The ADF’s Joint Capabilities Group (JCG) was formed in 2017 as the second phase of the then-new ADF Headquarters (ADF HQ) Implementation Program.
The formation of ADF HQ, and subsequently JCG resulted from the 2015 First Principles Review which – through the One Defence approach – recommended key enabling capabilities within Defence be consolidated and integrated to provide a ‘coordinated, coherent, comprehensive capability’ to the ADF.
JCG’s mission is to ‘deliver designated joint capabilities to improve the ADF’s warfighting effectiveness’ through its objectives of the delivery of joint outcomes by working with the services and Joint Operations Command (JOC) to be future-focused by taking calculated risks and investing in new capabilities, and to develop a joint workforce by upskilling and promoting flexible and critical thinking.
In his Commander’s Intent, AIRMSHL Warren McDonald, Chief of Joint Capabilities says, “Joint Capabilities Group (JCG) is about maintaining a military warfighting edge, not a corporate edge. We are the linchpin of key capabilities that underpin our joint force, with our success or failure directly affecting those we support.
“We will lead Defence in its drive to optimise Joint Warfare performance by ensuring that we strengthen key capabilities such as Cyber, Space and Communications. We support Defence and Command by providing education and training, healthcare, logistics, policing, Reserve and Youth programs, civil-military cooperation and ADF sports coordination.
“We all have our part to play and undertake these activities so as to assist our allies and protect against those who seek to do us harm.”
JCG has an annual budget of about $2 billion and a combined workforce of 4,900 ADF and Australian Public Service (APS) people, and has elements at more than 90 bases and locations in every state and territory, and at overseas locations.
The nine areas AIRMSHL McDonald and JCG are responsible for are Information Warfare Division (IWD), Joint Logistics Command (JLC), Joint Health Command (JHC), the Australian Defence College (ADC), Reserve and Youth Division (RYD), the ADF Sports Cell, the Joint Military Police Unit, the Australian Civil-Military Centre, and the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Directorate.
“In 2017, the Chief of Defence Force (CDF) stood us up so that we could get better traction, and provide better support for the enablers,” AIRMSHL McDonald told ADBR. “There are some sandstone organisations in JCG already including ADC, JLC, and JHC.
“While these organisations were already in existence, for the Vice Chief of the Defence Force (VCDF) who they were reporting to, it was becoming – along with his portfolio where for almost half the year VCDF was representing CDF – more complicated as those organisations grew,” AIRMSHL McDonald added. “So it was recognised that we needed to stand up a ‘Joint Capabilities’ Group. And as we have moved forward in those almost two years, we have picked up other capabilities, and now we have nine areas of responsibility.”
many of the above listed organisations were already in existence and have just
been incorporated under JCG’s umbrella, IWD is new and is arguably the most
important capability element JCG is responsible for.
Information Warfare has been described as the ‘Fifth Domain’ – the other four being air, land, sea, and space. Information Warfare capabilities include cyber; electronic warfare; information operations; space-based systems; command, control, and communications systems; and intelligence – all of which need to be integrated to generate coherent information capabilities for the ADF.
At a relatively benign level, information warfare can involve the spreading of disinformation to deceive an adversary, as well as through state propaganda and the media, and the exploitation of open source intelligence (OSINT). At its most destructive application it involves the insertion of hacks and destructive viruses through cyber attacks on critical military networks, digital weapons systems and national infrastructure.
JCG through IWD is acutely aware of the role open source intelligence can play in future operations; such an example includes social media posts by Russian separatists and the part they played in bringing charges in the International Criminal Court against the perpetrators of the July 2014 shootdown of flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine.
Regardless, the first shots of any future war will be – or likely already have been – fired through the employment of such cyber capabilities. To this end, JCG says that IWD “leads the development of ADF information warfare capabilities and formulates the strategies and plans to counter contemporary threats in the information environment.”
IWD comprises five branches;
- Information, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Electronic Warfare (ISREW) and Cyber which leads the development of ISREW and cyber capabilities, including cyber training and awareness;
- the Space and Communications branch which is responsible for the development of satellite and strategic communications capabilities;
- Joint Command and Control (C2) which develops joint command and control capabilities;
- the Joint Influence Activities branch which develops capabilities aimed at enhancing the ADF’s ability to operate effectively in the information environment, and;
- the Defence Signals Intelligence and Cyber Command which comprises the Joint Cyber Unit and Joint Signals Intelligence Unit, and is embedded within the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD).
At its most basic level, IWD is tasked with educating ADF personnel about the vulnerabilities they are exposed to every day. “Many of the vulnerabilities that exist in any organisation are the result of a lack of understanding about how vulnerable you are, and they’re often the simple things like clicking on a link,” AIRMSHL McDonald explained. “So we work with CIOG (the Chief Information Officer Group) and ASD to conduct education campaigns, and we’ll even send out our own phishing emails – not to catch and shame, but to catch and educate.
“Some of them are very sophisticated, and we do catch quite a few that were not used to having something displayed on their Defence Restricted Network (DRN) which is public facing through the internet,” he added. “So we work constantly to ensure we lock out any vulnerabilities.”
Those who attended the 2018 Airpower Conference in Canberra will remember AIRMSHL McDonald’s hard-hitting and compelling speech about cyber security. “That’s what we’re facing,” he said. “If we could seal off that, we’d seal off 80 per cent of our problems, it is literally that simple. We put a lot of time into weapons training, but we need to put a lot more time into educating our personnel about the dangers of the cyber data.”
“I think the younger generation like the convenience of what social media brings,” he said. “But with that brings complications. People like myself are probably not as engaged in it and can ignore it a little bit more – I’m not on any social media platform whatsoever, and I choose that. It’s not something I do just because I’m old, I choose to because I’ve seen where it can go in the hands of others and I think others may want to look at how they approach those social media platforms.
“With the advances in technology you can turn a picture into something completely different,” he added. “As you’ve seen in the media, there have been modifications of high profile people to say something that they never actually said, or to have faces that simply do not exist. It’s very clever, and it’s only going to become more and more common, so our people need to be aware of it.”
IWD also has an immediate focus of developing the ADF’s defensive cyber operations capabilities by building a trained cyber workforce and equipping it with the appropriate tools and training systems.
“We’re currently finalising Joint Project 9131 Phase 1 Defensive Cyberspace Operations for the deployed environment,” AIRMSHL McDonald said. “We go to government for second pass later this year, and we have been very involved in what outcome we are seeking.
“MAJGEN Marcus Thompson and his team have also been responsible for standing up the cyber workforce defence collective,” he added. “They’ve got a detailed workforce plan that’s been agreed to, so we’ve caught it early. The workforce is going to start to change shape from the original intent, but we’ve got a really good framework to make sure we can develop our personnel and cope with the demands that are coming.”
Other areas of focus for IWD include the overall growth of the ADF’s cyber capability by not only ensuring all members are fully versed in cyber-security practices, but that they have input into all new projects coming into the Integrated Investment Plan (IIP) by ensuring they all have strong cyber security and resilience.
And as the ADF introduces more unmanned systems across all the domains that are reliant on satellite communications (SATCOM), IWD is looking to improve the ADF’s multi-phased Project JP2008 SATCOM capability through the establishment of the Space and Communications Branch which initially will work to develop policy objectives for space.
Another priority for the IWD is the delivery of the Project JP9347 Phase 1 Joint Data Network (JDN) which comprises tactical data links, the Integrated Broadcast System and other machine-to-machine data links used by the ADF and allies. The JDN will be designed to manage the requirements of future complex, congested and contested operating environments.
“JP9347 is going to government shortly,” AIRMSHL McDonald said. “That will put a wrapper around all of our links that have been brought up through the individual services so we can understand the vulnerabilities and understand the upgrades required to move forward quickly.”
AIRMSHL McDonald says the future challenges JCG and the ADF as a whole faces are very real and, in many ways, already here. Therefore, one of his tasks is to look at project timelines and to try to compress them so the ADF can not only keep pace with technology, but so it can get inside an adversary’s threat development cycle.
“While I think the organisation itself will continue to move forward, the challenges are in capturing people’s attention long enough to make them understand that, in about the next seven years – collectively as a nation and globally – we are into an enormous amount of change,” he said. “As digitisation starts to build a lot of speed, which it already has, you can sometimes catch people off balance.
“We have a tendency to over-estimate the abilities of technology in the short term, but under-estimate it in the long term,” he added. “So, where do we pull that sliding scale so we can keep people focused on it? For example, if you look at the miniaturisation of electronic warfare sensors, this is a classic example of how quickly systems are reducing in size. Systems that weighed hundreds of kilos now can be the size of a laptop.
“It’s moving really quickly. We’ve seen the Air Force stand up the Loyal Wingman project, and across the ADF we’re in a transition from manned to unmanned. In the future, the unmanned system will direct where the manned system should be, and then there may be no manned at all. How ready are we for that? How ready are we for artificial intelligence? How ready are we for robotics? Because all these things will come in more quickly than I think we are anticipating, and we have to be ready for it.
AIRMSHL McDonald says the rise of artificial intelligence has been rapid, and predicts a tipping point where it will be hard to tell the difference between a human and a robot. “Some will over-estimate artificial intelligence, but the general view AI is the equivalent of about a five year old at the moment,” he said.
“But it will mature quickly into an adult, some are saying within the next four years. Even if that is too quick and it’s 10 years, are we ready for that? By 2028 – 2030 you’ll have a little bit of difficulty understanding or trying to determine the difference between a human and a robot. They have robotic tactile feel down to that of a human.
“So, machine learning and data mining with an artificial intelligence, these are being brought together very quickly,” he added. “And then there’s human augmentation which is another thing we’re going to have to come to terms with. It’s already here with cochlear implants for example, while others have put implants in their brain so they can see infrared images.
“While some of these examples may not necessarily translate to usable outcomes, are we ready for them? Are we ready for the revolution that digitisation will bring? Are we ready for people acting like companies, and companies acting like states which, again, is already starting to happen? How will that play out in the future, and are we ready to embrace it?
“All of these things will challenge Defence I think. So I look at some of these projects coming through with their timelines and say, ‘It’s not fast enough, you have to move more quickly’.”
A lot of what JCG is focusing on is being tested and peer reviewed through the ADC, located at Weston in Canberra. “Through challenging programs and ‘think tank’-like research they are maximising cognitive capacity in our people to grasp these information age challenges to ensure we have an enhanced intellectual edge in an era characterised by accelerating change in geopolitics, demographics and technology, AIRMSHL McDonald said.
“The ADC under (MAJGEN) Mick Ryan has really evolved into the future-focused learning institution our personnel need to be technically savvy and future ready,” he added. “He’s doing a great job of that, and is pulling in a lot of academics and setting groups for future thinkers.
“He’s really revitalised it. We’re in a good position now and setting ourselves up as leaders in Joint Professional Military Education globally. We’re attracting excellent ‘intelligencia’ and academia in to talk about these things, to understand where we are, and to give us a fighting chance of working our way through.
“We’re also setting up a Defence Artificial Intelligence Centre so that we can bring in different technologies and see how they play out on a protected unclass network. We’ll test what use they are to us so we can better understand them. It will sit under JCG, but we’ll work very closely with DSTG because they have some incredible people in their field.”
Joint Logistics Command (JLC) is Australia’s only joint military logistics capability, providing logistics support to ADF operations, force preparation, and raise, train and sustain activities.
RADM Ian Murray is the commander of JLC (CJLOG), and responsible for the delivery of JLC’s capability outputs. CJLOG is dual-hatted as the Defence Strategic J4 which is the most senior military logistics advisor to CDF and the Secretary of Defence. The role of the Strategic J4 is to harness and align the functions, components and organisations within Defence that deliver logistics support to the ADF.
AIRMSHL McDonald says that CJLOG will implement the Defence Fuel Transformation Program that was approved by Government last year. “The Government has allocated funding of $1.1 billion over the next 30 years to deliver a safer, simpler, and more assured Defence Fuel Network in partnership with Industry,” he said. “The Program will make targeted investments in the Defence Fuel network and seize immediate opportunities to improve flexibility and increase the level of industry collaboration.
“The Program will ultimately reduce network risk, improve the ability of the fuel network to deal with disruption, and reduce the cost of ownership to Defence,” he added. “As part of the Program, JLC has begun engaging with Australian industry on future innovative fuel supply and facilities operations and maintenance contracts at an Industry Brief held on 4 July 19.”
CJLOG is also responsible for Explosive Ordnance (EO), an integral part in the ADF’s ability to fight and win. In this context, EO ranges from simple munitions to complex guided weapons, and represents challenges to Defence in terms of achieving capability, safety and security outcomes. It is a multi-function enterprise that supports the supply surety of certified EO, integrating governance, test, acquisition, maintenance, storage, handling, and distribution activities.
“The coordination of EO activities is a complex body of work, requiring harmonisation of multiple stakeholder inputs and outputs across the EO Enterprise,” AIRMSHL McDonald said.
In closing AIRMSHL McDonald said JCG will continue to be aligned with each of the services as they identify new or enhanced requirements, and develop and upgrade their capabilities. “We liaise with all the projects that come through the services,” he said. “We have full input into them, and we debate them at investment committee to ensure we have the right balance.
“We are very well integrated with the services,” he added. “We’re adopting all the successful innovation and modernisation programs of the services such as Air Force’s Jericho piece, Navy’s Plans Pelorus and Mercator, and General Burr’s Accelerated Warfare.” (see article page 34 this issue.)
JCG on the surface can seem eclectic given its portfolio but it has more synergies than meets the eye. “At a recent senior leadership team meeting, someone said, ‘I don’t think we will ever get accused of group think’. Given the mix of our portfolio, I think that hit the mark pretty well. And we will need all that diverse thinking to meet the challenges of the future.”
This feature appeared in the May-June 2019 issue of ADBR.