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  • Mike Pezzullo on the Strategic Shift For Australian Defence - Dr Robbin Laird

    Dr Robbin Laird, Mike Pezzullo on the Strategic Shift For Australian Defence, 21 April 2024 Link to article ( Australia as do all liberal democratic societies face significant limits on what they spend or what they can mobilize for defence. But with the changing strategic situation in which power is diffused globally, multi-polar authoritarian movements and states are aggressively pursuing their diversified agenda, and the global “rules-based order” is not only contested but in increasing disarray, how best to shape a way ahead for Australia? A key consideration for such a strategy is to engage the society in the defence of Australia, rather than relying on the ADF to be the sole segment of society responsible for defence. It is also a case that government officials and strategists acting as high priests discerning what force structure one needs in the future cannot enable the society and the economy to handle the shock of accelerating global disorder. Recently, at the Williams Foundation Seminar held on April 11, 2024, former Australian Secretary of Home Affairs, Mike Pezzullo, suggested a way ahead. Pezzullo focused on Australian efforts to become capable of significant strides in sustainability and organizing its ready and reserve forces for a defence of Australia which would allow the island continent to become a strategic operational reserve for its Indo-Pacific allies, with the United States being central but not the only ally engaged in such an operational approach. This is what he underscored at the seminar about considering the impact of armed conflict across the region upon Australia: It is probable that we would face at a minimum, cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure and essential services. Cognitive warfare would be employed using technology enabled propaganda and disinformation, which will be aimed at degrading Australia’s national will. We could not rule out the possibility of more direct action also being taken. From the perspective of the United States, I would consider Australia as the vital southern bastion in any such war in relation to a number of publicly declared intelligence, surveillance, communications and space activities in support of potential U.S. operations in the South China Sea, in the South Pacific, and in the Indian Ocean, and as a haven as required for the dispersal of U.S. forces and as a logistics maintenance and sustainment support base. If I were an American, I would also have an expectation that Australia would carry the bulk of the burden in its home theater, without unduly calling on U.S. assistance, especially where we’re stretched U.S. forces to be engaged simultaneously in combat operations in Europe, the Middle East, as well as in the Indo Pacific, if war was come to pass. This means that defence of the Australian theatre would be a higher priority for our defence planning than sending our forces forward, except for perhaps some on a limited scale. And as our principal contribution to the war effort would, in fact, be the defence of the homeland. As such, it would also be central to an adversary’s calculations about whether, when, where to strike us and how heavily. This will have implications for how we think about force structure and how to employ it operationally. That is we need to think of the ADF as an integrated and focused force optimized for a campaign on and around our territory, and in the broader airspace, seas and islands of the Australian theater of operations. On April 16, 2024, I had a chance to meet with Mike Pezzullo and to discuss the way ahead. He provided an assessment of a way ahead that would meed to be embedded in Australian culture. He started by discussing the Australian way of war. Defence has been experienced largely as an away game, and in major conflict playing a support role to a major ally. As he explained: “We are not Israel. We are not Ukraine. We are not Finland. We have not experienced the geographical proximity of war which drives consideration for all of society mobilization considerations.” What has changed is the central significance of Australia as a location within an expanded Indo-Pacific conflict. The means of war already touch Australia daily, whether they be cyber or cognitive warfare. Pezzullo underscored: “Not just the Americans, but our Japanese and South Korean allies look at us as the southern bastion of a comprehensive defence system to secure our interests.” The realty is simply that a 21st century defence effort rests on a significant expansion of a viable security system for the society and the economy. Much can be done with public engagement in strengthening Austrian security which also provides a more viable and sustainable defence of Australia capability. Engagement of society in this effort in terms of steady state efforts rather than creating panic such as happened too often in the pandemic is possible. To build on public awareness of the kind of threats posed by China and other authoritarian players to Australia is an important way ahead for working ways ahead for a more resilient and sustainable Australian economy and society. As Pezzullo emphasized: “There are several things we can do with regard to hardening telecommunications networks, actions to promoted greater energy security, shaping emergency preparations for medical care and so on that are necessary for handling emergencies and are necessary for our viability, which also prepare us for mobilization in case of war. “We need to have ongoing discussions with sectors of the economy involved in key questions affecting continuity in a period of conflict, and this work must be realistic and precise, if not always done in public. “How would we secure supplies in cases where shipping would be either cut off completely or significantly impaired? How would we ensure connectivity to support the war effort and to keep the central functions of society going when there’s a massive attack on internet underseas cables?” In my view, this is a shift from the high-priest vision of defence leadership to one more attune to 21st century defence needs, namely broader engagement of sectors of the economy and society in the enhanced security for the nation, which lays the foundation for more effective defence going forward.

  • 2024 Williams Foundation Conferences

    Dates for 2024 are Financial members and Defence personnel are invited to attend our Williams Foundation Errol McCormack Lunches. Thursday 11 April 2024 The Multi-domain Requirements of an Australian Maritime Strategy - Conference proceedings and articles Thursday 26 September 2024 For conference details and to register click here To apply for membership click here Inquiries:

  • 2024 Errol McCormack Member Lunches

    Financial members are invited to attend our Williams Foundation Errol McCormack Lunches. Dates for 2024 are Thu 22 February - AIRMSHL Leon Phillips OAM, Chief Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordnance Thu 23 May - GPCAPT Brett Williams, Officer Commanding Air Academy, RAAF Base Williams speaking on Contemporary Aircrew Training: How are we scaling up aircrew training to meet the strategic need? Wed 31 July - Ed Zioss, President Space and Airborne Systems, L3 Harris Thu 29 August - Speaker TBA Thu 21 November - Speaker TBA To register for a lunch click here To apply for membership click here Inquiries:

  • Conference Proceedings: The Multi-Domain Requirements of an Australian Maritime Strategy

    Dr Robbin Laird Final Report: The Multi-Domain Requirements of an Australian Maritime Strategy 11 April 2024 More articles from Dr Laird are posted in Event Proceedings Synopsis and Program Conference speakers AIRMSHL Geoff Brown AO (Retd) Chair, Sir Richard Williams Foundation Host SQNLDR Sally Knox Sir Richard Williams Foundation MC Crises, what crisis? Policy perspectives and strategic coherence Peter Jennings AO, PSM, Director Strategic Analysis Australia The Defence of Australia in the 2020s Mike Pezzullo AO Cost-effective options, time, and space: air power in Australia’s maritime strategy Chris McInnes, Executive Director, Air Power Institute Maritime Strategy Perspectives Michael Outram APM, Commissioner Australian Border Force Aligning Maritime Strategy with Capability AIRCDRE Ross Bender, Director General Air Combat Capability – Air Force Some thoughts on Combat Management System interoperability in the maritime domain Liam Catterson, Business Development Manager, Lockheed Martin Australia Maritime Strategy: A Global Perspective Jennifer Parker, National Security College, ANU Space strategy perspectives for Maritime and beyond Nick Miller, Optus Defence SATCOM Achieving Information Advantage in a Maritime Strategy MAJGEN Ana Duncan AM, CSC, Commander Cyber Command Layered Defence: The role of Autonomy and autonomous systems in the Maritime James Lawless, Head of Campaign – Maritime and Undersea Northrop Grumman Australia Multi Domain Requirements of a National Defence Strategy MAJGEN Jason Walk AM, Commander Joint Logistics (rep CJC) Multi-domain C2 Considerations of a Maritime Strategy AVM Mike Kitcher AM, DSM, Former Deputy Chief Joint Operations Navy Perspective RADM Stephen Hughes AM, CSC, RAN, Head Navy Capability (representing Chief of Navy) Army Perspective BRIG James Davis, Director General Future Land Warfare (representing Chief of Army) Air Domain Perspective AIRCDRE Mick Durant, Director General Strategy and Planning – Air Force (representing Chief of Air Force)

  • The Strategic Shift in Australian Defence Requires a Shift in the Approach for Australian Defence Industry - Dr Robbin Laird

    Dr Robbin Laird, The Strategic Shift in Australian Defence Requires a Shift in the Approach for Australian Defence Industry, 16 May 2024 Link to article ( To achieve the kind of resilience and sustainability which Australia requires in dealing with the threat environment, Australia needs to build more focused defence industrial capability. What kind of capability is most needed in the evolving strategic environment? To understand the nature of the shift required, I talked with Professor Stephen Frühling. Professor Stephan Frühling teaches and researches at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre of The Australian National University and has widely published on Australian defence policy, defence planning and strategy, nuclear weapons, and NATO. He is one of the authors of recent comprehensive report precisely focusing on the nature of the shift required for Australian industry, commercial and defence, to support Australia in the new strategic environment. That report was published in December 2023 and was entitled, Defence Industry in National Defence: Rethinking the future of Australian defence industry policy. The executive summary of the report is as follows: As our geostrategic environment deteriorates, the Australian Government has adopted the concept of National Defence – the defence against potential threats arising from major power competition – as a new approach to defence planning and strategy. While many reforms will be required to implement the National Defence concept, building Australia’s defence industry capability is one of the most important. The Defence Strategic Review has argued for the need to build enhanced sovereign defence capabilities in key areas. However, the current paradigm of defence industry policy was established in a very different context to that of today. Risks of major power conflict were low, policy assumed a 10-year warning time, and industry capability was viewed largely in terms of supporting individual ADF programs. This report examines the role of defence industry in the context of Australia’s National Defence strategy. It argues that a change is required to recognise defence industry not as an input to capability but as national capability in its own right. The possession of a sovereign but internationally linked defence industry is itself an asset during a period where the risk of major conflict is rising. To inform the national debate in Australia, this report examines defence industry policy in five countries: Sweden, France, the UK, Israel and Canada. These case studies offer pertinent lessons for how defence industry policy can be implemented in different strategic contexts. The report identifies several factors that shape effective policy: fostering defence-civilian industry embeddedness; utilising a broad range of industry policy tools; ensuring formal and informal coordination between government and business; balancing competition and strategic relationships; and leveraging international markets for scale. The report then connects these lessons to Australia, considering how our defence industry policy could be reformed to deliver on the needs of a National Defence Strategy. It offers five recommendations for the future of defence industry policy in Australia. Policy Recommendations The Australian defence industry should be considered a capability in its own right: A capability that supports the ADF force-in-being, but whose strategic value lies in those situations where that force is fully committed, needs to be rapidly reconstituted, and may need to expand. Domestic industrial capability should be developed to meet the demands of our defence planning scenarios, with foundation capabilities in place and capacity to scale with operational needs during conflict. Defence industry should be embedded within and managed as part of Australia’s broader national industry structure and policy. Defence industry draws on resources such as capital, technology, infrastructure and skills from the civilian economy, and can achieve better scale and efficiencies when connected to their civilian peers. Industrial policy support for defence industry is integrated with, and not simply alongside that, support offered to its civilian counterparts. Defence industries should be strategically prioritised, then supported to achieve scale and surge capabilities. Prioritisation will be required to identify where Australia has relevant capabilities, or might be able to efficiently develop them, that can contribute to our own and allies supply chains. These capabilities should also be aligned to existing areas of strength in Australia’s civilian industries and leverage new industrial policy programs. Scale in these prioritised areas should then be achieved by coordination across programs, the development of export markets, and/or the building of international technology partnerships. Government should utilise the full range of policy levers at its disposal to shape defence industry outcomes. This including both formal and informal mechanisms for coordination between government and business, to ensure greater understanding, cooperative relationships, and two-way flow of information. Given the size of Australia’s defence effort, the selective use of single supplier (strategic partnering) arrangements will be crucial in some areas to achieve and sustain required industry outcomes. Government should establish a Defence Industry Capability Manager. The Capability Manager would be responsible for defining the capability and capacity that government needs to develop, as well as for development of industry to meet the level of preparedness determined by the Government. Whilst close liaison within the Department of Defence and specific Capability Managers would be required, the Industry Capability Manager would have a wider ‘whole of government’ role to bring Defence, wider government and industry together for the achievement of strategic industrial outcomes. In our discussion, we focused on three main elements of fundamental change. First, the traditional focus of Australian government’s relationship with defence industry has been on platform acquisition and sustainment. The (often conflicting) aims were minimizing cost and maximizing jobs in Australia – not creating enduring industrial capacity that could scale or be leveraged to emergent needs. And hence the government has had single platform competitions with fairly little regard for the resulting industry structure or working with a core company to craft an ongoing industrial capacity. Frühling argued that the focus needed to shift to industrial capability and capacity, notably in what one might call the enablers of military capability, the shooters, C2 and sensors, which can be crafted, evolved and shaped by Australian industry with its own resources and in close cooperation with core partners. Much of the technology enabling C2, sensors and even weapons comes from dynamic changes in the commercial sector and Frühling argued that there needed to be a broader focus on the industry ecosystem that could support defence in conflict, rather than on narrowly considered defence industry per se, and certainly a defence industry on a leash from government to compete platforms, choose a platform and manage sustainment of that platform. I would add that with the shift from platforms to payloads, such a shift is absolutely crucial to shape the kind of focused but integrated force the DSR has hypothesized is necessary. The enablers for the force are increasingly significant and the new class of systems, such as maritime autonomous systems, require a very different relationship between the users and the developers. In security and combat operations, the use of autonomous systems drives change desired by the users who will demand code changes directly from the code writers. As early as 2015, the RAAF articulated the need for this change and called it the capability for software transient advantage (as seen in the featured image). That need is now center stage and the ADF needs a different working relationship with industry to achieve this crucial warfighting and security capability. Second, there clearly is a need for scale in providing for enough supplies and warfighting capability in times of crisis. Here Frühling underscored what I have called shaping an allied arsenal of democracy. Frühling underscored that Australia had limited capacity to produce platforms but by focusing on weapons, sensors and C2, it could build depth of supply in a crisis that could leverage platforms of opportunity if required – much akin to the rapid innovation we now see in Ukraine. Hence, third, there is the importance to master systems engineering for integrating C2, ISR and weapons on a variety of platforms in times of crisis. For example, commercial vessels and novel use of autonomous platforms could be configured with C2, ISR, and weapons capabilities in times of crisis. Frühling noted the the government strategic investment in CEA radars was an example of moving in the right direction. CEA radar modules are built into a variety of land, sea and air platforms which gives the company the scale and certainty to deliver the kind of sensing capability which the ADF needs (and they build excellent radars for export as well). In short, the ADF needs a different kind of defence industrial ecosystem to deliver the capabilities envisaged by the DSR. It remains to be seen whether the cultural changes required to create such a defence industrial ecosystem emerge and drive such a shift.

  • A Focused Force: Autonomous Systems and a Distributed ISR Enterprise - Dr Robbin Laird

    Dr Robbin Laird, A Focused Force: Autonomous Systems and a Distributed ISR Enterprise, 14 May 2024 Link to article ( As the Australian government shifts the direction on building out the ADF future force, having an effective distributed ISR enterprise is a crucial element in enabling such a force. The investments the Australian government is making in the future future force underscores the need to have accurate ISR indispensable for a distributed force. Providing coverage for the distributed operations of the ADF and in a coalition context, powerful and accurate ISR capabilities, within that distributed force, is a vital element for their survival and operations. Fortunately, the way ahead for ISR for a distributed force is getting better due to the innovations in sensors and transmission capabilities among sensors due to progress in both commercial and defence industry. And the coming of autonomous systems allows for the operation of ISR nests within an embedded force and the emergence of airborne AI to help shape parsimony in the distribution of relevant data to a distributed force. I had a chance to discuss this topic with James Lawless, a former Royal Australian Officer and now with Northrop Grumman. Lawless provided a presentation at the 11 April 2024 Williams Foundation seminar focused on how autonomous systems could contribute in a major way in the near to midterm for ADF efforts to shape a distributed ISR enterprise. It should be noted that the new capability coming to the ADF is the Triton Remotely Piloted or RPA. In my view, this platform has been viewed as simply an additive to the ADF in pursuit of advanced ASW capabilities. But is much more than that. It is a very high altitude aircraft with a multitude of payloads and because the Triton can operate outside of the primary weapons engagement zone, it can function as quarterback to deliver ISR throughout a very large swath of the battlespace. And, in this sense, could relay information to various types of air and maritime autonomous systems operating in support of a distributed force. It could relay information to a loyal wingman UAV in which the wingman is supporting the attack and defense force operating in the weapons engagement zone. This RPAS could deliver and receive information to/from autonomous USVs or in certain conditions to autonomous UUVs. These systems could, with their own AI and edge processing capabilities, mix the Triton data with their own and deliver a focused package of ISR to the combat force. The aim would be to minimize or reduce the workload of the joint force commander without any reduction in ISR data. This is how Lawless explained the approach to me in a meeting I had with him following his presentation during my April 2024 stay in Australia. “With the evolution of software on the Triton, there is no reason Triton can’t make its own decisions about tasking other ISR assets. If we integrate autonomous AI data management capabilities on the aircraft, there is no reason Triton could not function as a quarterback for distribution of ISR data packages to autonomous platforms deployed with the distributed force.” In my work on maritime autonomous systems, I highlighted that such systems are being used to perform specific mission threads. If one focused on innovation in the ISR mission thread to build an enterprise which leveraged such systems, a key enabler for an effective distributed force is created. Because of the fifth-generation revolution built around disaggregating sensor from shooter where appropriate, this revolution continues but by using RPAs and autonomous systems in a combined arm operation. But for this to happen, the ADF has to train differently, and procure differently. It is about culture as much it is about technology. The example I often provide is comparing how the Americans did this with the introduction of radar in World War II with the British. The U.S. had radar at pearl harbor and even saw incoming Japanese planes. But that situation did not work out so well. In contrast, Air Marshal Dowding put together a different type of organization into which radar was inserted and creating this air threat identification ISR and C2 system made the difference in the Battle of Britain. We are at a similar point whereby we could create a new and effective ISR service for a distributed force. But buying bits of kit will not do it. We need full up a different organizational and training approach to grasp the future and insert it into the combat force.

  • Australia’s New Defence Strategy: Reshaping the ADF into a Focused Force - Dr Robbin Laird

    Dr Robbin Laird, Australia’s New Defence Strategy: Reshaping the ADF into a Focused Force, 9 May 2024 Link to article ( The Australian government has laid out its strategy of change for the ADF in last year’s Defence Strategic Review (DSR) and in this year’s defence investment plan and national defence strategy. But frankly, deep cuts in current capability to play for the future force leaves many of us unsure of where the Australian government thinks it is going. To clarify the new approach, I talked with Professor Andrew Carr to discuss the strategic shift. Carr is currently working with colleagues on going through the archives to work on how Australian governments in the recent past have crafted their defence white papers. According to my conversation with Carr during my visit to Australia in April 2024, the key shift is from a general-purpose force to one focused on key scenarios in the Indo-Pacific region. According to Carr: “There is a real dividing line in Australian strategy before and after the DSR. The Department of Defence has done their net assessment and have crafted several focused scenarios which guide their thinking about the way ahead. The reshaping of the force is focused on providing capabilities to deal with these select number of scenarios. “The ADF was tasked with providing a variety of forces for a variety of missions without real focus on the region. That has now shifted to re-orienting the ADF on the region and the most likely scenarios of conflict. “On the one hand, the ADF now is being given clear focus on what it is to prepare to do. At the same time, the government is facing the challenge of giving them the means to do so.” Of course, a major problem is that the scenarios are classified which is not very helpful in getting the kind of re-orientation needed because it is not simply an ADF tasking issue. It is about refocusing the society and economy to deal with these changes. And other governments when making such a shift were quite able to put the scenarios driving their changes into the public domain for scrutiny. And I think this is especially true when a government robs Peter to pay for Paul, in this case Peter being the extant ADF to pay for a future ADF. And what is really missing is any coherent discussion of what the ADF after the acquisition of SSNs, the major driver of the shift in budget, would actually do as an integrated and coherent force in being able to deliver the deliver capability to deal with the priority scenarios. How does the building of an SSN-enabled force improve the ADF’s ability to deal with the scenarios prioritized by the government? Not surprisingly Marcus Hellyer has provided a detailed look at the Defence Investment Plan and cut through the numbers to get to the bottom line of what the government is actually doing. His top line analysis is as follows: The additional Defence funding announced by the Government ($5.7 billion over the forward estimates, i.e., the next four years, and $50.3 billion over the decade) will be consumed entirely by the nuclear-powered submarine program, the general purpose frigate project and exchange rate compensation. There is no new money for anything else. The growth in funding over the forward estimates is not unusually large by historical standards. The new IIP repeats the failure of previous investment programs, hoping to raise acquisition spending to a wildly implausible 42% share of the total Defence budget. Defence has been trying to reach 40% since the 2016 Defence White Paper but never passed 31%. Put another way, delivering the program requires massive, continual increases in acquisition spending. Defence is unlikely to spend this money since it has underachieved against its acquisition budget by $22.5 billion since the 2016 White Paper. The budget contains no compensation for the loss of buying power caused by three years of extremely high inflation. Consequently, the new program only addresses the ‘exploding suitcase’ of the capability program by removing large, previously planned capabilities (either completely or moving them beyond the decade). Little to no explanation is provided for these decisions. The IIP doesn’t address ADF’s fundamental people program, namely that it needs to grow by 20,000 but has achieved virtually no growth over the past eight years. Planned spending on the Maritime domain has grown from 28% to 38% of the investment budget. That’s more than Land (15%), Air (14%) and Cyber (7%) combined. No explanation is provided for why this distorted balance of investment provides better support of the new ‘Strategy of Denial’ than any other mix other than statements that this results in a ‘focused force’. That 38% investment in Maritime capabilities represents $114-145 billion over the decade. However, $75-95 billion of that (65%) is programmed just for two capabilities: nuclear-powered submarines and Hunter-class frigates. Since the first of class of those fleets will only enter service at the end of the decade, two-thirds of the Maritime program’s spending (and 25% of all acquisition spending) provides virtually no sovereign capability over the decade. At the heart of this effort is a significant shift from Air Force to Navy spending, but without a coherent strategy of what exactly will the new maritime force do. The oft used phrase of the government is “impactful projection” but as Stephen Kuper has underscored: “In order to avoid repeating history, it is clear that Australia and the ADF must begin to view expeditionary capability and the underlying doctrine, force structure, and platforms as a fundamental component of the nation’s new strategic paradigm. “Only our capacity to deploy to defend and support our regional partners and in defence of our interests through “impactful presence” will ensure that Australia’s critical sea lines of communication remain unmolested in the era of great power competition.” Image of defence policy documents: ASPI.

  • Layered ISR and a Focused Force - Dr Robbin Laird

    Dr Robbin Laird, Layered ISR and a Focused Force, 9 May 2024 Link to article ( If you want to shape an effective focused force with modest capability, for certain you need to operate as a kill web. I focused on the concept of the kill web in a co-authored book with my colleague Ed Timperlake and then most recently in my book on the coming of maritime autonomous systems. This is how we discussed the kill web : In 2016, we discussed the kill web approach with Rear Adm. Manazir both when he was at N-98 and N-9 in Op Nav. With him we discussed the kill web approach as a way to shape more effective integration of forces and convergence of efforts. The kill chain is a linear concept which is about connecting assets to deliver fire power while the kill web is about distributed operations and the ability of force packages or modular task forces to deliver force dominance in a specific area of interest. The kill web is about building integration from the ground up so that forces can work seamlessly together through multiple networks, operating at the point of interest. In that interview, he highlighted the key significance of evolving C2 capabilities to deliver a kill web capability. “The hierarchical CAOC is an artifact of nearly 16 years of ground war where we had complete air superiority; however, as we build the kill web, we need to be able to make decisions much more rapidly. As such, C2 is ubiquitous across the kill web. “Where is information being processed? Where is knowledge being gained? Where is the human in the loop? Where can core C2 decisions best be made and what will they look like in the fluid battlespace? “The key task is to create decision superiority. But what is the best way to achieve that in the fluid battlespace we will continue to operate in? What equipment and what systems allow me to ensure decision superiority? “We are creating a force for distributed fleet operations. When we say distributed, we mean a fleet that is widely separated geographically, capable of extended reach. “Importantly, if we have a network that shares vast amounts of information and creates decision superiority in various places, but then gets severed, we still need to be able to fight independently without those networks. “This requires significant and persistent training with new technologies but also informs us about the types of technologies we need to develop and acquire in the future. “Additionally, we need to have mission orders in place so that our fleet can operate effectively even when networks are disrupted during combat; able to operate in a modular-force approach with decisions being made at the right level of operations for combat success.” In the graphic provided by Rear Admiral (Retired) Manazir in the Williams Foundation 2018 Seminar, he took the sequence of find, fix, track, target, engage and assess and highlighted how those functions were now exercised in a distributed integrated manner by the various platforms operating within a task force or in our terms a combat cluster. This task force, or combat cluster, can be understood either organized organically or scalable and aggregable, and operating as flexible modular task forces. With the distribution of sensors and strike throughout the battlespace, the force operates as a strike and sensing grids to gain combat dominance. In a presentation to the Williams Foundation, Canberra, Australia on March 22, 2018, Rear Admiral Manazir then retried, provided his graphic representation of how to understand the kill web. In some ways, the difference can be seen as a shift from a linear kill chain to a distributed kill web. The difference in focus was highlighted in a discussion in 2020 with Cmdr. Peter “Two Times Salvaggio, the head of the new Maritime Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) program at the Navy’s Naval Air Warfare Development Center, at Air Station Fallon, Nevada. He underscored: We need a paradigm shift: The Navy needs to focus on the left side of the kill chain. The kill chain is described as find, fix, target, engage and assess. For the U.S. Navy, the weight of effort has been upon target and engage. As “Two Times” puts it: But if you cannot find, fix, or track something, you never get to target. There is another challenge as well: in a crisis, knowing what to hit and what to avoid is crucial to crisis management. This clearly requires the kind of ISR management skills to inform the appropriate decision makers as well. The ISR piece is particularly challenging as one operates across a multi-domain battlespace to be able to identify the best ISR information, even if it is not contained within the ISR assets within your organic task force. And the training side of this is very challenging. That challenge might be put this way: How does one build the skills in the Navy to do what you want to do with regard to managing ISR data and deliver it in the correct but timely manner and how to get the command level to understand the absolute centrality of having such skill sets? Here we are entering the domain of the kill web. The focus is upon how force packages are configured, and how they are empowered to leverage ISR and fire capabilities at the point of interest, and to both contribute to and leverage capabilities resident in other force packages available to deliver the desired combat or crisis management effect. At the Williams Foundation Seminar held on April 11, 2024, James Lawless, a former Navy officer and now with Northrop Grumman, Australia, focused on how shaping layered ISR capabilities for the ADF by leveraging Triton and autonomous systems could empower the force going forward. As Lawless underscored, that it is a daunting task to provide for direct defence of Australia given its size, location, and modest military capabilities. He pictured the physical nature of the challenge but seen from the perspective of ISR capabilities which could be used to size the challenge and provide the manoeuvre space for the ADF to maximize their relevant impact as follows: He argued that by building layers of ISR capability which would work seamlessly with one another, the ADF could best leverage its assets and provide decision makers with options for having the most decisive effect. In other words, ISR is an enabling capability whereby one could winnow down the threat to determine where one needed to act and if possible, with the most decisive effect. It was a nice to have capability: it is the INDISPENSIBLE capability if one is to have a focused force in reality and not just in terms of a phrase in a government document. But then how to build this capability in the next three to five years more effectively? The government is reducing the F-35 force by one squadron which is a major cut driven by the need to raise money for the SSN program when the government has not allocated more money to pay for it. The major new asset coming to the RAAF is the Triton. This asset is not really understood by many defence analysts and certainly not by the public. It is a high value remotely piloted asset that can operate at high altitude and see over a wide operational area and do so why not having to operate in the weapons engagement zone. When I visited RAAF Edinbourgh, I was impressed that the RAAF was building a common data floor for P-8s, Triton and the Peregrine. And the plan is to take integrated data and deliver it to mobile operating stations to serve the ADF. An obvious investment which needs to be made now and capability delivered in the near to mid-term is AI enabled data management and routing to the force packages that need an integrated data stream. This is clearly a key three-to-five year capability which needs to be delivered and not just some day in the imagined world of defence procurement and (here is the killer) “planning”. James Lawless presenting at the Williams Foundation Seminar April 11, 2024. But what Lawless did in his presentation was to identify various ways air and maritime autonomous systems could operate to contribute data relevant to the operations of a focused force. Autonomous systems could fill out the areas operating below Triton to move data into the weapons engagement zone as well as to inform operating forces of threats and opportunities in the battle space. They were key capabilities in terms of where on the chessboard to move your combat clusters to maximize their impact. The Triton RPA and autonomous systems layering provide the ADF with a significant and unique opportunity to help the government build a focused force. But perhaps, the kill web concept might be thought of what we described as building a honeycomb deployed force when we wrote our book on rethinking military presence in the Pacific. Rather than thinking of a top-down concept of managing force distribution, we focused on how you build honeycomb “cells” throughout the area of operations which could then be linked. The new technologies for ISR delivered by an RPA like Triton and the various autonomous systems which Lawless discussed can enable clusters of combat forces distributed in the area of interest or act as honeycomb cells so to speak. In that 2013 book this is how we envisaged the C5ISR service enterprise enabling such an approach for the U.S. working with its allies in the Pacific: “By shaping a C5ISR system inextricably intertwined with platforms and assets, which can honeycomb an area of operation, an attack-and-defense enterprise can operate to deter aggressors and adversaries or to conduct successful military operations. Inherent in such an enterprise is scalability and reachback. By deploying the C5ISR honeycomb, the shooters in the enterprise can reach back to each other to enable the entire grid of operation, for either defense or offense. “In effect, what could be established from the U.S. perspective is a plug-in approach rather than a push approach to projecting power. The allies are always forward deployed; the United States does not to attempt to replicate what those allies need to do in their own defense. “But what the United States can offer is strategic depth to those allies. At the same time if interoperability and interactive sustainability are recognized as a strategic objective of the first order, then the United States can shape a more realistic approach than one that now rests on trying to proliferate power projection platforms, when neither the money nor the numbers are there. “In effect such an approach would be re-creating a 21st-century version of the big blue blanket. In World War II, especially in the Pacific theater, the concept of a big blue blanket evolved. It took thousands of ships and planes with appropriate logistical support to fight and win. Now with a 21st-century electronic revolution of sensors, shooters, and a honeycomb of networks a modern version of a big blue blanket can be shaped that can enable the fleet.” We then took the C5ISR point forward into the notion of concepts of operations. “To shape a 21st-century strategy that can encompass such challenges as dealing with the Chinese colossus, the North Korean stability and nuclear issues, the Arctic opening and the resetting of the Russian role, and providing for security for the maritime trade “highways” requires a remaking of traditional U.S. and allied capabilities and working relationships… “The strategy is founded on having platform presence. Deploying assets such as USCG assets—for example, the National Security Cutter, USN surface platforms, Aegis, or other surface assets—and sub-surface assets, and having bases forward deployed gives the United States has core assets that if linked together into a scalable force make significant gains in capability possible. Such a persistent presence force must be highly interoperable with allied forces and commercial forces in order to lay down the grid that can allow for a scalable “honeycomb” of deployable capabilities. “The honeycomb concept is central rather than simply thinking in networking terms. Various U.S. joint or allied forces can operate in an area with great autonomy, but that autonomy is not founded on significant isolation from linkage back to other forces. “Hence the force is scalable. Scalability is the crucial glue to make such a persistent force possible. The reach from Japan to South Korea to Singapore to Australia is about how allies are reshaping their forces and working toward greater reach and capabilities. “A scalable structure allows for an economy of force. “Presence and engagement in various local cells of the honeycomb may well be able to deal with whatever the problem in that vector might be. “And remembering that in the era of Black Swans, one is not certain where the next “crisis” or “engagement” might be. The author of The Black Swan underscored that the key impediment to learning is that we focus excessively on what we do know and that we tend to focus on the precise. We are not ready for the unexpected. For the author, the rare event equals uncertainty. He argued that the extreme event is the starting point in knowledge, not the reverse. “The author in the concluding parts of his second edition advocated redundancy as a core capability necessary for the kind of agile response one needs in Black Swan or Gray Swan events. To clarify, a black swan is a large-impact and rare event beyond the realm of normal expectations. A Gray Swan is a large-impact event that is somewhat predictable but overlooked as major stakeholders in society and globally simply hope to not have to contemplate the consequences of such events. “The key conclusion here is rather simple: we need to rebuild our forces to be more agile and have more flexible expectations of what engagements we are about to engage in. And shaping plug-and-play capability with allies and partners becomes significantly more important in the period ahead.”[1] [1] Robbin Laird, Edward Timperlake, and Richard Weitz. Rebuilding American Military Power in the Pacific: A 21st-Century Strategy (Praeger Security International). ABC-CLIO. Kindle Edition, 2013.

  • Shaping C2 for the ADF and Coalition Forces: The Perspective of Air Vice Marshal Mike Kitcher - Dr Robbin Laird

    Dr Robbin Laird, Shaping C2 for the ADF and Coalition Forces: The Perspective of Air Vice Marshal Mike Kitcher, 7 May 2024 Link to article ( When I was in Australia in September of last year, I had a chance to talk to the then Deputy Chief Joint Operations (DCJOPS), Air Vice-Marshal Mike Kitcher. In that interview, he discussed how the refocus on direct defence in Australia affected the Joint Operations Command. Kitcher noted in that interview: “The focus in this period, up to say 2017, for CJOPS was on operations in the Middle East whilst managing operations in our region. We clearly have leveraged the earlier experiences in our renewed focus on the conduct of Operations, Actions and Activites, OAA, in the Indo Pacific. We are focused on developing a theatre campaign plan to translate strategic guidance into the OAA we execute in our region to achieve our desired objectives. “We are focused on ways we can operate as a joint force to optimise our regional OAA to have the maximum positive effect in supporting our theater campaign plan. You don’t get the maximum benefits from a joint force unless firstly the services provide you with trained personnel capable of executing joint missions and then HQJOC, through focused joint planning, maximises the potential of the individual components. We have made good progress along this path but still have a way to go.” Air Vice-Marshal Kitcher highlighted that we are “now squarely focused on managing operations in a coordinated fashion in our region.” And this means both how to get the best joint force effect but also how to coordinate the ADF effort with core allies in also getting the optimum coalition effect. Obviously in working with coalition partners, national sovereignty has to be respected but at the same time for effectiveness in operations coalition forces need to operate in an integrated manner. This is a key tension which needs to be managed, notably in crises where the government of the day will make decisions about the allowable operations of their national forces, these individual decisions may challenge the effectiveness of a coalition force. At the April 11, 2024 Williams Foundation seminar, Kitcher focused on the C2 aspect involved in the changes we talked about last year. Distributed C2 for the ADF and C2 directing coalition operations are critical challenges to be met as the ADF adapts to the operating the “focused force” the government has mandated. Air Vice-Marshal Kitcher presenting at the Williams Foundation Seminar April 11, 2024 At the seminar, Kitcher underscored that “we are focused on building a headquarters that’s capable of planning, executing, managing regional operations, from competition through crisis to conflict.” He underscored that the ADF was working on a model different from the American model of the combatant commander. “The size and scale of the personnel involved in a U.S. Combatant Command compared to the ADF is very different. When we add component commands to a joint operation, we need to have a need to consider the numbers of people that we have available in our component command model. And we need to cut our cloth to the numbers that exist realistically.” I would personally add observing American command structures that they have generally been very large, and a key change underway is to shift to distributed C2 which is forcing changes in terms of the size of strategic or theater level command. And not surprisingly, ADF work in this area has an influence on those military commanders who are actually working in innovative ways with regard to C2 innovations, When Vice Admiral Lewis became commander of the Second Fleet, he focused specifically on how to lean out command elements and empower distributed forces to execute mission command. This is a subject which we discussed in some detail in our various visits to the Norfolk-based command. He provided an example of the changes being worked by JOC as seen in the last Talisman Sabre exercise. And we discussed that further in a meeting later in the month. At that meeting, he discussed with me further the changes in the operational command and control approach. He argued that “at the seminar, I discussed a component C2 model in which six components were being blended in, namely six components, space and cyber as well as the more traditional air, land, maritime and special forces. At Talisman Sabre we introduced we shaped a logistics coordination command for the entire coalition effort for nearly 30,000 people involved in the exercise. He assessed the state of the art to date as follows: “We are working to understand the supported and supporting commander roles within the components, and which components are relatively mature, which components have to mature, which components are well versed and operating as components and which components are working hard to design and execute their component functions. “With regard to our maritime environment where we find ourselves in our region, all of the six components could be the supported commander for particular periods in particular events. But broadly speaking, the air and maritime component is the most logical components to lead in as the supported command with the other components supporting the air and or maritime component across the spectrum of operations. “And the key relationship then becomes that between the component command and the JOC at the operational level on how to successfully integrate those two functions.” We then turned to the recent Talisman Sabre exercise experience. According to Kitcher: “For the first time, we had a single leader of U.S. forces at the Corps level working the U.S. engagement. And each coalition nation had that level of leadership deemed appropriate for the size and scale of their involvement in the exercise. “That is a model we will continue with. Within JOC we embrace that leadership model, and we embrace as well the engagement various different government departments such as the Australian Federal Police and their embedded liaison officers in JOC as well.” In short, the kind of impactful presence which Australia is building in the region, C2 is a key element for creation of enhanced capability in the defence of Australia.

  • RPAs, Autonomous Systems and How to Strengthen the ADF in the Next 3-5 Years - Dr Robbin Laird

    Dr Robbin Laird, RPAs, Autonomous Systems and How to Strengthen the ADF in the Next 3-5 Years, 6 May 2024 Link to article ( The Australian government is shifting resources from the Air Force and the Army and from the surface fleet to pay for a new fleet of eight SSNs with the first coming only in several years. How then to ensure that the ADF is effective in the next five years as money and manpower is moved to what seems to be an SSN-enabled Navy with the other services adapting to this shift? When working through the various presentations at the Williams Foundation Seminar held on April 11, 2024, there is no clear answer to this very significant challenge. But one presentation at the seminar did raise the specter of how a pathway could be shaped to carve a way ahead, namely, the one by James Lawless entitled, “Layered Defence: The Role of Autonomy and Autonomous Systems in the Maritime Domain.” How might the new Triton RPA and the various payloads which maritime and air autonomous systems deliver could accelerate change? These systems can provide the kind of ISR and data management capabilities which Australia would need for the targeting enterprise envisaged in the “impactful projection” approach of the government which rests on effective targeting, If one is trying to navigate the complexities of what the current Australian government is really trying to do and find a way to assess the ADF effects which result from such an effort, I would argue that one would focus on the ability to deliver strike across the areas of strategic and tactical interest to Australia and its core allies. It is about effects and real delivery of an impact, not simply a focus on future platforms which are not going to be here any time soon. So how to navigate through the blizzard of reports, statements and assertions by the government? Let me start by simply citing the government’s recent release indeed on their approach to strike. According to a government press release: Long-range strike capabilities and advanced targeting systems will receive $28 billion to $35 billion in the coming decade under the 2024 Integrated Investment Program. The largest portion, $12 billion to $15 billion, will go to bolstering Navy’s sea-based strike capability, including the acquisition of Tomahawk cruise missiles. These will arm Hobart-class destroyers, Hunter-class frigates and, potentially, Virginia-class submarines, allowing them to hold targets at risk at longer ranges. The funding covers Evolved Sea Sparrow Block II, SM-2 and SM-6 missiles to intercept airborne threats, along with continued integration of the Naval Strike Missile for use against heavily protected targets. RAAF’s air-launched strike capability also received investment for the F/A-18F Super Hornet, P-8A Poseidon and F-35A Lightning II to be equipped with more advanced weapons. Funding for development of hypersonic missiles could give Super Hornets the ability to attack targets at longer ranges. Army’s acquisition of land-based long-range fires are also covered in the investment program. This includes accelerated and expanded acquisition of 42 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems for Army’s first long-range fires regiment. These will fire the Precision Strike Missile that can engage potential adversaries more than 500km away. Funding also covers Army’s Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System munitions, along with new radars to extend sensor and command and control networks.1 But how to assess how these various programs will integrate across a kill web to deliver the kind of effects which will be credible to an adversary? It is a question of how targeting is done, who the data for targeting can be passed to and the range of the weapon carried on a fixed or moving platform and location and with what effects when considered across the allied strike enterprise. None of this is resolved only by funding considerations, and, for example, their needs to be a realistic public discussion of how new SSNs actually fit into the strike enterprise, for otherwise their is simply cacophony not coherence in the strike enterprise. And any use of TLAMs by Australia in the context of a Pacific conflict where three adversarial nuclear powers are operating needs to be credibly sorted out if one is framing deterrence by denial as the core focus of Australian defence. Malcolm Davis of ASPI raised some helpful insights in to how to interpret the government and its framing of the strike enterprise. In his April 24, 2024 piece on “impactful projection constrained,” he highlighted the following: Strike capability featured in the 2024 update of Australia’s Integrated Investment Plan (IIP), the equipment spending program that accompanied the National Defence Strategy (NDS) published on 17 April. But the strike capability acquisitions were all re-announcements—or, to take a positive view, confirmations. They included acquisition by the navy of more than 200 Tomahawk Block IV cruise missiles, to be deployed on Hobart-class destroyers, Virginia-class submarines and maybe Hunter-class frigates. Integration of the Naval Strike Missile on surface combatants was in there, too. The army’s long-range fires mission, highlighted in the 2023 Defence Strategic Review (DSR), is centered on acquisition of 47 HIMARS launcher vehicles that can fire various long-range guided munitions, including PRsM ballistic missiles, at land and maritime targets. PRsMs have a range of 500km but could eventually reach beyond 1000km. If forward host nation support is available in a crisis, then the littoral capability for the army will be crucial in supporting deterrence by denial with these land-based long-range fires—but we cannot assume availability of such support. With that uncertainty in mind, establishing agreements to ensure forward host nation support for the army should be a high priority for defence diplomacy, as noted in the NDS, in coming years. Air force capabilities include a previously announced acquisition of AGM-158C LRASM anti-ship missiles to be carried on F/A-18Fs, P-8As and eventually F-35As, as well as AGM-158B JASSM-ER air-to-ground missiles. Another item is integration of the Kongsberg Joint Strike Missile on the F-35A. E/A-18G Growlers will get 63 AGM-88E AARGM-ER missiles for attacking radars.2 What is not really clear is how this fits into a strategic mosaic whereby a kill web enabled force can deliver sustained strike to provide for integrated operations in Australia’s primary area of strategic interest which in my view is out to their first island chain. This is important not just for the ADF and Australia but to credibly provide any ability to provide a sanctuary for allied forces to be able to leverage Australia’s evolving support structure. Davis went on in his article to argue for a focus on longer range strike going forward. He argued: “Impactful projection as part of deterrence by denial is the right choice—but we need to reach farther to deter more effectively. A failure to extend our reach could see deterrence by denial fall short in a real crisis.” But what remains a challenge is to build a force that would be meaningful for longer range strike which can work with allies whose interests both coincide and differ from Australia’s. What would South Korea, Japan, the United States and Australia agree on in terms of coordinated strike in a confrontation with China with North Korea and Russia almost certainly involved? I would argue this starts by having an effective ISR integrated force which can deliver reliable data to the ADF throughout the enterprise. Given that the government has decided to cut the fourth F-35 squadron, the RAAF is left with one significant new platform which will be crucial to shaping such an enterprise, namely the Triton. And the introduction of Triton will be first deployed as a variety of new autonomous systems could be available to the ADF to build a layered ISR network to provide the targeting needed for both “impactful projection” and the “impactful presence”. Such capability is necessary for the direct defence of Australia and to play the role of strategic reserve for its core allies. In fact, a layered ISR/C2 network is a key element of “impactful presence” which can be built in this interim period where the government is re-orienting the ADF in a direction towards an SSN-enabled maritime force. Let me next turn to the presentation and discussion I had with James Lawless, the former Navy officer now with Northrop Grumman, who discussed the role which such systems can enable for Australia to have the ISR/C2 layered system which in my view is a crucial building block in the next three to five years for the ADF. 1. 2.

  • Logistics and Sustainment for an Evolving Defence of Australia Strategy - Dr Robbin Laird

    Dr Robbin Laird, Logistics and Sustainment for an Evolving Defence of Australia Strategy, 30 April 2024 Link to article ( There is no more daunting challenge facing a credible Australian defence strategy in it is region than that of logistics and sustainment. Australia is so dependent on imports of supplies, and overseas production of military equipment that the nation is very exposed to its logistics and sustainment shortfalls. And when looks at the wider world of its allies, the picture is not brilliant. The war in Ukraine and the challenge for Europe and the United States to provide basic supplies has been daunting. Bluntly put, the democracies have moved from their industrial base and have not built defense in depth. The only country in the West that remained committed to national mobilization was Finland, where I conducted several interviews during a past visit precisely on how they have addressed how they have built in mobilization from the ground up. If Australia is to have a credible logistics and sustainment foundation, investments need to be made in supplies and stockpiles, in the building of industrial base – probably through joint efforts with allies – accepting the need for industrialization in key areas, an energy policy that leverages their natural supplies and capabilities, and working with South Korea, Japan and the United States on an innovative way to enhance Australia’s potential role as a strategic bastion in the Pacific based on enhanced supplies, support structures and production capabilities in Australia which allies invest in as well. But whether or not Australia can achieve this is a major challenge which will require investments significantly beyond what the government is contemplating and an engagement with industry that requires a major shift in how the defense industrial base is built, sustained, and how the ADF can work much more directly in the development of evolving capabilities, such as autonomous weapons. MAJGEN Jason Walk, Commander Joint Logistics, addressing the April 11, 2024 Williams Foundation Seminar. At the April 11, 2024 Williams Foundation seminar, MAJGEN Jason Walk, Commander Joint Logistics, provided an overview of how the logistics challenge is being defined and focused on in the wake of the Defence Strategic Review. This is how characterized the change: “The DSR directed that the defence logistics network be adequately resourced to deliver persistent support and sustainment for operations. This considered by itself is a step change in defence capability and capacity, demanding first, that defence first confirm its logistics gaps before embarking upon the most substantial investment in the defence logistics network, arguably since World War Two.” After discussing the need for robust cyber defence to protect the network, and shaping space based capabilities to support such a network, he then turned to the question of the near-term focus. “So what are the problems we’re trying to address within the defence logistics network? “The log network underpins defence’s force posture, ensuring the right stuff gets to the right location at the right time. Accordingly, the defense strategic review required the ADF to develop a Northern Australian network of bases to provide a platform of logistic support for denial and deterrence. To address this, defence’s ambition for the defence logistics network can be summarized as making a more a more agile, effective, integrated and resilient network.” I have spent a great deal of time with the various logistics commands in the United States and seen over the last thirty years significant change in multi-modal logistics. But the ability of the U.S. to deploy military power relies very heavily upon commercial systems which will be difficult to depend on in times of crisis, more limited air lift and tanker capacity than would be needed for the USAF alone, let alone for the US Army, and a Military Sealift Command whose capability is limited by the decline of the US merchant marine, for MSC is operated by mariners not the U.S. Navy. The Navy is buying Ospreys because of the limited lift capabilities available to the Navy. So what then about Australia? Will we see an upsurge of the means to provide for the support a distributed and more mobile force will need. MAJGEN Jason Walk addressed this challenge as follows: “First of all, to an agile and multi modal logistics. A key logistics problem that we face is the paucity of strategic maritime lift capabilities to enable the projection and sustainment of forces. The solution is to build a diverse multi modal logistics network that leverages a mix of transportation capabilities across land, sea and air. This will allow the agility to rapidly reorganize reprioritize and adapt the delivery of logistics effects in response to changing requirements or threats. “Leveraging industry support in areas of reduced threat will enable the focused application of limited ADF strategic lift assets. “One initiative under consideration by government is the establishment of a maritime strategic fleet. Importantly, this reflects our support and sustainment of military capability will require a whole of government indeed a whole of nation endeavor. Effective logistics with increased stocks, the ADF in Australia at large lacks sufficient stocks of critical commodities, like explosive ordnance fuel to sustain operations, especially in our northern regions. The solution is to invest in depth and redundancy to build up strategic reserves and material stocks to meet the demands of the integrated force. “In conflict, these critical supplies must be replenished and forward positioned to optimize operational availability and freedom of action of our deployed forces. This is a focus of a number of defense projects moving forward and we are establishing closer linkage with other government agencies and industry. “The National Fuel Council which had its inaugural meeting early last year or mid last year is an example of that. The integration of logistics across all domains and coalition’s is equally important, logistics interoperability that can support an integrated force and operations in coalition with allies is critical. “The solution is to design an integrated logistics network that reduces friction and complexity. The defence logistics network seeks to minimize organizational seams across the defence enterprise and reinforce interfaces with industry, whole of government, allies and partners.” The speaker provided a good description of the challenge. But frankly, this is a daunting one, in which phases needed to be shaped and credibly funded. This will not be critical just for the ADF but for an credible cooperation policy in which South Korea, Japan and the United States would participate in effectively. And let me be blunt: this would have to be addressed in real terms by investments and policy changes by those allies as well. This is not about simply about AUKUS – this is about building a credible and real arsenal of democracy in our time. AUKUS can too easily be used as a rorschach image where one can see what one wants. It is not an end in itself. If meaningful, it is a gateway to solving a strategic challenge such as that discussed by the speaker.

  • Cognitive and Information War and the “Gray Zone” - Dr Robbin Laird

    Dr Robbin Laird, Cognitive and Information War and the “Gray Zone”, 5 May 2024 Link to article ( An aspect of modern Western strategic thinking has been a focus on gray zone conflict. This is an area I have always found confusing. In a world which I would characterize as one of the rise of multi-polar authoritarian movements and states, their constant conflict efforts have indeed been in the gray zone punctuated with direct periods of violence against the West and its legacy of a “rules-based order.” But as this is going on, it would be difficult not to factor in the domestic conflicts in both the UK and the United States which affects the AUKUS partners of Australia. So how well is Australia doing in the gray zone or information or cognitive warfare areas? The is a major aspect affecting any credible strategy involving a “ whole of government” strategy or a whole of society effort to deal with threats in the region. The West over the past few years has done considerably better in the cyber-war domain, but given the penetration of authoritarian movements and states within our social networks, and the extensive disruption in the West with regard to migration, I do not think we can make the same judgement with regard to information or cognitive war. At the Williams Foundation Seminar on April 11, 2024, the subject of information war was addressed by Major General Anna Duncan, Commander Cyber Command. Her talk highlighted the importance of gaining information advantage in conflict. Major General Anna Duncan, Commander Cyber Command, presents at the Williams Foundation Seminar, April 11, 2024. She started with this definition: “What is information advantage? From a military perspective, information advantage, ideally occurs through the integration and through the use of the moral and information informational elements of fighting power. We would seek to gain an information advantage over an opponent by targeting their understanding and thus degrade their will to fight.” She cautioned that was not new in warfare but clearly what is new is the nature of information networks in liberal democracies and how conflict has escalated within these societies by the emergence of tribal clubs which operate within social media which has challenged the ability of democracies to shape consensus. When I attended a UNESCO event in Barcelona in 1996 which focused on the new information society, I highlighted this danger associated with an internet society. But the extent to which the tribes have grown to disaggregate democracies was certainly not my thought at the time. The point is important – precisely in the 1990s when many were trumping the global ascendency of democracies, we were building tools which would in fact undercut that ascendency. Gray zone conflict in my view goes hand in hand with information warfare. Western militaries are building more flexible militaries which can operate as a more distributed force but we have not seen the adaptation of the political class to how in fact confront adversaries in the gray zone effectively nor how to use penetration of authoritarian societies or movements to our advantage. Duncan provided a professional treatment of how the ADF is working through how in conflict to gain an information advantage over adversarial forces. A military officer dealing with cyber and information warfare scopes the focus on information advantage over adversarial forces in a conflict. This is obviously crucial, but the actual conduct of information war occurs every time an authoritarian government or movement defines the perceived geopolitical reality inside Western societies. A murderous organization like Hamas defines the ideas for a protest at my former school, Columbia University, due to their information war capabilities. I would close by including an article I published in December 2021 which underscored gray zone conflict which I also thinks expand the notion of what is entailed in the kind of information war which the West is not very good at engaging in. Western analysts have coined phrases like hybrid war and gray zones as a way to describe peer conflict below the level of general armed conflict. But such language creates a cottage industry of think tank analysts, rather than accurately portraying the international security environment. Peer conflict notably between the liberal democracies and the 21st century authoritarian powers is conflict over global dominance and management. It is not about managing the global commons; it is about whose rules dominate and apply. Rather than being hybrid or gray, these conflicts, like most grand strategy since Napoleon, are much more about “non war” than they are about war. They shape the rules of the game to give one side usable advantage. They exploit the risk of moving to a higher intensity of confrontation. Russia is doing this right now in Ukraine. China, likewise, is doing it in the South China Sea and in the Sea of Japan. It’s critical to understand this point, and terms like gray zone operations and hybrid war don’t capture the challenge of escalation control. There are two games being played. One game is over the immediate contentions of the major powers. Ukraine and Taiwan must be protected from attack. But the second game is just as important, it asks what limits should be crossed to manipulate the risk of going to a higher intensity of competition? In the Cold War these limits defined the “system dynamics” of the competition. Shaping them was important, because they were the foundation for winning a war that might erupt, or toward stabilizing a competition in a way that gave advantage to one side or the other. Seen this way Korea, Vietnam, Berlin, etc. were about winning those local wars. But they were more importantly about shaping the global competition between the United States and the Soviet Union. Quite elaborate rules were worked out for this. It took substantial time during the evolution of the Cold War (to make sure that it was indeed was a cold war from a global conflagration point of view) for this learning curve to develop. Limited wars, like Korea, produced know how about escalation control and dominance. The problem today is that we are only at the earliest parts of this learning curve for our age. We’re in a long term competition with authoritarian powers, but it’s like it was 1949 in terms of our know how for managing this rivalry to our advantage. The problem isn’t simply to defend Ukraine and Taiwan; it’s to do it in such a way that doesn’t lead to crazy escalations or that doesn’t scare the daylights at of our allies. Taiwan and Ukraine are not sideshows to global conflict; they are the early test cases of competition in a second nuclear age. Recently, I discussed the question of how best to describe the terminology to describe peer conflict with my colleague Dr. Paul Bracken the author of The Second Nuclear Age. According to Bracken, it is preferable to use the term “limited war” to describe the nature of conflict between the authoritarian powers and the liberal democracies. “A term was invented in the Cold War which is also quite useful to analyze the contemporary situation, namely, limited war. This term referred to conflict at lower levels and sub-crisis maneuvering. And that is what is going or today in cyber and outer space, to use two examples. But it also applied to higher levels of conflict like limited nuclear war.” “The notion of limited war focuses escalation as a strategy. What is the difference between limited and controlled war? “That’s a really important question with enormous implications for command and control. Today, for example, limits are determined in a decision making process whereby the Pentagon goes to the White House and says we’d like to do this operation. The White says yes or no. “Left out of this is any discussion of building a command and control system for controlled war. This means keeping war controlled even if things go wrong — as they always do. Without an emphasis on controlled war, and not just limited war, I would estimate that the United States will be highly risk averse, that is, the fear of an escalation spiral will drive the United States toward inaction. “Look at the Ukraine. The first U.S. reaction to the Russian buildup was to immediately take military options off the table. The White House refocused its strategy on financial sanctions instead. It looked as if the United States was desperately searching for ways not to use force. Soft power, gray zone operations, the weaponization of finance — these are clearly important and I think we should use them. “But they look like a frantic attempt to any use of force, like British foreign policy in the 1930s. “Our language shapes our strategy. An image of war that blows up, that’s unlimited, or that you’ve declined to fight because of your fear that it would become so is where we are. In academic studies and think tanks the focus is overwhelmingly on “1914” spirals, accidental war, entanglement, and inadvertent escalation. “If it’s going to be controlled or limited, how are you defining that it is limited? Is it limited by geography? Is it limited by the intensity of operations? Is it limited by the additional political issues that you will bring into the dispute? “These are never specified in discussions that I see of hybrid or gray zone warfare. To use a very sensitive example. In a Taiwan scenario, will the United States Navy and Air Force be allowed to strike targets in China? I see a real danger that this isn’t being thought through. If we think it through only in a crisis we’re likely to find a lot of surprises in how the White House and Joint Chiefs of Staff see things differently. These expressions – hybrid war and gray zone conflict – are treated as if they self evident in term of their meaning. Yet they are part of a larger chain of activities and events. We use the term peer competitor but that is a bit confusing as well as these authoritarian regimes do not have the same ethical constraints or objectives as do liberal democratic regimes. This core cultural, political and ideological conflict who might well escalate a conflict beyond the terms of what we might wish to fight actually. And that really is the point – escalate and the liberal democracies withdraw and redefine to their disadvantage what the authoritarian powers wish to do. Bracken noted: “That’s a good distinction too, because it brings in the fact that for 20 years we’ve been fighting an enemy in the Middle East who really can’t strike back at the United States or Europe other than with low-level terrorist actions. That will not be the case with Russia, China, and others. “The challenge is to define limited war, and I would add, controlled war. Is it geographic or Is it the intensity of the operations? How big of a war is it before people start unlocking the nuclear weapons? “Every war game I’ve played has seen China declare that its “no first use” policy is terminated. The China player does this to deter the United States from making precision strikes and cyber attacks on China. This seriously needs consideration before we get into a real crisis. “Russia and China’ are trying to come in with a level of intensity in escalation which is low enough so that it doesn’t trigger a big Pearl Harbor response. And that could go on for a long time and is a very interesting future to explore.” Limited war requires learning about escalation control i.e. about controlled war, which when one uses that term, rather than hybrid war or gray zone conflict, connects limited war to the wider set of questions relating political objectives of the authoritarian powers. Bracken concluded: “I believe using those terms adds to the intellectual chaos in Washington. It prevents us from having a clear policy discussion of what the alternatives for escalation control and management are in any particular crisis. This is a lot more dangerous than mishandling the Afghan exit, or the COVID pandemic.”

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