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  • Let’s Make Grand Strategy Great Again – Michael Sleeman

    In April 2019, we argued that ‘every staff paper, speech, and brief that remains buried in network folders represents a lost opportunity to inspire the intellect, stimulate the curiosity, and gain the insight of an increasingly engaged professional military community.’ Today’s post is an example of our attempt to address that problem. This article was written as an assignment by Michael Sleeman while he was a student at the United States Air Force School of Advanced Air and Space Studies in 2018/2019. In it, Sleeman discusses the need for military leaders to embrace and support a true grand strategic approach to addressing the United States’ strategic issues, even if that means sacrificing military budget in order to direct funds to other elements of national power. Grand strategy is the use of all instruments of national power to achieve long-term national influence. Grand strategy is a widely recognised term, but I posit that unless significant changes happen, the United States will never achieve a true grand strategy: one where the military is just one component of national influence. The current funding disparity between various government departments precludes a balanced approach. I propose that there is a straightforward change the US can make to enable the development of a true grand strategy. Acknowledging that – as Clausewitz said – simple things are sometimes the hardest, making the necessary changes requires innovation by military leaders beyond simply stating catchy slogans. While this article is about the funding disparity in the United States, it behoves Australia to ask tough questions about where we spend our money. Is it possible for Australia to have a true grand strategy? The main factor causing the ineffective mix of government instruments is the staggering disparity of funding between the United States State Department and the Department of Defense (DoD). This has not always been the case. DoD spending spiked during World War I and World War II, which is to be expected; yet unlike during the interwar period, DoD and State funding never reached parity post-World War II. The funding disparity worsens as the years’ progress. President Trump announced a 2019 fiscal year national security budget of $716 billion, of which $686 billion is allocated to the DoD. For the State Department budget, the president requested a budget of less than $40 billion, a decrease of approximately 30% from the 2018 budget. This significant funding disparity creates a warped view of what the United States can and should achieve in its foreign policy and leads to the militarisation of US grand strategy, rather than a considered use of all instruments to achieve a true grand strategy. The Beatles knew that money could not buy you love, but it sure can buy a lot of butter or bullets. Just not both. As military officers, how do we address this obvious, but rarely discussed issue? We are frequently told to innovate, take risks and be BOLD. A business card that a United States Air Force major general recently gave me even evidences this. It told me to ‘Take Risk.’ However, I am almost deaf to these words that senior leaders preach ad nauseum. I am not deaf to these terms because I disagree with them; I wholeheartedly agree with them, but I do not see any genuine attempt by the military leadership to address the overweight elephant in the room. While attending the US School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, I attended a two-day workshop run by a couple of well-regarded strategic thinkers at MGMWERX, in Montgomery, Alabama. In one exercise, we looked at ways to develop a strategy for the United States to guide its relationship with China. One presenter listed ten factors that the United States could consider in developing such a strategy. Looking at the list, it dawned on me that not a single factor pertained to the military. Not one. However, there we were, mid-level military officers trying to devise United States strategy. This is the elephant in the room. The military is not, and should not be, the overriding apparatus of national power. So why are we unwilling to state that the military only appears to be the solution because of its overwhelming preponderance of resources. Why are the senior military leaders not truly innovating and stating that funding should be redirected from the military to the other instruments of national power? What is a bolder statement than that? I am not suggesting we need military mavericks, as they tend not to achieve the desired long-term effects. However, if respected senior military leaders made the argument that funding needs to be more evenly distributed between all the apparatuses of national power, then change may well be possible. Such a bold statement by military leadership would also assist in overcoming ideological and distributive effects that hinder presidential decision making. General James Mattis made this exact point in 2013 when he testified that if the State Department is not funded appropriately, then he ultimately needs to buy more ammunition. If the military is asking for less bullets, then the State can afford to buy more butter. So, let us innovate. Let us be BOLD. It is only through the actions of senior military leadership that we can overcome the funding disparity and help make it possible for the Government to bolster the other instruments of national power. It would be beneficial for the United States to use other instruments of national power rather than relying on military power as the default national strategy. If the Government reduced the gap in spending between the military and other departments, then the elephant can lose some weight, and perhaps eventually leave the room. Over time, maybe the United States – and Australia – can develop a true non-militarised grand strategy. Wing Commander Sleeman is a pilot in the Royal Australian Air Force. He is a graduate of SAASS Class XXVIII. The opinions expressed are his alone and do not represent the views of the Royal Australian Air Force, the Australian Defence Force, or the Australian Government.

  • “That’s not very joint”: Air power identity in joint operations

    "That’s not very joint” The quote came from a senior Air Force officer in response to a suggestion of mine. My suggestion was that Air Force elements on operations needed stronger air power identities if we wanted to tell the story of Australian air power better. No one suggests HMAS Perth or 7th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment handing over to 2nd Cavalry Regiment are not being “very joint” because they identify with their Service whilst on joint operations. But a look at the Air Task Group or the air elements on Operation ACCORDION tells a different story. This is but the latest example of Air Force elements’ Service identities being muffled on joint operations. The storied but Service-specific wing has become the anodyne task unit. At home, the Chief of Joint Operations’ principal airman has a title that makes him sound like a staff officer . If airmen want to meet the Chief’s challenge  to tell the story of Australian air power better, we must first be able to clearly identify “the air power element of every ADF operation.” The Air Force clearly recognises the importance of identity. In the past decade, successive Chiefs have taken steps to celebrate the Air Force’s heritage and build stronger Service identities, particularly amongst non-flying elements. Second World War Spitfire squadrons have been reformed to once again control the air, but this time as air traffic controllers. The famous No 460 Squadron – destroyed five times over during the Combined Bomber Offensive – again plays a key role in Air Force strike operations through its target intelligence mission. My experience as a member of a newly re-formed No 87 Squadron provided first-hand evidence of how important a unit’s history could be in establishing unit identity and cohesion. We hallowed Coomalie Creek as our spiritual home; we took pride in the unit’s achievements and that one of “our” Mosquitoes was displayed in the War Memorial. We built links to unit veterans and commemorated those on our unit’s roll of honour, resolving to build on their legacy. The story of our unit was vital in building it anew. But on operations, airmen seem to have to stifled their Air Force identity. Instead of air power-evoking flights, squadrons, and wings, our nomenclature has been task elements, task units, and task groups with a series of telephone numbers behind them. These task organisations are the doctrinally-correct but colourless labels for force elements that make up an ADF joint task force. HMAS Perth and Task Group 633.1 are both labels for the same unit, but one of them tells a much better story. Similarly, No 36 Squadron Detachment Iraq or 633 Air Lift Flight, or any number of alternatives would have been much more appealing – and intuitively related to air power – protagonists than Task Element 633.4.1.1 in the story of Australian C-130 operations in Iraq. Can I connect your call? Air Force elements in the Middle East as part of Joint Task Force 633 have gone through several nomenclature iterations since 2003. Separate task groups, an air component, then an air component coordination element, and now air mobility task group. Operation OKRA’s Air Task Group has continued this subdued approach to Air Force identity for the collective elements that together generate air power, embodied in this instance by F/A-18, E-7A, and KC-30A sorties. The collective is a task unit headed by a task unit headquarters. The only constant amongst these various labels has been a studious avoidance of the nomenclature that our major partner English-speaking air forces use to describe a formation of units that collectively generates air power: the Wing. Australian air power’s operational identity challenge is most apparent in the command and enabling elements that facilitate the collective coming together to generate, sustain, and conduct air power missions. Deployed elements drawn from formed units in Australia usually retain strong home-unit identities whilst on operations. But many Australian airmen deploy on operations as individual replacements or as part of a group cobbled together from disparate organisations for the duration of the deployment. For these airmen, there is no strong home identity to collectively take forward and their organisational identity on operations is all-too-often defined by its “otherness” compared with the formed units. Telling the story of the unglamorous but vital role played by mission planners in a wing headquarters is difficult enough without calling where they work a “TUHQ.” All the more so when your competition is fighter pilots from storied wartime squadrons. At a time when so much emphasis is placed on the importance of integrating Australia’s air power, we need to be able to better tell the story of all the pieces – individually and collectively – necessary to do just that. There are a few things we could do immediately to start character development for the story of contemporary Australian air power. Firstly, consign task organisations to the dustbin of doctrinal devotion and refer to individual air power elements on operations by their historic labels: flights and squadrons. Call the formations of units that collectively generate Australian air power on joint operations what they are: wings. Doing so would draw on history to reaffirm the collective’s central role in generating air power. Our sister Services, coalition partners, and the public at large will also stand a much better chance of intuitively recognising the “air power element of every ADF operation”. Secondly, make Director-General Air the commander of a re-formed No 9 or No 10 Operational Group. This group would serve as the Air Force’s operational group and the de facto air component of Joint Operations Command, formalising an existing arrangement but with a much clearer air power identity. This would also serve to better delineate between the Air Force’s operations and force generation responsibilities, much as the separation between Forces Command and the 1st Division does for the Army. The only argument against these steps is that they could be perceived as being “not very joint.” But wanting to see a robust air power identity on joint operations does not make one “not very joint”. Quite the contrary: joint operations are about leveraging the strengths of each domain to achieve common goals. They are founded upon exploiting and unifying domain expertise and identity, not suppressing them. The Air Force has taken positive steps in reinforcing Service identity and culture at home without diminishing the Service’s commitment to joint warfare. It needs to do the same on operations. If we want to tell the story of Australian air power on operations better – and we must – a crucial first step is being able to easily identify “the air power element of every ADF operation”. Squadron Leader Chris “Guiness” McInnes is an officer in the Royal Australian Air Force. He has served in the “other” bits of air operations repeatedly. The opinions expressed are his alone and do not reflect those of the Royal Australian Air Force, the Australian Defence Force, or the Australian Government.

  • Book Review: How to Lead a Quest - and reframing the conversation of failure

    Through this book review in support of our #FailureWins series, TCB editor Luke Webb explores Dr. Jason Fox’s book on How to Lead a Quest and how it can help Air Force build better language and mental concepts around failure. If Air Force truly wants to seek the edge, it needs to have an appetite for the right kind of failure – but this doesn’t mean tolerating every kind of failure, something that’s already in the blood of aviation professionals. Failure in the context of aviation sounds like blasphemy. The idea that ‘failure’ could be permitted in mission- & safety-critical contexts rightfully can be on the nose, and hearing how ‘failure is part of success’ (or some other digital philosophical epithet) can cause the boiling of AVTUR-blood. I’d contend that it’s the lack of nuance around the word failure that is so unhelpful. The cult-like sentiment around pursuing failure as a means to grasping success is popular in the tech-media scene. Here failure means you have to apologise to a group of vapid teens because of a change to an app’s feature. To extrapolate that implied meaning to the world of airpower seems insulting. In aviation, failure can mean a devastating conversation with the loved ones of colleagues and friends who were lost because of a split-second mistake. In the military, it can change the entire course of a campaign – even the moral imperative to fight. And yet, if Air Force is desirous of maintaining “the edge”, it must be on the forefront of trying new things. Of innovating. Of, at times, failing. But it’s not an easy gambit for an organisation that has matured (perhaps corporate-speak for atrophied?) in several aspects of its business. In the context of #FailureWins, I felt compelled to review one of my favourite books on the topic – How to Lead a Quest by Melbourne academic Dr. Jason Fox. It’s not an airpower piece, but I’ve found it one of the most accessible, implementable, and entertaining business books I’ve read that deals with untangling the realm of complexity faced by pioneering leaders. Fox offers it as a ‘handbook for pioneering executives’, and provides a series of practical actions, frameworks, and rituals to apply in a variety of workplace settings (including my favourite “Beacon Words”, where he gives an example of his word for the year being pirate). He also offers several concepts to help pioneering leaders in their work, particularly around ‘quest-augmented strategy’ - where corporate experimentation is central to organisational learning, which in turn drives intelligible work that’s future-focused. Another is around crafting experiments: since reading his work, I’ve recast my own language around innovation and new pursuits as ‘experiments’ as a way of removing cultural cringes to ‘innovation’ and ‘learning from failure’. His work is vast but efficient at unpacking the complicated, visceral pulses that so often trigger our grimace-face when we experience failure (especially in an organisational setting). Rather than approach the topic from a growth or benefits perspective, Fox looks at innovation from the lens of organisational atrophy and death - the inevitable consequence of group human endeavour of an organisation that fails to keep pace. Not just from a product or service perspective, but how organisations have a tendency to default to rote decision making slowly but surely. Where justifications and rationalisations based in past thinking become a quiet, but powerful corporate gospel. Innovation – grounded in a practice of crafted corporate experimentation – is vital for ensuring the core of an organisation doesn’t succumb to entropy. Fox has much to say about innovation, framed as pioneering leadership (hence the title How to lead a Quest). But perhaps some of the more exigent insights he offers are around failure. He has mixed views about it: “Another extreme has also crept into the vernacular – that of celebrating failure. It’s certainly preferable to the alternative, in which failure is shameful, but celebrating failure might be taking things a bit too far. The real thing to celebrate is learning.” The Layers of Fell In the context of leading a quest against organisational irrelevance, “one thing that is consistent” with this nonlinear new way of working is failure. But, in the same breath, he asserts that failure is a spectrum, and expresses a model which he refers to as the Nine Layers of Fell (“failure + Hell = Fell” … he is a bit of a wordsmith). The deeper layers are forms of failure that should not be celebrated; the mid-layers are forms that should be the focus of change, and the upper layers are matters that should be ‘celebrated’ (or, at least, learned from). They’re a spectrum of organisational failure modes that can emerge from undertaking the messy, experimental work of quest-augmented strategy; however, they’re also instructive to safety- and mission-critical organisations that need to differentiate between hazardous operational failures, and ‘just’ embarrassing corporate failures. Ninth layer – Corruption & deviance: This isn’t about deviance from SOPs; it’s the deliberate violation of values, and actions that put the whole organisation at risk for personal gain. Fox says this “demands immediate inquisition – into not just why and how an individual or team did this, but also why and how they were able to”. Eight layer – Apathy: Fox defines apathy as the non-participation in meaningful progress and where people simply go through ‘the default motions.’ It’s characterised by ‘not rocking the boat’ or ‘computer says no’ and is “perhaps the most insidious and common failure among enterprises”. Seventh layer – Pessimism and wilful ignorance: “Pessimism is where people prejudge something before collecting or reviewing the evidence”. Fox sees this form of failure as only slightly better than apathy, but also draws a distinction with scepticism where judgement is reserved until the evidence is reviewed. Scepticism is engaged in the process by “leveraging doubt effectively” through asking questions, but not blocking progress. Sixth layer – Distraction: In this form of failure, “people are busy doing the work…it’s just they’re focused on the wrong things”. Fox highlights that one of the causes of such failure can be performance measures that are skewed towards business-as-usual activities, rather than incorporating work designed to advance the organisation’s capability. Fox refers to this as the Delusion of Progress. Fifth layer – Process inadequacy: Where there is an active intent to pursue both BAU and meaningful work to adapt to the future, existing processes can be a letdown. It’s where people are frustrated with current systems and processes and can lead to using workarounds (itself another potential source of failure in some contexts). Fourth layer – Lack of ability: This is where Air Force mostly excels owing to its approach to training and education. However, it’s worth considering that “the world is changing fast, and we are required to learn faster than ever before”. Whilst a robust training program ensures BAU activities are catered for, how well is the whole learning ecosystem – training, education, integration of strategic intelligence and lessons learned (or just recorded?) into the intellectual life of the organisation - keeping up with new technology, new applications of these technologies, and the nature of the tactical and operational threat? It’s a challenge that’s found in several of AFSTRAT’s lines of effort. Third layer – Failed experiments: As Fox frames corporate innovation through the lens of experimentation, it follows that experimentation will lead to many failures. That’s the point of experiments – find what works (and why) and find what doesn’t (and why). But it’s not an open slather invitation to be sloppy; such experiments must be subject to analysis and feedback to pinpoint flawed methodologies or biases. It’s celebrating what’s learned from failures that’s crucial. Second layer – Considered quitting: Part of our cultural avoidance of failure is the sunk-cost fallacy of ‘quitting is never an option’. But sometimes it’s worth actually celebrating the ending of a particular endeavour when the evidence-base points to it being no longer relevant. Fox points out that it’s not “about stopping – it’s about letting go so that you can progress”. Placing cultural currency on the courage to invest resources into other meaningful pursuits is “something definitely worth celebrating”. First layer – A lack of perfectionism: This is perhaps one that will be most difficult to accept in an aviation world, at least on the surface. Operational excellence and adherence to detailed procedures are hallmarks of safety-critical professionals. However, as any safety system specialist will agree, mistakes will happen, and it’s the learning from errors and incidents that builds safety capability. And there is space for celebrating this level of failure in recognising and encouraging the learning from mistakes. A facet of the US space program that potentially saved years during the space race was Werner von Braun’s focus on encouraging the reporting of failure and mistakes. So what? In a nation where tall poppies are ripe for the cultural plucking, failure is like crack cocaine for talking heads and copy editors. This cripples our public sector organisations from taking already uncomfortable experimental steps towards a more relevant form. Air Force is subject to the same dynamics. But being able to unpack the variety of meanings that sit behind ‘failure’ can: Establish a class of leadership styles that can be recognised within the Air Force organisation as pioneering leaders – in addition to formulaic/operational executing leaders Empower Air Force’s pioneering leaders to make the case – with compelling language – to engage in systematic activity without a known outcome. E.g., an experiment. Enable Air Force as an organisation to build narratives that deflect criticism of failures because they’re engaged in experiments. Plan Jericho is a vehicle that uses narratives of exploration and development to carve-out experimental space. Potentially the next wave of this approach is Jericho-like constructs at the Group, Wing & Squadron levels – led by pioneering leaders. The more we discuss the many shades of failure, the more we can remove the cultural sting that sits behind the word. In an era of developments such as grey-zone aggressions, Air Force needs to build an appetite for the right kinds of failure – ultimately, to avoid the truly fatal failure forms. Luke Webb is a Melbourne-based aerospace engineer, casual academic & science communicator. He is the Chair of the Melbourne Branch of the Royal Aeronautical Society and one of the editors of The Central Blue.

  • The Role of Maritime Autonomous Systems - Dr Robbin Laird

    Dr Robbin Laird, The Role of Maritime Autonomous Systems: Mission Thread Capabilities to Meet the Needs of Modern Warfare, 11 May 2023 Link to article ( If you are looking at the potential role of maritime autonomous systems from the standpoint of traditional acquisition approaches, the legacy concept of platforms, and are not focused on the priority for software transient advantage in modern warfighting, then you will totally miss what the coming of maritime autonomous systems is all about. During my March-April 2023 visit to Australia, I had a chance to meet again with Commodore Darron Kavanagh, Director General Warfare Innovation, Royal Australian Navy Headquarters, to discuss maritime autonomous systems and their role going forward. As a nation facing major maritime challenges, there is probably no nation on earth that needs to get this right more than Australia. Threats tend to focus the mind and the efforts. Maritime autonomous systems don’t fit into the classic platform development mode or the sharp distinction between how particular platforms operate or perform and the various payloads they can carry. They are defined by the controlling software and the payloads they can deliver individually or as a wolfpack with the role of platforms subordinated to the effects they can deliver through their payloads. The software enables the payloads to be leveraged either individually, though more likely in combination as a wolfpack or a contributor to a combat cluster. We started our discussion by focusing on mission threads as a way to understand the role and contribution of maritime autonomous systems. What missions does a combat commander need to accomplish? And how can maritime autonomous systems contribute to a mission thread for that combat commander, within the context of combat clusters? As CDRE Kavanagh underscored: “One of the issues about how we’ve been looking at these systems is that we think in terms of using traditional approaches of capability realization with them. We are not creating a defense capability from scratch. These things exist, already, to a degree out in the commercial world, regardless of what defense does. AI built into robotic and autonomous systems are in the real world regardless of what the defence entities think or do. “And we have shown through various autonomous warrior exercises, that we can already make important contributions to mission threads which combat commanders need to build out now and even more so going forward.” And that is really the next point. The use of maritime autonomous systems is driven by evolving concepts of operations and the mission threads within those evolving CONOPS rather than by a platform-centric traditional model of acquisition. CDRE Kavanagh pointed out that traditional acquisition is primarily focused on platform replacement, and has difficulty in supporting evolving concepts of operations. This is how he put it: “We’re good at replacing platforms. That doesn’t actually require a detailed CONOPS when we are just replacing something. But we now need to examine on a regular basis what other options do we have? How could we do a mission in a different way which would require a different profile completely?” Put another way, combatant commanders can conduct mission rehearsals with their forces and can identify gaps to be closed. But the traditional acquisition approach is not optimized for closing such gaps at speed through the use of disruptive technologies. The deployment and development of autonomous systems are part of the response to the question of how gaps can be closed or narrowed rapidly and without expensive solution sets. In an interview I did earlier this year with a senior Naval commander, he identified the “gaps” problem. “Rehearsal of operations sheds light on our gaps. if you are rehearsing, you are writing mission orders down to the trigger puller, and the trigger puller will get these orders and go, I don’t know what you want me to do. Where do you want me to be? Who am I supposed to check in with? What do you want me to kill when I get there? What are my left and right limits? Do I have target engagement authority? “This then allows a better process of writing effective mission orders. so that we’re actually telling the joint force what we want them to do and who’s got the lead at a specific operational point. By such an approach, we are learning. We’re driving requirements from the people who are actually out there trying to execute the mission, as opposed to the war gamers who were sitting on the staff trying to figure out what the trigger pullers should do.” But how to close the gaps? As CDRE Kavanagh argued: “We need to deliver lethality at the speed of relevance. But if I go after the conventional solution, and I’m just replacing something, that’s actually not a good use of my very finite resources. We need to be answering the operational commanders request to fill a gap in capability, even if it is a 30% solution compared to no solution on offer from the traditional acquisition process.” These are not technologies looked at in terms of a traditional acquisition process which requires them to go through a long period of development to form a platform which can procured with a long-life use expectancy. CDRE Kavanagh simply pointed out that maritime autonomous systems are NOT technologies to be understood in this manner. “We build our platforms in a classical waterfall approach where you design, develop and build a platform over twenty years to make them excellent. But their ability to adapt quickly is very limited. This is where software intensive systems such as maritime autonomous systems are a useful complement to the conventional platforms. Maritime autonomous systems are built around software first approaches and we are able to do rapid readjustments of the code in a combat situation.” And the legacy acquisition approach is not well aligned with the evolution of warfare. Not only is the focus changing to what distributed combat clusters can combine to do in terms of combat effects but the payload impacts at a point of relevance is also becoming of increased salience to warfighting approaches. What is emerging clearly is a need to adapt more rapidly than what traditional platforms and their upgrade processes can do. Gaps will emerge and need to be closed not just in mission rehearsals but in the combat operations to be anticipated in the current and future combat situations. And to endure in conflict, it will be crucial as well to protect one’s core combat capital capabilities and platforms which calls for increased reliance on capabilities like maritime autonomous systems to take the brunt of attrition in combat situations as capital ships become mother ships rather than simply being the core assets doing the brunt of combat with whatever organic capabilities they have onboard. As CDRE Kavanagh noted: “The nuclear powered submarine is absolutely necessary for what we need to do for our defense in depth, but what we’re focused on with maritime autonomous systems completely complements it, because what I want to do is ensure that the dangerous stuff gets done by the autonomous forces as much as possible, because we can rebuild that capability much more rapidly. We can actually restore it whereas we can’t restore a nuclear powered submarine quickly if lost.” I wrote in a previous piece about the shift from the distributed force being shaped in the Pacific to an enduring force. The distributed force and its correlated capabilities are a near to mid-term answer to providing for enhanced Pacific defense and deterrence, but longer-term answers are needed for an enduring force. CDRE Kavanagh closed our discussion by emphasizing the crucial need for Australia to have an ability to stay in the fight in case of conflict in the Pacific. He argued that having their own abilities to innovate in autonomous systems areas was part of such a desired capability. “Resilience in a combat situation is an ability to be able to experiment and adjust on the fly. To have an enduring force that can operate until statecraft can shape an end state, the warriors and their support community must adjust the combat force rapidly to the real-world combat conditions. By shaping a deployment and ongoing development process in the maritime autonomous systems area, we are contributing to such a combat capability.“ Featured Photo: Director General Warfare Innovation, Royal Australian Navy, Commodore Darron Kavanagh inspects the ‘Dive-LD’ autonomous underwater vehicle. Credit: Australian Department of Defence

  • Rethinking Sustainable Defence Forces: A Discussion with Dr. Alan Dupont - Dr Robbin Laird

    Dr Robbin Laird, Rethinking Sustainable Defence Forces: A Discussion with Dr. Alan Dupont, 9 May 2023 Link to article ( In an earlier discussion with David Beaumont, I focused on the challenge facing the ADF of managing what I called the strategic triangle for force enablement. That triangle is conceptualized in the featured graphic for this article. At the core of the triangle is the challenge of sustainability, the provision of supplies, magazine depth and what can produced by the allied arsenal of democracy. At the 28 March 2023 Williams Foundation Seminar, Dr. Dupont looked at the sustainability challenge as understood in terms of the capabilities of the defence industrial base. He provided an assessment of the significant limitations facing the Western industrial base to support sustainable defense forces which could endure through a significant period of conflict. As Dupont characterized the very significant challenge facing the liberal democracies: “The country or alliance that can deliver the biggest punch and outlast adversaries will win. Right now, that is not us. The arsenal of democracy has been replaced by the arsenal of autocracy. The Ukraine conflict has exposed Australia’s and the West’s thin, under-resourced defence industrial base. If we don’t fix the problem – and quickly – we won’t prevail in a conflict with a better equipped adversary.” This is a key challenge as the West simply has hollowed out basic consumable production for just-in time wars supported by just-in time supply chains. But neither the industrial base nor the supply chains are up to prolonged conflict of any sort. If Australia and the West want to deter the post-Cold war legacy approach to defense industry and supply chains will simply not be adequate. A major re-think and re-structuring is in order. I had a chance after the seminar to discuss with him on 3 April 2023 on how to do so. One could consider this a discussion of the defense industrial base, but we both think this is too limiting as it really is about shaping the entire eco-system for sustainable defense forces, which includes specific defense companies, new acquisition approaches, companies that support the core capabilities which defense taps into but are not specifically defense companies per se, and tapping into new logistical and support approaches to support distributed force. As Dupont concluded our conversation: “I think we should move away from this defense industrial base language which can be very clunky and 20th century. People think in terms of big factories and production and development cycles of 20 years. We need a very different focus.” Dupont started the discussion by laying out his methodology for building what he considers to be an appropriate Australian defense industrial effort. As it stands know, Australia is almost entirely dependent on overseas supplies and when Australia orders what it needs it joins the queue along with other customers, with no certainty be supplied in a timely manner. Added to this the tyranny of distance facing the transportation of military parts to Australia, and you have a perfect storm facing Australian defence in terms of conflict. To deal with this challenge, Australia needs to enhance its sovereign defense production capabilities. But to do so, Dupont suggests the need for a realistic methodology to shape the way ahead. What does Australia need in terms of defense capabilities over the next two decades? How much of what it needs could realistically be produced in Australia? What can it do with co-development or co-production with key allies? And what will it simply have to procure from allied countries and producers? In those areas where it feasible to build sovereign capabilities, a new development approach is needed. Many of the dynamic new capabilities being used by defense forces come from smaller more innovative firms. Australia has such firms but there is no Australian government policy to support them or to ensure that they have the capital to grow. There is a need for an Australian industrial policy in this area. In areas where Australia could produce for its own needs, the government should commit to a South Korean, Israeli, or Swedish path of growing for exports. He pointed out that South Korea now exports 17 billons of dollars of exports which provides a key pillar for its own defence. In addition, to discussing his methodology for the development of Australian sovereign defense industrial capabilities, we discussed the strategic direction of defense and how best to support it. Defence forces in the Pacific for the liberal democracies are focusing on force distribution for survivability. There are new technologies to support force distribution such as synthetic fuel production and 3D printing in the field. New approaches to sustaining distributed forces through a relevant development and production support are crucial to provide enhanced capabilities for distributed forces. New platform/payload combinations are being introduced through such sectors as aerial and maritime autonomous systems. How will Australia support this effort? How will it do so in a way that allows for exportability? How will it work with core allies to enhance the rapidity of change in this area? Cost effective and expendable platforms carrying a variety of payloads are a key element of the new defense equipment ecosystem. How will this ecosystem be supported and thrive? Most likely not with old acquisition approaches and older concepts of a “defense industrial base.” In short, a reworking of the Australian approach to supplying its forces is required. But it should be done a realistic manner but with a focus on the force structure changes taking place and the need to help sustain a distributed defense force both now and in the future.

  • Conference Proceedings: Sharpening the Edge of Australia’s National Deterrence Capability

    Sharpening the Edge of Australia’s National Deterrence Capability National Gallery of Australia 30 March 2023 Final Report Dr Robbin Laird More articles from Dr Laird are posted in Event Proceedings Synopsis and Program Presentations Welcoming Remarks AIRMSHL Geoff Brown AO (Retd) Sir Richard Williams Foundation MC SQNLDR Sally Knox Sir Richard Williams Foundation Fundamentals of Deterrence AIRMSHL John Harvey AM (Retd) Deterrence from a UK Perspective AIRMSHL Harvey Smyth CB, OBE, DFC Deputy Commander Operations, Royal Air Force Resilience and Deterrence Mike Pezzullo AO Secretary, Department of Home Affairs Integrated Deterrence Gen. Ken Wilsbach Commander, Pacific Air Forces Reinvigorating the Industrial Base Dr Alan Dupont AO CEO, The Cognoscenti Group Manufacturing Deterrence Ken Kota Vice President, Australian Defense Strategic Capabilities Office, Missiles and Fire Control (MFC), Lockheed Martin Defence and Industry Policy Implications Kate Louis Head of Defence and Industry Policy, Australian Industry Group Deterrence by Detection Jake Campbell, AM Triton Program Director Australia, Northrop Grumman Operating Critical Infrastructure in Space Nick Leake Head of Satellite and Space Systems, Optus Nuclear Submarines as a Deterrence VADM Jonathan Mead AO, RAN Chief Nuclear Powered Submarine Taskforce Chief of Army Perspective LTGEN Simon Stuart AO, DSC Chief of Army Chief of Air Force Perspective AIRMSHL Robert Chipman AM, CSC Chief of Air Force Transcript

  • Conference Final Report: Sharpening the Edge of Australia’s National Deterrence Capability

    Final Report: Sharpening the Edge of Australia’s National Deterrence Capability National Gallery of Australia 30 March 2023 Final Report Dr Robbin Laird More articles from Dr Laird are posted in Event Proceedings Synopsis and Program

  • Deterrence in Shaping Australia’s Path in the Global Transition - Dr Robbin Laird

    Dr Robbin Laird, Deterrence in Shaping Australia’s Path in the Global Transition, 18 April 2023 Link to article ( As global conflict continues apace, and Australia navigates its way ahead, there is a clear desire to defend Australia’s interests and to deter actions by China which significantly undercut those interests. But what does Australia wish to deter? How does it do so? And how does it work its allied and partner relationships in conjunction with defining its new relationship with China? During my current trip to Australia, I had a chance to discuss these questions with Dr. Andrew Carr of Australian National University. We started by focusing on the salience of deterrence and its discussion and debate in Australia to shaping Australia’s way ahead in dealing with China. Carr: “What are we deterring China from doing? This is not just a military task. We need to address it publicly, both to gain ongoing support from the public but also to clarify what we expect from government coordination across the whole of government to deter China. “Deterrence is very new in the Australian experience. We have been part of a Western coalition for a very long time, but we have never had to do the kind of messaging and communication which is a crucial part of deterrence. There is not a lot of muscle memory in Australia for deterrent discourse.” China has become a different kind of competitor and adversary and partner as it changed from the reform years and building its economy to that of the China under President Xi who is combining elements of power to shape the global system more in the Chinese image. What will Australia accept in working with its main trade partners? And what will it not? What role will foreign students from China play in Australian universities? What actions by China are clearly to be countered? Which tolerated? Which ignored? All of this is part of shaping deterrent language and narrative. What tools does Australia need to deter against which types of actions? Where does the military fit into a broader deterrent effort involving broader Australia economic, social, cultural, information and security interests? Carr’s key point s that such questions need to be central to Australian debate and consideration, and regularly so. There are ongoing considerations of what is to be deterred and what means need to be developed to do so. Carr concluded our conversation by highlighting a central problem facing Western policy makers. Simply put, with the end of the Cold War and the seeming end of history and the victory of liberal democracy underwritten by the United States, policy makers saw the rules-based order as global with little clarity with regard to what are core versus peripheral interests. The term global commons came into vogue and suggested a global interdependent order in which interests were dictated by the need to deal with the gaps in the seams wherever and whenever they occurred. Deterrence is national in character and to be effective requires clarity with regard to core interests versus peripheral interests. It also requires a realistic sense of limits. What can the nation actually do that will be seen as credible by the adversary? And will the nation have the will to do so? As Carr put it: “The gray zone challenge comes from this global lack of clarity. With our “rules-based order” language, we tend to suggest that everything in the status quo is of interest for the West. Chinese actions in the South China Sea and Russia’s actions in Crimea in 2014, called our bluff. “Deterrence is then a policy of limits as well as focus. But it cannot remain a policy only pursued by the military, while absent from the discussions of the political class and the public” The China relationship shaped in the past two decades cannot continue; but what kind of relationship can it be? What are its limits and what are the paths of cooperation and the focus of deterrence? Dr. Andrew Carr Andrew Carr is a Senior Lecturer in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University. His research interests include Australian foreign and defence policy, middle power theory and Asia-Pacific security. His recent books are Winning the Peace: Australia’s campaign to change the Asia-Pacific (MUP, 2015) and Asia-Pacific Security: An Introduction (Georgetown University Press, 2016). Dr Carr is also the editor of the Centre of Gravity policy paper series, a co-editor of the journal Security Challenges and a frequent media commentator for both Australian and Asia-Pacific press.

  • The Role of Geography in the Direct Defence of Australia - Dr Robbin Laird

    Dr Robbin Laird, The Role of Geography in the Direct Defence of Australia, 17 April 2023 Link to article ( As Australia reworks its deterrence and defence strategy to deal with China, the question of the reach of the Australian defence force as well as its survivability is a key one. In providing answers to these questions, Australia’s geography can play a key role, in both providing for deployment and sustainment mobility as well as providing diverse launch points for longer range effects, alone or with allied engagement from Australian territory. I had a chance to discuss these developments with Dr. Andrew Carr of Australian National University during my current visit to Australia. Carr started by reminding me that the question of the use of territory in the direct defense of Australia has a long history. “Looking back at Australian history, there has been experience which can be drawn on as we look forward. And much of our investment in the ADF has focused on infrastructure in Australia. But with the more direct challenge posed by China, there is a re-think and re-focus going on with regard to how best to leverage Australian territory in our defence posture.” Carr noted that the focus has previously not been fighting off Australian territory, but that is a focus now. But the focus now is upon “what are the key areas of Australia for defence efforts, whether population centers, bases, supply centers, production centers and so on. In effect, what is being considered is an archipelago concept in terms of understanding how the Australian territorial chessboard can be most effectively utilized in deterrence and defence.” This has an important impact on the Australian Army, for example, as the Army shifts from a primary focus on being an expeditionary force going somewhere globally, to being a key enabler of the direct defence of Australia and leveraging Australian territory as an enabler in regional defence and deterrence. The Northern and Western parts of Australia provide significant territory in such an effort, but resources and population are scarce to do so. But new technologies – notably various autonomous technologies, such as UAVs, USVs UUVs, and ground robotic vehicles – provide for new ways to leverage Australian territory even in the presence of limited civilian infrastructure. If one thinks of Australian territory as a launchpad for operations into the region, then how do you organize the ADF to do so? How do you work with core allies such as the U.S. and Japan to share use of territory for projection of force? What kind of new basing solutions might be created to share operations between Australians and allies and to enable more robust ADF national operations? Care noted: “We are perhaps talking about a new alliance bargain for Australia. We would work together as coalition partners, and we would be doing tasks towards a common mission. “But I think clarity about how Australia contributes to the alliance, what Australia is getting from that alliance are actually going to be first order questions in order to make the specific operations from Australian soil more effective. “If we just simply have more Japanese forces and more American forces here on Australian soil, and they’re replicating what the Australians are trying to do, or they’re competing for use of the key locations and key airfields, and things like that, then there’s going to be real challenges and impediments to operations and potentially negative public spillover from such strategic confusion.” Carr concluded: “When we think in terms of a chessboard or archipelagic metaphor, then some of the distinctions between what is specifically Australian territory and what are kind of forward presence points are crucial will start to become clearer. It will be our ability to move between a whole range of access points that will be absolutely critical.” Featured image as presented in briefing by John Blaxland presented at RUSI Australia, Canberra, meeting on 12 April 2023.

  • Shaping a Nuclear Submarine Enterprise in Australia - Dr Robbin Laird

    Dr Robbin Laird, Shaping a Nuclear Submarine Enterprise in Australia: The Perspective of Vice-Admiral Jonathan Mead, 13 April 2023 Link to article ( In March 2020, I was visiting Western Australia including HMAS Sterling. I was there to visit the HMAS Rankin, one of the Collins class submarines homeported at HMAS Sterling on Garden Island. When I informed a senior U.S. Navy Admiral that I was going to visit the Royal Australian Navy at Garden Island, he wrote: “Awesome, say hello to the fellas down south, incredible team! And absolutely critical in/out of a fight.” Little did I know at the time of my visit which was 12 March 2020, that in fact I was visiting a future SSN base. I also did not know that I was about to have to escape Australia to get back to the United States with the onset of the pandemic. In my visits to Australia during the period when Australia was working with France on the build of a new generation diesel-powered submarine, my work with the U.S. Navy, my time in France at my Paris apartment and discussions with the French, and my discussions in Australia gave me a good view of progress on this program. Then in September 2021, while in my apartment in Paris, the Australian, British and American governments announced that Australia was to cancel the French program in favor of an SSN program which would involve the three countries or the Anglo-Saxons as the French refer to the three, although it is difficult to view the United States or the UK in this light as the two countries change significantly. Being in France, I certainly had a chance to talk with the French and with colleagues in the United States I could do so by phone and video, and of course reached out to Australian colleagues to sort out an initial read on all of this as well. I wrote several pieces on this development at the time, but not surprisingly, the most perceptive of the pieces was built around an interview with Vice-Admiral Tim Barrett (Retired). This is what I wrote in a piece published 19 October 2021: “During my visit to Europe earlier this Fall, the surprise announcement of the Morrison Administration’s decision to shift from their French alliance to deliver a long-range diesel submarine to acquiring nuclear submarine capability through an alliance with the United States and Britain was made. I talked with both French and Australian analysts and provided my initial assessment in a series of articles which highlighted the decision and the dynamics of change associated with that decision. “But what was clear that the strategic environment has changed dramatically from when the Australian government made its decision to stay with a conventional submarine capability. The nature of the Chinese threat as well as the actions of the Xi Administration has clearly driven a shift in Australian thinking and perceived needs for longer range operational capability in the Indo-Pacific region. “At the same time, its closest allies in the region the United States and Japan clearly recognize the need to expand their capabilities to operate throughout the region to complicate Chinese operational considerations, and to deter via more capability to operate throughout the wider Pacific as well. “The announced decision highlighted an 18-month period with Vice Admiral Jonathan Mead in charge on the Australian side of negotiating within the new nuclear submarine alliance to deliver Australian solutions. I interviewed Mead when he was head of Navy Capability in 2016. He then went on to be Commander Australian Fleet and then Chief of Joint Capabilities and Command of Joint Capabilities Group. He has a strong ASW background as well as working closely with the other member of the Quad, namely India. He is now the Chief of the Nuclear -Powered Submarine Task Force…. “I had a chance to discuss these issues on October 14, 2021, in a phone interview with Vice-Admiral (Retired) Tim Barrett, with whom I have had the opportunity to discuss maritime issues since 2015. As the exact nature of what will happen in the program is a work in progress and not really open to public disclosure until that 18-month period is completed, we focused on the context and how one might assess that context. “Vice-Admiral (Retired) Barrett made three key points. First, the nuclear submarine effort was a strategic one, which was about Australian defense and not primarily focused on a priority on ship building on Australian soil. It is crucial to understand that this is about adding core defense capabilities earlier rather than later and would almost certainly encompass interaction between shaping the eco system for the operation of Australian nuclear submarines and the presence of allied nuclear submarines working with the Australian eco system. “The second key point was that the priority needed to be focused on adding nuclear submarine capability to the evolving USW or ASW capability which Australia was already building out. The Australian government recently decided to add another squadron of Romeo helicopters to the fleet, and has procured P-8s and Tritons as part of an expanded ASW or USW warfighting capability. The submarine is not a silver bullet for ASW or USW mission sets but part of the evolution of the kill web approach to ASW and USW missions going forward…. “According to Barrett: “The submarine decision is part of a broader set of decisions with regard to how the ADF should respond to the challenges in the Indo-Pacific. This was a deliberate and considered position from the Navy’s perspective, but the political and geopolitical circumstances have changed. This is not the first time that Australia has sought or considered the acquisition of a nuclear submarine.” “The third key point was that flexibility and innovations will be part of working out a way ahead and he noted that Mead had worked with him previously. When Commander of the Australian Fleet, then Commodore Mead was instrumental in working an innovative plan to manage a temporary capability deficiency for fleet fuel tanking. To shore up a gap, the RAN ‘leased’ a Spanish Navy oiler for 8 months, and the RAN crews trained on the ship and operated the ship in support of the Australian Fleet. “Eventually, the RAN acquired two new Spanish oilers, but the kind of innovation demonstrated in this example, will almost certainly be part of the way ahead in meeting the challenges of accelerating the operational acquisition of nuclear submarine capacity in support of Australian defense. “According to Vice Admiral (Retired) Barrett: “The strategic environment has changed. We need to reconsider the balance between sovereign capability for a thirty-year build and the need for creation of capability in the near term. The earlier 30-year period build approach should not be the dominant approach; the capability and its presence to shape deterrent capabilities is crucial and work out over time how the build side of this effort is clarified and put in place. The program needs to be driven by the need for creative capability options first.” Now after the 18-month period, the three countries announced their joint decision on how to proceed on the Australian approach to acquiring nuclear attack submarine technology and capability. To do so, will require Australia to build a comprehensive enterprise to operate, maintain, to sustain, and build an Australian nuclear attack submarine. The comprehensive approach to do so was announced in mid-March 2023 in San Diego by the three heads of state. The Williams Seminar was held on 30 March 2023 and is sandwiched between this event and the public release of the strategic defence review sometime in April. Australian Deputy Prime Minister, the Hon. Richard Marles MP speaks to the media during a visit to HMAS Stirling, Western Australia. The Australian government released a report laying out how it saw the “partnership for the future” or “the AUKUS nuclear-powered submarine pathway.” In that report, the government describe the advantage of nuclear-powered submarines and why Australia was transitioning to an SSN capability. “In the future security environment of the Indo-Pacific, conventionally-powered submarines will be increasingly less able to meet Australia’s needs. The United Kingdom Royal Navy and United States Navy retired their last conventionally-powered submarines in the early 1990s because SSNs have superior stealth, speed, maneuverability, survivability and endurance when compared to diesel-electric powered submarines.” At the Williams Seminar, Vice-Admiral Mead provided an overview to the approach being taken to establish a nuclear submarine enterprise in Australia. In essence, the approach is three-fold. In the first phase, UK and US nuclear submarines will visit HMAS Stirling, and the Royal Australian Navy will learn how to support these ships during their visits. As part of this standup phase, Australia will work with the United States in operating Virginia class submarines. In the second phase, Australia will obtain Virginia class submarines and operate anywhere from three to five of these boats going forward. And in a third phase, Australia will particulate with its partners in shaping a new class of SSNs, which will be British designed but enabled by U.S. technologies. In this third phase, Australia will have built its own submarine yard at Osborne where in effect this would be the fourth nuclear submarine yard in the trilateral alliance. In other words, the notion of building an arsenal of democracy through allied cooperation would be realized. Vice-Admiral Mead started his presentation by indicating that “in 2027, the U.S. will forward rotate Virginia class submarines to Australia and the UK would rotate one nuclear submarine to HMAS Sterling. The aim of this effort will be to allow Australia to deeply immerse itself in a nuclear-powered program. We will be doing maintenance on Virginia class submarines and will be doing crewing of these submarines out of Western Australia. “After a period of about four or five years, we will reach the point where our partners and we will be able to ensure that Australia is a safe and secure steward of nuclear technology, of nuclear materials and a nuclear reactors. From that point in time, the United States would offer us for sale or transfer up to five Virginia class submarines.” This would constitute the standup and launch phase for Australia shaping a nuclear submarine exercise, and really the key one to ensure a capability being able to operate to replace the Collins class submarines. This is really the key effort which enables the threshold to be crossed into a period of operating nuclear submarines. In my view, this also allows Australia to build its con-ops for integrated USW and ASW with the P-8s, Tritons, and various air and maritime assets, including the coming of maritime autonomous systems to build an integrated offensive-defensive capability to protect Australian sea lanes. What then follows is working through what a follow-on submarine program would look like. And this effort will entail in depth cooperation with both the UK and the United States. According to Mead: “It will be a follow-on to the British nuclear-powered submarine but will incorporate U.S. technology, including weapons, sensors, VLS combat systems and torpedoes.” Vice-Admiral Mead speaking at the Williams Foundation seminar on 30 March 2023. Vice-Admiral Mead then looked beyond the pathway discussion to the broader question of what Australia needs to do for this effort to be successful. The first element is addressing the strategy and being able to gain support for the effort within the Australian public. “We are going to have to be very clear on our strategy.” Second, Australia must successfully manage the trilateral working relationship. “How can we make the best of Australia working with the U.S. and the UK to delver this capability?” Third, creating, training and sustaining the appropriate workforce for the enterprise is a major challenge within Australia. “We will be the first country in the world to operate a nuclear submarine without having a civilian nuclear industry. This presents some unique challenges.” Fourth, Australia needs to build the appropriate infrastructure both in terms of basing and in terms of the shipyard itself. There will be some unique aspects to the yard including shaping high security protection for the yard as well. “We need to design the yard, build the yard and start building the nuclear-powered submarine by the end of the decade.” Fifth, Australia needs to build an industrial base for this effort which can support and sustain the effort into the indefinite future. Osborne will become the fourth nuclear submarine yard to go with the two in the U.S. and the one in the UK. “Osborne will become one of the most advanced and complex technological hubs in the world.” Sixth, the security of the enterprise is a major element for success. In addition to the physical security mentioned earlier, the IAEA involvement will be significant in verifying the quality of Australian nuclear power stewardship. “If we don’t have the international community along with us, the enterprise will fail.” But the point of all this effort was highlighted by VADM Mead at the beginning of his presentation: “there is no more powerful instrument of conventional deterrence than a nuclear-powered submarine capability.”

  • The United Kingdom and Integrated Deterrence - Dr Robbin Laird

    Dr Robbin Laird, The United Kingdom and Integrated Deterrence: The Perspective of Air Marshal Harvey Smyth, 12 April 2023 Link to article ( At the recent Sir Richard Williams Foundation Seminar held on 30 March 2023, Air Marshal Harvey Smyth, the Deputy Commander Operations, presented a UK perspective of the challenges facing the UK and her allies in the contentious 2020’s. I first met Smyth when he was the head of the UK F-35 program. In an interview I did with him 2016, Air Commodore Smyth highlighted the coming of the F-35 the UK joint force. In that discussion, he highlighted the importance of the F-35 in enabling coalition operations, which is now considered a key element for integrated deterrence. This what we emphasized in that interview: “It can be easily forgotten that the USAF and the RAF have not flown the same aircraft for a very long time indeed. The RAF and the Marines have flown Harriers and along with the Spanish and Italians formed a three-decade Harrier community. And Smyth as a Harrier pilot underscored the importance of this shared legacy moving forward. “As an RAF pilot with significant maritime and carrier operational experience, we are shaping a collegiate and joint way ahead with the Royal Navy which brings the RAF domain knowledge of ways to operate in the extended battlespace with the coming of the F-35B to the new Queen Elizabeth class carrier. “Being radical, I think it would make sense to put a picture of the Queen Elizabeth class carrier on our RAF recruiting poster: the RAF and the RN are jointly delivering the UK’s future Carrier Strike capability, and all RAF Lightning pilots will spend some of their time at sea, as I did throughout my 16-year career in Joint Force Harrier – we are forging an integrated approach together, which is incredibly exciting.” The point simply put is that Smyth has been working integrated deterrence via the F-35 program for several years. But this was before Brexit, before several years of turbulence in UK and European politics and the return of war to the European context. (Oct. 3, 2021) The United Kingdom’s carrier strike group led by HMS Queen Elizabeth (R 08), and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) led by Hyuga-class helicopter destroyer JS Ise (DDH 182) joined with U.S. Navy carrier strike groups led by flagships USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) and USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) to conduct multiple carrier strike group operations in the Philippine Sea. The integrated at-sea operations brought together more than 15,000 Sailors across six nations, and demonstrates the U.S. Navy’s ability to work closely with its unmatched network of alliances and partnerships in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Gray Gibson) But it was also prior to the recognition of the broader challenges posed by the global reach of the 21st century authoritarian powers. When my co-author and I decided to write a book on the return of direct defense in Europe, which we started to write in 2014 and published in late 2020, our original publisher wanted this book to focus on Russia. We significantly disagreed. We argued that the challenge for Europe’s direct defense was posed equally by China as a force within Europe and operating globally. Our view was an anomaly at the time, but it is no longer. In fact, Air Marshal Smyth underscored that we now face a Euro-Atlantic-Pacific global threat envelope and that the UK is focused on shaping its contribution accordingly within the scope of its means. He argued that the UK recognized that global deterrence was the critical focus of their defense effort, but such a focus clearly needed to encompass close working relationships will allies going forward. He made the point that even for the United States it was beyond its capability to fight a two-front war. This meant that shaping more effective allied cooperation through a process of integration was critical and that is what is meant by integrated deterrence. But such an aspiration cannot be realized within the legacy limits on information and technology sharing. As he underscored: “The key to success will center on our ability to share more of our intelligence, share more of our information, sharing more data, and share more technology. We need to work together to identify the gaps and the vulnerabilities in our deterrence posture that an adversary might exploit. And we need to work out how best to work as a collective, rather than as individual nations. This is really, really hard to do.” Air Marshal Smyth emphasized that in spite of its successes, NATO scoped to European defence was not enough for today’s UK deterrent structure. “It is clear that given the changing threat picture, effective defense deterrence will mean working through other groupings further beyond NATO, and beyond the Euro Atlantic theater, with a renewed emphasis on the concept of strategics, developing and establishing new frameworks, and building a new international security architecture to manage systemic competition and escalation. “And in today’s multipolar environments, the UK will continue to develop a broader deterrence toolkit to include information operations and offensive cyber tools and make greater use of open source information alongside our historically more classified intelligence capabilities.” “We will launch a new economic deterrence initiative to strengthen our diplomatic and economic tools to respond to and deter hostile acts by current and future aggressors. On nuclear, of course, the foundational component of UK is an integrated approach to deterrence with our minimal but credible, independent, UK nuclear deterrent. It is assigned to the defense of NATO to ensure that potential adversaries can never use their capabilities to threaten the UK, or indeed our NATO allies… “We would consider using our nuclear weapons only in extreme circumstances of self-defense, including the defense of NATO allies, and of course, only the Prime Minister can authorize their use. “But in addition to our nuclear deterrent, the UK’s conventional, cyber, and space forces are now becoming sufficiently capable, resilient, deployable and adaptive, to deter potential adversaries from engaging in conflict and to win if indeed, deterrence fails. “Beyond these military instruments, we’ll also see UK working the much wider aspects of state power to increase the costs of aggression by hostile actors above and below the threshold of armed conflict. The UK will continue to develop such levers to adapt to the changing global threat environments. In particular, we will strengthen our economic capabilities and information statecraft…” Air Marshal Smyth brought to the attention of the audience, the recent update of the 2021 UK Strategic Defence Review. The Integrated Review Refresh 2023 or the IRR was released last month. And in that review, deter and deterrence was frequently cited throughout and provides a good overview of the current UK government’s view of the deterrence challenge facing Britain and her allies. Based on this document, Air Marshal Smyth discussed the UK current concept of deterrence. As Air Marshal Smyth underscored: “We are all very familiar with the three C’s of traditional deterrence: capability, credibility, and communication. But in the UK, we’re now finding it helpful to consider integrated deterrence through the lens of an additional three C’s: comprehensive, coordinated, and coherence. “First, deterrence must be comprehensive, as discussed in the IRR. This means taking into account all state levers of power and tailoring our approach to maximize use of those levers of power that are best suited to change the perceptions of a specific adversary. The integrated approach attempts to avoid the age-old temptation of over focusing on the military instruments of power… To be truly comprehensive, integrated deterrence must be both multi domain and multi-agency. “Second, deterrence must be impeccably coordinated with allies and partners so that the impact of our actions are greater than the sum of the parts, from force posturing, all the way to the imposition of economic sanctions. None of us can do this alone. “And whilst we have all worked hand in glove for many decades in terms of deterrence and defense, in today’s information driven, intimately connected, rapidly dynamic but ever shrinking world, there is always more effort required, especially if we are to truly deliver a coordinated, integrated, and determined effect. “Lastly, we need to take a more coherent approach to developing our deterrence strategies, understanding the complex interplay across the spectrum of conflict and considering the temporal nature of crises to ensure that our activities remain aligned with the overall objectives and desired end states. “It is fair to say that capabilities available to state and non-state actors in today’s complex world have blurred the traditional thresholds of conflict…And also understanding the role and the impact of strategic or nuclear messaging well below the nuclear threshold, as well as how to manage escalation over time. And this is definitely something Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought into sharp focus. “Thus, alongside the long standing capability, credibility and communication aspects of deterrence, we add three more C’s of deterrence: comprehensive, coordinated and preparedness. “And for me, there’s no question that the development of integrated deterrence remains incredibly complex both by necessity and by design across government, and working with allies is challenging enough in the best of times, but for sure, the juice is definitely worth the squeeze.” AIR MARSHAL HARVEY SMYTH The Deputy Commander Operations is the senior Royal Air Force war fighter responsible for the conduct of air operations at home and overseas. Working together with other Services and international operational commanders, he oversees the generation and employment of air power in all environments. This wide remit includes the Air Defence of the United Kingdom, the delivery of intervention operations abroad and the conduct of humanitarian and disaster relief operations. Air Marshal Harvey Smyth was born and educated in Northern Ireland and joined the RAF in 1991 via the Sixth Form and Flying Scholarship Schemes. After qualifying as a fast-jet pilot, he spent 15 years as a frontline Harrier pilot and weapons instructor. He has extensive combat experience having flown hundreds of operational missions from both land bases and aircraft carriers over: Bosnia; Kosovo; Serbia; Iraq; and Afghanistan. In staff roles, Smyth has worked in the UK Air & Space Warfare Centre and spent 2 tours in the F-35 Lightning programme: the first as the Requirements Manager in MOD’s Directorate of Equipment Capability, and the second based in Washington DC as the UK’s F-35 National Director, where he was at the forefront of bringing the first UK Lightnings into service. In 2013 Smyth retrained as a Tornado pilot and became the Station Commander of RAF Marham, supporting concurrent operations in Afghanistan, West Africa, Iraq and Syria. On promotion to Air Commodore (1*) in 2015 he became the Tornado Force Commander, and shortly thereafter, the UK’s first Lightning F-35 Force Commander. He followed this with a short appointment as the Head of Carrier Enabled Power Projection (CEPP) within the MOD, before then conducting an operational tour as Director of the Combined Air Operations Centre in Qatar, responsible for planning and authorising ~1000 daily air & space missions at the height of the counter-ISIS campaign. Promoted to Air Vice-Marshal (2*) in 2018, Smyth retrained as a Typhoon pilot and became Air Officer Commanding Number 1 Group (AOC 1Gp), where he was responsible for the Air Combat Group of the RAF. In early 2020, Smyth then became UK MOD’s inaugural Director Space, building the Space Directorate and setting the foundation for the stand-up of UK Space Command. As a member of the PM-chaired National Space Council, and co-chair of the National Space Board, he was responsible for the production of UK’s first National and Defence Space Strategies, and establishment of a more ambitious Defence Space Programme. Smyth was promoted to Air Marshal (3*) in 2022 and appointed as the RAF’s Deputy Commander (Operations).

  • Agile Basing and Endurability as a Key Deterrent Capability - Dr Robbin Laird

    Dr Robbin Laird, Agile Basing and Endurability as a Key Deterrent Capability: A Conversation with the Air Commander Australia, 11 April 2023 Link to article ( My colleague John Blackburn and I met with Air Vice-Marshal Darren Goldie, the Air Commander of the RAAF, in his office on 4 April 2023. One key element which we discussed was the growing significance of agile basing and operations as part of the evolving Australian deterrent posture. In my earlier conversation that week with Goldie’s boss, Air Marshal Chipman, we discussed the new basing and support structure being worked in Australia and across the alliance. As highlighted in that interview: “A key aspect of the evolving alliance situation in facing the China challenge is how the core allies Japan, Australia and the United States actually will craft more effective use of the air, maritime and land baes they use over the Pacific thought of as an extended operational space. “If the three countries can work creatively land basing, with seabasing, with air basing with the use of new autonomous systems they can field and evolve an effective force for the long game of competition with China. Certainly, from this perspective, I would view Australia is the strategic reserve of the broader alliance. “As Chipman commented: “I haven’t heard it described that way. But I think that’s what we are working towards. I think that’s the mindset that we have. The idea that Australia provides strategic depth for forces moving forward, is absolutely part of our thinking.” Air Vice-Marshal Goldie picked up on that theme as follows: “Our engagement through two decades in the Middle East has arguably driven us down a single service route to force generation, focused on expeditionary operations, hosted from secure bases. We now need to look to evolve our approach to joint force generation from Australian territory. “We don’t have the level of knowledge and normative experience we need to generate regarding infrastructure across Western and Northern Australia for the Australian version of agile combat employment.” He contrasted the Australian to the PACAF approach to agility. The USAF in his view was working on how to trim down support staff for air operations, and learning how to use multiple bases in the Pacific, some of which they owned and some of which they did not own. The Australian concept he was highlighting was focused on Australian geography and how the joint force and the infrastructure which could be built — much of it mobile – could allow for dispersed air combat operations. This meant in his view that “we need to have a clear understanding of the fail and no-fail enablers” for the kind of dispersed operations necessary to enhance the ADF’s deterrent capability. A key element of this is C2. Rather than looking to traditional CAOC battle management, the focus needs as well to focus on C2 in a dispersed or disaggregate way, where the commander knows what is available to them in an area of operations and aggregate those forces into an integrated combat element operating as a distributed entity. Goldie commented: “We are developing concepts about how we will do command and control on a more geographic basis. This builds on our history with Darwin and Tindal to a certain extent, although technology has widened that scale to be a truly continental distributed control concept. “We already a familiar with how an air asset like the Wedgetail can take over the C2 of an air battle when communications are cut to the CAOC, but we don’t have a great understanding of how that works from a geographic basing perspective. What authorities to move aircraft, people and other assets are vested in local area Commanders that would be resilient to degradation in communications from the theatre commander – or JFACC? “We need to focus on how we can design our force to manoeuvre effectively using our own territory as the chessboard.” Air Vice-Marshal Goldie underscored that the ability to work with limited resources to generate air combat capability is exercised regularly by the normal activity of 75 Squadron, flying F-35s in Australia’s Air Combat Group. This squadron operates from RAAF Base Tindal in the Northern Territory and as Goldie put it: “they have to operate with what they have in a very austere area.” He highlighted a recent exercise which 75 squadron did with their Malaysian partners. The squadron operated their F-35s, and each day practiced operations using a different support structure. One day the operated with a C-27J which carried secure communication, along with HF communications systems and dealing with bandwidth challenges each bearer posed. Another day they would operate with a ground vehicle packed with support equipment and on another day they would operate without either support capability. The point being the need is to learn to operate in austere support environments and to shape the skill sets to do so. By learning how to use Australian territory to support agile air operations, and to take those capabilities to partner or allied operational areas, Australia will significantly enhance its deterrent capabilities going forward. This is a key challenge being squarely addressed by the RAAF. Air Commander Australia Air Vice-Marshal Darren Goldie, AM, CSC The Air Commander Australia is responsible to the Chief of Air Force for effectively preparing air combat forces. Headquarters staff help the Air Commander control the activities of six Force Element Groups. Growing up on the Gold Coast, Air Vice-Marshal Goldie joined the Royal Australian Air Force in 1993 and attended the Australian Defence Force Academy. Following pilot training, Air Vice-Marshal Goldie flew C-130 E, H and J model Hercules on Operations in East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan. He was an A Category Captain and has 5,000 flying hours. Air Vice-Marshal Goldie was Commanding Officer No. 37 Squadron in Sydney from 2012 to 2015 and Officer Commanding No. 92 Wing in Adelaide in 2017 and 2018. His staff appointments include Aide de Camp to the Chief of the Defence Force, Staff Officer VIP Operations, Director Military Strategic Commitments and Director General Air Combat Capability. In 2020-21 he was seconded to International Division at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet where he provided strategic foreign policy advice to Government. Air Vice-Marshal Goldie received an Australia Day Medallion in 2007 for his work as a Flight Commander at 37 Squadron, a Conspicuous Service Cross in 2012 for his tenure at VIP Operations and was made a Member of the Order of Australia for his services to Air Mobility in 2015. He also captained a crew that received a Chief of Joint Operations Gold Commendation for the rescue of an international sailor over 1,000km south of Tasmania. He has a Bachelor of Science from ADFA, a Masters of Management from UNSW and a Masters of Strategic Studies, obtained on posting to US Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama. Air Vice-Marshal Goldie assumed the role of Air Commander Australia in April 2022. In the featured photo, Air Vice-Marshal Goldie is seen attending the Williams Foundation seminar on deterrence held on 30 March 2023 and seated next to chief of army and chief of the RAAF.

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