Being able to participate in Ex HAMEL 2018 as part of Headquarters 7th Combat Brigade (HQ 7th CBT BDE) was an opportunity to see the best of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) on display both at the tactical and operational level. The integration of the Amphibious Task Group (ATG) through their amphibious manoeuvre synchronised and executed to compliment the land manoeuvre of the 7th CBT BDE (enabled by the entire Forces Command) was a confirmation of the ADF's ability to execute joint warfare in a contemporary setting. This paper acts as observations made as a single member of this entire endeavour on Ex HAMEL 2018. It is a snapshot of the lessons identified for future development and analysis. Additionally, it is an independent statement to commence debate around important topics related to the modern ADF.
1. Ex HAMEL is not about winning. It's about learning and growing.
Ex HAMEL has often been remembered as the period when the BDE 'in the box' gets to test its tactical prowess against the opposing BDE. Tales from Ex HAMELs gone by have been filled with stories of deception, manoeuvre, outwitting and outclassing the opposing BDE. The debate over who "won" each Ex HAMEL has established it as somewhat of a competition between forces. This competition was not the 2018 experience of Ex HAMEL. While the 3rd CBT BDE established a world-class opposing force for 7th CBT BDE, there was never a focus on winning during Ex HAMEL. Instead, the focus was on learning and growing. Commander of the 7th CBT BDE highlighted this focus as he continually pushed in the lead-up to Ex HAMEL that shared enabling assets are stacked against the 7th CBT BDE. He drove for the BDE to innovate and experiment – even at the cost of failure. This intent seems counter-intuitive to what a commander would generally want for their force. Though, it might also be a refreshing approach to training within the ADF. The will to win in war cannot be overstated, nor can the cost of failure. Though in training for war; having a mindset that winning is subordinate to learning (for the organisation) could be a more productive approach. Learning and growing was the experience of HQ 7th CBT BDE on Ex HAMEL. Without the pressure to "win at all cost", the staff of the HQ were enabled. They felt empowered to push the boundaries and accept tactical risk close to failure. Additionally, the focus was not on doing things 'now' because they had to be done. Instead, it was about taking a step backwards to make sure things were done 'right', before progressing. As a result of this approach, the HQ became a learning organisation. Taking time to stop, reflect, adjust and continue, in-stride of conflict. Interestingly, the HQ as an organisation did very well on Ex HAMEL according to the meticulous and detailed analysis provided by the Observer Training teams. Far from perfect, it is interesting to observe that the BDE HQ did achieve a successful outcome on Ex HAMEL, though this was not the focus. As such, within this construct, focusing on learning and growing resulted in tactical success as a by-product of innovation and experimentation rather than being the primary focus.
2. Time spent integrating force elements is seldom wasted.
The perfect scenario of the BDE training and preparing as an integrated team before Ex HAMEL is an impossibility. The experience for 7 CBT BDE was that the majority of its force was concentrated within the area of operations (AO) just hours prior (and in some cases after) H-Hour. This lack of integration was a severe flaw which required much attention to rectify. The integration difficulty was first faced with the assimilation of coalition partners within the BDE setting. The 1st Battalion, 293rd Infantry Regiment from Indiana, USA were attached to 7 CBT BDE for the conduct of Ex HAMEL. The tactical planning was difficult given the nature of classifications (and lack of a shared Battlespace Management System (BMS)) for tactical orders in the lead up to their arrival in country. However, the leadership were able to attend the orders, rehearsal of concept (ROC) drill and received safety and tactical reception, staging, onward movement and integration (RSO&I) training from the BDE. Notwithstanding, with these control measures in place, interoperability continued to prove difficult. The difficulty is not a fault of individual organisations. Instead, it is about normalising procedures between two high performing yet differing organisations. The delivery of RSO&I and an embedded Liaison Officer (LO) team was not enough to bridge this divide. What was required was time, something which Ex HAMEL does not allow for. Time for a proper integration would have allowed this combination of forces to flourish, something which did not occur until the later periods of Ex HAMEL. The next difficulty was faced with the 8th/9th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (8/9 RAR). 8/9 RAR formed Battle Group (BG) RAM and trialled the first rotational model for the Ground Combat Element as part of the ATG. As such, they spent the vast majority of Ex HAMEL focused on amphibious manoeuvre. They arrived back to 7 CBT BDE and again, were given almost no time to integrate into the BDE before conducting combined-arms manoeuvre. Unlike the coalition partners, they were a known quantity and yet, the requirement for them to adjust between littoral and land manoeuvre by way of procedures was difficult to fathom by both organisations given the time available. It is easy to take for granted the difficulty in the integration of a force. The key ingredient which was needed is ‘time’. And in an environment where time is not abundant, then the operational tempo should have been adjusted to ensure that the risk of misalignment was not dire.
3. Combined-arms is not new. But we are still mastering it.
Combined-arms is not a new thing. The use of Combat Teams (CTs) and BGs within the modern CBT BDE are the norm, and deeply ingrained in the contemporary military professional's development. Every BG of 7 CBT BDE adopted a combined-arms Order of Battle (ORBAT) for Ex HAMEL. BG WARHORSE (based on 2/14 Light Horse Regiment, Queensland Mounted Infantry) manoeuvred with a Squadron (SQN) of Engineers, Company of Mechanised Infantry and an enabled Combat Services Support Team (CSST). BG RAM from 8/9 RAR was similar, manoeuvring on land with the force they took to sea inclusive of an Engineer SQN, ASLAV Troop (TP), CSST and later a Tank TP. Both BGs were further enabled by Joint Fire Teams (JFTs) as well as the communications infrastructure. As such, the concept of ensuring that the allocation of internal BDE assets to develop BGs for Ex HAMEL is where it should be; though this is only the start point. At the BDE HQ level, combined-arms is more than the ORBAT of the force. It is about understanding and attempting to control the complexity; complexity generated through the layers of effects within the battlespace, across the chaos produced by BGs manoeuvring, and the enemy acting and reacting. This complexity is a mindset centred upon the layering of effects in addition to combined-arms at the formation level; though it is difficult to fathom. The challenge for the CBT BDE HQ is in its understanding, application and allocation of supporting Battlespace Operating Systems (BOS) effects across the battle and in support of the BG's manoeuvre. This layering of effects, at its very essence, is how the CBT BDE manoeuvres. This challenge goes beyond the simple allocation of fires to support movement. It also includes the limited Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) assets which often have more Named Area of Interest(s) (NAIs) to service than time and platforms. As well as maintaining the scarce engineering assets by way of Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD), route clearance and limited Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) assets to preserve the momentum of the force. Additionally, it is ensuring that the medical coverage is not too stretched and that the communications architecture is maintained and with enough depth to not only allow redundancy in communications but to also enable communications as part of deception through the understanding of Emissions Control (EMCON). The BDE also links to BOS effects controlled at the Joint Task Force (JTF). Information operations (IO) and Information, Dominance and Influence (IDI) is centralised within the JTF as is Civil-Military Affairs (CIMIC). While the JTF drives the direction of this; it is the BDE HQ that links this to the manoeuvre on the ground. In addition to this, the effects that could be achieved within the littoral environment in support of land manoeuvre were perhaps best practised on Ex HAMEL 18 than it has in recent years due to the alignment of the Land and Sea Series of Exercises. As our amphibious force continues to develop, so too does our concept of combined-arms also extending out to sea. The next step for combined arms is now beyond just the establishment of CTs and BGs. It is about the integration of the BOS effects as standard business practice, not only for Ex HAMEL. Using the CBT BDEs as a base for training, the ADF should look now to how to further integrate the enablers outside of major exercises so that having a formation level combined-arms approach becomes the norm and not the exception.
4. Digitisation works. Get onboard or get left behind.
Due to the roll-out of BMS and 7 CBT BDE's rotation through the Force Generation (FORGEN) cycle, the requirement to accept digitisation and quickly learn how to apply it at the formation level became the initial challenge of Ex HAMEL 18. The systems (specifically BMS) were the primary tool for the BDE during the lead-up exercises to Ex HAMEL, and by the time the exercise started, the digital literacy at the HQ level was quite high. In unambiguous terms, the lesson about digitisation was simple: it works. Digitisation is not about micro-management and the BDE Commander telling each soldier where to go. It is about generating operational tempo within the HQ. While the systems are prone to crashing, and the members of 7 Combat Signal Regiment (7 CSR) worked diligently to maintain and keep the systems going, the net effect was that there was a stark increase in the HQ's operational tempo during Ex HAMEL. This tempo was first identified during the planning phase leading up to Ex HAMEL. What the systems allowed to occur was macro and micro collaborative planning. Planning within the HQ was expedited due to the collaborative nature of the system. Rather than waiting for the computer to be free to input bespoke information, the centralisation of information simultaneously sped up the entire process. At the macro level, this collaboration occurred beyond line of sight with BGs planning simultaneously (inclusive of while embarked at sea) without needing to communicate through conventional means. The efficiency of the system also extended to what information was generated. As a rule of thumb, the staff never created anything unless it had two purposes. As such, a presentation to merely get the Commander's approval did not occur. Preferably, the same presentation was also the Warning Order (WNGO) which was also the Decision Support Overlay (DSO). Thus, efficiency in staff work was achieved. Situation awareness (SA) was also greatly enhanced by digitisation. SA came by way of GPS enabled positioning within the BMS but goes beyond this simple feature. Having mastered the system, BGs were able to maintain the BDE HQ SA of a developing scenario by merely updating icons and using metadata. This metadata became a storage system and an account of the battle as it unfolded. Additionally, the BDE Commander was able to transmit his intent through a straightforward reverse Situation Report (SITREP) process which was non-intrusive and could be updated multiple times throughout the day. This, combined with the daily SITREPs though the BMS (with limited character boxes) allowed increased SA at all command levels. The efficiencies gained by all arms of the BDE are endless. The consensus is that digitisation works. It has transcended beyond the signaller and is the primary tool of everyone in the HQ. EVERYONE. If the BDE Commander himself was unable to master the system, then efficiencies within Command and Control (C2) could not have been achieved. If staff officers did not have a familiarisation with the system, then they were left behind. Digitisation at the formation level is a command responsibility, not a communicators.
5. Wargaming and the ROC drill - a re-discovered art.
Seldom has there been a deliberate group planning session which managed to effectively generate three fully developed Courses of Action (COAs) that could then be progressed into the wargame. This endeavour was again experienced by HQ 7 CBT BDE in the deliberate planning conducted for the tactical plan on Ex HAMEL. During Course of Action Development (COA DEV), as the options for each Decisive Event (DE) began to be less distinct from each other, the amount of COAs started to diminish and slowly form into the one COA to take forward into wargaming. Though this did not represent a failure in the Staff Military Appreciation Process (SMAP) process, but rather the direction that this particular problem was required to take. As such, the planning process went from developing options to test for comparison with each other to making the one plan as robust as possible at the formation level. Without the staff's efforts being dissected into the development of multiple COAs, the focus could be applied to some additional steps within the MAP to ensure the plan would progress through the process with sufficient depth and contingency to survive contact with the enemy. The first was a series of wargames conducted in-stride during COA DEV. Counter-intuitive (yet previously part of the MAP process) the staff participated in several types of wargames while the COA was being developed. Unlike the traditional wargame requiring stage management, adjudication and formal recording – these wargames were instead a pulse check to ensure that as the COA was being developed, it continued to have relevance to the enemy and not just a plan being formulated in isolation. Additionally, before the wargame was the conduct of a thorough and detailed dry sync. During this process, the BOS enablers worked through the entire sync matrix to add fidelity and detail down to the sub-unit (and lower for some BOSs). While the dry sync is not a new tool, its place before the wargame (and in the absence of generating additional COAs) worked very well for HAMEL 18. The wargame itself was a gruelling effort. The staff of HQ 7th CBT BDE committed two days in the field in the lead-up to Ex HAMEL testing the COA. The wargame was within the traditional format with the addition of several more recorders than are typically appointed as to ensure that changes, RFIs, issues and concerns were captured without losing momentum in the wargame. In addition to this was the Commander's input for the wargame which was invaluable. Finally, following the delivery of the Operational Order (OPORD) and overlays (BMS only) the Rehearsal Of Concept (ROC) drill was conducted. HQ 7 BDE had spent the road to Ex HAMEL redefining what a ROC drill is and how it is to be undertaken. For Ex HAMEL, the ROC was the ability for BG commanders and BOS owners to confirm their understanding of the plan in a synchronised and chronological manner. However, the ROC drill was also oriented towards the enemy. As to test the ability of the BDE to orchestrate its effects, the enemy (through the S2) also presented dilemmas to the commanders during the ROC drill. Rather than to capture changes to the COA or RFIs, this interaction was to ensure that the BDE's actions-on were adequate and also that the commanders at all levels understood how the BDE planned to react to the enemy during execution. The planning session conducted by the staff and enablers within HQ 7th CBT BDE was unorthodox, creative and adjusted to the scenario at hand. It was enemy focused and used doctrine as a guide, not as the rule. It was tiring and required staff effort, but wasted effort was minimised where possible. The result of this was that during the execution phase of Ex HAMEL, the BDE at no time was taken by surprise. The enemy could not achieve surprise as every enemy action and reaction had been discussed, wargamed, rehearsed during the ROC drill and analysed before execution. While the planning process did not produce a series of plans to choose from; it did produce a plan that was entirely enemy focused and broad with its analysis for battle.
6. Deception needs to complement manoeuvre; not be an afterthought.
It became apparent early in the planning process that due to the limited terrain, limited forces and also exercise and training objectives, that the 7th CBT BDE plan would be very plain and straightforward. The Commander issued his initial guidance which described it as an SFOP (Straight Forward, Obvious Plan). As such, it became the staff's effort to make this a strength to the plan rather than a hindrance. Thus, the focus on deception became the effort of all commanders and all BOS owners, not just an additional layer applied as an afterthought. The BDE HQ attempted to achieve this during the Mission Analysis (MA) phase of planning. When the DEs were issued and decided upon by the Commander, the staff set to work with how they (within their BOSs) could achieve deception for each DE within the ways-matrix. Thus, the conversation for deception started during MA and led into COA DEV. This conversation was enabled by the staff participating in two days of reverse BOS analysis and again maintained the team towards an enemy focus. What became apparent was that to achieve deception at the formation level, it becomes about quantity and not quality. While big large-sweeping deception manoeuvres are often akin to military deception, what was experienced on Ex HAMEL was the requirement to do a hundred things for the enemy to notice just one. An example of one deception was the conduct of a dummy Air Mobile Operation (AMO) on a particular flank. The intent was to deceive the enemy commander that the BDE would be bypassing a key enemy stronghold to begin advancing on another one. From a manoeuvre perspective, this was achieved by a bypass of an enemy position by one of the BGs. In addition to this was the conduct of a dummy AMO to emulate the projection of an additional force beyond the original strong point. To complement this was the recognition that enemy Electronic Warfare (EW) detachments may be observing the AMO for authenticity and as such, a RETRANs was established and transmitted along a set pattern and direction to deceive the enemy to think that a force has been projected and is now building its "mesh" within the BDE communication's infrastructure. All of this was layered with IO messaging highlighting that the fighting was to be taken to the following objective in a language that was beneficial for the Australian forces. This example is just one of the deception measures that was attempted among dozens of others. Did it work? This is probably a question that can never be answered. Though the effort to produce additional stimulants to disaggregate the enemy's ISR and clog their analytical processes through reporting must have been beneficial. Achieving this over and over again has an effect. As such, the lesson for the HQ is that deception is not as simple as pointing right and coming from the left. It is about generating complexity for the enemy to decipher. It is about doing a hundred things for them to see one. Finally, it is about always having something to complement manoeuvre. And the more these things are focused towards the same endstate, the more authentic they will appear.
7. PowerPoint is dead. The notebook is back
Part of the road to digitisation for the BDE was redefining what it was that the staff did as part of the HQ. Forcing the HQ to adopt BMS (for example) and the efficiencies discussed hitherto suddenly freed up more time for the staff than had previously been observed. For example, the conduct of the morning Battle Update Brief (BUB) and nightly Commander’s Update Brief (CUB) was done directly from the BMS. PowerPoint was not only ‘not employed’ - it was altogether banned from the HQ. Thus, presenters within the BUB and CUB presented from live overlays that changed as they briefed. Rather than dot points, everyone briefed from their notebooks. Due to dispositions being on the screen, it was not about stating facts, but instead, saying a deduction based on analysis for the Commander to accept or debate. Importantly, the staff work to prepare for the CUB was minimal. The BDE S33 generally took 20-30 minutes before the CUB in preparation. Equally, it was minutes of preparation for the staff and BOS elements. The staff were freed of the traditional churn of preparing slides, ordering and rehearsing them. The re-application of staff time cannot be underestimated. Rather than losing an hour to preparing slides, the staff now applied that hour in discussion and debate about what the enemy was doing and why. Additionally, there was depth applied to understand the JTF Scheme of Manoeuvre (SOM) and amphibious manoeuvre in support of the plan. What was experienced was a rebalancing of staff presentations. Rather than the presentation being of a high quality visually (a strength of PowerPoint), instead the Commander was presented with less visual stimulus that was complemented by more robust analytical thoughts and deductions from the staff. The staff found that CUBs went for much longer than traditional CUBs, though this was not because of what was being presented, but rather due to what was being discussed. As the Commander was presented with continual deductions and analysis, so too did he engage with this. It was as if each CUB was in itself a miniature wargame and debate about how the fight had gone and was going. Thus, the HQ never stopped thinking about the enemy, nor the tactical scenario.
8. The utility of battlefield circulation by the Commander continues to develop
HQ 7th CBT BDE used the Commander's TAC HQ (0C) as a C2 node within the battlespace for Ex HAMEL. While this is not a radical change, it is significant as it redefined what the role of the Commander's Tac was. Traditionally, the Commander's Tac was the tactical element that was small enough to be difficult to detect though robust enough to allow the Commander to conduct battlefield circulation to increase their SA of the battle and ensure that the command level understanding of the battle was set. This requirement was adjusted for 7th CBT BDE during Ex HAMEL. The SA that digitisation provided Commander 7th CBT BDE meant that he did not need to conduct battlefield circulation. Additionally, the systems in place to have encrypted and protected conversations with his COs allowed the Commander to ensure again that his intent was understood as well as the robust discussions often needed on the battlefield. Thus, 0C became a redundancy node for the deployable HQ. It was enabled and bolstered for the step-up of the HQ FWD and took control of the battle for periods of time. It remained detached to allow redundancy in C2 and reinforced the HQ FWD when required. While its strengths and weaknesses varied due to a mismatch in staffing and connectivity, its utility was unquestionable. As such, the questions for the requirement for battlefield circulation within the digitalised age of warfare became present. What is the need for the Commander to go forward in the battle when he/she has more SA from outside of indirect range? Additionally, what does the CO on the ground get from the BDE Commander that they cannot get from an encrypted phone call with them? Do the troops need to see the BDE Commander for morale? These questions are for the provocation of thought rather than a statement of truth. Though the lesson for 7 CBT BDE HQ on Ex HAMEL was that efficiency is the key to success - this included C2 nodes. The Commander was generous enough to offer his Tactical HQ as a redundancy HQ node in the field and sacrifice battlefield circulation to achieve this. On Ex HAMEL 18, this was found to be a successful endeavour with the increased SA achieved through digitisation.
9. Focus on the enemy, not the plan.
A common theme throughout the points above has been how the HQ 7th CBT BDE made the enemy the central focus of action, and not the plan itself. This focus was not by design; instead, it was a result of the approach the HQ took to the planning and execution of operations. During the initial Battle Staff Trainer (BST) that the HQ conducted in the lead-up to Ex HAMEL, advise was received from Observer Trainers that the S2 cell should be bolstered for the conduct of the wargame. As such, during the infancy of planning development, the wargame was conducted in such a manner as to bolster the S2 with additional air, fires and ISR SMEs for the conduct of the wargame. This added to the robustness of the debate that ensued and set in the minds of the staff that a focus on the enemy would be the right way to continue planning. When further planning occurred for Ex HAMEL, the staff committed two days to a reverse BOS analysis. This took the entire team to focus on nothing but the development of the enemy plan for which a COA would have to be developed. Rather than concurrency of the S2 shop developing this plan, the S2 shop simply took notes and learnt from the SMEs during this period to construct a Most Likely (ML) and Most Dangerous (MD) COA. The enemy's capabilities across all BOSs were presented using BMS inclusive of an enemy Commander's intent built by the Commander of the 7th CBT BDE. This then fed into the S2 cell to continue the development of the Intelligence Preparation of the Battlespace (IPB) while the staff switched their focus to the conduct of MA. This initial insight set a culture within the HQ of focusing on the enemy and how they would fight. This was complemented by the COA DEV wargames as discussed previously. As a result, the wargame resulted in a richness of analytical depth when the S2 managed the enemy's action/counteractions with precision and a guided knowledge of the capabilities resident within the opposing force. It is an interesting insight to have a staff that focuses on the enemy and requires the exercise design of a freethinking enemy to apply tangible thought and analysis towards. It paid dividends in the execution of Ex HAMEL and is a good example of how future rotations could apply a similar and more refined process to greatly increase the quality of staff output.
10. Every BOS is equal, and no BOS is more important than the other.
As the staff progressed through the planning for Ex HAMEL, the understanding within the HQ was that each BOS had equal importance within each part of the plan. This egalitarian approach to warfare allowed the staff to tackle each problem it encountered as a team, the sum of which equalled more than the parts. In the design of the Joint Operations Room (JOR), for example, the decision was made early to develop a centralised and single table upon which each BOS would be represented. At the head of the table was the S33. Then around the table were the watchkeepers for the S2, ISR, Brigade Air Liaison Officer (BALO), Mobility and Survivability (MS), Joint Fires and Effects Coordination Cell (JFECC), S4, Health, S1 and a Battle Clerk. Once at the table, everyone had an equal voice. The decision to make everyone face inwards to each other was by design and to evoke a feeling of equality within the BOSs and to ensure that the actions occurring within each BOS were as crucial as the next. The result was a team that was not focused purely on their BOS, but rather on the direction the group was needing to go. While the S33 maintained the order within the room, the BOS watchkeepers were required to be responsive and supportive to each other. Problems were solved in consult with one another and information centralised for everyone, regardless of the seeming insignificance of it. A delicate balance needs to be struck to achieve this synergy. There needs to be an understanding of when time in discussion is to be abated and direction given. Additionally, it required the team to be assembled for the HQ to function correctly. This was a weakness during a HQ step-ups in which 0C could only handle a portion of this. Finally, it is staff intensive with the cells requiring a presence (24 hours of a day) which did not allow for a true redundancy C2 node to be developed due to limited staffing. Though the power of an egalitarian approach to layering effects should not be underestimated. It was established early during the planning process and transcended into the current fight. It ensured that all BOSs understood the direction that they needed to take and that their effects were synchronised within the battlespace.
Where to from here?
HQ 7 CBT BDE had a very fulfilling and satisfying experience on Ex HAMEL. The varying degrees of successes and setbacks were a powerful tool for analysis and understanding of where the ADF's current warfighting capability is at. It was not without its faults which are a powerful catalyst for change in the future. However, with digitisation and the continual improvement of the ADF across every level of war, the lessons continue to evolve and change. The future of the ADF's warfighting capability is in good hands if the organisation continues to learn from its large-scale exercises and approaches them as an opportunity to experiment, learn and develop. The lessons identified in this work are temporary and will soon be redundant as the next formation HQ prepares for their rotation. Though if the BDEs continue to learn from each other, then there will be an evolution upwards with continual progression rather than re-learning the same lessons over and over again.