genuine step along our pathway to fielding a kill web.”

The way Chipman put it was clearly reworking the current force to provide a proper template for any force modernization or enhancements to follow.  And doing so meant that Australia was looking to do so in ways that could intersect like a Venn Diagram with its allies to get the most effective feasible integrability possible without compromising the survival of the combat force in critical combat conditions.

Take the case of Agile Combat Employment or put another way, working ways to operate the RAAF throughout Australian territory in ways that would allow for its survival but to intersect beyond the continent in ways that mesh with the USAF’s approach to ACE as well.

As AVM Darren Goldie, Air Commander Australia put it: “I’ve tasked the Air Warfare Centre with developing agile concepts with attendant risk consideration. We need to complicate an adversary’s targeting process and create operational and political dilemmas for those that seek to disrupt our operations. There must be congruence with the USAF’s agile combat employment or ACE… But this is specific Australian planning in recognition of our strategic geography.”

The USAF and the RAAF approaches can be complimentary but have differences as well. Reworking force dispersal as well as the C2 to allow for Australian strategic depth have elements very different from a USAF trying work globally. Notably, the USAF is working a global concept of Joint all-domain command and control. “Joint All-Domain Command and Control “(JADC2) is the Department of Defense’s (DOD’s) concept to connect sensors from all of the military services—Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Space Force—into a single network.”

But network sharing across a global system would be very complicated and frankly distributed force operations really are about how the modular task force at the tactical edge integrates effectively for combat or crisis effects more than it is about how such an ACE force needs to reach back to a CAOC in Hawaii.

With regard to the USAF approach to ACE, the CO of the Pacific Air Force, General Wilsbach, has been a key participant in Williams Foundation seminars to lay out how he sees the way ahead. This is what he argued at the seminar: “One way the U.S. is responding to the challenges of PRC technological advancement is through continued refinement of the ACE concept. ACE insures we are ready for potential contingencies by enabling our forces to effectively operate from numerous locations with varying levels of capacity and support.

“Its heartbeat is a network of well-established and austere air bases, prepositioned equipment and airlift to rapidly deploy, disperse and maneuver combat capability throughout the region. As a coalition force, we must continue to expand our access, airspace, basing and resources west of the international dateline to better posture our sales to conduct distributed operations both during training and real-world missions.”

What Wilsbach means was given more detail in an interview which I conducted at PACAF headquarters in Honolulu last August. Brigadier General Michael Winkler, then Director of Strategic Plans, Requirements and Programs at the Pacific Air Force, provided this explanation of ACE:

“PACAF has taken a realistic approach that is fiscally informed because it would be very difficult for us to try to build multiple bases with 10,000-foot runways, and dorms, and ammunition storage all over the Pacific. What we’ve done instead is concentrated on a hub and spoke mentality, where you build a base cluster. That cluster has got a hub that provides quite a bit of logistic support to these different spoke airfields.

“The spokes are more expeditionary than most folks in the Air Force are used to. The expeditionary airfield is a spoke or a place that we operate from. It’s not 10,000 feet of runway; it’s maybe 7,000 feet. We’re probably not going to have big munitions storage areas, there’s probably going to be weapons carts that have missiles on them inside of sandbag bunkers. And we’re going to look a lot more like a Marine Expeditionary base than your traditional big Air Force base. It’ll be fairly expeditionary.”

It is not obvious that this is how the RAAF will address force distribution within the Australian continent. But here it is very clear that how the Australian Army and the RAAF find ways to work together to provide for base mobility is at the heart of the way ahead for both the passive and active defence of Australian air bases.

In his presentation to the Williams Foundation seminar as well as in his interview with me, LTGEN Simon Stuart, Chief of Army, underscored this one of the missions for Army going forward. And as Air Marshal Chipman noted the integrated air and missile defence piece of evolving capabilities was a key part of the way ahead, essentially when conjoined with force distribution as a core operational capability.

Dr. Andrew Dowse AO, Director, RAND Australia, in his remarks to the seminar underscored the importance of the intersection between the effort to reset the current force while shaping a template for future force modernization. He noted: “The potential for conflict this decade not only means that investment in defense is a high priority, it creates a shift in the balance of investment from modernization to preparedness.

“This means that a lot more of our focus should be on enablement of current platforms than on preparing to acquire new platforms. It makes us think about filling in the hollowness of our capabilities, achieving preparedness directives and mitigating supply chain vulnerabilities. It also means that we need to think carefully about the timing of platform upgrades that may reduce availability and whether such activities or take our systems offline should be brought forward or deferred.

“The short-term prospect of conflict means that we need to think about capability a little differently. We need to think more about the here and now and whether it is best to enhance the force through short term activities such as updates, and increasing the basis of provision, or longer-term activities to define and acquire new systems.”

Another aspect of re-setting the force involves the question of the integrated force and maritime operations.

What is often overlooked in debates about the future submarine is that Australia has already or is acquiring several capabilities of the team sport which anti-submarine warfare requires. The acquisition of P-8, and Triton and the coming of UUVs and USVs are elements of shaping a kill web approach to such operations within which a future submarine will fit into, but which already the Collins Class submarine has seen ongoing modernization to benefit from.

And as the Royal Australian Navy focuses on its way ahead within the joint force, leveraging what they have and are in the process of acquiring such as the new OPV class vessels, raises the question of what is the ADF focus in terms of maritime defence and security.

With this in mind, here are some of the questions which the Chief of Navy posed in his presentation at the seminar:

“What we will defend and where, what force we must project and where, for how long, and who we must integrate with for common purpose and shared interest to allow us to generate military force in the national interest?

“This begs a number of questions. I think we all need to answer the following: what is the vital terrain that requires defense? Is it the rules-based system? Is it physical infrastructure or people? Is it information? Or is it all of the above?

“If it is seabed infrastructure then Is that infrastructure in deep water or shallow water? Is it the above water terminations? Is it in international sovereign domains or is it privately owned? If it underpins our economic well-being, how important is it?

“What about merchant shipping? Whose flag what cargo? Where, when? For how long? Do we need an Australian merchant fleet? And what about the ports and their maritime approaches? Which ports? Ours? overseas ports? All of them or just some of them for how long from what? And if we do protect them ashore, these things, will we actually assure our economic well-being?

“Only then can we ask, what do we need to hold at risk? Or to undermine in order to defeat an adversary? Do we focus on our approaches? Or theirs? Or both? Is this a man systems thing? Or is it a robot problem?

“Do we need to project and protect a land force or a swarm of things? Or both? If so, in what phase of the conflict and what with what risk appetite? And how will we do this? Will it tip the balance in our nation’s favor? These are all of the questions that are at play with the defense strategic review.”

Featured Photo: AIRCDRE Jason Begley, Director General Joint C4, Joint Capabilities Group,

The interview with BG Winkler is taken from the following book: