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The Multi-Domain Strike Enterprise: Building and Providing the Weapons - Dr Robbin Laird

Dr Robbin Laird, The Multi-Domain Strike Enterprise: Building and Providing the Weapons, 6 October 2023

Featured Graphic is from Ian Langford’s presentation.

It will do little if one crafts the force for effective strike and does not work to ensure that the enterprise does not go Winchester much more rapidly than the duration of conflict.

This is a major problem and at the first Williams Foundation seminar of 2023, the challenges of building a 21st century arsenal of democracy were discussed at length.

The simple fact is that the United States and all of its allies have NOT built magazine depth. Each has had almost just in time delivery of weapons systems with very very limited supply. This is true for both precision and non-precision weapons.

And then there is the key problem of having weapons mixes which allow the force to be able to operate throughout a prolonged operation. And almost assuredly this will not happen with the weapons production paradigm of the past twenty years.

In a 2020 visit to Fallon at NAWDC, I discussed this problem ironically with the Navy Captain who is the acknowledged expert on TLAMS, the very weapon prioritized by the DSR. He warned against over reliance on such weapons alone.

“A key point really would revolve around the weapons enterprise itself and how the fleet will be empowered by new ways to build out weapons arsenals and provide for adequate stockpiles for the force. That was the subject of conversation with Captain Edward Hill, the oldest Captain in the USN at sixty years of age. Because he goes back to the Cold War operating Navy, he can bring forward that experience to the return to the contested environment challenges facing the weapons enterprise.

“Clearly, building adequate stockpiles of weapons is crucial. But also important is working a new weapons mix to ensure that one is not forced by necessity to rely on the most expensive weapons, and the ones that will almost always have a stockpiling issue, but to have a much more cost-effective weapons set of options.

“As Captain Hill put it: “We need to get beyond golden bee-bee solution. We need to have a weapons barge come with the battle group that has an affordable weapons mix. We need $50,000 weapons; not just million-dollar weapons. We should have weapons to overwhelm an adversary with Joe’s garage weapons and not having to use the golden bee-bees as the only option.”[1]

So simply buying TLAMS from the United States is not an answer to how the ADF will have adequate stockpiles of weapons in a crisis and in prolonged conflict. It is an input to a re-think but not a substitute for a rethink.

If we are to have really an arsenal of democracy, we need to move beyond single production line production models. The United States needs to get on with sharing a production line for TLAMS in Australia. This is not just for Australia but the United States and various Pacific allies. It is about redundancy; it is about security of supply; and it is getting on with the key barrier the United States continues to have which is its bureaucratic interpretation of security requirements.

And the Australian contribution could be significant to the collective allied rethink and redesign of a weapons enterprise. Namely, we need a new approach to building weapons and to do so in terms of something like standardization on the 155mm-artillery shell.

I talked with a senior USAF officer earlier this year about this challenge and the opportunity to rebuild a weapons enterprise around standardization and multi-national production lines. This is what he had to say: “I want an 80% solution that is built about around two important criteria– the weapon or the cost per round, so I can buy a ton of them by the 1000s. And I can make them very easily. And I can keep up with wartime usage. So I don’t have the problems like we have in Ukraine, where I’ve expended all of them.”

Australia is clearly focused on addressing these problems but it is early days.

In the presentation by Ian Langford, formerly a senior Australian Army officer, and now with Lockheed Martin, he provided a slide which the way ahead for Australia in this area:

How multi-domain strike fits into an evolving Australian deterrence strategy was provided by BRIG Langford at the March 2022 Williams Foundation Seminar.

“Certainly, the ADF as a force for a medium power faces the challenge of deterrence of larger powers in the region. Here he noted:” To quote a former prime minister of Singapore, “How does a small fish in a pond of big fish become a poison shrimp?” How do we provide the kind of deterrence functions in a period where we are always at risk of being out escalated and how do you provide those shaping, or pre conflict, or competition effects? and are credible?”

“BRIG Langford underscored the importance of decision superiority in shaping favorable outcomes. “It is about being able to generate relative tempo and superiority at certain points in the conflict that enable victory going forward.”

And one could add – making sure that the ADF force elements are able to deliver such strikes with the right weapons, in the right numbers and the right places.

AVM Gerry van Leeuwen, Head of the Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordinance, provided the overview on the projected way ahead for the ADF in the weapons area. His group is within Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group within the Department. In his role, he is primarily responsible for the acquisition, sustainment, and disposal of all guided weapons and explosive ordinance for Defence and the delivery of associated joint force (effector) capability outcomes.

Ian Langford, presenting at the Williams Foundation Seminar 27 September 2023.

The AVM started by noting that the strategic direction of the effort is to shape a joint acquisition approach to the weapons area. And with the appointment of a three-star overseeing the effort, Air Marshal Phillips, structural change with the Department is under way to achieve this objective.

He noted that the services will continue to sponsor weapons acquisition projects but the overall types and quantities acquired will be shaped by the new joint approach.

In particular, he underscored, that the DSR highlighted the “need for long range strike, increased war, stock or inventory and the development of domestic manufacturing capabilities.”

With regard to long-range strike, “we need to attack targets at greater range and hold our adversaries at risk at increased distance.” An example of the focus is upon the Army. “Our army has been challenged to reach beyond a notional 50-to-100-kilometer range and to beyond 500 kilometers in time and then out beyond 1000 kilometers.”

AVM van Leeuwen underscored that the Ukraine war demonstrated the need to be able to enhance war stocks. He also noted the need to diversify sources of production in supply in this intriguing comment: “To use an analogy, it looks like everyone’s in the same buffet line.

AVM Gerry van Leeuwen, Head of the Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordinance, presenting at the Williams Foundation seminar on 27 September 2023.

And if you’re the back of the queue, you better not be too hungry. We’re currently working with the U.S. on creative ways to accelerate FMS orders, and especially with regard to long range strike weapons.

“And not surprisingly, those weapons are the same weapons in high demand by the U.S., given our common interest in the Indo-PAC region. But our relationship is strong and collegiate. The U.S. seems willing to work with us in that regard, but I would caution that if they sell advanced weapons to Australia, we sure as hell better be prepared to use them.”

This in turn leads the challenge of logistics and sustainment. “Increased inventory brings with it logistical challenges like storage and distribution, maintenance, repair and overhaul, given the shelf life associated with limitations associated with energetics and environmental degradation.”

AVM van Leeuwen then turned to the knotty challenge of Australian domestic weapons production. He noted that Australia is not starting from scratch. “We already manufacture a range of munitions from small arms to aerial bombs, and we do have manufacturing capabilities already in place.”

But with regard to building on these capabilities and expanding domestic production capabilities, they are adopting a “crawl, walk, run approach.”

“Our decision to build a domestic manufacturing capability is in part in order to build enhanced regional resilience in supply chains, especially when supply lines across the Pacific are degraded or denied in a time of conflict. But in the longer term, we will build a stronger sovereign industrial base here in Australia on an assumption that we’re working to a readiness window of 2026 or 2027.”

He added: “We need to look at production rates beyond our domestic consumption and offer access back into the global supply chain that will involve certification, quality and security requirements. The industry needs to be prepared and be ready.”

He mentioned three areas where the focus will be in the short to midterm: On the Standard Missile families; on the Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile; and with regard to 155mm artillery shells.[2]

He then focused on the comprehensive nature of the challenge Australia faces in the weapons area: “As a DSR priority, we have been allocated an additional $1.5 billion over the forward estimates to make a total provision of $2.5 billion for domestic manufacturing war stock. Perhaps it’s the risk is not so much about the amount allocated but our ability to spend it and realize the ambitious plan over the next five years.

“Another challenge we face is workforce. The job market is heavily contested and people with the right qualifications for certain jobs are increasingly hard to find. Attracting the required workforce to realize the ambition of domestic manufacture will be a significant challenge and represents significant risk to our overall success. People have choices and the cost of living is weighing heavily on the minds of Australians.”

“The selection of sites where domestic manufacture will factor into things like population demographics and logistics, for example, transport lines and distribution hubs.”

[1] Robbin F. Laird, Robbin, Training for the High-End Fight: The Strategic Shift of the 2020s (pp. 82-83), Kindle Edition.)


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