This article was a submission to Cove Comp '23.
Quite possibly the most difficult predictions anyone can make is what any future war will entail and the potential demands that our personnel will face. Often wars see a mix of old, contemporary, and emerging technologies, and in the same vein, redundant and emerging tactics and strategies employed during these conflicts. An example is the current war in Ukraine that has seen massed human wave attacks similar to World War One (WW1) fighting, to modern combined arms manoeuvres, to not often seen unmanned surface vehicles. Technological advancements in weapons and equipment continue to change warfare at the tactical and operational levels and have done so in virtually every conflict. Today, specific geopolitical conflicts are often already difficult to forecast, modern and emerging technologies will impact the future battlespace in ways that make forecasting them even more difficult.
Despite this, the nature of warfare changes little regardless of the region or the parties involved. Recency bias often draws our attention to conflicts in the present or in the past decade, but we must always consider the full spectrum of conflicts past, present, and emerging. Recency bias can sometimes blind us to new and emerging threats within the world. A sample of recent emerging technologies that the ADF may see in the future include:
- Artificial intelligence (AI)
- Lethal autonomous weapons
- Hypersonic weapons
- Directed energy weapons
- Biotechnology and quantum technology
This submission seeks to discuss how the Royal Australian Armoured Corps (RAAC) should look to evolve in order to meet projected but, in reality, largely unknown challenges of a possible future conflict anywhere within the world and against any prospective adversary.
Commitment to combined arms integration
Significant work so far has been undertaken to ensure that much of our field manoeuvre training is conducted in an all arms environment. This has seen the significant strengthening of the bonds between the RAAC and Royal Australian Infantry (RAInf). Positive flow on effects have included greater understanding of unit Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and Tactics Techniques and Procedures (TTPs) at the squadron/company and troop/section levels within both corps. Additionally, improved interoperability also continues to develop with the Royal Australian Engineers (RAE), Royal Australian Artillery (RAA), and RAAC. These three corps in particular are imperative to the successful operation involving any significant armour and infantry actions. If WW1 and more recent actions in the war between Russia and Ukraine have taught us anything, it is that operations involving a single corps are most likely doomed to spectacular failure. Massed armour or massed infantry assaults alone are highly vulnerable due to inherent weaknesses and must be avoided at all costs. The Armoured Cavalry Regiment (ACR) concept has been successful in continuing to reinforce the ongoing need for combined arms operations at all levels. How the RAAC deals with future emerging threats may be a ‘trial by fire’, but whilst working in a combined arms team the solution will be better found via the collection of knowledge from our troops and officers.
Focused operations within a Joint and Coalition environment
Whilst combined arms operations are excellent, they still are often vulnerable to a range of threats such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), AI systems, and autonomous weapons. In order to offset some of these potential vulnerabilities, combined arms activities need to be augmented within a joint and coalition environment. This specifically means the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), and including our United States (US) and United Kingdom (UK) allied partners. The RAAC must take and make every opportunity to train with the other services and seek to support coalition partners whenever possible in order to leverage their considerable capabilities and assets which will in turn augment the RAAC in any operation. These services and partners bring a wealth of experience and a range of assets that are able to counter UAV’s and missile systems – something that is not readily available to the RAAC. Armoured Fighting Vehicles (AFV) are at present proving to be highly vulnerable to many of these weapon systems but when supported effectively these weaknesses are significantly lessened.
Commitment to excellence of individual personal skills and vehicle craft
Having worked with numerous countries’ armies previously I can state with confidence that the RAAC produces some of, if not the best, AFV crew commanders and crewman anywhere within the world. Our crew commanders are highly trained and are able to adapt to virtually any terrain and modern threat posed. Whether it be from direct attack, indirect attack, or from an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) or similar weapon, as seen in the deserts of Afghanistan, the cities of Iraq, and through to the jungles of Vietnam. What has been an enduring feature of our crew commanders’ abilities has been individual vehicle craft and our command and control from the regimental, squadron, and troop levels.
It can often be easy to get caught up in the latest and futuristic technologies and to become focused on these systems, incorrectly believing that their presence in a conflict has the potential to change everything. A belief of this type may come as a detriment as individuals might overlook contemporary existing threats to our personnel.
We are seeing in real-time in the War in Ukraine the effects poor vehicle craft and inexperienced crews are having in battle. Countless times Russian armoured and logistics vehicles and troops becoming decisively engaged due to an inability of commanders to utilise terrain, cover and concealment effectively. Additionally, individual vehicles all the way up to large scale formations have repeatedly demonstrated that an inability to manoeuvre tactically rapidly transforms such assets into cannon fodder against Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGM) and modern artillery systems. The RAAC must continue to learn from these mistakes and never think that this could not happen to us.
History has shown us that there will always be another ‘next big thing’ coming. These new weapons or technologies will inevitably draw significant attention and have us asking ‘How will we deal with this threat?’ From the birth of the crossbow to the long range HIMARS, militaries have adapted as necessary in order to counter new threats. The RAAC and its variations have fought in every conflict since WW1 and will continue to do so moving forward. The RAAC will evolve to meet future challenges through an ongoing commitment to combined arms operations, working within joint and coalition environments at every opportunity and, most importantly, continued training of our crews – committed to excellence of personal individual vehicle craft (with potential optional beards) within any operational environment and conflict.