By John Conway
The 2016 Defence White Paper categorically states “our most basic Strategic Defence Interest is a secure, resilient Australia. The first Strategic Defence Objective is to deter, deny and defeat any attempt by a hostile country or non-state actor to attack, threaten or coerce Australia”.
Achieving this objective will require an increasing investment in air and missile defences to substantially drive up the cost, complexity and risk of staging a hostile act against Australia to the point where the country or actor chooses to avoid confrontation and the likely consequences of escalation.
Recognising that 5th generation and ‘5th generation-like’ systems would demand a new approach to the integration of air and missile defences, the Air Force-led Project AIR 6500 was created from separate projects originally conceived to update or replace the tactical air defence radar system (TADRS), the Australian military airspace communications and control system (AMACCS), mobile regional operations centres (MROC), and the Vigilare surveillance and air battle management system.
Defence of Australia
The Commonwealth continues to wisely prioritise and invest billions of dollars in the development of a sophisticated, integrated defence capability. But investment must continue over the next decade as rapidly developing high technology threats introduce uncertainty, fuel regional instability, and challenge the lines of communication and trade routes upon which our multi-trillion-dollar economy depends.
The Navy, Army, and Air Force can all point to successful projects which provide defence against threats from the air, with the Commonwealth becoming ever more proficient at buying substantially off-the-shelf weapons systems closely aligned with Government policy.
However, the increasingly complex operating environment is challenging this traditional approach to major weapon systems acquisition and integration. Emerging concepts, doctrine, technology and commercial intellectual property are introducing new threats, new risks, and new terminology.
Project AIR 6500 is out front as the first major integration project of its type in Australia. As such, it will require a new approach, and a unified Defence and industry effort to establish the ways and means of designing and integrating a capability which will be the centrepiece of ADF air and missile defences.
Alignment between Defence and industry for AIR 6500 is essential as getting it wrong, or worse, doing nothing, will divide and weaken single service capability rather than integrate and accumulate the necessary fighting power at the joint and national level.
Yet despite this essential need, in a recent industry update to the Defence Innovation Hub (DIH) in December 2018 Chief of Air Force, AIRMSHL ‘Leo’ Davies hinted at his frustration about progress with Project AIR 6500. “It is a real opportunity,” he said. “But I still get the sense that both industry and uniform – industry and Defence – are not quite aligned.”
Getting it right, though, might prove easier than it seems by looking beyond programs, projects and products to focus in more detail on the Australian operational context and its intelligence-led missions and tasks.
Following the recent Gate 2 approval of the Short-Range Ground Based Air and Missile Defence project, LAND 19 Phase 7B (see page 24 of this issue), enhanced-NASAMS will be introduced to the ranks of an exclusive club of highly capable systems. As a defensive counter air (DCA) system, NASAMS provides essential force protection for the ADF working alongside the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter, EA-18G Growler, E-7A Wedgetail, Hobart Class Aegis Destroyer, F/A-18F Super Hornet, P-8 Poseidon, and much more.
Each one of these systems delivers a potent and lethal tactical advantage providing the Government with a broad range of kinetic and non-kinetic options across the spectrum of operations.
Yet mission success in future scenarios is not assured without the acceleration of data and information flows between these systems, which provides the shared situational awareness and integrated fire control fundamentally characterising a 5th generation force.
AIR 6500 must therefore provide, among other things, an increasingly integrated means of managing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data at multiple security levels and exploit opportunities to deal with new, more lethal threats.
One such opportunity involves preparing and managing these systems to work together as a joint force, operating in a coalition environment, countering emergent multi-spectral threats from the air and space. Emergent threats like hypersonic weapons, electronic attack, and non-strategic nuclear and conventional land attack missiles, in some cases capable out to thousands of kilometres.
Applying force in this context, especially when deployed, introduces a whole new level of complexity and, indeed, the need for a new, unified approach to air and missile defence. The widely accepted – but not necessarily widely understood – term for this new approach is Integrated Air and Missile Defence (IAMD).
Terminology is important because IAMD is not an operation, function, mission, or capability per se. It is an approach which embodies multiple, highly specialist, offensive and defensive missions, tasks and activities which are, in many cases, already conducted by each of the single services.
AIR 6500 will need to enable IAMD but it must also provide the means of managing a diverse range of missions which are now being delivered by next generation capabilities across the joint force.
For example, the counter air mission is the centrepiece of joint air operations, providing the theatre with the ways and means of achieving the required levels of air control, air superiority, or air supremacy, allowing friendly forces freedom to manoeuvre by protecting them from enemy air and missile threats. Counter air – both offensive (OCA) and DCA – is by its very nature a joint mission involving weapon systems and people from all three Services.
But technical and tactical mastery of the air environment alone is not enough to guarantee operational success in the future, so there must also be a means of integrating other highly specialist land and sea capabilities into the solution, not to mention space, cyber and electronic warfare, too.
However, the last few years has seen the Australian IAMD narrative almost exclusively framed in terms of acquisition projects and products, rather than missions and tasks. This should come as no surprise since the defence industry and acquisition community are substantially incentivised to focus on products, technology, and the associated engineering and project management services.
This ‘strategy-to-project’ approach to IAMD is useful, but only to a point; it is only effective when combined with a ‘strategy-to-task’ framework providing a detailed operational narrative for the Commonwealth’s prioritised operational needs, risks and gaps.
Those operational gaps become clearly defined, outcome-based projects, which can be applied to the force level. Unfortunately, a strategy-to-project methodology encourages industry to pursue a product-led approach and variations on ‘more of the same’ rather than focusing on the innovation needed to counter next generation threats.
As CAF also said about AIR 6500 at the DIH, “It’s not about radio. It’s about data. It’s about speed. It’s about time. It’s about security.”
Furthermore, without a strategy-to-task methodology, the scope of projects within an IAMD program could quickly balloon out of control as vague program interdependencies and competing priorities across services become apparent. This has been the case in the US for several years and it is only recently that a balanced operational and acquisition narrative has started to take shape.
IAMD narrative: acquisition or operations
IAMD is a relatively new term. It emerged from the US’ unique organisational structures and operating circumstances which characterise its tactical, operational and strategic air and missile defences, and ballistic missile defence agencies. These organisations operate within a diverse, global power-projection context, served by numerous acquisition agencies, not to mention intelligence agencies. As such, the US approach to IAMD does not directly translate across to Australia as an exemplar, even though many of the associated weapon systems do.
On top of that, the US services are not fully aligned on IAMD, conceptually, or doctrinally or materially, and so one constant throughout the development of US IAMD has been its vulnerability to budget cuts and project delays as a result of multi-agency mis-alignment, competing priorities and technical complexity.
Adding (predominantly) USAF 5th generation technology requirements to the mix and, of course, sequestration, it starts to make sense why the US services and other agencies responsible for air and missile defences have found it so easy to disagree. Therefore, despite its operational significance against growing threats from aircraft and missiles launched from air, land, sea, and undersea, IAMD in the US has struggled to articulate its vital importance in a coherent, fiscally defensible narrative. One which unifies the multiple stakeholders amidst a diverse and increasingly sophisticated grouping of missions and tasks.
An interesting perspective is provided in the Winter 2017 edition of the US Air & Space Power Journal, in which Colonel (Ret’d) Craig Corey from the Joint Force Development Directorate in the Joint Staff describes how IAMD simply represents an enduring, joint approach to the integration of air defence and missile defences which goes back decades.
And he cautions why IAMD can unintentionally divide and duplicate resources within an already highly synchronised counter air framework, a combat-proven framework by which the Joint Force Air Component Commander (JFACC), on behalf of the Joint Commander, provides unified command and control, theatre-level planning, co-ordination, and execution of missions to counter air and missile threats.
The enduring, joint approach Craig Corey refers to is based on the increasingly integrated counter air mission which first started to take shape in World War 2 with the Dowding System. Named after its architect, RAF Fighter Command’s Commander-in-Chief Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, it integrated technology, ground defences and fighter aircraft into a networked air defence system.
Through unified command arrangements it provided control, communication and intelligence to and from fighter aircraft as well as anti-aircraft guns, searchlights and barrage balloons. An integrated surveillance network which included active and passive sensors – called Chain Home – provided high levels of situational awareness to decision-makers allowing the effective use of Fighter Command’s limited resources, with the results speaking for themselves.
Air defence and missile defence integration accelerated during the Cold War and peaked during the Gulf War, before stalling as the operational focus shifted to counter-insurgency operations and counter-improvised explosive devices, rather than sophisticated threats from the air.
During this latter period, US and NATO air and missile defence capability atrophied while investment was prioritised towards Iraq and Afghanistan with Counter Rocket Artillery and Mortar (C-RAM) and its associated sensing and warning systems one of the few missions securing investment under the IAMD umbrella.
At the same time, Russia and China continued to build (and export) increasingly integrated and sophisticated ‘anti-access’ air and missile defences characterised by advanced long-range weapon systems, networked sensors, and the multi-phenomenology data fusion which threatens the survivability of 5th generation aircraft. In response, the US and NATO have been left playing catch-up and forced to change force structure priorities.
And this is where the term IAMD comes into its own. Colonel Corey acknowledges that changing force structure priorities needs a broader narrative which describes the central idea to multiple stakeholders. “IAMD is a valuable term for developing acquisition strategies for air and missile defence systems,” he says. “ ‘Integrated Air and Missile Defence’ is a clear, albeit bumper sticker, umbrella-phrase that easily points out to even those unfamiliar with military operations what our objectives are when procuring weapons and C2 systems.”
Those objectives are pointing to a compelling solution where a purely defensive approach to countering air and missile threats while they are already in the air is unlikely to be successful on its own, and so it will need offensive action before launch (aka ‘left-of-launch’).
This approach to IAMD will ensure unity of effort for offensive and defensive action, without fracturing the unity of command necessary to execute highly complex, specialist missions and tasks.
With a shared focus on IAMD involving offensive and defensive measures, and a single capability acquisition and sustainment group (CASG), the Commonwealth is extremely well-placed to act quickly and with conviction on AIR 6500.
The key ingredients now are a well-defined set of prioritised operational requirements and a collective agreement between Defence and industry to innovate and take risks. However, this can be a challenge given the need to maintain operational security and protect proprietary commercial intellectual property.
In recognising the need to reconstitute high-end air and missile defences enabled by multi-domain command and control (MDC2), both the US and UK have recently conducted wargames to identify the core capability requirements and innovation needed for the counter air mission and air and missile defences writ large. Contextually, the addition of cyber threats and electromagnetic spectrum operations, among others, has taken the integration aspects to the next level.
The wargame results have been published in the public domain and provide common ground for industry and defence co-operation, and a potential means of aligning the future direction of AIR 6500. In each case, the wargames independently identified the same key operational needs with results from the US and UK analysis sharing many similarities.
The Doolittle Series of wargames was established by the USAF to explore multi-domain warfighting concepts and enhance the command and control of air, space, and cyberspace forces in support of operations in the 2030 timeframe. While MDC2 probably falls into the ‘bumper sticker’ category, these wargames support requirements clarification and enable better vendor-customer alignment. Anti-access/area denial – A2/AD – also falls into this category and despite the lack of doctrinal basis you still get the point.
The first wargame in the series was held in November 2018 at the LeMay Center Wargaming Institute, Air University, with experts from across multiple disciplines and participants from the UK and Australia divided into three teams. Each team was presented with the same scenario of fighting a peer competitor while constraining another. It examined MDC2 with the hypothesis that the USAF must modernise across several fronts to effectively command and control contested multi-domain operations.
The RAF also conducted a wargame in 2018, this time in partnership with the US Center for Strategic Budgetary Assessments (CSBA). The wargame involved defence experts from a range of operational backgrounds and examined alternatives to the RAF’s planned force structure and modernisation programmes over a ten-year period between 2019 and 2028.
The exercise’s objective was to generate “actionable insights to inform the RAF’s future planning”. It started with the hypothesis that, “Information is the lifeblood of modern warfare. The future RAF should have the ability to maintain end-to-end information superiority, get inside an adversary’s decision-making cycle, and ultimately achieve decision-dominance.”
Significantly, both wargames came to similar conclusions, and many of the observations supported CAF’s focus on speed, data, tempo and security for AIR 6500. The wargames proposed investment in machine learning, artificial intelligence, quantum technology, and faster ISR processing, exploitation, and dissemination (PED), and information security.
And when it came to air and missile defences, the wargames confirmed the importance of advanced aerospace sensors, more resilient multi-domain battle management command, control, and communications, and full spectrum targeting to include cyber and advanced electronic warfare systems, and directed energy weapons.
Yet perhaps the most significant and innovative priority was the need for a shared data ‘combat cloud’ backed by a resilient, reliable, and secure communication network. As previously featured in ADBR, the combat cloud is a potential force multiplier for the ADF and its coalition partners across the spectrum of operations, not just in the counter air mission.
Both wargames also identified the importance of preparedness and the need for more highly trained and operationally experienced personnel in command and control. More resources would be needed for developing new operating concepts, and “instilling the warfighting ethos necessary for high-intensity warfare”.
Training practices were also highlighted as needing modification to account for the changing nature of warfare, especially in relation to the control and use of the electromagnetic spectrum where a Live-Virtual-Constructive (LVC) approach to training would allow personnel to train in a realistic virtual environment replicating the complex electromagnetic environments of future battlespaces.
Towards Gate 1
On reflection, while US IAMD experience has provided a valuable starting point and focus for AIR 6500, as time moves on it is becoming clear the scale, mission, organisational, and geographical context is driving the need for Australian requirements to be unpacked in a different way.
It is impossible to imagine the Commonwealth with its own missile defence agency, and Navy, Army, and Air Force adopting separate air and missile defence frameworks based on the USN, US Army and USAF requirements. Unity of command and unity of effort is the centrepiece of Air 6500.
And so Commonwealth priorities for AIR 6500 are likely to emphasise innovative system design and service specific applications, with ADF tactics techniques and procedures (TTPs) breaking new ground as the IAMD problem is examined principally through an air and electromagnetic warfare lens.
The threat has (wilfully) created a wicked problem for the Commonwealth, and one which will require transformation in its truest sense. It is not a problem of the Commonwealth’s making but one which will require a concerted national effort, with AIR 6500 substantially providing an opportunity to establish the highly leveraged ways and means of meeting our most important strategic defence objectives.
Government and central agency processes will be challenged by AIR 6500, which provides the ‘glue’ as well as the products upon which the ADF builds capability. A strategy-to-project or product approach is relatively easy to visualise; however, the glue must be described in a more sophisticated strategy-to-task based narrative, otherwise the opportunity will be lost, and national security compromised.
And finally, a word on wargames. The US and the UK have demonstrated their value as an effective way of understanding complex challenges, and which identify requirements linked to products, services, and innovation based on critical thinking, analysis, and evidence.
Wargaming has multiple uses as a decision support tool with defence and industry alignment but one.
John Conway has worked in the Australian Defence Industry for almost a decade and specialises in the design, integration and implementation of command, information warfare and human factors at the enterprise level.
He is a Board Member of the Sir Richard Williams Foundation, and his experience as a senior joint air warfare commander and air combat aviator includes Cold War Europe in the Second Allied Tactical Air Force, the Balkans, Middle East, and Eastern Mediterranean theatres of operation.
This feature article was published in the March-April 2019 issue of ADBR.