The Infantry Corps’ requirement to seek out and close with the enemy, to kill or capture them, to seize and hold ground and to repel attack by day or night regardless of season, weather or terrain is the effect that no other corps within the Army brings to the land domain and the Integrated Force. The significance of the effects that the Infantry Corps bring to the combined arms fight within the Joint environment is more apparent than ever as the ADF undergoes extensive modernisation.

While technological advancement continues to influence the character of war, current conflicts across the globe continue to reaffirm the need for lethality and aggression in the close fight through dismounted, motorised, armoured, air-mobile, or amphibious infantry manoeuvre to achieve tactical and operational objectives. The battle of Hostomel Airport in Ukraine in 2022 is one of numerous examples demonstrating the significance of infantry capability in complex, large scale combat operations (Collins, Kofman & Spencer, 2023).

Changes to operational design and force employment has resulted in the infantry being required to operate more frequently within a joint environment and as a part of small, joint teams. This has been evident for the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (3 RAR) through both collective training and when mounting and deploying teams on contingency operations as the Ready Battle Group over the last two years.

The ability to seize and hold ground; provide asymmetric disruptive effects within the deep, close, and rear areas of the battlespace; and to provide protection through close fire and manoeuvre has seen the infantry remain a critical capability of the Integrated Force. While the role of infantry remains unique to the corps, the success in generating these effects for the joint force lies in an integrated combined arms approach.

Combined Arms Experiences

Throughout 2023, 3 RAR tested the application of combined arms effects on the brigade Warfighter Exercise (WFX) and as the opposing force (OPFOR) Battle Group on Exercise Talisman Sabre. During the WFX, the brigade focus was upon generating and maintaining tempo through flexibility, swift regrouping, and the conduct of tactical actions by units and sub-units in a mission command enabled environment.

The speed and frequency in which the brigade operated was far quicker than the battle group (BG) staff and sub-units had typically experienced. However, the lessons learned as a result of the sustained pressure was exceptional. Rapid regrouping and command-led collaborative planning, the generation and sustainment of layered ISR, and the maintenance of communications all added to the complexity in the generation of combined arms effects at the decisive point. All of which was made more challenging by seeking to minimise electronic and physical signature as a means of force protection.

The hard learned lessons through the WFX provided a good platform to build upon as the OPFOR battle group for the 1st Australian Division on Talisman Sabre. From the outset, BG Kapyong approached the tactical planning with a larger risk threshold than the WFX. This was made possible through the combined arms training (including both successes and failures) throughout the WFX, unit live fire activities prior to Talisman Sabre, and early and collaborative planning with sub-unit commanders upon the receipt of mission.

At the time of execution, when sub-units were conducting tactical actions, they were enabled through an environment of mission command built on mutual understanding of the commander’s intent (established through previous training), and the tactical plan. From a BG control perspective, this resulted in sub-units achieving disproportionate effects in a decentralised manner to delay the divisional advance and generated tempo across the battlespace for the OPFOR brigade.

Without recounting the finer details of BG Kapyong’s Training Review Activities (TRAs), I offer the following five consolidated points that resulted in the unit’s successes or was a key lesson learned through combined arms collective training in 2023:

  1. Drop the ego: Combat Support and Combat Service Support corps do not enable the infantry effect – they enable the combined arms effect. As the commonly ‘supported’ callsign, don’t be dismissive to specialist support and subject matter expertise. Value the advice and specialist perspectives; it only enhances the plan and performance for your combined arms platoon, combat team, or battle group.
  2. Invest in your own understanding: Develop your understanding in combat support, combat service support, and joint effects. This pays dividends to increasing tempo in decision cycles when operating in a time compressed and communications degraded/contested environment. Understand what each effect brings to the battlespace to effectively employ them. Further, this will support your ability to champion combined arms manoeuvre within a joint setting when you become the supporting callsign.
  3. Build combined arms into training: Combined arms starts in the mess and on courses, is practiced through training, and demonstrated through live fire and/or operations. Incorporate combined arms into your planning, training, and PME programs from as early as possible; don’t leave it until the next major activity or operation to integrate. When conducting combined arms training, put yourself under pressure (time or communications degradation).
  4. Foster relationships: It is a small Army. The sappers, gunners, drivers, vehicle mechanics, and junior commanders in the fight with you today are the troop sergeants, JFTs, combat team commanders, and PSOs planning the fight with you tomorrow. Enable integration, set an environment in which enduring relationships are built – seek to be the force of choice that others want to integrate with.
  5. Do it live: The test of the application of combined arms is through the conduct of demanding and challenging live fire tactical actions. If you can do it live safely and effectively, then you can do it operationally.

Infantry and the combined arms future

The current rate of technological change and innovation will continue to have a significant impact upon the generation of combined arms effects. Improvements to munitions, delivery platforms, sensors, and sensor ranges will reduce the requirement to generate mass across the entire battlefield.

Combined arms teams will integrate more frequently and at lower echelons within a joint and inter-agency environment to create stand off and more discrete effects to achieve a tactical or operational objective. This will have an impact upon how infantry force elements are trained and prepared for integration into combined and joint teams. Collective training, security cooperation activities and operations have already demonstrated that the frequency of operations can often outweigh scale in the conduct of tactical tasks.

However, irrespective of the rate of technological innovation, the generation of land forces to engage in close combat and achieve a decisive effect – whether as part of a discrete Integrated Force action or as a part of large-scale combat operations – remains enduring. Contingency forces in the Australian context for discrete tasks such as the Afghanistan non-combatant evacuation as well as the ongoing conflict in Eastern Europe clearly demonstrate the impact that an enabled, combined arms force element brings to the battlespace.

Combined arms are critical in bringing the most potent and lethal effects from the land domain to the joint fight, and the infantry soldier remains essential regardless of the technology employed in this fight or the next.