Army’s Land Forces Commander Major General Gus McLachlan was a keynote speaker at ADM’s Northern Australia Defence Summit in Darwin last week, providing context around the training and planning challenges faced by the service, how Army force generation and design meets its policy direction under the Defence White Paper and how it would intend to fight and win in a future war.
“In doing so I hope to give you an understanding of the challenges faced by those you seek to work with,” he said.
In the current geopolitical climate, where the threats were complex, varied and ever changing, MAJGEN McLachlan said the challenge for Army is to prepare a force that can dominate and win across the spectrum of peace, conflict and war without becoming obsolete due to the rapid rate of change in technology.
“Adaption will be critical to the ADF being able to maintain its regional primacy as a military force,” he added.
MAJGEN McLachlan welcomed the guiding tenets of recent policy laid down by the White Paper and the First Principles Review, which seek to realise the ADF as a truly joint force emphasising improved integration – not just among the three services but also with government and defence industry.
“Creating a true partnership with defence industry that provides us with a functioning land combat system, that connects our people and systems and is free from proprietary barriers, is an essential component of realising the Defence White Paper 2016 vision and I welcome the new clarity and collegiate behaviour that has emerged from this reform,” he said.
MAJGEN McLachlan confessed to being very disappointed at the extent to which Army needed to justify the ongoing need for all elements of its combined arms team, namely the M1A1 Abrams main battle tank, to armchair strategists.
“If you had been able to join us on our recent Talisman Sabre exercise, you would have seen a joint force cooperating to train in a demanding scenario in which we conducted an amphibious landing of all elements of our combined arms team, including the tank, before conducting a joint manoeuvre to defeat an adaptive hybrid enemy.”
He anticipated some 60 per cent of the destruction of the enemy during that exercise had been achieved by long range precision joint fires from air, land and sea.
These tactics, according to the General, necessitated the development of equipment that could be part of a deeply integrated system of networked capabilities, linked not only across all services but also reverse engineered to include legacy systems.
“We will need machine to machine communication with very low latency, preferably with algorithms to allow for precision fires,” he said.
MAJGEN McLachlan added that the ADF needs to prepare for the most likely and existential threats, which includes leading a regional stability operation (as in East Timor) or contribution to an operation to defeat violent extremists with power projection aspirations.
This meant closer regional engagement and improved military to military ties – the LHDs had provided an extraordinary opportunity to project this kind of ‘soft power’, as recently demonstrated in the aftermath of recent natural disasters in Fiji and Vanuatu.
“We must become more regionally astute and culturally mindful of the region in which we live,” he said.
Being adaptable enough to respond in reasonable time and at reasonable cost to existential threats to Australia’s national interest was more important than trying to prepare for every kind of threat, according to the General.
He listed the five factors essential for adaptability as training, education, doctrine, equipment and experience, and made particular note that four of the five factors centred on people.
“I can tell you in many cases our people are better than the equipment we provide them … we aim to create pre-combat veterans for whom there is little shock and surprise when they confront the violence and chaos of modern conflict,” he said.
The ADF would continue to demand the best equipment, but this is limited to what the nation can afford, as he demonstrated in an answer to a question of why the Tiger ARH wouldn’t be replaced in the short term.
“I’d love to have the latest model Mercedes sports car sitting in my driveway but for now I have a VF Holden,” he replied.