PME Resources

Commander Forces Command 2018 Welcome Address: Questions and Answers

By The Cove February 13, 2019


Major General McLachlan conducted a live webinar to Forces Command on 30th January 2018. The following is his answers to questions that were received during the presentation that he was unable to respond to during the broadcast due to time constraints. 

MAJ Mark Gilchrist, HQ 3 Brigade (Bde) What are your expectations of professional military education (PME) in the Command and what themes would you expect we reinforce in 2018?

Answer: I am very pleased with the organic generation of PME at unit and formation level. Continuous learning is a feature of all truly professional organisations.  I intend unit PME to remain organic so the following topics reflect my thoughts rather than a hard and fast direction:

  • PME should include events that assist with role, clarity and rank identity. For example; creating time for the RSM to take Junior NCOs away from the workplace to discuss their role, leadership approach and responsibilities. Or, as 3 BDE has done, create events aimed at the MAJ / WO2 level to allow them to share best practice in planning, battle procedure and orders. If practical, link this PME to a simulated-enabled supported training event (SIMEX) that tests the command group's ability to adjust to changes post H hr.
  • We need to improve our understanding of the operational art. We have put a heavy emphasis on teaching people how to use the military appreciation process (MAP) on our institutional courses and this is OK. But an old commanding officer of mine once said to me that just because you know how to use a word processor doesn’t mean you will be able to write War & Peace. I want to see more tactics instruction. For example if you want to understand the meeting engagement, conduct a PME session on the Battle of Gettysburg but use it to explain the tactics and then discuss how these lessons can be applied now. To understand combined arms urban warfare, try the Battle of Aachen in WWII or the Battle of Hue in Vietnam. Hue is a great case study because it shows the difference between fighting in the modern city which was open enough to allow the generation of combined arms effects and the old city which was a brutal hand to hand infantry fight.
  • I would like to see more PME being conducted about the 'impact of technology' on our profession. Try a PME session on the efforts to have a machine win the game of 'Go' which is said to be the most complex game humans play. Find the video of the moment a computer plays the “Go move of the century” to functionally dislocate the human player. Follow the development of 'Alpha Go' and see how quickly machine learning is progressing. There are numerous dimensions to this topic that include the ethics of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the application of force and the role of AI in military planning.
  • I am very pleased with the growing group of strategists in our mid ranks. Engagement with the vibrant discussion on Twitter is encouraged - @EngageStrategy1 @WarintheFuture @GroundedCuriosity @Helmandproject @wavellroom @TheCompanyLDR @JoshuaBowden @War4Idiots @logisticinwar @DeadPrussianPod - all provide pointers to excellent material and topics and most are run by a mid ranking military officer (with the exception of the prolific MAJGEN Ryan). PME that enables us to understand our region and the dynamics at play between nations, the impact of religion and culture and the impact of climate change will enhance our ability to rapidly respond to developments that might lead to our deployment.
  • Finally, I would like to see us benchmark more with non-Defence organisations, particularly on leader development. 3 Brigade have developed an excellent relationship with the North Queensland Cowboys NRL team. We have a lot to learn from high performing clubs like this about human performance but they are also an opportunity to share ideas about leadership. Next week the Forces Command leadership team will sit down with the Sydney Swans coaching staff in a PME session to exchange ideas about leadership and culture. I encourage more of this type of benchmarking.


MAJ Roland Spackman, 3 Bde Are we leaving WO & Senior NCO behind in the digital age without dedicated vocational training and education? Clear, concise written communications are an area of weakness for this rank group in my experience. Furthermore, junior officers and soldiers are digital natives; WO & SNCO are at risk of becoming redundant in this regard.  I offer a bachelor degree equivalent should be a prerequisite for Sargent Major appointments in conjunction with BMS and operational communications modules in the all corps soldier training continuum courses.

Answer: I’m not sure I completely agree with the premise that WO/Senior NCO are not “digital natives” as most are now of similar ages to their officers, but I agree the need to broaden access to tertiary study. I will ask the Cove staff to find and publish the details but we are facilitating an increase in supported degrees for non-commissioned personnel and this will continue. That said I don’t need any more staff officers. Senior soldiers have a distinct and important role and that should involve enough familiarity with the digital 'command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance & reconnaissance (C4ISREW) medium to allow them to gain situational awareness and to show leadership, but will most often involve them finding the likely friction points in a plan and imposing their experience and determination at that point to improve a plan. I like the idea of the commander’s fireman as a role description of the senior soldier. Discussion of the changing role of WO/SNNCO in the digital command environment would be a worthy PME topic.


WO1 Paterson Defence Force School of Signals (DFSS). DFSS is a tri-service unit responsible for training Navy, Army and Air-Force communicators. Cyber security is fundamental to all three service - how does Forces Command (FORCOMD) see the introduction of cyber into tri-service courses working in conjuction with the Defence Command Support Training Centre (DCSTS) and how is FORCOMD working with the other services to achieve best practice across Defence.

Answer: This question matches closely with one of my priorities for 2018. I will be sitting down with two key stakeholders in this area very early in the year. Those two key leaders are MAJGEN Marcus Thompson, former Commander 6 BDE and now the ADF joint officer charged with the responsibility for generating this effect, and COL Kath Stewart, Commandant DCSTC. I will be offering my support and the capacity of Forces Command to accelerate growth in this important area. On an UNCLAS forum I won’t provide additional detail, but I want to foster the excellent bottom-up ideas I saw when visiting the Defence Force School of Signals (DFSS) last year with top-down resourcing and additional staff. More to follow....


MAJ Pavlis, HQ 6 Bde. Sir, last 2-3 years of direction and initiatives including through the Chief of Army's Senior Advisory Committee (CASAC) and integrated investment plan (IIP) has seen a prioritisation to fill, then grow, enablers. Plan Keogh requires a command reduction to some of these positions, which appears counter intuitive to achieving force requirements. What is your guidance on how enabler specialist assets can respond to this challenge and what is your priority?

Answer: I don’t like disagreeing with one of my very capable former Brigade intelligence analysts but in this case I have to. Prior to Plan Keogh the Army had an establishment that was 2000 people larger than we had Government approval (and funding) to fill. When we removed those positions, most of the pain was felt in the combat brigades. Protected mobility vehicle (PMV) companies were removed, armoured personnel carrier (APC) squadrons were removed etc. Despite this need for reduction (and pain), two areas grow under the plan – a small increase is directed to the training centres to reduce the requirement for non-platform support and the enablers in 6 BDE grow by about 3%. You will see more intelligence analysts (over a couple of years – the school is over full), new cyber capability and growth in the Electronic Warfare (EW) capability. The difference this time is that the people will be real, not simply establishment that was created with no funding to fill the position. I will push people into these trades as fast as our schools can train them.


MAJ Dave Filmer, 1 Recruit Training Battalion (RTB) On one hand messes and unit clubs aid in reducing social exclusion and isolation by creating an open environment for guidance, interaction and identifying members that are possibly at risk. On the other hand we have a pricing framework in messes that set the conditions for members to be drawn away to more competitive locations to drink or take up risky drinking behaviours. Do you believe that the implementation of centralised fixed pricing recommended in the Hamilton Review should be reviewed and reassessed?

Answer: Yes. I have my staff working on a request to have this policy reviewed as I write this response. There are two lessons I want leaders to take from the results of the Hamilton Review. The first is that we did not properly articulate why we have messes. As a result they were seen more as a condition of service than as a capability generation asset. Please read my directive on messes and make sure we are clear that messes exist to assist in the generation and preservation of capability. The second lesson is that we are not good at capturing data that can then be used to win important arguments. We are now working to capture records of risk taking behaviour and rates of alcohol consumption in messes and in the community to create an argument to support more investment in our soldiers’ clubs. Going into an argument about resources without data is like taking a knife to a gunfight. It rarely ends well.


CAPT Morgan, HQ 7 BDE. My question revolves around the Human Performance Centres that are starting to emerge in the Garrison space, for example, the Vasey Resilience Centre. The capabilities they bring are arguably becoming more relevant, particularly in the physicality and emotional well-being space. Yet there are only a handful of centres that are equipped and manned to provide sustainable outputs. Is there a plan for these centres to become "business as usual" much like the SRCs, and do you see this as part of your plan to "Industrialise Resilience" alongside Adventure Training Wing (ATW)?

I am delighted with the niche development of Human Performance Centres like the Vasey Centre but I know this effect needs to be achieved on a greater scale across the Command. I was a Brigade Commander when Brigadier Smith created the first Soldier Recovery Centre (SRC) in Townsville and I am happy to admit I copied (and hope improved) the idea in Darwin. Now we are working to ensure these centres run consistently and are appropriately resourced. Scaled-up resilience centres are next but I am not yet sure on the way these will work or whether we can afford to replicate the 3 BDE example in other places. We may need a Forces Command or Army centre that can take a sub-unit at a time. I will be discussing this with Commanders at my first Command Recall next month. Push your ideas to your Commander in the interim.


Thank you to all who attended and contributed to the discussion.



The Cove

The home of the Australian Profession of Arms.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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