Building the Force in an Uncertain World
(Source: Australian Department of Defence; issued Feb. 26, 2008)
LTGEN Ken Gillespie, Vice Chief of the Defence Force
Keynote Speech to ADM Conference
26 February 2008
Hyatt Hotel Canberra

The Global Environment

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It is a great pleasure for me to be here with you and to participate in this important event.

It’s been said before, but I think it’s worth repeating here, that you go to war with the army you’ve got, not the army you want. The gist of my talk today is to discuss how we can make sure that when armed conflict becomes the last resort for Australia, the ADF we have is indeed the ADF we want.

Let me first say that I believe we are on the right path in developing an ADF that is equipped to deal with the complexities and uncertainties that we face in the early part of the 21st century. Through the exploitation of highly sophisticated systems within a Joint and integrated framework, we have created a force that can clearly 'punch above its weight'. Together with other agencies of Government, specifically our diplomatic and intelligence service colleagues, the Australian Federal Police and AusAID, we are positioning ourselves on the global stage to join with our friends and allies to both influence trends and react to shocks. For these reasons, we should all be optimistic about Australia's future security.

At the same time, we must steel ourselves for a range of trials to come. Preparedness and planning are ongoing disciplines and they rely upon sound forecasting and strategic analysis. In this vein, we have commenced work in support of a new Defence White Paper, a vital first step to reviewing the important bonds between strategic guidance and capability planning.

The new White Paper will take into account the significant changes that the world has seen since 2000. Changes such as the rise of radical Islam witnessed in New York, Washington, D.C., London, Madrid, Egypt and Bali; the increasing threat of WMD proliferation; and of course the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that are reshaping global and regional relationships. In addition, the risk of inter-state conflict remains – and given the profound consequences that could flow from major conflict, this is not a risk we can afford to ignore.

A new Defence White Paper will make sense of all of these developments and outline the way ahead for the Australian Defence Force’s mission to protect Australia and its interests.

To this end, I’d like briefly to consider the trends of the global and regional environments that may shape Australia’s strategic landscape in the coming decade and beyond. The possible futures we can foresee provide the parameters within which we must plan and prepare. So what can we expect? This morning I’d like to draw your attention to just three particular trends that, when taken together, point to a complex and uncertain future.

First, in the global environment, we are seeing the beginning of some tectonic shifts:

-- New great powers are emerging, or in some cases re-emerging, as China, India and Russia all increase their strategic weight and their influence in international affairs. These countries all possess both economic and military power that will, in all likelihood, steadily grow in the coming decades.

-- The Middle East continues to find itself at a strategic crossroads with extensive resources, but also with governance and economic models that are unable to meet rising popular expectations. Both state and non-state actors will seek to exploit instability in the Middle East to further their own political agendas.

-- And Europe will need to look inward in response to serious demographic challenges in the near future. As a result, it will have to work hard to maintain its global influence and strategic capabilities.

These shifts in the core of the global order present new challenges and new actors. Some respected commentators have already declared that the 21st century will be the ‘Asia-Pacific century’. Whereas the vast majority of international statecraft was centred on the West during the 20th century, the centre point of the compass will increasingly move east as this century progresses.

For 40 years NATO knew the strategic value of the Fulda Gap in Germany and watched it like a hawk. Now the global focus is shifting closer to our own neighbourhood, with the Malacca Straits, the Korean peninsula and the tribal areas on the borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan becoming more important. By most estimates, the world’s 5 largest economies in 2025 will be the United States, China, India, Japan and Russia. We must acknowledge the gravitational pull that our region of the world will have in the coming decades and recognise that this will shift the global distribution of power.

The second trend I want to highlight is globalisation. We should expect that globalisation will continue to impact both regional and global security interests. Globalisation has sparked two interesting – and competing – trends. First, as nation-states increasingly integrate themselves into the global network of relationships, they are each individually less able to influence or shape the global environment. It is a simple trade-off whereby countries agree to give up some measure of autonomy to live by a rule set that benefits all participants concurrently.

At the same time a contrary trend has also been evident: increasing economic and political integration by the West has left it more and more vulnerable to what we might best describe as spoilers or raiders. In other words, disruptions in one part of this integrated system increasingly affect other, geographically remote, parts of the system.

As the world continues to look for opportunities to integrate further, it must also come to terms with the fact that the Western system will be more cumbersome to steer, slower to respond to external events, and also more vulnerable to renegade actors like terrorists. In this integrated environment, Australia must take a truly hard look at how it can best protect and advance its own interests.

Thirdly, we must also look at the trends in the immediate neighbourhood. The Southwest Pacific will continue to struggle with the challenges of state fragility, climate change and exploitation by outside actors. Australians must accept our own geography and meet our responsibilities in the region. Many recent ADF deployments have been in our own neighbourhood, and the ADF should expect to conduct further operations in this region. Further, these deployments will likely take on an increasingly diverse set of roles. ADF personnel will need to be war fighters, peacekeepers, humanitarian assistance providers, disaster relief responders, counter insurgency operators, border protectors and probably other things we haven’t yet considered. Many of these roles will feature in deployments to our immediate north and northeast.

I am not an alarmist by nature and have no intention of becoming one today. This is by no means a “Chicken Little” speech – the sky is not falling. But I do believe we must recognise that the future is uncertain. The trends I’ve outlined suggest that the international system of open markets, free trade and liberal values cannot be taken for granted and will be vulnerable in the future. Just as it is under attack from radical Islamists today, it will continue to be challenged by those who feel disenfranchised in the future. And if the system begins to crack, it is likely that the consequences will be manifest in the most fragile and unstable regions of the world.

The good news is that as the world changes, we will discover great opportunities. Australia – together with its friends and allies – must find ways to take advantage of these opportunities. We must look to the future with hope and act confidently. We must not be afraid of pursuing our interests. Further, we have an obligation to use the range of tools available to our government to promote the peaceful resolution of disputes in our region and prevent the recourse to armed conflict by regional actors.

Implications for the Military and the Use of Force

Let me briefly touch on the implications of these developments for the ADF. As Australia’s role in the world grows, we should assume that the ADF will continue to be one of the active elements of national power. Further, as the first years of the 21st century have already shown, Australian interests, those of our partners in the world, and the international system itself, will continue to face new and evolving threats. We must mitigate this risk with a balanced force that has the right capabilities to flexibly and quickly respond to destabilising events in an uncertain environment.

Uncertainty means that we cannot expect to have the luxury of picking and choosing our conflicts in the future. As I’ve already mentioned, the men and women of the ADF must be prepared to take on any number of roles. Flexibility and adaptability are the most valuable characteristics of the 21st century ADF. The ADF that will provide security at World Youth Day in Sydney later this year is the same ADF that will simultaneously be conducting nation-building operations in Afghanistan, securing our maritime borders, exercising with regional friends at sea, in the air and on land and helping to supporting the AFP to maintain law and order in the Solomon Islands.

To create a balanced force, we are developing the professional capabilities of our forces to match the uncertainty we anticipate. Such a force not only gives us the greatest chance of succeeding in battle, but also deters would-be aggressors from resorting to violence in furthering their aims.

Our Army is currently increasing in size, becoming tougher and more flexible and adaptable. Army's increasing robustness and agility will be key to sustaining combat operations across the entire spectrum of conflict in high levels of operational uncertainty.

Our Navy will be flexible and able to extend Australia’s reach and influence throughout our region. It will be able to project force when required and establish sea control in our area of paramount defence interest, and in many cases the same ships will be capable of delivering aid or medical assistance on a scale not previously possible. It will be able to carry out the full range of operations with confidence – from high level combat to disaster relief missions.

Our Air Force will have a qualitative air combat edge, antisubmarine warfare capabilities and survivable long-range strike. These capabilities will be supported by surveillance and reconnaissance, intra- and inter-theatre air lift and combat support elements.

The various parts of this system will be pulled together with greater integration through new structures, doctrines, concepts and systems, allowing synchronisation between our operators on the ground, in the air, and on the water.

The establishment of Headquarters Joint Operations Command at Bungendore, New South Wales, is a massive leap forward in the process of force integration. It will result in enhanced command and control structures that enable Australian forces to be employed more coherently and more effectively. The integrated force will also rely on Network-Centric platforms that connect the ADF, Australian and coalition sensors, engagement systems and decision-makers into an effective and responsive whole, allowing for seamless, real-time decisions and implementation.

Integration in the future will also allow real-time communication with multiple Australian government agencies and even with our coalition partners around the world.

Defence is expanding its efforts to develop a national effects-based approach to security that views our nation and our enemy as operating in a global system. This approach has political, economic, military and social dimensions, where actions in one dimension can have ripple effects in others. Viewed through this strategic framework, Government can understand better how Defence and other national capabilities can create effects that push and pull a potential adversary in multiple dimensions. Similarly, it allows Defence to work with other Australian agencies in a Whole-of-Government approach to create targeted effects, to understand and shape the environment, deter a potential adversary, or defeat an active adversary.

In concert with doctrinal development, recent acquisition decisions have ensured that Australia maintains a technological margin in our region and some of the most capable military capabilities among world powers. For example, the decision to proceed with Air Warfare Destroyers will provide our Navy with a superior new capability to protect our fleet, track and destroy air targets, and protect troops close to shore from hostile attack. Employing these superior capabilities within a framework that takes account of multiple dimensions only enhances our overall effectiveness.

An uncertain environment also places new priorities on Australia’s relationships with our partners around the world. If we know that a globalised world is more vulnerable to worldwide shocks, leveraging our capabilities alongside those of our partners and allies will be necessary to overcome the challenges of the 21st century. Where mutually beneficial opportunities arise, Australia and the ADF will work to strengthen and further improve our most important relationships. And we want to work closely with countries in our region to assist them when they seek our help. The unique nature of our relationships and access to knowledge and technology will continue to give Australia an edge in shaping our environment and in performing on the battle field. We are and will continue to be in the very best company of friends in the world.

The Future Evolution of the ADF

I’ll now turn to the issue of the future evolution of the ADF, specifically considering force development out to 2017. I believe the analysis I’ve just outlined suggests that Defence will need to prioritise several areas of development over the next decade.

First, it is incumbent on Defence and the ADF to invest in quality strategic planning. The capabilities we choose to acquire must be able to deliver the outcomes or effects we desire, and quality strategic guidance is crucial to sound, long-term decision-making. The Defence White Paper will be of great benefit in this regard and I am keen to point out that in one sense the White Paper is as much about process as it is about product. A sound strategic planning process will ensure we can keep abreast or ahead of developing threats. The White Paper will set the framework for our ongoing analytical process that tests and adjusts our capability requirements and ensures that strategy continues to guide capability.

Second, Defence must continue to pursue Whole-of-Government approaches to the challenges of a complex and uncertain international environment. Defence and the key central agencies now have a great deal of experience in how to promote cooperation between separate organisations to achieve mutual outcomes. We are well-versed in combined planning and exercising. However, there is still room for progress in these areas and along with the rest of the government, Defence is committed to involvement in this process.

We must build on the progress to date with agencies like DFAT, AusAID and the AFP. These organisations will be important partners in future operations. They will bring expertise and experience to complement our military capabilities. So far, Australia has taken some steps forward in this area, but we now need to take big strides in the next ten years if we are to fully realise the potential of the Defence strategies and frameworks that we espouse.

We also need to recognise that some partners, particularly in disaster relief and humanitarian assistance operations, will not be government agencies at all – but rather independent aid organisations. The ADF needs to be able to work with these organisations when the situation demands.

Third, the importance of our security relationships highlights the need for Australia to be able to operate with our partners. Australia cannot ensure a free and peaceful world on its own and neither can any other country. It is through our combined strengths that like-minded nations will be able to deter and defeat adversaries that seek to undermine our way of life.

To that end, interoperability will be a vital part of our future acquisition decisions. We continue to see the importance of being able to communicate and operate effectively with our partners, such as the US forces. We need to be able to ensure connections through equipment, through doctrine, and through regular practice.

Fourth, the increasing access to low-tech, high- power materials and devices means that asymmetric warfare will become a permanent feature for conflicts in the 21st century. Future conflicts in our region will feature the types of asymmetric weapons our troops currently face in Afghanistan and Iraq. Even nation-states will look for ways to combine asymmetric tactics with more conventional approaches. For example, cyber attacks on vulnerable network infrastructures could significantly disrupt the networked platforms we depend on. Such methods will put a premium on Australia’s ability to quickly deploy countermeasures.

Traditionally long development and acquisition cycles may not suffice when faced with these threats during times of high operational tempo. Australia needs to invest heavily in lessons learned from Afghanistan, Iraq, East Timor and the Solomon Islands to improve the agility of our acquisition processes. We will need to build on our existing rapid acquisition processes to ensure we can match the adaptability and versatility of threat groups. Our strategic guidance must keep pace with these changes.

We must also develop relationships with business partners that allow the innovative nature of the private sector to help discover solutions to new asymmetric challenges in time-sensitive situations. Defence must be a learning organisation with a high degree of flexibility.

Finally, Australia must continue developing strategies to recruit high-quality people into our defence force to maintain a professional advantage. Once we’ve recruited them, we also need to pay just as much attention, if not more, to making sure we retain them as well. Nor can we afford to forget the importance of Defence civilians – who are critical to maintaining and equipping the ADF, as well as delivering vital intelligence and policy functions to Defence and government. Defence must continue to attract and retain talented people to this part of the organisation.

We face these challenges at a time when our population is ageing and our robust economy is developing job opportunities in all sectors of our economy. At the same time, Defence is aiming to grow to around 58,000 full-time military personnel over the coming decade while recruiting the best and brightest to further professionalise our force. This is certainly an ambitious undertaking and will be among our greatest challenges in the next 10 years.


In conclusion, I believe that the Defence Organisation is at an important stage in its development because of the quickly changing features of our strategic environment. We face great challenges with great implications. This requires high-level strategic analysis and careful, considered risk management. And we need to respond to these challenges if we are to build the ADF we want in coming decades. Unfortunately, in a more complex and sophisticated world, the answers we seek can be elusive. But with challenges come opportunities and we should be confident in our ability to overcome the challenges and protect Australia and its interests.

Thank you for being here and for all of your contributions to a safe, secure and prosperous Australia.

I am now happy to take any questions you might have.


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