Fifth Generation Manoeuvre: An Editor’s Wrap Up

By Jenna Higgins

The Fifth Generation Manoeuvre seminar was held on 24 October and was a natural progression in the Williams Foundation’s seminar series, which looked to decipher how to build an integrated fifth-generation force.

The seminar intended to examine the differences and potential gaps in how the Australian Defence Force (ADF) must equip and organise for multi-domain operations, and as such, determine the requirements for fifth-generation manoeuvre. On first hearing about this topic, I, like many others, turned to Wikipedia to better understand what the term ‘manoeuvre’ meant in the context of air power. I had a rudimentary understanding of manoeuvre, and a general idea of what is organisationally meant by fifth-generation; but it was much harder to define the combination of terms concisely.

Manoeuvre – best understood by reading works by preeminent authors such as Basil Liddell Hart, William Lind, Robert Leonhard or John Boyd – is the art of recognising and creating an advantage. It could also be posited that it is the ability to ensure freedom of manoeuvre in order to create the space required to achieve an advantage.

Said advantage could be in physical geography, the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) or the less tangible cyber and information domains.

When thought of in this context, the manoeuvrist approach has little to do with fifth-generation, it merely is a way of thinking.

To break it down, #5thgenmanouevre can be considered from the following contexts.

Understanding the environment

Underpinning any attempt to exploit a weakness or move to a position of advantage is the ability to identify where said advantage is.

Speaking at the seminar, both Brendan Sargeantand Michael Shoebridge spoke about the requirement to understand the environment. Their presentations looked specifically at the Australian context. Sargeant stated that policy development had failed to reflect the rapid rate of change in the region. He argued that Australian policy outside of its access to a major power or ally was underdeveloped, especially in the context of a world where the global system and rules-based order was disregarded. Without adequate knowledge (and acceptance) of a rapidly changing strategic environment, and an understanding of adversaries, there is no way for Australia to determine what advantages might present, or how to disrupt and dislocate adversaries to create freedom of manoeuvre.

Below the policy level, the ability to understand the environment was discussed by Dougal Roberton in his post on The swarming mind in which he considers the critical question of what the people orchestrating #5thgenmanoeuvre will look like.

Mission Command and agile control

Air Commodore Phil Gordon, currently Commander of the RAAF’s Air Warfare Centre, gave an enlightening presentation that touched on the changing character of manoeuvre.

He defined fifth-generation manoeuvre as the ability of our forces to dynamically adapt and respond in a contested environment to achieve the desired effect through multiple redundant paths. Remove one vector of attack and we rapidly manoeuvre to bring other capabilities to bear through agile control.

In support of this definition, he stated that the ADF needed to prepare for disruption and be better able to fight through ambiguity, to accept surprise and have tools available to assist in decision making.

In achieving this end state – successfully operating in a denied and degraded EMS – the RAAF must enable ‘agile control’ whereby the control and decision authority resides with the person who has the best access to the information available.

To do this, however, he affirmed that the chain of command must become comfortable with trusting mission commanders to make the right decision at the right time.

That they must ‘walk the talk of ‘mission command’. Subsequently, we must also habitually train to fight in degraded modes and develop agile, empowered thinking warfighters.


If we delve a little deeper into this idea, it would be safe to say we need to more consciously invest in the training of the ADF workforce, both at the mission command and strategic levels, including future commanders and national strategists.

The first step in this process is to identify what exactly the ADF is training for?

Is the ADF training for the right environment?

Is it training for an existential threat that no one can imagine? A scenario that may never eventuate or should the ADF be training for the more likely contingencies such as the ‘grey zone’ competition.

In either context, we must step back to conceptual basics, but also take on board what we know to be true already in that we will operate in a denied and degraded EMS regardless.

Understanding the rigours of appropriate training at the tactical level was explored by Melissa Houston in her post The Power of Poseidon.

Here she highlighted that hyper-connectivity could lead to poor prioritisation and breakdowns in situational awareness and that the ADF must understand the limitations of our autonomous systems, but also that of our people.

Fifth-generation operators must have more discipline and self-awareness than ever before.

Decision superiority

In command in warfare, either high intensity or grey zone, there remains an element of both art and science. The human element can never be removed completely from the decision making process, whether that be directly or indirectly through algorithm development for instance.

Through exploring this seminar topic, it became clear that there is an acceptance that we must use technology wisely to deal with the vast amount of data that will be presented to the human in order to decide.

We must, therefore, train our forces to integrate humans and technology so that technology can assist the human in making the right decision quicker. In better understanding the environment through the strength of good data and thus orientating the military decision-maker, the leader is provided with the best chance of decision superiority.

Interagency relationships

Along with data ingestion and decision superiority, comes the requirement for strong interagency relationships. Data must come from multiple valid, verified sources to produce a strong, collaborative product.

Rear Admiral Lee Goddard, currently Commander of Australia’s Maritime Border Command, spoke at the seminar about harnessing the progress made to date in achieving interagency situational understanding.

This is especially pertinent when we consider that fifth-generation manoeuvre is not and cannot merely be a military endeavour. Manoeuvering to a position of strength and advantage requires a whole of government approach.

Warfare remains a human endeavour that requires investment in human relationships. The systems in place which support multiple government agencies need to enable both information flow and dissemination, and a collective understanding of what that picture means.


Having a collective understanding of what the picture means leads to my last point. Underpinning any manoeuvrist approach is a common lexicon. This was a common theme that presented time and time again during the seminar and conversations with colleagues.

Forming effective relationships and gaining decision superiority can only occur if all players on the team are playing the same sport and using the same rules.

Situational domain awareness is dependent on words meaning the same thing to different people. A common lexicon of terms is vital to the success of fifth-generation manoeuvre and achieving a commander’s intent.

In closing, as was expected and as is usually the case, the seminar and conversations surrounding the day presented more questions than answers.

The summary here provides common themes and issues identified; however, does not necessarily provide the answers.

This year has also increasingly demonstrated to us that no conversation is complete without including our sister services, defence industry or wider government agencies. This is a trend we would like to continue into 2020.

Squadron Leader Jenna Higgins is an Air Combat Officer in the Royal Australian Air Force, and a co-editor at The Central Blue.

The views expressed are hers alone and do not reflect the opinion of the Royal Australian Air Force, the Department of Defence, or the Australian Government.

This article was published by The Central Blue on December 22, 2019.