Reflections on the First Katari War

By Grant Shottenkirk December 16, 2019

The concept and template for this paper is based on the short story “Angry Engineer” by Mr. Robert J. Hranek. The idea of a lesson learned format based on a future scenario as exercised during Joint Warfare Assessment 19 is a useful mechanism for highlight existing and incoming Australian equipment and a combat narrative (and potential points of friction) while also expanding on future opportunities.


As we approach the 25th anniversary of the First Katari War (sometimes referred as the Great Katari War of 2028), it is worth reflecting on the impact of that conflict and the lessons learned for Australian forces as a result of the Australian Army’s first high end warfighting against a peer competitor since the Second World War.[1]  The equipment, tactics, personnel and force design utilised in the conflict not only reflected the success or shortfalls in previous design concepts but also had a lasting effect on the subsequent constructs that have led to our current military force structure.

While most memorials in the combatant nations have a summary of the conflict, the following synopsis excerpt from the vintage Wikipedia 1.0 article is provided for those requiring a review:

The primary nations involved in the war were Katari, Movari and the allied nations of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.[2]  Historians are in general agreement that Katari was the lead adversary in the region. Katari’s strategic objective was to gain access to energy resources to enable expanded influence in mainland Asia/Pacific by seizing Movari’s oil fields while defending its southern border from potential Barovian aggression.  Movari, a US ally, maintained a mutual defence treaty with the US with its main strategic objectives to protect its sovereignty and historical borders and to enable regional commerce. 

Australia and New Zealand provided the meaningful contribution of a reinforced Mechanised Combat Brigade - the 3rd ANZAC Brigade - under the US 7th Infantry Division (7ID), with US 2nd/25th Brigade, 2nd Canadian Mechanised Brigade Group and 1st UK Strike Brigade making up the flanking formations.  As will be seen, with its full complement of Land 400 armoured fighting vehicles, 3 ANZAC BDE was the heaviest armoured formation of Combined Joint Task Force Courage, the CJTF operating under the US I Corps.  Notably, the Katari War was the first operational use of the US Army endorsed concept: Multi-Domain Combined Arms Operations at Echelons Above Brigade 2025-2045.[3]

The primary Area of Operations for 7ID and 3 ANZAC Bde was on the northern island of Movari, characterized by mountainous terrain with relatively few road movement corridors and numerous riverine and precipitous valleys.[4]

Below are the significant lessons learned:

Lessons Learned 1 (LL1) – No Plan Survives Contact: The I Corps Commander was adamant that the land component based on 7 ID was not to advance to contact until all conditions were set to enable the force to move with a degree of protection and certainty. Unfortunately, this was not the case, and despite a lack of air protection and a poor understanding of the disposition of Katari forces across the battlefront, the Coalition commenced their advance to contact and suffered heavy losses in the first 48 hours. With reinforcements, and a rapid improvement in air protection, the Coalition soon recovered. However, due to the hasty commencement of the advance, against the direction of the I Corps Commander, vital equipment was in short supply for the duration of the campaign. Due to subsequent targeted electronic attack and personnel casualties a decision matrix for the attack is not available, but consensus is that external pressure (political and military) was the reason the attack commenced before conditions were set. It also must be remembered that the ground forces had already been in place for a number of weeks and had suffered casualties both on transit and on arrival through the Movarian ports and airfields.

LL2 – Adapt Quickly: A tactic exemplified by the 3 ANZAC Bde was the use of existing deliberate breach principles in the attack to achieve a combined arms effect and manoeuvre within Multi-Domain Operations, now most familiar to readers as the ‘Winter Principle’. Sky Marshal (then Brigadier) Winter’s use of the breach principles of Suppress, Obscure, Secure, Reduce, and Assault (more commonly known as SOSRA) as a checklist to ensure the alignment of multi-domain effects provided maximum survivability and opportunity for manoeuvre. This was demonstrated through the relative lessor casualties than those suffered by flanking formations. As an illustration, these alignment principles included ensuring allied combat air support was available, there was a priority of long range fires, both electronic and drone jamming was focussed at a point in time and place, and an air defence window was operational when the deliberate operations were conducted.

LL3 – Survivability is Key: The high-survivability specifications of the Australian armoured vehicles resulted in 3 ANZAC Bde being used as the heavy combat manoeuvre element during the campaign. The requirement to self-deploy these vehicles from the Movarian ports to areas due to lack heavy transport was noted but not unprecedented (the attack through Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom had vehicles moving over 500 kilometres before maintenance was conducted). The miniaturisation and integration of communications systems into a common CIS platform allowed Bde and BG HQ to reduce their physical footprint and move rapidly. The high EW threat meant that a static HQ was vulnerable to detection and targeting by the Katari forces. The recently introduced-into-service HQ On The Move (HQOTM) capability allowed BG HQ to gain situational awareness from the Mission Partner Environment whilst not presenting a static HQ node.

LL4 – Air Defence Matters: Post conflict analysis worked out that the highest casualty rate (by trade) amongst 3 ANZAC Bde was in its air defence assets, both in terms of personnel and equipment. The casualty rate of 150% is generally assumed to be accurate. These air defence assets were individually targeted and surgically removed in order to allow further concentrated attacks on coalition forces. The air defence assets were under-equipped and poorly resourced prior to the conflict. This shortfall has now subsequently been improved, notably in the laser equipped air defence vehicles and limited AI stationary systems rushed into development and production after the war.

LL5 – Rear Area Security can be Decisive: The stay-behind Katari forces had a disproportionate battlefield effect on coalition forces. Often working in a pair that remained under the detection threshold, these teams were enabled with communications (either a robust military communication or mobile phone) and a simple set of binoculars or image intensifiers. Sprinkled throughout the battlespace, and committed to remain in place through the campaign, these stay behind forces provided an extremely effective point of observation to identify, track and coordinate precision strikes on high-value coalition enablers (the air defence vehicles are a classic example).  When armed with cheap but accurate and effective anti-tank weapons, these forces became an effective ambush team when coordinated to act jointly. The lack of civilians, through the efforts of the Movarian government to evacuate, also had on impact on rear area security in that advancing forces had complete freedom of movement, rather than being forced to allocate resources to deal with POWs and/or civilians. It has remained prudent for the ADF to continue to plan for non-combatant and POW detention and management. The amount of civil population used as ‘human waves’ to block advances during the Second Katari War and interfere with manoeuvre was completely on the other end of the spectrum and effectively forced operational pauses (as will be shown in future articles).

LL6 – Initiative is our Competitive Edge: Thanks to the Netflix Sensory Immersion Movie ‘Kelly’s Run,’ most of the public are aware of Corporal Kelly Dodd of 1-161 Washington National Guard and what a well-motivated and trained soldier operating within their commander's intent can accomplish. As the sole survivor of her helicopter stick when it was shot down during her battalion's disastrous attempt at an air mobile insertion onto an enemy controlled area, Corporal Dodd’s use of basic soldier combat tactics, innovative communications, and risk created an overwhelming effect on Katari forces until her link up with the forward trace of 3 ANZAC Bde. The full story of Corporal Kelly can be seen at her Medal of Honor plaque in her hometown of Walla Walla, Washington. 

LL7 – Cohesion is based on Trusted Ways of Operating: The first operational use of the reinforced and enabled combat brigade highlighted the necessity for the continued refinement and commonality of combat brigade SOPs that had been pushed from the mid-2010s. While based on 3 ANZAC BDE, the requirement to initially integrate other mechanised units, and eventually significant replacements due to casualties in personnel and equipment, required the common approach to war-fighting to enable immediate understanding. Effort was made not to regenerate capability through the ‘piecemeal’ arrival of replacements and equipment but to consolidate existing units with formed units.  By the end of the ground conflict stage, 2nd Cavalry Regiment was primarily made up of subunits from 2nd/14th and 1st Armoured Regiments. The reality of the White Paper requirement for Australia to provide high-end warfighting capability required the personnel and equipment from all three combat brigades in order to provide a continuous combat presence.   

LL8 – What is old in Logistics is New Again: Following the successful infiltration of the logistics AI network and injection of the self-aware parasitic virus (codenamed GOA’ULD) targeting the AI neural networks, it was necessary for the force to rely upon the older logistic calculators that had been previous proven in the mid-2010s. The calculator used by the Australians (the Vital Planning and Analysis (VIPA) tool) had proven to be time-consuming, with extended delays associated with the planning effort required for an element the size of the 3 ANZAC Bde. Furthermore, the tool was limited in terms of integration with the reports and returns from Bde elements, including those international elements (New Zealand) who were under the command of 3 ANZAC Bde. Similarly, the reports and returns utilised by 3 ANZAC BDE (as specified in the Combat Bde SOP) did not align with the requirements of the 7th Infantry Division or beyond to US I Corps. Accordingly, significant effort was required to align the various reports and returns to enable CSS effects across the Corps and within 3 ANZAC Bde. Had the Australian Defence Force adopted the Logistic Functional Area Services (LOGFAS) tool as used by allied force elements, this planning effort would have been reduced, particularly following the reduced capabilities offered by the logistic AI post-virus.  Following the war, a standard set of R2 and SOPs were promulgated throughout Coalition nations which were regularly exercised at both national and international levels, ensuring that requirements were well understood by all nations prior to another large-scale conflict, a process long championed through the ABCANZ program.

LL9 – How we Fight Equals how we Sustain: The Katari War showed that the 3 ANZAC Bde had some limitations in the capability of its Combat Service Support (CSS) assets; in particular the insufficient number of fuel and heavy equipment lift assets now associated with the recently formed Royal Australian Army Distribution Division (RAADD - pronounced ‘rad’). RAADD formed from the merging of Royal Australian Army Ordnance Corps (RAAOC) and Royal Australian Corps of Transport (RACT) in the early 2020s. During the war, it was necessary for 3 ANZAC Bde to rely on the CSS effects provided by the US I Corps CSS battalions, as the related elements within the ANZAC 3 CSSB were too few to provide the near-continuous effects required by a heavy mechanised BDE during a war of this nature. Indeed, without the CSS effects provided by US I Corps, it could be argued that 3 ANZAC Bde would not have been as successful as it was in prosecuting its mission. Accordingly, the Australian Defence Force should reconsider the fleet composition of Project Land 121 Phase 144 to acquire the number of fuel and lift assets required by 3 ANZAC Bde and its sister Bde’s.

LL10 – Medical support must be invested in and Mass Casualty planned for:  The integral capacity of the 3 ANZAC Bde to care for casualties in a peer-level conflict were a significant shortfall during the war. The amount of casualties taken by 3 ANZAC Bde during the Katari War (though not nearly as decimating as the UK 1st Strike Brigade) was a crucial wake-up for both the defence medical capability, as well as public perception for warfighting against a peer adversary. The subsequent enquires into the care of casualties are well known, as was the limited care capacity for only seven simultaneous, low acuity patients and the overall reliance on allied medical evacuation. As a result of the largest mass casualty event in the ADF's history, the post-Katari war period has seen significant improvements to the health capability. These have included the upgrade of all integral health facilities to Role 2 assets to match the needs of the dependency, as well as the implementation of dedicated aeromedical evacuation platforms in direct support of each combat brigade. Further developments of extended range drones used to evacuate casualties were procured post conflict and used with success in the Second Katari War.  A mind shift on casualty evacuation and timeliness was required, as was triage at the point of injury. The greater timeframe for evacuation, due to air threat and lines of communication, did result in deaths due to wounds at a level comparable to the Second World War. 

LL11 – Fires must be Mobile, Survivable and Responsive:  During portions of the offensive, the M777 towed howitzer Batteries proved incapable of keeping pace with the mechanised forces they were supporting. This mismatch proved challenging for planning staff who were, at times, required to mitigate this dynamic through the slowing of manoeuvre forces or reliance on aerial fires - particularly US Apache gunships. The imagery of a mud-caked Australian Gunner prompted the acquisition of self-propelled artillery after the Katari War, which has enabled a true mobility match for the combat brigades. The initial static and non-flexible Air Tasking Order (ATO) process also required significant modification during the First Katari War in order to reflect the high tempo changes. A rigid 72 hour focused planning cycle did not allow a great deal of flexibility at the brigade level. While the ATO process did evolve to be more responsive, in the initial operations of the war it was found that manoeuvre had to be planned to coincide with available aircraft and air effects, rather than the latter being responsive to the manoeuvre plan. Active campaigning for air affect at the brigade level, as well as from Div to Corps, was essential to confirm availability and a ‘go’ criteria for operations of ANZAC Bde.

LL12 – Protect to Survive and Win: The Katari War saw the first high-end warfighting use of the US Army operating the "Protection Cell" construct. This cell consisted of a number of warfighting elements which were designed to provide a measure of Force Protection to the JTF. The cell was made up of the 7ID Engineer Officer, Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), Chemical Biological Radioactive Nuclear Disposal (CBRND), Military Police and Air Defence personnel. The friction points commenced almost immediately, as there was no clear chain of command, priority of effort or priority of support – an example being the Corps ENGR (1 up) was under the Logistics (G4) function rather than a CUOPS (G3) function. Added to this was the fact that the construct was only a new concept which was also unfamiliar to nearly all members of the cell. To further complicate matters, with the exception of Air Defence, all of the other functions could be grouped under the Survivability function of engineers. There was no initial plan to address the other engineer functions and how they support the J2, J3 and J5 cells. Integration was a matter of developing a common understanding (interestingly, the Commonwealth engineers all operated in relatively similar manners, whilst their US counterparts were stove piped in their specialties). Post-conflict reorganisation saw the implementation of an Engineer based hierarchy, supported by experts in each “Protection” component, which enabled a more versatile and sustainable organisation able to integrate across a multi-national JTF in the Second Katari War.

LL13 – Interoperability must be a Coalition Imperative Before the Fight: Another useful illustration of the complexities of operating in joint coalition environment was the understanding of capabilities and national caveats on everything from blood storage differences to (in this instance) engineer capabilities. In a war characterised by multi-domain effects being applied across all the contemporary domains of war, there was no definable “front”. In order to support a war being fought on numerous fronts, the Division Engineer had to be familiar with capabilities and employment methods of national equipment which were newly introduced. Developing a glossary of common terminology was essential for all engineers within the JTF to enable the understanding of national capabilities. Along with this was establishing an understanding of national caveats. All nations involved had different caveats on the employment of mines, both anti-tank and anti-personnel. Understanding this was essential to enable operational planning, contingency planning, advising payload configurations and supporting the Divisional main effort. The lack of understanding of even individual national caveats was concerning and at times delayed fire missions, limited the capacity to support in a JTF environment, and had significant legal ramifications for the nation and individuals involved.

LL14 – Communications Interoperability Enables Everything: The multinational Division scheme of manoeuvre required coalition ground forces to operate together below Bde level or in close proximity, either during forward passage of lines or battle handover tactical tasks. The inability to exchange secure data (battlefield graphic overlays and position location information) limited the exchange of information to secure voice which reduced tempo and limited situational awareness. This also limited the ability of the Divisional Reserve to be employed decisively as communications interoperability was limited. In at least one instance, the lack of situational awareness contributed to blue on blue fratricide. The continued interoperable secure voice and data at a platform to platform level will be integral to future multinational operations against a peer adversary. The Katari forces employed cyber-attacks against Movari national infrastructure, government agencies and key civilian institutions (banking, etc) in order to disrupt the Movari government’s ability to respond to Katari operations. Multinational communications and C2 systems were targeted primarily through trusted insiders or when poor cyber security practices allowed attack vectors for Katari cyber-attacks. Multinational forces platforms, vehicles or C2 systems designed without a thorough cyber worthiness framework were vulnerable to Katari cyber-attacks, resulting in the denial, disruption or degradation of capabilities. In one instance, Katari cyber forces were able to exploit a vulnerability in an armoured vehicles HUMS external WIFI interface to execute a mobility kill by shutting down fuel to the engine.

LL15 – Targeting must be Aligned and Transparent across Echelons: 3 ANZAC Bde's JFECC learnt two key lessons in the development of authorities for the First Katari War. First was the requirement to have authorities bestowed considering whether the decision is being made in the competition phase or the conflict phase of the operation. Authorities in the competition phase largely concerned non-lethal effects and were particularly difficult to articulate given the nuanced context required and the difficulty of defining likely cumulative and cascading collateral effects. Secondly, consideration as to whether the decision-maker was likely to have communication with their higher level authority. This was particularly relevant to the scenario given communication networks were regularly denied or disrupted. Therefore, the ANZAC Bde's ability to communicate with Australia became a friendly targetable critical vulnerability that, if affected at a critical point in a conflict, would have created decision paralysis unless relevant authorities are given in advance. The provision of authorities post-conflict played a crucial part in the relative success of the Second Katari War. The reduction to manual communication (couriers) meant that a clear understanding of authorities was essential for prosecution due to the time in transit of physical instructions across the distributed area of operations covering both the Katari Artificial Island Chain and mainland.

LL16 – Everyone is a Sensor: Given the requirement to integrate effects from all domains it is evident that systems and equipment should be sensor-to-shooter agnostic, which is to say that each potential sensor should be able to prosecute targets with each potential shooter. Furthermore, there must be processes in place to facilitate the expedient consideration of these cross-domain requests. Whilst this is difficult enough to achieve with lethal fires in the land-air-sea domains, the problem continues to be compounded when considering the cyber and space domains and the information environment. The increased use of limited AI systems has enabled this somewhat, but full integration is still not a reality, even 25 years post-conflict due to both residual electronic viruses and GPS contamination.

LL17 – Rehearsals are invaluable: Familiar to most through the case study in current Australian doctrine, the ANZAC and Canadian Bde’s rehearsal of concept (ROC) for a forward passage of lines is a classic example of the use of rehearsal to deconflict complex actions, particularly in a coalition environment. The importance and investment in personnel is essential to ensure the plan is understand at all leadership levels and allow full mission command, in particular with the dangers of degraded communications and digital networks. In this case, a Canadian forward passage of lines through the ANZAC Bde was rehearsed in the ruins of a Movari warehouse prior to crossing the line of departure. Crucially this was an opportunity to discuss and modify the plan, as well as confirm understanding of different doctrine where subtle differences have enormous flow on effects. This was realised at the crucial initial contact point when the OC of the lead and rear elements (having already spoken) were able to coordinate the start of the forward passage of lines despite being under air attack at the time.


With the benefit of hindsight, the survivability and ability to shoot, move and communicate under pressure were key elements of the ANZAC Bde's success. Operation in a coalition environment continues to generate friction, as it did in the Katari War, in particular regarding the interoperability of systems, both logistics and digital. This was mitigated to a degree, but it required (and still requires) a constant attention and effort to align capabilities. Common doctrine was developed after the Katari War, but it must be followed. Shortfalls, particularly in CASEVc, have been resolved to a degree, but the shallow depth of bespoke capability remains a shortfall in contemporary ANZAC operations. Finally, it is always worth referring to points that were as true in 2028 as today – war and conflict is a combination of friction, chaos and chance.  As always, the enemy gets a vote on the conduct of the conflict. Success, as demonstrated by the ANZAC Bde, was achieved through the ability to adapt quickly, the encouragement of initiative with a bias for action, and clear mission command.


End Notes

[1] The concept and template for this paper is based on the short story “Angry Engineer” by Mr. Robert J. Hranek.  The idea of a lesson learned format based on a future scenario as exercised during Joint Warfare Assessment 19 is a useful mechanism to highlight existing and incoming Australian equipment and combat narrative (and potential points of friction) while also expanding on future opportunities.

[2] Katari and Movari are militaries with peer capability.  Movari uses the general outline geography of Japan.  The oil fields are located to the east and west of Honshu in Japan.  Katari occupied the Northern Island (Hokkaido) and the north of the Main Island (Honshu).

[3] TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-8

[4] The scenario AO was simply sections of Washington State overlayed on Japan.  For those who are familiar with the Pacific Northwest, the AO was primarily east of Seattle in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and also the populated areas of Ellensburg, Wenatchee and the Columbia River.  This was overlayed on the north of the island of Honshu.



Grant Shottenkirk

Inspired by Sky Marshal Winter, this paper was developed and edited by LTCOL Grant Shottenkirk, DCOMD 3 ANZAC BDE (current whereabouts unknown). The lessons learned are collected from interviews of primary 3 ANZAC Bde staff, unit staff and COs post the First Katari War.


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.

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