Future Operating Environment

Future Fires | A New Approach to Understanding Offensive Support

By Greg Colton January 16, 2020

As an Army in Motion, the Australian Army is constantly modernising. Significant resources - in terms of time, money and manpower - are allocated to procuring modern equipment which will allow the Army to succeed on the battlefield. Yet, by viewing procurement through the lens of capability are we maximising our future battlefield advantage? Is there a better way in which the Army can approach modernisation?

Last year I wrote a paper examining the decision by the Australian Army to cancel the self-propelled howitzer project in 2012. It was written as part of the requirements for a post-graduate degree in Decision Analytics and the aim was to determine whether, with the benefit of hindsight, the decision had been a sound one and provided good value for money for the Australian taxpayer. The research led me to a fascinating question: how can we put a dollar value on effect rather than on capability? For after all, the purpose of all military capabilities is to create an effect. By focusing on the cost of the capability, rather than how much we are paying to create that effect, are we missing the point?

This led to weeks of grappling with an abstract concept until – in a genuine eureka moment – I found an obscure equation in an old military journal article. This discovery not only provided a solid basis for giving comparative monetary values to effect rather than capability, but also led to some profound questions of how the Australian Army should employ artillery in the future.

In this article I discuss both in turn, in the hope that it will generate discussions regarding procurement in Army Headquarters and conversations regarding the future use of offensive support within Forces Command.





Greg Colton

Greg Colton is an infantry officer with 18 years’ experience in both the British and Australian armies, including operational service in Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia and the Pacific. Greg has had range of regimental, instructional and staff postings and recently took a years’ sabbatical to accept a Research Fellowship at the Lowy Institute, Australia’s leading international policy think-tank. While at the Lowy Institute he ran a Defence funded project examining drivers of instability in the Pacific. On his return to the Army, Greg assumed his current position as SO1 Professional Military Education at Forces Command. He is also Director of The Cove.

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.


Surely in this context capability has to be the deciding factor. On the table was the M109A6 SPG (using the same 155mm gun and computer), just mounted on a Bradley chassis. The most significant difference in effect is surely the ability of the SPG to jockey immediately the last round has been fired to avoid counter battery fires, and the ability to continually support mechanized manoeuvre without needing to collapse positions and go off line; at the adversary's end, the differences in effect are statistically negligible. However, I'd argue that, outside Talisman Sabre or Hamel, it is exceedingly unlikely that the ADF will be involved in a major peer-matched manoeuver war and thus a self propelled artillery capability is unlikely to be relevant for Australian operations in the next 20 years. The cost savings could have gone to something useful...like an IFV that's not just the stretch version of a Vietnam throwback. 

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