“When sorrow come, they come not single spies, but in battalions”
– Claudius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet


We live in a time of great global uncertainty. Conflict is raging across Europe where Ukraine is fighting for its national survival against some 300,000 (+) Russian troops[1]. Global food supplies have been impacted by recent conflicts, soil quality, socio-economic conditions and climatic events[2]. Our world population continues to rise, while fish stocks decline, global inflation increases, and energy supplies are being impacted by conflicts and the global pandemic. Strategic competitors within our region have actively sought to improve their strategic positional power and military advantage while western forces fought Counterinsurgency (COIN) and Limited Contingency Operations (LCO) over the last ten years.

Asian strategic competitors maintain a firm hold on majority of the world’s precious materials[3] and continue to aggressively pursue semiconductor and advanced weapon technology. Furthermore, open endorsement of proxy forces and aggressive military expansionism in the near region as part of plans to be the global superpower by 2049[4] increases the chance of strategic miscalculation to occur. History indicates that such uncertainty created by either a clash of cultures, or a fight for resources will inevitably lead to war[5],[6]. Large Scale Combat Operations (LSCO) are on our near-term horizon. How we prepare and train for LSCO will significantly influence our chance of success.

This essay seeks to define LSCO and reviews the phase zero operations and training requirements needed to better prepare the land force for such operations.

Defining LSCO

ADF doctrine does not presently clearly define what LSCO are. ADF-P-3 Operations[7] indicates there are several levels of conflict, but does not specifically mention where LSCO exist on the conflict spectrum, and how this type of operation differentiates from other forms of combat operations, such as COIN or LCO. Instead, it is to be assumed by the reader that LSCO exist under the spectrum of general war, where offensive operations are at their peak. United States (US) doctrine FM3-0 Operations[8] is somewhat clearer. It indicates where LSCO exists on the conflict continuum and defines them to be “intense, lethal, and brutal. Their conditions include complexity, chaos, fear, violence, fatigue, and uncertainty". Scrogin[9] claims that LSCO are characterised by operations conducted at an accelerated tempo, usually starting from a position of disadvantage, where exponential lethality on the battlefield results in catastrophic casualties, and the units of action in LSCO are echelons above brigade (EAB). Greer’s[10] recent studies on the Ukraine war support his claim that LSCO require armies to fight and sustain their forces of overextended distances and time in a battlespace which is non- contiguous and non-linear; and that militaries are required to operate against, and partner with, irregular and proxy forces.

LSCO are characterised by significant use of military power to physically fight another force to achieve a strategic outcome, or positional advantage. These operations reside at the heart of the conflict sphere, and often necessitate national mobilisation due to the amount of resources required to fight and sustain a force over extended lines of communications, and for a significant period of time. The greatest resource required to fight LSCO is human life; the loss of life in LSCO is therefore usually significant. At the Battle of the Bulge, casualty levels were approximately 470 losses per day, resulting in 19,276 killed and over 75,000 wounded in 41 days[11].

Operations in the South-West Pacific in WWII witnessed the Allied forces suffer over 8,500 casualties[12]. The Korean War (which was the last time Australia fought a LSCO and where 339 Australians were killed and 1216 wounded[13]) saw an estimated four million Korean and Chinese people die. More recently, the Ukraine Defence Force continues to experience approximately 100-200 losses a day[14], and it is assessed that 15,000 Russian soldiers have been killed and 45,000 wounded[15]. Recent COIN and LCO have had little in common with LSCO, where the idea of thousands of casualties during a military battle necessitates the Army and nation to prepare themselves well advance for such losses[16].

The loss of life experienced between previously fought LSCO and future LSCO will vary. The proliferation of advanced technologies, professionalisation of military nations, the increasing speed of human interaction, the urbanisation of society and the blending of domains within the joint force will make LSCO more lethal and more likely to occur. It is therefore critical our land force is appropriately designed and prepared for the next LSCO, because the potential cost of losing the next LSCO will be greater than the lives we will lose fighting it. Critical to preparing for LSCO is conducting effective phase zero operations.

Phase Zero Operations for LSCO

For a significant period, SOF were associated as being the most appropriate force of choice for phase zero operations. Petit[17] insists such preference is based on phase zero campaigns being nuanced, requiring the application of SOF to fill domain gaps where diplomacy is the leading art.

Smith[18] argues that Australian phase zero operations would be more effective if a greater whole-of-government approach was employed, while Langford[19] indicates that Australian SOF are complementary, integrative and mutually supportive force multipliers. While it is agreed that SOF execute a critical role in phase zero operations, it also evident the conventional force performs an important role in phase zero operations[20]. However, it is likely that its role has not been well understood or its actions and responsibilities not appropriately defined.

Such actions the combat brigade can undertake include (1) enhancing military-to-military relations through reciprocal international engagements (2) developing an affinity between selected units to enable subsequent partnered operations and support gaining access, (3) enhancing the cultural intelligence of the force through regular overseas deployments so soldiers understand the human demographics better (4) continual development of unit linguistic abilities through language training so soldiers can better communicate in the battlespace (5) conducting regular force projection rehearsals on multiple air and sea platforms so the joint force is prepared to rapidly project (6) conducting staff rides in the likely operating environment to provide better visualisation of the battlespace, and (7) conduct joint training rehearsals with SOF to improve link-up and battle hand over procedures across the force during transition periods.

Some may argue that these actions occur over the training year, however these actions are not occurring in a saturated manner. Just ask a soldier when they last rehearsed driving a PMV onto a C17, or what their knowledge of road infrastructure in the near region is. Or even better, ask how many soldiers in a battalion have deployed overseas within the near region, and can speak the local dialect. Or potentially ask the staff planners in a combat brigade headquarters of what their knowledge is of the Joint Personal Recovery Plan for the specific country that their brigade will likely deploy to. The answers to these questions will be sobering. More needs to be done to operationalise the combat brigade to be the unit-of-action for LSCO. It starts with remediating our shortfalls within phase zero operations, and viewing phase zero operations as the last opportunity to rehearse prior to conducting LSCO.

Training for LSCO

Within the infantry battalion environment, there exists a generation of inexperienced commanders who have either not conducted the attack at all, or alternatively to the required standard to be effective within a LSCO context. In accordance with the Army’s career management system, many will shortly promote or post to other forms of employment. This phenomenon has arisen due to an inconvenient coincidence of a number of factors, including the global pandemic, and a sustained period of commitment to domestic and regional non- warlike operations. The Army has lost most of the limited combat experience gained from fighting in Afghanistan, and plummeting retention and recruitment rates continue to be a concern. Skill-fade and the loss of experienced personnel across the combat brigade presents a real risk to preparing the force for LSCO. Carman highlights this factor, and advocates that momentum is required to be regained if Army is to be a ready force[21]. Unfortunately, no unified recovery plan has been clearly articulated, where the brigade and its units are preserved from competing priorities. A plan to address the individual and collective training shortfalls across the force, and a pathway to regain combat proficiency, is desperately needed to arrest this negative momentum.

On a positive, there has been some excellent recent progress in the manner in which Army trains for war. Implementation of the Army combative training program, enhanced combat shooting and reality- based training are some prime examples. However, more still needs to be done. This includes vertically stacking courses to save time instead of conducting courses in a horizontal manner, where duplication of learning objectives occurs. Having an officer professional development model which exposes personnel to conventional and contemporary brigade and divisional tactics, within a corps and Joint Task Force construct, would better prepare our land force for LSCO. Transforming Amy exercise design models to not conform to a parochial master events list, but adopt a more objective learning approach, will enable greater tactical creativity and realistic experiences based upon tangible actions in the field. Conducting field exercises in a communications denied environment and exercising the complete logistical and administrative chain is vital for preparing the land force for LSCO.

With the Ukrainians suffering 100-200 loses a day in combat, collective training exercises should also replicate such figures, so reconsolidation actions are forced upon the combat brigade and the theatre force reinforcement pool is appropriately tested.

This approach may also inform our government of when we need to mobilise as a nation and prepare our society for the shock created by LSCO. Adopting these measures would enable the principle of ‘training must be realistic’[22] to manifest and prepare the land force for LSCO.


This essay defined what LSCO are and explored potential avenues for how the land force could prepare to fight such operations. It has also identified that Army force structure, doctrine and training models require to change so the land force is better enabled to fight LSCO. I will explore these elements in a subsequent essay. Until then, it is crucial that we continue to understand what the next LSCO will look like, so we can deliberately shape and prepare for it.