Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 18:06 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 18:06 | SYDNEY

Army dances to its own rhythms


Graeme Dobell

29 August 2008 09:55

The Rudd Government may have hit the ground reviewing (great line, that) but the national security results are starting to chug through the pipeline. Ric Smith’s review of Homeland Security is done, as is most of the detail of the National Security Statement with the creation of a new National Security supremo. The release of all this awaits the convenience of the Prime Minister.

Kevin Rudd shares with John Howard an intense focus on the news cycle and a determination to control the timing and tempo of announcements. In the age of spin, then, it’s nice to see Army dancing to its own deep organisational rhythms. Army has cogitated long and hard on the restructuring of its higher command and control structures. When the generals decide on the biggest shakeup at the top of the khaki castle in more than three decades, they do it when they’re good and ready.

So it was that the Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie, unveiled the Adaptive Army, a series of changes to the Functional Command structure that will take three years to implement. The National Security Statement and next year’s Defence White Paper may be all about jointery and whole of Government and the plethora of new challenges of the new century. Inside the heart of the single services beasts, however, there are still some old insticts that must be served. Army will announce its own command structure, and the White Paper can take due notice. Ditto with the established plans to grow the number in khaki from 26,000 to 31,000 over the next eight years.

The new Army structure will, though, fit comfortably into the set of security announcements to be made over the next six months. That’s because it is a single service response to the hard experience of jointery – working jointly with the Air Force and Navy. The flatter Army management structure will speed up decisions and save money. Even more importantly, it responds to the reality that all operations will be mounted under joint command and control. And increasingly, capability – guns and gear, electronics and everything – is being done jointly between the three services.

General Gillespie’s account of what Army has learned in the past decade stretches from non-warlike roles and working 'among the people' to the imperative to sustain and develop conventional warfighting skills. This is a polite way to describe an intense set of doctrinal debates about what Army must be able to do and in what order of importance. The General gave the normal military mantra that conventional war fighting skills must be the essential foundation, but then offered an interesting reflection:

Our contemporary, and likely future, operations are about rebuilding (and often building for the first time) and influencing civil societies. Our operations will often be less about killing the enemy than about making them irrelevant to the population.

Army did well in the Defence pecking order during the six years of Lieutenant-General Peter Leahy's leadership – what gets used gets rewarded. And General Gillespie described the Adaptive Army initiative as 'a natural and evolutionary step' in the modernisation achieved under Leahy. But in equating his command changes with those previously undertaken in the early 1970s, the new Chief of Army was exercising the new leader’s prerogative in a way that will resonate throughout the Army nervous system.

We have to hand a ready measure to run over the Army's changes – the book just released by retired Major General Jim Molan, Running the War in Iraq. At the end of his lively tome, Molan applies his Iraq experiences to the future of the Australian Defence Force:

  • The Americans have learnt through hard experience that jointness cannot be achieved by the three services themselves, no matter how well intentioned they are. The ADF has 'no single body that is uniquely and solely responsible for creating joint fighting capability.'
  • The Australian military education system is not helping senior officers to be competent joint operational (field) commanders. This creates a deficiency in 'operational generalship' compared to 'Canberra generaliship' or 'strategic generaliship'.
  • 'Modern counterinsurgency is essentially joint, not army-only. Any military that considers itself modern and competent must be able to conduct a sophisticated level of joint operations where the three traditional services (and everyone else who contributes to operations) work together intimately.'

The Molan tests are as good a measure as any to apply to the command changes to create an Adaptive Army.