Combined Arms as a foundation concept has been around almost as long as warfare itself. As commanders sought ways to create asymmetry between their own forces and their enemies, combined arms was used to cover weaknesses with strengths. For a comprehensive summary of combined arms read: 'The Abbreviated Evolution of Combined Arms'.
During WWI, creeping barrages introduced the concept of combined arms into modern day warfare. Artillery fire was employed in such a way that it was dropped just ahead of advancing friendly infantry and continually crept forward as the assault was carried out. If synchronised correctly, the barrage would obscure enemy visibility of advancing forces and force them to remain in their trenches during the advance.
It also had the ability to affect depth trenches, allowing friendly forces to capture many lines of trenches in one assault without being significantly hindered with enemy direct depth fires. This significantly increased the speed at which terrain could be captured and battles could be fought and won.
First employed in a time of wired communications, the creeping barrage was largely based on timings and phase lines through line of sight over the battlespace. If the battle was stalled or adjusted in any way there was significant risk that the creeping barrage would fail to adequately support the advancing infantry, or worse, cause fratricide.
The invention of tanks furthered the concept of combined arms by providing protection, speed, and shock action. Before tanks, mounted infantry were used to increase the speed at which infantry could charge opposing trenches. Armour brought with it an arms race to have the best armoured vehicles, and subsequently the best anti-armour weapons in opposition.
Today, combined arms concepts include reconnaissance, mounted and dismounted infantry, armour, artillery, combat engineers, aviation (reconnaissance, attack, and transport), logistics, communications, cyber, and space. We also fight as a joint force, which adds a different dimension to the overall combined arms effect.
The future of our military will include increases in disruptive technology and expansion of our unmanned systems including the potential for autonomous systems. Additionally, joint fires and effects will substantially increase through expansion of the RAN subsurface fleet, increases in the lethality of Air Force munitions, and the addition of long-range rocket capabilities.
This not only adds to the combined arms effect but may also signal the need for a change in how we view combined arms. Fighting these capabilities will not only require new training and changes in doctrine, but also discussion around how they can be employed together with existing capabilities to maximise our opportunity to use strengths to cover weaknesses and create asymmetry against our enemy.
The future capabilities of Army are almost here, and we need to learn how to fight with them to best effect. Combined arms warfare will play a significant role in this. But we need to adapt to employing combined arms with the modern integrated force in order to get the best effect from our resources and ensure we are fit for purpose.