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Preparedness and Fighting with the Force You Have Now - Dr Robbin Laird

Dr Robbin Laird, Deterrence and Multi-Domain Strike: The Perspective of PACAF 8 Oct 2023

I have had the privilege to work with military officers throughout the Western world for more than 30 years. If there is one constant, it has been their concern with the ready force. Long-range thinking is important, but you have to “fight tonight with the force you have.”

Preparedness and availability of the ready force is what deterrence is built on; not the dreams of force planners and politicians. When one faces real world conflict, rather than war games, with your life on the line, how ready and sustainable the force is becomes your only priority.

Not surprisingly at the 27 September 2023, Air Commodore Nick Osborne, Director General Preparedness within the RAAF, underscored how important a focus on preparedness of the current force really is for deterrence. His recent command was of the Surveillance and Response Group which is a key element for providing for the direct defence of Australia and is a group that has undergone fundamental transformation over the past few years, as it has added among other capabilities the P-8 and now will add the Triton.

He noted that preparedness has been largely understood with the following formula: Platform x Training x Aim Point x Sustainability. But he argued that “We now have a different understanding of Preparedness, and what it means to us. It’s about what we do, and how well we do it, and to whom.”

“For many years, preparedness was synonymous with readiness. And it was as simplistic as having an aircraft or a platform ready to go in a certain mode. It was very platform centric, and it didn’t clearly state what the target was, or what we had to do to the target.”

Air Commodore Nick Osborne, Director General Preparedness within the RAAF, speaking at the Williams Foundation seminar 27 September 2023.

“Now we have a whole new concept of preparedness in the last couple of years. It’s not just about having a capability or platform ready to go at a certain time. But it must be ready to go at a certain time to do something to a certain standard against an adversary of a certain skill, and to continue to do so for a certain length of time.

“But a few years ago, we tended to look at preparedness as if we were playing a game of football. We didn’t really know who we were playing against, how good they were, or when the game would occur. And in fact, we weren’t even sure whether we were playing rugby, soccer, AFL or League. Now we’ve got a bit more clarity.

“We’ve got a different understanding of preparedness and what it means to us. It’s not just about platforms, but it’s about what we do, how will we do it and to whom.

“In a world marked by evolving geopolitical landscapes, and technological advancements, our ability to anticipate, adapt and accelerate air warfare has become the lynchpin of our national security. Air power remains the pillar of our defense strategy. Long gone are the days when a strong army alone could guarantee victory. Today, the ability to project airpower swiftly and decisively has become a cornerstone of military superiority.

“And we live in an age where battle space extends beyond what we can see and is reaching into the digital realm.

“To maintain our edge and safeguard our interests, we have to be prepared for the challenges that lie ahead and be equipped with cutting edge strike capabilities to counter our emerging threats. And enhanced preparedness actually refers to our ability to rapidly and effectively respond to a wide range of potential threats and contingencies that will occur in modern warfare.

“It encompasses a multifaceted effect, and that approach includes readiness, technological advancements, training, strategic partnerships, and the capacity to adapt quickly. And of course, strike is one of those areas in which we have to be very proficient.”

After the seminar, I had a chance to sit down with Air Commodore Osborne and correlate his presentation on preparedness with the challenges of being commander of the SRG. I have visited the SRG in the past, and it is a place where various parts of the surveillance capabilities of the Air Force and the ADF has been bundled. Over the past decade, the SRG has evolved into a more integrated capability and with the addition of the P-8 and Triton and the ISR enterprise built at the Edinburgh Air Base in South Australia is shaping new integrated data management capabilities.

But takes time: You cannot simply take the force you have and plop into some future force structure design and presto bingo have a new force structure. It is about taking the force you have and having practical, doable steps forward in force transformation. That takes time, commitment, money, leadership and manpower and does not occur over night.

I have written three books on three different new combat air systems for the USMC, the Osprey, the CH-53K and the F-35B, and all have together transformed the force, but to do so has requires operational experience, training and force structure redesign.

The ADF has gone and is going down a similar path. The DSR will not create a new effective force unless the practical steps are taken to allow the ADF to find its way ahead in terms of real operational capabilities, missions, training and new approaches to sustainability and preparedness.

Osborne gave an example of the new working relationship between the Australian Army and Air Force where they are working to shape how to more effectively shape and execute agile operations in areas such as Northern Australia.

And I would add that will require new training, new ops approaches, and new effectors and some new equipment. It is about force mobility on the Australian landscape and probably using a new generation of UAVs as the platforms launched into the key defence area for Australia which Osborne indicated in a slide which he used during his presentation and which is the featured graphic at the beginning of this article.

But put bluntly, 80% of the force you have now will be in your force structure in 20 years short of it being destroyed in conflict. So what is the plan to leverage the current force – which has made great progress in many areas of modernization in the past decade – and the force the writers of the DSR want?


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