Army has had a busy 12 months at home in response to climate change events, COVID taskforces and their usual training tasks. ADM’s Associate Editor Ewen Levick caught up with Head of Land Capability MAJGEN Stuart to look at how their major programs are progressing in light of everything Army is being asked to do from government.
ADM: ADM spoke to you only six months ago about Army capability. What’s changed in that period?
Stuart: I’d say three things. Army in Motion and Accelerated Warfare which are a description of Army’s approach to and the environment in which we need to operate I think has been validated, certainly in what was and will probably be known as the COVID year. In other words, the challenges and the speed of change in the environment that we need to be able to operate among in in the future continues in the same vein; it’s more challenging more quickly.
The second, in terms of our response to that environment and the tasks for which Army is responsible say that our plan, for how we’re going to turn government’s investment as it’s articulated in the Force Structure Plan (FSP) in to actual capability, is on track. I qualify that by saying that with each year there’s more to do because there’s more investment, and more work that needs to be done. We are keeping pace, notwithstanding the fact that it is a pretty difficult thing to do, particularly in some areas where you need skilled workforce across industry, academia and government; and indeed, the ADF. There are some skills where capacity is a real challenge for us. Working together across Industry, academia and Defence to work out how we can best leverage the skilled workforce we have is key to our future.
The third point, a personal observation, is that from an ‘Army for the Nation’ and ‘Army in the Community’ perspective, our relationship and collaboration with industry has matured more quickly than I had initially expected. The kinds of discussions we’re having reflect government’s very clear policy on Australian industry, but I think its moved quickly and it’s quite a degree more sophisticated than I had expected it might be at this early stage. I think that’s a really good thing and I think it’s reflective of a genuine desire to collaborate and, frankly, a genuine understanding that business as usual with the current environment isn’t going to get us collectively where we need to be.
ADM: What can you tell us about Plan Corella for Army Aviation?
Stuart: Plan Corella is a neat way of addressing a range of current and emerging requirements. We need to maintain air crew competency in the first instance and, we don’t have the number of MRH aircraft available at 5 Aviation Regiment that we had anticipated. So, in the first instance, it’s a way of providing an aircraft to maintain air crew competency.
Secondly, we are, through our Future Ready Workforce’ efforts taking a really close look at what we call the Total Workforce Model. That’s better use of the combination of full and part-time soldiers. We know that ex-Army aviators work in industry and generally fly certain types of civil helicopters. So, the question is how can we make best use of that latent capacity to generate more effort, particularly for domestic tasks. To have a similar or the same aircraft for those people to fly when they put their uniform on makes a lot of sense to generate additional capacity.
Thirdly, it actually provides some additional domestic capacity with a couple of aircraft. It’s a good value for money approach to all of those needs. and that’s why we’ve gone the way.
ADM: You mentioned MRH in your response to that question. Will Army retire MRH early?
Stuart: We have no plan to do so. What we continue to do is work with industry because we collectively need to generate more capability than we currently are getting out of the system. A lot of effort is invested in the MRH system and the enterprise team that’s assembled around it, whether that’s industry, Army or our partners in CASG to see how we can realign things, realign the system to get better output for the resources that we are expending. We’re clear-eyed about that challenge and we need to achieve some better outcomes in the short term. That’s where we’re focused right now.
We’re also gathering evidence to make some assessments about what other changes we may need to make in the future.
ADM: But as of right now, no concrete plans to retire the platform early?
Stuart: That’s correct.
ADM: Army’s riverine capability is expanding substantially. What’s happening in the training pipeline to support that?
Stuart: In the first instance we’re looking to make sure that we have the right people with the right training in the right place as we bring this capability online. We work very, very closely in the joint space, particularly with Navy, who are the seaworthiness regulator, but also have, a world class training system for ocean going vessels. What we’re seeking to do, is in the most efficient way possible, is leverage and resource the system that exists in Navy to generate what we need in terms of training, regulation and to work together on facilities.
When it comes to smaller craft, like the new riverine patrol craft the delta between the skillsets that are currently produced in the Army part of the training system are not significantly different. I think we’re pretty well placed there. It’s a matter of capacity and our Training Transformation efforts are focused on better ways of delivering training for a better return on investment to reduce duplication, to reduce overheads and train people at the point of need.
ADM: The Self-propelled Howitzer (SPH) Guns and Ammunition Program; where is that up to?
Stuart: Land 8116 is on track. As we sit here in the second quarter of 2021 there are risk mitigation activities going on with the SPH and the ammunition resupply vehicle and we’re heading toward a Second Pass consideration around the middle of this year with work commencing in financial year 22/23 and acquisition thereafter, for an Initial Operating Capability in financial year 25/26. Tranche 2, is pretty exciting because it’s based on Australian weapon locating radars, is about 12 months after the Tranche 1 schedule because we have some more work to do.
The bottom line is, the team’s done a phenomenal job, and by team I mean Industry, CASG, Defence and Army. To make a capital acquisition program with the same degree of assurance and due diligence in a compressed timeframe is truly phenomenal. So at the moment, on track and I think a good example of what can be achieved in a compressed timeframe.
ADM: C4 EDGE (see p36 for more on this program) is demonstrating comms technology and concepts later this year. Are there other programs where you think this collaborative approach would be worthwhile?
Stuart: The short answer is yes. What we want to do is effectively use this as a learning activity, a proof of concept. While exactly replicating C4 EDGE in other programs may not work, the principles of the approach are applicable. That is to communicate requirements, to work collaboratively on the art of the possible and set ourselves collectively a set of milestones and challenges that prove or disprove our capacity to solve those problems and do so in a way that brings industry in very early and builds trust through co-investment.
One of the other really positive aspects of C4 EDGE are the range of other collaborations between various industry partners, ‘spinoffs’ if you like. Where we’ve brought industry together, and connected them for the benefit of other endeavours. So, I think it’s going well and I expect it will deliver, a ‘proof of concept’ and then hopefully open up opportunity for industry to apply its capacity to our needs in an area that they haven’t had those opportunities previously.
ADM: The CBRNE and capabilities under JP2110 I understand are taking longer than planned. How is Army filling that gap?
Stuart: I wouldn’t characterise it that way. Initial Materiel Release (IMR) was achieved under Phase 1B of that project, which is effectively a system refresh. That was achieved just last month and Final Materiel Release (FMR) will be completed over the next year. The main thing is that our capability maintains pace with evolution in the threat and we’re confident that it does. A big part of that obviously is interoperability with coalition counterpart capabilities.
Initial Operating Capability (IOC) is on track for December of next year and because the rapid refresh program there is no capability gap in the ADF protection and detection system. There are other programs as well, Land 3025 (Special Forces CBRNE capability) which will also deliver some counter-CBRNE capabilities. Future phases are being scoped to shape the requirements, in order to maintain pace with evolving threats. So, we’re well placed, things are on track and there isn’t a capability gap thanks to the work of the team on the rapid refresh part of the program.
ADM: Can you provide an update on Land 19 Phase 7, the short to medium range air defence.
Stuart: Land 19 Phase 7B has had a pretty busy year. A lot of design activity last year, preliminary design was achieved in April and detailed design in November of 2020. There were a couple of trials that we managed to get done last year and earlier this year on launcher mobility and, of course, just before Christmas last year the signing of the support contract which was worth in excess of $110 million; that was with Raytheon for the first five years of sustainment with some options of extensions to cover the life of the system.
This year the focus is really on test and integration activities. In other words, bringing the systems together and a lot of that work will actually be done at Raytheon’s new Centre for Joint Integration in South Australia at Mawson Lakes (see News section for more on this facility). In other words, bringing together, by the end of this year a fire direction centre, a radar from CEA Technologies, the launcher and missile. All the components needed to build a full ground based air defence system here in Australia. We’re well on track for IOC in the middle of 2023.
ADM: Is Army looking to relocate Chinooks to Darwin?
Stuart: No. What we want to be able to do is operate all of our aircraft types from Darwin if required to, and that’s the aim of any work that we’re doing there. I’m anticipating the next question, the Apache will be introduced into service and operated from Darwin on the current plan.
ADM: Is there a long term plan for Apache basing?
Stuart: Not right now but as part of the Battlefield Aviation Program and as part of looking at Army’s disposition for the future, we’re looking at options for where we are and in what sort of capabilities and numbers. There’s no detailed plan at this point but we’re always looking at options for the future.
ADM: So there’s no plans but there’s plans to make plans.
Stuart: Yes... but without presupposing any outcomes. As you know, people are always very interested, but there really isn’t anything to see yet and these considerations are pre-decisional. Of course, we have to keep in mind that they’re Government decisions. They’re not Army or Defence’s decisions, we are about providing options with risks and all of the pros and cons of those options laid out really clearly, including capability options. But, again, it’s about creating and preserving options for Government.
ADM: Is the Trophy active protection system (APS) still being integrated on the Boxers and will it be mandated for Phase 3?
Stuart: The short answer is no, it’s not being integrated into Boxer or the Infantry Fighting Vehicle. It’s in consideration for future integration with the replacement tank under Land 907 Bar 2. Army hasn’t mandated a specific active protection system for either phase of Land 400. But what we have done is we’ve expressed a preference for the Iron Fist Light Decoupled system the current exemplar.
Block 1 Boxer CRV will not be delivered with an APS, but we’re working with Rheinmetall Defence Australia to develop and integrate an APS solution for application to the Block 2 Boxer Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle (CRV) fleet.
ADM: Is expressing a preference for a system not the same as mandating one?
Stuart: No, it’s certainly not. If it’s mandated then it’s in black and white in the requirements against which industry respond in their formal tender responses. We’ve used Iron Fist Light Decoupled as the exemplar. There is an important nuance there. But, having said that, subsequently both of the Phase 3 tenderers have offered that system as part of their tender response. I think where we need to be, we’ve got some more work to do. We’re working toward the end state but exactly how we get there, we haven’t firmed up yet.
ADM: The US Marine Corps, as I’m sure you know, has decided that tanks are operationally unsuitable to the wars of the future. Why does Australia need tanks?
Stuart: I wouldn’t characterise it that way. The US Marine Corps are in a relatively luxurious position to be able to divest of tanks because they have the US Army that will maintain the tank capability. While the scales are obviously significantly different, the Australian Army has to fulfil the functions of the US Army, the US Special Operations Command and the US Marine Corps. Obviously we don’t do everything they do and certainly not at the same scale but that’s the challenge going in. So the notion that the US is moving away from tank I think is to misread what’s occurred.
The US Marine Corps as part of the US Navy has opted not to do so to optimise their force. I think if you read any of their current commentary on warfare today and in the future, I don’t believe, from anything I’ve read, there’s any discussion that a credible and relevant combined arms fighting system is not an essential part of conflict today or in the future.
Very simply why does Australia need tanks? Because they are a relevant part of a combined arms fighting system. Just as everybody understands a warship as a system, and a system of systems. It has a combat system, a communication system, sensor systems etc, but it’s all assembled in a single hull. Army capability is the same, except it’s not concentrated physically in a hull. It is distributed, but it’s still a system of systems.
When you design, acquire, deploy, sustain a system of systems in the land environment, you do so in the same way as you would do in any of the other environments that are more platform orientated. In other words, they need to be fit for purpose and all the sub-systems need to be working. The tank is an integral part of the combined arms fighting system. Tank ensures a better chance of mission success by reducing risk to force and therefore risk to mission.
ADM: If that’s the case, why don’t we take them anywhere?
Stuart: That’s a decision for Government in terms of the kind of posture that we project overseas. But if you look at our history, from the 1940s in Papua New Guinea and Malaya, the 1960s in South Vietnam. More recently, Australia has deployed with tanks as part of our combined arms teams in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while they weren’t our tanks, we certainly operated as part of a coalition and have operated with other nations’ tanks. They are an essential component of land operations and will continue to be in the future. There are, I think, conservatively about 2,000 tanks in our region. Singapore, for example, has roughly twice as many tanks as we do, and others continue to invest. Having tanks as part of a credible combined arms fighting system means that we are relevant. Relevancy is a key component when it comes to generating strategic effects – shape, deter and respond.
ADM: You mentioned the system of systems. My understanding is that this approach is system agnostic – using different platforms to achieve the same outcome, which can by extension make some platforms irrelevant. Is that the case for the Boxer, the IFV or the tank? What is the unique operational justification for each of those platforms? How do they interact with each other?
Stuart: That’s the concept of the combined arms fighting system. Each of those components play a role. They are distinct in that the combat reconnaissance vehicle is at the heart of a ISR network that the ground commander, whether that’s at combat team, battle group or brigade level is able to use exclusively for their mission requirements. It has sensors and communications and is the hub for a range of increasingly robotic systems, both air and ground based, in the future. It needs to be able to move at different speeds, faster often, than other parts of that combined arms fighting system and obviously have the requisite levels of protection. You then have the infantry fighting vehicle and the tank as part of the team, particularly in complex environments where engagement distances occur at short range and you need to be able to absorb a hit and then fight back. It is all about assuring mission success.
The tank, of course, is the most protected vehicle that we have but it’s used in combination with infantry fighting vehicles, with offensive support from self-propelled Howitzers, potentially from rocket artillery, from attack aviation, supported by effects in the electromagnetic spectrum and from the Joint Force. It also provides direct lethal fires with a degree of precision with a human in the loop when you are operating in those complex environments and in and among populations. I think that’s really important.
We’ve not had an Infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) before. It is different to an armoured personnel carrier. The IFV delivers soldiers onto an objective, so that they can fight mounted or dismounted. All of these systems work together for a combined effect. They all have strengths, they all have weaknesses and the whole idea of combined arms teams is that they cover off each other’s strengths and weaknesses to optimise the chance of mission success.