Speaking at ADM’s 15th Congress last month, Chief of Army Lieutenant General Angus Campbell reflected that the Australia Army has been on “sustained and ongoing operations with our joint force and interagency partners – in the Middle East, our closer region, on our borders and at home” for 19 years. That’s a long time to be at your professional best in a demanding environment.
Technology has played an increasingly important role as has the development and reorganisation of Army under Plan Beersheeba. Begun in 2011, the realignment of Army into three combat brigades is now complete.
According to LTGEN Campbell, “Beersheba realised some great outcomes for the ADF. It standardised brigade structures, improving our ability to sustain operations; it rebuilt a readiness model that provides a three year framework to prioritise resources and training among brigades; it integrated our reserve and full-time components as a truly ‘total force’; and it developed Army’s contribution to the ADF’s amphibious capability.”
Compared to its sister services, Army has always been more focused on the individual platform ie the solider. It is only relatively recently that technology has made itself indispensible to Army.
“Land 400 is one of my three critical project priorities; the others being Land 200, the digital network; and the suite of Soldier Combat System projects,” LTGEN Campbell said to over 600 delegates. “Together, these priority projects will see a powerful land combat system network supporting the orchestration of protected manoeuvre and empowered soldiers, better aware of their environment and able to decisively achieve their mission.”
Army is seen all too often as lagging behind when it comes to the digitisation journey. It has been common to hear RAAF referred to as a 5th gen force, the RAN a 4th gen force and Army playing catch up at 3rd gen, struggling to keep up. Having said that, Army does face a number of issues that their sister services do not. Scale and operational environment are the first two issues that spring to mind. Army has thousands of individual platforms, where no two are the same. Add to this the fact that Army has been deployed to pretty much every climate and continent during the past 19 years, working with a range of international partners, and the complexity begins to grow. But Army has begun embracing the benefits that technology can bring to the land force in a joint fight.
“Land 121 Phase 4 is acquiring 1,100 Hawkei vehicles to provide a protected, network enabled, light vehicle capability,” LTGEN Campbell said. “These vehicles provide a balance of survivability, mobility, communications and payload. Two Hawkeis have recently been deployed to the Middle East.
“The Hawkei is a great piece of kit. I like it so much that I had one of them temporarily brought to Canberra, and put the ‘Army One’ number plates on it. Not so I can have a cool ride – although it is certainly that – but for people to see what the taxpayer is providing to our soldiers and for people to begin to understand how technologically transforming it will be.
“We are not thinking of the Hawkei as a vehicle with a digital network added to it. Rather, we are thinking of it as a node in our digital land combat system, with a highly capable protected vehicle built around it.”
Another theme that CA touched on was that of manned/unmanned teaming. While he gave examples of Chinese based technology, it was clear, reading between the lines, that Australia will have to compete on this stage to make the most of its comparatively small force.
“Teaming with our soldiers will, in time, be these three technology areas showcased at Guangzhou – robotics, autonomous systems and Artificial Intelligence. They are part of a wave of technological development that will change the world,” LTGEN Campbell said.
“As with any approaching wave, there are choices in how we handle it. We can ignore it, pursuing ‘more of the same’ and risking being tossed around and left floundering in the wake. We can take a breath, dive under it and hope to come out on the other side, seeking time to assess which technologies we will acquire. Or we could start paddling now, riding the wave to secure an innovative and technological future. This isn’t a simple choice, bits of all three approaches may be appropriate.”
Surf’s up Defence community.
On a more personal note, this month marks ADM’s 25th anniversary. I would like to acknowledge the ADM team, past and present, for their amazing efforts and look forward to the next 25 years.
This article first appeared in the March edition of ADM