The ADF and Network Centric Warfare – on target to meet objectives.
Even though the term Network Centric Warfare seems to have fallen out of favour to be replaced by a mixture of fifth generation forces, joint operations, information superiority, cyber warfare, multi-dimension manoeuver and so on we all still know approximately what it means. It is harnessing the enormous technological and intellectual power of the current 4th Industrial Revolution for military objectives. Some recent developments include: Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, robotics, nano-technology, the Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing and quantum computing.
Even a mere 11 years ago when the ADF released its updated Network Centric Warfare Roadmap in 2007 – the last time it was formally revised – many of the above technologies were hardly thought of. It is worth remembering that the Apple iPhone was only released on June 29 of that year, so quite a lot has changed since then! For some brief history, the First Industrial Revolution was the invention of labour saving machinery such as the steam engine that ended the agrarian age towards the end of the 18th century; the Second was during the lead up to World War One that included the harnessing of electricity and other forms of energy; and the Third was the digital age that started in the 1960s – and is still ongoing – that saw the development of modern computing, the internet, and communications technologies, including micro-electronics.
All three previous revolutions had a profound effect on military technologies and the conduct of warfare, so it seems safe to assume that the period we are currently living through will have a similarly disruptive impact on how things work. However, seeing the effects of change while being in the middle of them is no easy thing, with widely diverging views on the likely impacts of the various developments mentioned above.
Rather than speculate endlessly about possible consequences of various things such as AI, it is worth noting that the ADF has done well in adapting to changing technologies and is now well on the way to becoming a fully networked structure – something that was originally predicted to take place in 2030. Senior decision makers are confident that technology is moving so rapidly and the uptake of it so ubiquitous that the goal of having a 5th generation force might be achieved in the next few years. The main obstacle seems to be the existence of so many legacy systems that must be included in the force structure – one wonders for example why the Army persists with towed heavy artillery when every other modern force has adopted highly mobile fully networked mechanised solutions incorporating advanced sensors and computing power.
The ADF has the advantage that many of the systems it has been acquiring have been designed from first principles to be networked, with the F-35 probably at the top of the list. Those in the RAAF in particular who in the early 2000s also specified a very advanced Airborne Early Warning and Control System in the form of ‘Wedgetail’ and saw the need for a large number of tanker / transport aircraft – and later the addition of Super Hornets and Growlers – did a fine job of anticipating some of the very important technology trends.
Army also has several transformative projects underway, but at the heart is LAND 200, which is using Elbit’s Israeli-based technology to develop a tactical battlefield management system (BMS) that is in the process of networking not only individual soldiers but also all of the vehicles in the inventory. To this can be added vital communications projects such as JP 2072 Phase 2B – described as the military equivalent of the National Broadband Network – and the various satellite activities that fall under JP 2008. Indeed, there is a lot of under reported Australian satellite technology that if fully harnessed could see the nation emerge as a key player in this rapidly growing domain in the next few years.
Other noteworthy Army activities are the development and fielding of the Hawkei 4×4 lightweight protected mobility vehicle, which is an armoured shell around a lot of integrated computing power that aims to future proof the capability. The new combat reconnaissance vehicle (CRV) in the form of the Boxer 8×8 comes with a powerful sensor and weapon suite that means each one will be a further powerful node in the ADF network. Once the M1A1 main battle tanks have been upgraded they will also be at the forefront of heavy armour capability, able to provide 3rd party targeting and even the possibility of automatic high speed engagements based on networked communications and image recognition software.
The RAN is similarly in the process of transforming the surface fleet through the embrace of powerful active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars, principally in the form of the Australian-developed CEAFAR, which will be at the heart of the nine ‘Hunter’ class frigates being procured under SEA 5000. A forward thinking service might consider retrofitting this solution to the three ‘Hobart’ class Air Warfare Destroyers, which for the foreseeable future are locked into an older passive array approach – though with upgraded software. The odd one out in the RAN inventory are the future submarines that are being procured so slowly that they risk obsolescence even before being launched, with an in service date not until 2035 – and that is in the extremely unlikely event that the present schedule is met.
Another gap – though one likely to be filled much more quickly than new generation submarines – is a future integrated air and missile defence system. After being identified as a crucial capability in the 2016 Defence White Paper, progress from the outside on AIR 6500 looks to have been patchy after the initial engagement of the big four US defence contractors: Lockheed Martin; Boeing; Northrop Grumman and Raytheon. At least the latter is now fully involved in part of the domain, providing a short-range air defence system – also using CEA radars – through project LAND 19 Phase 7. Why Defence has so far seemingly ignored skills found in nations such as Israel – arguably the only country to currently field a proven, integrated, air and missile defence solution – is hard to understand.
Despite some patchiness, the ADF move to a fully networked, digital force is impressive. After slow starts embracing some technologies – 20 years ago we almost seemed to have completely missed the boat when it came to uninhabited systems – new generation thinkers from the X-box generation seem to be having an impact. It is only by encouraging people to think in unconventional ways and to use their imaginations that the benefits of the 4th Industrial Revolution can be rapidly integrated into Defence planning.