Looking Back and Looking Forward: Shaping a Way Ahead for the Integrated Networked Force

By Robbin Laird

The September 15, 2022 seminar to be held by the Williams Foundation will focus on the key question of how to enhance the lethality of the Australian Defense Force. In particular, the seminar will focus on the gaps and opportunities for the ADF driven by fifth generation airpower.

The recent Williams Foundation seminar provided a prologue to the forthcoming seminar and focused on providing an assessment of where the ADF and allied forces are with regard to shaping 21st century integrated and networked forces.

Recently, I discussed the seminar with the Foundations’ Chairman, Air Marshal (Retired) Geoff Brown and he provided a look back at the March 2022 seminar as well as highlighting the focus of the September 15, 2022 seminar as well.

Geoff Brown: “We started down the path of working a more effective joint or integrated force effort several years ago. The seminar was designed to provide an assessment of the current state of the effort as well as discussing some ways to further enhance the integrated networked force effort. With the end of the COVID-19 perspectives, we were very pleased to have significant international participation in the seminar to provide a wider perspective on that way ahead as well.

“I think we are clearly on the right path but we have major challenges remaining, notably on the acquisition side. Tom Rowden did make the point that he thought we were in a better place than the U.S., but we still have a slow-moving bureaucracy around how to get the kind of integrated capabilities which we want, especially when compared to how quickly the commercial sector can operate.”

And there is the challenge of working integration forward with the legacy force as has been noted that the force which we will have in 20 years’ time will contain 80% of what we have now.

Brown underscored that “we clearly need to integrate the legacy systems with new platforms, systems or capabilities. The Aegis system is a good example of how one can do this. The Aegis system evolving now is much different from the initial Aegis system as it can now work with a wide variety of weapon systems compared to where it started. The Aegis example demonstrates that the kind of force integration path we are on is achievable, but we need to expand how we in fact can do so. By putting a core system in place and then working with an open architecture enabled by that system, significant integration can take place by incorporating adjacent systems and capabilities.”

This approach has clear implications for acquisition. Brown underscored that “rather than having endless competitions to drive down what seems as the lowest price provided by various primes, Defense needs to pick a core prime to manage a weapons area and allow that prime to work with a diversity of suppliers and systems providers to drive the best capabilities to the force. We actually don’t have time now for a lot of the competitive tension that the acquisition system feels it needs to do to get the best value for money.

“The key is to get the operators working with industry to drive the kind of rapid change needed.”

This is especially true when considering that new platforms are built around a software upgradeability core, and getting to where operators can drive change in concert with the systems providers can allow for the kind of rapid change which operators need to deal with 21st century peer adversaries.

The next seminar will focus on shaping a way ahead for the ADF to become more lethal and obviously a core answer to that is the pathway identified by Air Marshal (Retired) Brown. And he added that in the forthcoming seminar one of the key capabilities to be highlighted which can drive the kind of change which the ADF is seeking is around the training domain. “We need to increase the training throughput of the force to accelerate operational changes. The technology’s out there to actually increase training outcomes quite significantly. We’re not even close to utilizing the technology that’s already available, in my mind, to get the best training outcomes. That will be one of the vectors that we’ll certainly look at in the seminar.”

In addition, Brown underscored that the whole challenge of resilience of the force is another key dimension which needs to be enhanced as well in shaping a way forward for the ADF. This means looking at efforts to enhance fuel supplies, weapons, supply depth and logistics support. He argued that without the kind of industrial depth which the United States delivered in World War II, it will be difficult to build out the kind of capabilities which are needed for the United States and the core allies.

“We need to understand what our real industrial production capability and suspend the idea of needless competition in areas where such competition actually reduces production capability. And on the defense side, we need to be focused on the art of realistic force development and design and avoid paths like the USMC Force Design 2030 which really goes down a unique path not really adding to the overall lethality of the joint or coalition force. We need to ask the question of how new platforms or new force design approaches really add to the lethality of the integrated and networked force or they don’t and avoid the latter. The focus has to be upon deterrence and whether you are moving the needle forward on deterrence or not; if you are not then don’t go down that platform or force design path. The Pacific in particular drives the need for long-range systems, and we are working towards enhancing our capability to acquire and operate such systems.”

Editor’s Note: Our report on the March 25, 2022 seminar will be available shortly. 

For our latest book on shaping a way ahed with regard to the integrated distributed force published this week in e-book and out in paperback in June 2022, see the following:

Defense XXI: Shaping a Way Ahead for the United States and Its Allies

Or on Amazon at the following: