Shaping an ADF Transition: Putting the DSR as a Forcing Function into Perspective

By Robbin Laird

The DSR highlighted the altered threat environment and need for the ADF to be redesigned and re-worked.

As BG (Retired) Langford has put it: “The challenge that the ADF has been given from the government is how to transition from a defence force that was inherently designed around the principal task of generating military capabilities that are no longer relevant to the threat or to the changing strategic operating environment as well as the need to adapt to a new concept of joint warfighting, especially as it applies to the integration of space and cyber.”

Nonetheless, any redesign of the force is occurring in the context of really fundamental change within an organizational and technological revolution which is ongoing and open ended. In my co-authored book entitled A Maritime Kill Web Force in the Making: Deterrence and Warfighting in the 21st Century, we identify a number of the aspects of these changes.

The U.S. military is undergoing a strategic shift to a distributed force and doing so within a technological revolution that is only partially adapting too. It is about software-enablement, AI enablement, information war, dynamic changes in C2, ISR and counter ISR which are driving fundamental change.

And such changes are in fundamental conflict with the legacy acquisition approaches that have officials still writing long lists of requirements for platforms when the payload revolution is overtaking the prioritization placed on requirements management by defence officials who focus on platforms, not the dynamically changing eco systems inhabited by the payload revolution.

Put in other words, any demand for ADF transformation needs to be crafted recognizing the scope and nature of change sweeping across the military. If you don’t change your acquisition mother-may-I requirements process, adaptation at the pace and change the DSR implies is necessary simply will not happen.

During my recent visit to Australia to support the Williams Foundation seminar held on 27 September 2023, I had a chance to talk with one of the speakers at the seminar about the transition challenge, Dr. Carl Rhodes, recently of RAND Australia and now Director at Robust Policy.

Rhodes has 25 years of experience delivering policy analysis and actionable recommendations for senior government and military leaders in both Australia and the United States. Carl has worked as a researcher, leader, and manager of policy analysis efforts and worked on a range of topics involving defence technology, defence acquisition, military and national security strategy, and military personnel issues. Carl worked at RAND Corporation from 1997-2021 and held several management positions during his tenure. He became director of RAND Australia in 2018

We started by focusing on how to drive an effective transition for the ADF. He highlighted the central importance of crafting and leveraging training capabilities for the ADF working with allies on high-end warfare training to improve capabilities in the near-term.

Rhodes underscored: “I think there needs to be a different set of training for a high intensity threat both for the ADF and with the ADF working with allied forces. With such training, one can identify what adaptations of the current forces can be made to enhance capability.”

A training regime which relied on virtual and constructive training tools could also introduce new technologies into that regime prior to their acquisition to determine what new capabilities would really assist you in shaping appropriate capabilities for the medium to far-term.

Here you would emphasize the opportunity for those sharpening new technologies to provide a channel whereby decision makers could winnow down options which then would be used by the warfighters in training scenarios to determine what would make a difference from the standpoint of operations.

Transition would be driven by realistic judgements about what is feasible and usable by the warriors, rather than requirements book writers.

Given the dynamism of technology re-shaping the military domain, much of it commercial, a hermetically sealed requirements setting process is not about effective transition but cauterization of the military.

As Rhodes noted: “The challenge is how to leverage what exists out there already, and determine what could be put in the hands of warfighters right now. You need to build a bridge to the acquirers so that usable technology gets in the hands of the warfighter so that the ADF has a transition that makes them a more effective, than a disrupted force.”

He argued that shaping a good system for the analysis of technical systems and putting that analysis up against future threat analysis to determine what to prioritize for the warfighters to examine and fold into their training processes is an important direction in which to go.

If you don’t shift the acquisition approach from micro-management requirements setting, the transition which the DSR calls for will not happen or fall short.

It is important to focus on force transition with the force you have while you build towards the future, because you always have to be ready to fight tonight.

Or put another way, the shift is from an FMS requirements setting platform-focused acquisition process to one which focuses on taking the force you have and working with it to evolve capabilities through a training-driven innovation incorporation process.

Featured Photo: One area where the innovation we are calling for is clearly highlighted is with regard to maritime autonomous systems.

The MARTAC T38 vessel operating un-crewed during experimentation activities conducted off the coast of Jervis Bay during Exercise Autonomous Warrior 2022.

Autonomous Warrior 22 (AW22) is a Navy-led Operational Experimentation (OPEX) activity conducted over the period 16-27 May 2022 in the vicinity of Jervis Bay and from several remote sites in Australia and overseas. Conducted against an overarching theme of Remote and Autonomous Systems and Artificial Intelligence (RAS-AI), Autonomous Warrior is the largest unmanned systems OPEX conducted in Australia.

In 2022 it provided Australian and international military and industry partners opportunities to demonstrate innovations in autonomous and uncrewed systems and related technologies for use in the maritime and littoral domains, including operations in complex, congested and contested environments.

See also, the following:

The DSR as a Strategic Shift: Brigadier General (Retired) Langford Provides a Clear Perspective