A Conversation with the AUKUS Army Chiefs on Land Power’s Contribution to AUKUS Pillar 2

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This transcript is from a CSIS event hosted on March 11, 2024. Watch the full video here.

Seth G. Jones: Welcome, everyone. Welcome to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. My name is Seth Jones, Vice President here. And welcome, more importantly, to “A Conversation with the AUKUS Army Chiefs on Land Power’s Contribution to AUKUS Pillar 2.”

AUKUS, which was first announced in September of 2021 is a trilateral U.S., U.K., Australia defense partnership, which includes two pillars – Pillar 1 and Pillar 2. I’ll let Dr. Charles Edel talk more about that. But last year, the Australian, British, and U.S. army chiefs signed a statement of intent identifying capabilities of priority for cooperation across the three countries. This effort is intended to contribute to the broader work under AUKUS Pillar 2.

So in this panel discussion, which I’ll hand off to Charlie, U.S. General Randy George, U.S. General – U.K. General Sir Patrick Sanders, and Australian Lieutenant General Simon Stuart will discuss AUKUS Pillar 2 from a land domain perspective and how the three armies can work together to enhance collaborative efforts in capability developments. Charlie, over to you.

Charles Edel: Great. Well, thank you very much, Seth. Thanks, everyone, for joining us here today, all our distinguished guests that we have, and for those of you who are tuning in online for this discussion about AUKUS and how it intersects with land power. I’m thrilled to have the three AUKUS army chiefs from Australia, from the United Kingdom, and from the United States here with us today.

When AUKUS came out, as Seth just described in September of 2021, everyone immediately fastened on Pillar 1. That is the nuclear-powered, conventionally armed submarines. That was what AUKUS looked like. So, naturally, it had a maritime dimension and focus to it. But AUKUS, of course, is broader than that. And it’s evolved over the past two-plus years. In fact, it continues to evolve about both what it is and what it might become. And that really brings us to our conversation here today.

Now, Seth had mentioned Pillar 2. Pillar 2 is an initiative to really hone, push, and forge collaboration between the three nations in advanced technologies, whether we’re talking about hypersonic missiles, quantum, artificial intelligence, unmanned vehicles, or a range of other options.

Really, that is what AUKUS is. But understanding that has been a bit of a challenge thus far. And to really discuss what opportunities Pillar 2 might bring, to discuss the emerging challenges in the Indo-Pacific theater and how land power is situated to meet those challenges, and really hone in on this particular configuration – Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States – and why it’s so critical in this theater, I’m beyond honored to have the three Army chiefs here.

Lieutenant General Simon Stuart has been the Australian Chief of Army since July of 2022, bringing 35 years of experience and command at every level, from the company to the joint task force to the brigade to the force level, and having served in East Timor, Afghanistan, Egypt, and Israel. And most recently, before this role, he served as the lead of land capabilities in Army headquarters.

Next to him I have General Sir Patrick Sanders, who has been the Chief of the British Army since June of 2022 and has over 38 years of service and command experience in Northern Ireland, in Kosovo, in Bosnia, in Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Finally, last, but certainly not least, General Randy George, who assumed duties as the 41st Chief of Staff of the Army in September of 2023, prior to that serving as the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army. He was commissioned as an infantry officer in 1988 from West Point and has previously served in Italy, in Iraq, and Afghanistan.

We’re going to hear some initial thoughts. I’ll run the conversation for a little while, but very eager to make sure that we go out to the audience for questions. That means both people who are online – you can register questions directly through our portal – but also for those of you in the room too.

Let me turn to you first, General Stuart. And I’m hoping that you can begin this conversation by telling us how the Australian Army is really thinking about the transformation that it needs to undergo to meet the new types of challenges that we’re seeing in the Indo-Pacific region.

Lieutenant General Simon Stuart: Thanks, Charlie.

If I might just begin by thanking CSIS for hosting this today and to Seth for the introduction, to you, Charlie, and also to my friends and counterparts and everybody that’s turned out today.

Just last year the Australian government commissioned a very detailed review called the Defense Strategic Review and then issued very clear direction to the Department of Defense and the ADF. And it’s probably worth just taking a moment to sketch out the context. It, as would be familiar to my counterparts, recognized that in an era of great-power competition, defense and security is once again a whole-of-nation endeavor. But even more so, it requires us to work even more closely and in a more integrated fashion with allies and with partners.

As military professionals, our greatest challenge is balancing the enduring human nature of warfare with its ever-changing character. And that ever-changing character is absolutely dominated by technological advancement at pace. And so really the challenge for us is how do we adapt at a speed that is relevant. And very clearly, by working together, we can achieve the sort of tempo, the sort of speed and the sort of outcomes that we all need.

My job, of course, as the Chief of Army, is to maximize the value proposition of land power and the contribution that armies and land power make to the combined multidomain force, or the integrated force, as we describe it.

And if I can just quickly, you know, sketch out what that value proposition looks like, five key elements – we can go into them in a bit more detail later – but presence. Land forces are present among populations. They can understand the environment.

They are persistent. They can consolidate gains across the integrated force. They can provide reassurance for partners and they can contribute to deterrence through their persistent effect.

Asymmetry. In the Indo-Pacific region the A2/AD complexes are optimized to defeat air and maritime forces so how do we leverage the asymmetric effect of standing land forces that are distributed, that are survivable, that are sustainable. And, of course, the ability to support our navy and maritime forces in their maneuver by applying maritime fires from the land and expand the options there.

The fourth is versatility. You can take almost any army unit or formation and it can perform a very broad range of tasks from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief through combat operations.

And, fifthly, and I think particularly importantly in today’s climate we are really good value for money. You get a lot of bang for the buck out of armies and out of land forces. So a relatively inexpensive way of generating that value proposition.

From an Australian army perspective, I’m part of an ADF that has been directed to move from being a joint force to an integrated force. Quite simply, that means joint force converges in effect. An integrated force is something you do to very deliberately and consciously design an integrated force so it’s more than the sum of its parts.

We’ve been directed to move from a balanced to a focused force and that means prioritizing, and very clearly AUKUS Pillar 1 is a great example of that prioritization, and the army I’m privileged to lead has been directed to optimize for littoral maneuver operations.

And if I may just finish on that, whenever you mention littoral people immediately think of ships, boats, watercraft. They are absolutely central and important and vital, but it’s actually about maneuver and advantage for the multi-domain force.

The littorals are a couple of hundred kilometers either side of the beach, the air above that space, the electromagnetic spectrum that operates within it, and the space capabilities that can be applied within it. So it’s how do you better leverage positional advantage for that integrated or combined multi-domain force.

And so our adaptation or transformation is all about very quickly filling the gap between where we are today and our capabilities, where we need to be in the future, long-range precision fires, the ability to draw on a persistent sensor network, to decide at machine speed, and to be able to maneuver in those littorals but also to maintain the capability for the close fight – the combined arms fight – which is often the decisive phase in any battle and campaign.

Dr. Edel: Thanks very much.

One of the things that you had said, which I hope maybe we can draw out a little bit more, is the shift, as you rightly noted, highlighted in the Defense Strategic Review about different suite of challenges than we had previously so, therefore, a different type of force – no longer balanced across to everything but focused against a particular type of challenge.

So, hopefully, we can pull that thread a little bit more. But things look similar but not the same in a different part of the world.

General Sanders, really, with the army fully invested in European security, quite obviously, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how you see the British army evolving against the backdrop of what’s happening in Europe and then on top of that, because it is on top of that, what is the role for the British army in the Indo-Pacific?

General Sir Patrick Sanders: Well, thanks, Charles. And it’s – I mean, as Simon said, it’s a huge honor to be here sharing a platform with the British army’s two closest partner armies and two close personal friends in Randy and Simon as well.

Unlike many I have spent much of my operational career serving alongside U.S. and Australian soldiers. It’s also a signal honor to be here. You’re described as the finest defense and national security think tank in the world – that’s quite a place to be sitting – and this feels timely.

We can see threats proliferating at a scale and a pace and a vector that we probably haven’t seen for 80 years or more. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that these threats begin to metastasize together. And it’s timely, in the sense that time is surely the most critical strategic resource that we have in the face of these threats. And so it is so important to begin to restore deterrence. And that’s about magazine depth. It’s about warfighting competitive edge. And it’s about partners. And that is what is at the heart of AUKUS. And for us, AUKUS Pillar 2.

So I thought I’d just talk a little bit about strategy, about Ukraine, about land power, and what we’re doing about it. On strategy, I always tend to go back to George Kennan. I think that it’s hugely resonant with the Euro-Atlantic area at the moment, but more widely as well. And from that, we need to relearn the nuances of the strategies of containment, of deterrence, and coercion. But it’s also clear that we no longer have the luxury of treating means as something that is discretionary, because a lack of strategic means will ruthlessly undermine the ends that we’re pursuing. And we need, in that context, just to remind ourselves that Russia is currently spending 40 percent of public expenditure on defense and security.

So that draws us to Ukraine. And Ukraine – and I’ll say this unashamedly – Ukraine really matters. I mean, this is the greatest geostrategic catastrophe for the free world, arguably, since World War II. It is the principal pressure point on a really fragile world order. And it is about – it is about a few thousand hectares of fertile land in eastern Ukraine. But it’s about much more than that, too. This is a concerted attempt to defeat our system, our way of life politically, psychologically, and symbolically. And I think Ukraine is the test for our generation.

And how we respond to that test is going to reverberate through history, because Russian aggression cannot stand. Because if we fail, if you contemplate what failure looks like, we end up with a world that is – that we bequeath to our children and our grandchildren that is infinitely more unstable, infinitely more perilous, where autocracies have been emboldened, and our collective deterrence and security has been weakened. So for now, Ukrainian blood, and we should be clear about that, and bravery is buying time. But they need our support. And it’s not just morally right to do that. It is in our own self-interest, because preserving our future security by supporting Ukraine is much better value than fighting a war.

And then thirdly, just turning to land power, I mean, I’m an army chief. So I’m going to advocate for my domain, not in zero-sum terms. But it is an inescapable fact that land is where people live. It’s where human affairs are settled. It took a great naval strategist, Julian Corbett, to remind us that, except in the rarest of cases, the great affairs of state are settled on land. And its where wars are concluded. And I think, Simon was saying, that it is growing in relative value as a domain. Because as we see projectile ranges and precision increasing, the large capital platforms in the other domains are at risk.

And you can mitigate this by thinking cross domain, because cross-domain effects are more deliverable than ever. And, as Simon said, land platforms are disposable, dispersible, survivable, and they’re cheap. They’re really good value. And they allow you to unlock challenges in much more constrained and contested maritime and air domains. And that’s as applicable to the Euro-Atlantic area as it is to the Indo-Pacific.

So what does all this mean for us? Well, I’m frequently guided by Dr. Jack Watling. I’ll give him a chuck up because I think he’s becoming a national treasure. Works at RUSI, if you haven’t been there. And he writes that if the fundamental elements of the character of war are changing – as Simon was saying – then armies have to transform and not just optimize. And we are going through, as an army, the most profound transformation of my career. It’s guided – our North Star, if you like, is an operating concept – a land operating concept that is the most significant, tested, and peer-reviewed of any concept that we’ve produced in more than a generation.

The context it describes is happening right now. And the principal deductions and recommendations that you draw from that have to be applied to the force right now. But the processes that we have for design, for acquisition, are based on an orderly, measured cascade of ideas, and then very stately approvals processes. And we’re operating in series rather than in parallel. And we have to transform that. And it can be the only approach. And that transformation demands a leap of faith. It demands ruthless prioritization, a willingness to discard all those old structures and old ideas, and a tolerance of risk, including financial risks, that feels counterintuitive when you are husbanding taxpayer resource.

What does all that mean for us? As you said, NATO is our north star, but it’s not exclusive in the way that you implied. Indeed, the U.K.’s largest and most persistent presence, to use two of the characteristics that Simon described, in the Indo-Pacific are land. We have a joint task force which operates alongside the U.S., the Australians, and other partners across the Indo-Pacific. And the Indo-Pacific – a free and open Indo-Pacific – is in the U.K.’s strategic long-term interests.

And Pillar 2 of AUKUS allows us to develop high-end capabilities that will enhance deterrence, yes, in the Indo-Pacific, but it’s applicable across all theaters. And the way we think about how we design that force is really guided by four values: height, breadth, depth, and edge.

So height is about our convening power as a multidomain integrator, as Simon was describing, and as a leader across NATO. So, if you like, that’s about growing core-level capabilities.

Breadth is about broadening our strategic utility, and therefore offering greater choice, more options for government. And that’s generally growing capabilities at the formation level, including a global presence – persistent presence in the Indo-Pacific.

Depth is about magazine depth. It’s our ability to endure through conflict, particularly through people and stockpiles.

And edge are those things that contribute most to warfighting competitiveness.

So, for us, AUKUS Pillar 2 is predominantly about edge, because it’s the – it’s the cutting-edge joint cross-domain technologies; and it’s about breadth, probably best represented by the multidomain taskforce that Simon and I have been invited to contribute to, and we will. So those are the things that we’re wrestling with, how do we balance those four values. And I’m happy to unpack them further in questions, but I’ll stop there.

Dr. Edel: Terrific. Thank you. I was really struck by your comment about what Ukrainian blood has purchased for everyone else, which is time. And so the question, obviously, becomes: Time to do what and acquire what and set ourselves up for what? We’ll pull on that a little bit, too.

General George, this past week you’ve been hosting two of our closest allies. I’m really curious if you might kick us off with your thoughts about how the U.S. Army is thinking about collaborating with two of its closest allies in order to drive some of this future collaboration that we just heard described.

General Randy A. George: Sure. And, first, it’s great to be up here with my teammates, and we’ve had a really good couple of days of conversations.

So I could repeat a lot of the things, I think, that Simon and Patrick both said about the environment. And just when I’m out talking to our commanders, I mean, for 36 years in the Army I don’t think I’ve seen the change that I’ve seen, you know, that’s happening in our world over the last – just the last couple of years. And we always say that the world is complex. We’ve been saying that, I think, forever. And I think the difference is, as Patrick suggested, is it’s also very volatile. I mean, any regional – I don’t think anything now is regional anymore. It could be a spark that could set things off. So a lot of the discussions that we’ve been having are a big focus area for us inside the Army, and that’s how we transform and how do we – how do we change.

And I have four – we have four big focus areas in the Army.

Warfighting, to make sure that we’re always focused on building lethality and building cohesive teams. And we want our formation to know that up and down.

Delivering ready combat formations are important for the Army because – and we – for the U.S. Army, we’re a global army. We just – just this last weekend, we sent 7th Transportation Brigade over to the Middle East to help, you know, set up the port there in Gaza. So we got to be ready to do anything.

And Army is a big part, for us, for Army Materiel Command and everything we do for the – you know, organic industrial base. Patrick mentioned magazine depth, and that’s critically important. You know, we had a lot of discussions on that.

I think the big thing that we all – all three of us realize is that, you know, the old model of where you would, you know, put something out and say you had to change and maybe look at a system coming online in three, four, or five years, I think that we – you know, that we have to be quicker than that. And so what we talk about in the U.S. Army is continuous transformation. And what we’re – we’re seeing all the lessons that we’re learning from the Ukraine or the Middle East, you really can’t hide anymore, you know, with all the sensors that you have out there, the UAS that’s out there. Everybody in here is in probably a million cellphone photos. I mean, there’s really no hiding, you know, that’s out there right now. And that has implications for what we’re – you know, how we’re going to have to transform.

Commercial tech is moving much quicker than military tech in a lot of areas. And so we had a lot of, you know, conversations about that. I think people are moving to cities. Combat’s moving to cities. And, you know, that will have implications on what your force, what your capabilities are, and how you’re going to do those things.

So we’ve really been focused on that. And it’s a lesson observed, I think, until you actually make changes inside your service to whatever you’re doing, with changing how you operate. And this is what we’re talking about. We have to change how we operate on the battlefield. We know that, for example, you can’t have these big C2 nodes, command-and-control nodes, that we’ve had. You’re going to have to be dispersed, small, very low signature that’s out there, or you’re going to get killed on the battlefield. And we have to transform how that looks.

We are going to – we talked a lot about unmanned systems and what we can do to partner in that area. And that’s also tech that is moving really fast, and we have to figure that out; same with countering unmanned systems that are counter-UAS. And I think we’ve also seen just what missile technology – and I think this gets to the cost-effective, what we can do with PrSM, for example, one of our systems that can – you know, how far that can reach. It’s very, very difficult to target land-based fires. And I think we’ve seen that over in Ukraine. They can hide, they can move, and they’re very effective, and just what that will do to contribute to the joint force.

So we’re busy in the Army, but we have to continuously transform. And what we’re doing is undertaking, is using every advantage that we have together as AUKUS nations, to use exercises for us to transform. We were just out at Project Convergence, all three of us working together and making advancements. And, you know, what we’re calling it in the U.S. Army is transforming in contact. We’re going to have to transform in Europe. We’re going to have to transform formations that are in the Middle East and we’re going to have to transform units that are out in the Pacific. And so we just have to have that culture, that innovation mindset. And we spent a lot of time talking about what we can do together to get momentum in those areas.

Dr. Edel: Perfect. Thanks very much.

If I can go back now to all of you, really. It’s something that all of you have touched upon. General George, you just gave us an example that it’s very hard to find distributed land forces. And so one of the things that I’d really like to draw out on this conversation is how do you think about, how should we think about, how land power contributes both to a combined fight, joint fight, in a theater that is predominantly water-based?

General George, would you start us off on that?

Gen. George: Yeah. I think you’re not going to win a war, you know, from the sea. I don’t think you’re going to win a war from the air. I’m certainly not saying that you would just from the land. I mean, I think that there’s no such thing as, you know, a maritime theater, for example. I think these are joint theaters. And it’s going to take everybody’s capability to do that. We certainly appreciate and we absolutely – you know, it’s going to have to be a joint team, and the Navy for the global commons.

But what – I think you just said it. What you can do with long-range fires and, you know, distributed forces that are out there in whatever environment, whether it’s the Pacific or anywhere else, I think, is going to be the difference; same with – it’s going to come down to, I think – it typically does – to a close fight in the streets, to – you know, people are living – and I think Patrick or Simon said that – people are living on the land. Command-and-control nodes are on the land in cities. And so I think it’s going to be the whole joint team that’s going to have to be successful out there.

Dr. Edel: Would you like to add to that at all? I’m trying to think, too, about this, about more capabilities, more attributes that we’re looking for, particularly that we’ve learned over the last couple years. I mean, this is a question that I got from several folks incoming that all three of you have talked about transformation, but we’ve had transformation shoved in our face with not one but two wars that we’re watching play out now. Things that we didn’t think were possible – for instance, the Ukrainians, who have no navy, sinking and destroying the Russian Navy – are transforming how we think about not only war but about power and the capabilities that we need to acquire.

So, General Sanders, if I can ask you about this, can I ask you to pull a little bit about both innovation and technology that we’ve seen flowing out of Ukraine and the conflicts in the Middle East? Particularly, you know, one example of this is kind of increased ways, as you were talking about our phones, but how it is that we detect and target forces? How does that apply to a much larger theater across a maritime realm, but that will come in the form of land power.?

Gen. Sanders: So Ukraine points to a combination of regression and progression. A lot of the lessons that you see come out of Ukraine remind us, as Simon was saying, about this simply being the nature of war. You know, we are – you could see the same things – scenes that could have been at Antietam, could have been from the First World War. Those are playing out right in front of our eyes. And those facets of war I don’t think will change. But we’re also seeing, as you’re hinting at, extraordinary progressive, almost revolutionary change in some of the character of war.

And perhaps the most revolutionary aspect to this is what you could almost describe as a Cambrian explosion of autonomous systems. Now, not all of them are working effectively. So up to 80 percent of the drones during one period, recently, simply were not getting through because of an extraordinarily contested electromagnetic spectrum and effective Russian use of electronic warfare. But I think this does point to a very, very significant change. And that, of course, is enabled by data, and being able to freely flow data from sensors through to deciders through to effectors, and across all domains.

And just last week in Camp Pendleton, you saw a perfect example of that where we were able to take data from an Air Force sensor – which we previously wouldn’t have been able to do not least because of levels of classification – and exchange it and pass it through a decider, and then to an effector, both a British effector and an Australian effector. And the Australian effector was actually located in Australia. And that was done at machine speeds. So you can see how the range – you combine that with the sort of rate precision, the ability to use ubiquitous sensors, and the ranges and the precision that we can achieve with multidomain effectors.

So a land-based missile, PrSM, being fired out of a 30,000 – not 100 million – $30,000 platform, which is hard to find. Can reach out to previously unthinkable distances and target a maritime platform. So that gives you a sense of how I think the innovation that we’re seeing feeding – you know, being developed in places like Ukraine, has got direct transfer and applicability into the Indo-Pacific.

Dr. Edel: Yeah. I really like these concrete examples that you’ve offered up for us, that we can see bespoke capabilities in the EW domain, in the fires and in the data sharing and transfer that we have. Is there a relative kind of pecking order for which types of capabilities we want to go after first? Or is it all the above? How do you think about this in Canberra?

Lt. Gen. Stuart: Well, I don’t think we can afford, nor do we have the time, to be, as Patrick said, operating in series rather than parallel. So we – certainly starting from, I think it was the 26th president of United States that said: Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. And that’s a good starting point, because we can actually do quite a lot more with what exists already today. But I do think it’s fair to say – and a lot of our conversations over the last sort of couple of days have come back to our ability to share data at machine speed.

So, you know, how do we communicate and share data? Because to actually deliver on the theory of any and every sensor, any decider, and the best effector, and then the optimal sustainer, you need to be able to operate at machine speed, and you need to get the right data in the right place at the right classification. So that – you know, if we were to look at what some of the central priorities are, I think, you know, what we would previously have called the network is really at the heart of digital-age warfare in all domains but particularly in the land domain.

Then I’d say – and both Randy and Patrick have mentioned this – long-range precision fires. Now, a little bit like littoral maneuver, when you say long-range precision fires one thinks of a missile. That’s the – that’s the penultimate step in that kill web. So it’s ensuring that when you strike, you can also shield. So what does our own protection look like in terms of integrated air and missile defense? But the gamechanger from a land-domain contribution to that combined multidomain force is the ability to apply fires at strategic and operationally relevant ranges. And that, I think, as an addition to that joint force is particularly powerful.

So I’d say those two things, I think, are probably central to the value proposition of land power. But the other things we’ve been talking about – you know, the ability to sustain contested logistics; the ability to apply autonomy – resilient autonomy at scale both on the ground and in the air to achieve human-machine teaming that give us scaling and mass advantages; but also, because our people are our most valuable asset, how do we move them away from the point of contact. I do not want to be putting our soldiers into a fair fight. I do not want to be trading blood in the encounter battle if we can put machines out front to do that.

Dr. Edel: Yeah. But it’s more than machines, right, because we’ve said we don’t want a fair right; we want a manifestly unfair fight that tilts in our favor. And so the question is – and I think you’ve underscored this really well – is, how does AUKUS – how do these three nations working together become more than the sum of its parts? I think you’ve given us really interesting examples about how this becomes additive, right – what the U.K. learns all of a sudden is pushed out to U.S. operators; what Australia can see all of a sudden gets integrated into a larger system here. I’m not sure, General Sanders, if this aligns with the first of the pillars that you were talking about, about height – that we stack on top of each other and we have more breadth than we might otherwise here.

But I do really want to drill down, if I might, for the challenges that we’re facing. I won’t get into the – one of the Washington games we play here, which is at what date precisely are we most concerned. It doesn’t matter, because we are concerned. I think that’s a point that we underscore. But when we look about the decade of challenge – critical challenge that we find ourselves facing and emanating from Beijing as they go through a rapid military modernization, I guess the question that I have here is, how do we feel – (laughs) – not “we,” how do all of you feel about the speed with which you see AUKUS coming online and bringing combat capability to bear? Is it delivering deterrence fast enough, given the scope of the challenge that we’re facing? And what can we do to help accelerate this further? All three of you talked about timing and speed and the timeline that we face this challenge. General George?

Gen. George: Yeah. I know I would say we want to go faster. That would be my – you know, would be my answer. And we have given very specific examples.

To give another example, you know, I think a lot of this with this partnership is that we get the ingenuity from three great countries and, you know, all that industry together. You know, coming forward as a specific example, we were talking about UAS – unmanned systems, that we would – we could have a common controller and we could exchange systems and do things. So I think that there’s ways that we’re figuring that out.

Specific to where I’m at, you know, and one of the things that I think we need to do better, is consolidate some of our funding lines. This is something we’re going to have to do inside the Army, but also, you know, with a little bit of help. And I’ve talked to folks on the Hill about this, is that I think we need to be a little bit more flexible with our – with how we buy things so we can, you know, do things very quickly.

What the unmanned systems – what’s happening in electronic warfare EMS is changing every three weeks or three months and has the ability to update systems, to update software, and to do things more rapidly.

I think we need to be able to move from research and development to procurement, you know, very rapidly and that’s been very hard for us to do right now, for example, with the Continuing Resolution as far as moving things around. So I think that we have to speed our buying models a little bit to get after that.

Dr. Edel: General Sanders, how are we doing on our timeline here?

Gen. Sanders: So I think it’s probably – I mean, if you take an optimistic spin to begin with, you know, Pillar 1 is not going to deliver for decades. This is a very, very long time frame.

Dr. Edel: The full suite of Pillar 1 won’t deliver for decades. We know that it’s supposed to start showing up in two years, though, in Australia.

Gen. Sanders: The Pillar 2 you will deliver – I mean, from the land contribution, the land of opportunities that we can exploit in Pillar 2, you can be delivering next year. So when it comes to pace this is the best opportunity you have to inject pace into AUKUS and, critically, to begin to restore that commitment to deterrence that we’ve been talking about.

What I pick up on – so I don’t want to describe all of the impediments because we face all kinds. We face many. But I think the one I would pick up on most is the ability to share data.

It’s the single most important enabler to allow us to co-develop, you know, co-produce and co-sustain the sort of capabilities that we’re talking about, because if you can feed the data around and then also do it in a way that allows you in a more limited way to bring in other partners as well, then that’s where the pace will come from.

Dr. Edel: These inhibitors, too, are collaborating more closely than they have. General Sanders described this as the need for all of our countries to assume more risk than we have before. That’s true at every level. But if we assume more risk here, we get more things more quickly.

Again, I know I’ve asked this before but I’m keying off something that General Sanders just said about AUKUS Pillar 2 has the ability, comma, potentially to start delivering immediately. I think you said last year.

There’s a range of things that constitute Pillar 2. It’s both broad and somewhat hard to hang your hat on. So I guess I would ask if we want to start delivering deterrence effects immediately is do you agree with this that it’s data sharing as priority number one?

What should we be acquiring now or in the next 12 months that kind of add to the deterrence equation that we don’t have right now?

Lt. Gen. Stuart: Sure. If I can answer in two parts and just kind of go back to your original question.

At the outset I said in an era of great-power competition, defense and security are a whole-of-nation endeavor, whole-of-government endeavor, and so it’s going to require us to change our systems and processes. And I certainly know that in Canberra colleagues across government and, indeed, across industry are working on their part of the equation.

For me, I have an obligation to make sure that we’re good stewards of taxpayers’ money, but also to change what we can within our army. And so instead of starting the process of delivering a capability with the platform – let’s take watercraft, for example – that’s the last thing that I’ll be able to deliver to our soldiers. They’re already training. We’ve already written the concepts. We’re already working with our joint partners and, indeed, our combined partners – with the Marine Rotational Force in Darwin, the Compass watercraft company out of USARPAC, for the last three years to demonstrate operational maneuver across the north of Australia. You know, we are reskilling our people. The first seven skippers of those first watercraft are working – are being trained by our navy today in that partnership. So that capability – and we’re using, you know, civilian lease hire, you know, watercraft to emulate and simulate and provide some capability. So the last thing we’ll deliver will be the major platform, which is completely the opposite of how we’ve previously done things, where that’s the – you start with that and then you develop the capability. So it’s going to be a team effort. But we have responsibilities, and we take them seriously, and we’re moving out.

To the second part of the question, you know, again, I think all of our discussions have come back to our ability to share data and to be able to do that at machine speed. When you talk of inhibitors, obviously there are different systems. There are different caveats on information in terms of security and access. And then there are different data standards. So I think right there you’ve got three key aspects. And they’re all things that we are getting after. And I know that from an AUKUS perspective, you know, the theory, of course, is that if we can share the secrets associated with nuclear-powered submarines, then everything else ought to be a little easier for us.

Dr. Edel: I’d like to go to the audience, but I’m just going to underscore something that someone had said to me recently about what is AUKUS? I mean, we were kind of kicking this idea around. They said, well, it strikes me that it’s at least two parts. It’s the very visible things that you see – like this, right? It’s the signal that we send of enhanced collaboration, the additive portions about this, what this means for all three countries. But it’s also the less visible parts that – not only the end part, the collaboration, but what new asymmetric edge capabilities are we not only thinking about, collaborating on, but bringing to the field quicker than we might otherwise have the ability to? Both the invisible and the visible parts that actually feed into that deterrence equation.

Let me turn to the audience here. See what questions you have. I’d like to ask our audience, both online but really for those of you in the room, to please identify yourself and also keep your question concise. Thank you. Hands up. Demetri, please wait for the microphone.

Q: Thank you. Demetri with the Financial Times.

Charlie, this is going seem like you read my mind, but we did not coordinate. In the context of a Taiwan contingency, if you had a magic wand for a day what are some things that you’re not thinking about right now in the armies that you should be thinking about? And are you facing any resistance from other services or parts of the joint force when you try to propose things that are not on the table at the moment?

Dr. Edel: General George, do you want to start with that question?

Gen. George: I will answer your second part first, Dimitri. I’m not sure I’m getting any, you know, pushback from anybody in the – across from my – from my joint teammates. I really haven’t – have not seen that. We’re exercising together out in the in the Pacific. I mean, we’re doing war games together. I’m good friends with all the other chiefs. And when we talk about this, I think that there is a clear recognition that it’s going to take everybody across the joint force with whatever we’re doing to be successful out there. So I haven’t.

And if I’m forgetting to think about something, you know, I forgot what it is. I don’t – we spend a lot of time actually trying to pour over this. I think, if anything, what we’re learning is that we’re – you know, again, we have to figure out – where I think our challenge is, is that we may observe something. It’s actually drilling it into our formation and actually making the change. It’s one thing to talk about a lesson that maybe you’ve seen from Ukraine. But if you don’t actually change, you know, what you’re buying, how you’re buying things, if you don’t actually change how you’re operating, and how you’re training and how you’re training your people, then you’re not – you’re not really preparing your formation. And so that’s – I think that’s our big – you know, that’s certainly my big focus.

Dr. Edel: Can I just shift that question a little bit? General Sanders, when you think about this, I mean, all the lessons that we’re pulling out of Ukraine, transformation of war, also a landlocked country. Does this apply when we’re thinking about, you know, contestant logistics, when we’re thinking about a maritime theater, when we’re thinking about a Taiwan contingency? Which things should we have front of mind for this?

Gen. Sanders: So, first of all, and I should clearly say to the Financial Times that any decision to be involved in a conflict in the Indo-Pacific will be a government one. So I’m going to put that out there. But so one of the things I think we have learnt from Ukraine, and I don’t know if this extends to the scenario you describe, is that at the start of a conflict you see actually a dislocation of domains. So, you know, mines and land-based coastal artillery, if you like, pushes maritime forces away from the land. You know, I’m not sure that you can draw all the right lessons from Ukraine, but certainly, you know, the air domain has not played a significant role. And ground-based air defense has kept the Russian air force, for the most part, at range.

And so you need to be able to think through how initially you can either unlock that problem or you are – you have got sufficient organic resilience and capability to be able to cope with that initial phase of dislocation of domains, because you may not be able to rely on the assumptions.

But in the same way that, you know, if you want to go fast, you go alone, you want to go far, you go together, the only way that we unlock some of these very, very complex operational challenges that we’re going to face is to do it, A, by integrating all the domains. I mean, I think that is our superpower as armed forces, that we do it arguably better than anyone else in the world; and secondly, to be able to do it with partners. And that comes down to what we’ve been banging on about, which is, you know, enabling the data sharing and the interoperability.

Dr. Edel: Final, kind of playing off of Dimitri’s question, noting that I’m changing the question as we go here, General Stuart, you’ve mentioned several times about the transformation towards – from a land-based towards a littoral force for the Army. Why the logic of that change? How does this apply to this specific region that we’re talking about? How does it make the Army more useful?

Lt. Gen. Stuart: Sure. Can I just directly answer the first part of your –

Dr. Edel: Or you can answer his question. That also works. (Laughter.)

Lt. Gen. Stuart: No, I’ll come back. But just to say that in the same way as our – the work we’re doing with allies and a growing number of partners has increased exponentially in just the last few years. The same applies internally. So with the other service and domain chiefs in the Australian context, we’re all rowing in the same direction. There’s, I think, better cooperation and genuine teamwork than there’s ever been. And I think our circumstances demand nothing less. And that’s certainly the approach that you would expect from military professionals.

To the point about why littoral maneuver, it’s physics and it’s geography and it is a response to how can we best optimize our Army, our land forces, to do their principal job, which is to win the battle on the land. But how can we be more useful? How do you leverage the versatility of land forces in ways that better support the multidomain and the combined fight?

So if you look at, as you’ve mentioned, the map, there’s a lot blue. But that blue extends inland as well. So how do we best take advantage of a much greater surface area, if you like, by leveraging the littoral – the land, the sea, the air above, and the EMS – for positional advantage so that we can apply effects from whichever domain is best placed to take advantage of the window of convergence to apply effect?

Dr. Edel: Let me see; go out to the audience for questions.

Sir, please wait for the microphone. It’s coming right your way.

Q: Hi. I’m going to stand up here. Hi. My name is Nishank. I’m with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Lovely to meet you all.

We’ve talked about asymmetric capabilities and the gray zones. So my question to each of you is what is your conception of the gray zone in the Indo-Pacific vis-à-vis China? And what is the role of land power, particularly in exploiting that gray zone?

I’m wondering if you could draw on any lessons from Afghanistan and Iraq, knowing, of course, that that’s – you know, we don’t really talk about that much anymore, looking at Ukraine specifically, but certainly China and other actors are looking at the performance and, of course, the end state in both Afghanistan and Iraq. So what, if any, are some of the lessons that can be drawn on from those conflicts to develop our understanding of the gray zone and perhaps how can we exploit it in the Indo-Pacific?

Thank you.

Dr. Edel: Great. Thank you for the really simple question. How do you define the gray-zone challenge? And what are we doing to go after it?

Let’s start actually right in the region. How do you think about this?

Lt. Gen. Stuart: Yeah. Sure. I actually don’t subscribe to the theory of a gray zone, other than to say that it – I think the term emerges from the gaps in our capabilities to respond to the challenges of the – of the 21st century. And that’s what we’ve been working for – you know, over the last sort of half decade, in the sort of post-Iraq/Afghanistan era, to understand. And to understand how we need to, firstly, modernize, then it was transform, and now adapt – and adapt means a continual process – to the changes in our operating environment. So I think gray zone sort of really is a term that describes a set of challenges that we didn’t really have good answers for. And so the areas that we’ve just been talking about, those areas of endeavor, and in particular being able to share data and information at machine speed, and in a – in an environment of trust is central to that.

To the question of, you know, what are some of the lessons that we’ve learned in places like Afghanistan, that we need to bring with us into the future, I think the integration of effects. But we need to do that exponentially quicker and at scale. But also the relationship between special operations and conventional operations I think needs to be a lot tighter. And, for example, we just completely transformed our special operations capability along functional lines – special warfare, strategic reconnaissance, technical enablement, and those kinds of functions – to best meet the demands of the – you know, of the theater, and of the support for that combined and multidomain fight.

Dr. Edel: See if we can gather maybe one or two more questions. Let me – oh, sorry, yes. Of course, General George.

Gen. George: Can I – one quick comment that I was going to add on – that we are working on for us. And I agree with Simon as far as understanding the environment. So we are – actually one of the things that we talked about over the last couple of days, as we have a multidomain taskforce, is actually doing that together. So, again, part of this, we’re looking at having a joint team. It’ll be out at the third and multidomain task force. And, again, I think that that’s what’s important, is understanding your environment. And that’s what that organization is out there, is built to do.

Dr. Edel: I’m going to go out, but – OK. Let me gather, actually, two questions at the time. That means you get to pick which question you actually want to answer. But let me go, sir, right here, and then we’ll go to the back, please. Sorry, right up here. Thank you.

Q: Thanks. Hi. Philip Reeker with the Albright Stonebridge Group of Dentons Global Advisors.

Generals, thank you all. We have a team sort of activated to try to help clients, companies to meet the needs and the opportunities of AUKUS. Just very briefly, I toss out there, what would your messages be to the private sector, that they should be doing, thinking about, and how they might be focusing to meet some of the needs you’ve described, and help our militaries in that sense?

Dr. Edel: Thank you. And then there’s a question right here. Go ahead. Microphone’s coming your way.

Q: Hi. Cate Cadell from The Washington Post.

I just wanted to ask about your perceptions of Beijing’s land forces, how they’re changing, and whether you think Ukraine has really impacted their thinking in terms of how they’re thinking regionally as well, you know, growing their partnerships in the region.

Dr. Edel: Great. Let me throw it back to the three of you. We have one question about how you’d like the private sector to be thinking about some of the opportunities that we’ve scoped here. And then, two, how is Beijing viewing this, particularly some of the transformations that we’ve been talking about here.

General George, you mind kicking off?

Gen. George: Yeah, well, so the big things that we’ve been talking about is unmanned systems and countering unmanned systems, I think some of the big challenges that we’re seeing, in how fast that that’s spinning and how quickly that we need to be able to react to that.

We talk a lot about the network and what we need to do to simplify our network, and a lot of that is the kind of commercial, off-the-shelf tech that I think is out there. And that’s an example of something that is – that is moving very rapidly, I think, a lot in the contested logistics that we can – you know, that we’re talking about – additive manufacturing, tele-maintenance, and all the things, again, that we’re learning.

And then, obviously, spend a lot of time on long-range fires.

So those are kind of the big areas that we are really focused on and I think we could bring things very quickly to AUKUS.

Dr. Edel: General Sanders?

Gen. Sanders: So, in the spirit of rugby, I’m going to leave the hospital pass on the Chinese army to my good friend Simon to pick – to pick up on. (Laughter.)

And just to acknowledge Philip, who is not only a great servant to the United States but a great friend to the U.K. as well. So it’s good to see you again.

I think I would – I would focus on responsibility. And what I mean by that is we know that some of the most important foundational technologies we’re going to be employing over the next few decades are in cyber, and particularly disinformation and misinformation, and then artificial intelligence. And because we are world-leading as nations in these spheres – and we are – the standards that we set, the approach that we take will kind of set the standard for the rest of the world as well. So responsible use of artificial intelligence and the ethical considerations would be sort of my – well, near the top of my list.

Dr. Edel: So you’ve – it’s been punted over to you – (laughter) – to think about the lessons that others might be drawing out of contemporary conflict, which may or may not be the same as the ones that we’re drawing.

Lt. Gen. Stuart: Sure. Look, let me answer your question by saying a few things.

The first is deterrence is ultimately decided in the mind of its objective. And our nations all seek to ensure that we live in a world – we call it the rules-based order; that is, there are road rules, and that we can all – all nations can live in a way that satisfies their national interest, their way of life, their quality of life, and not be dictated to. And that’s the world we have lived in, you know, for about the last 80 years. That’s worth preserving and that’s worth working together to preserve.

As I said at the outset, whole-of-nation in a combined effort and capability – or, collective capability, is at the heart of supporting collective will. And it’s our job as military professionals, as leaders of our respective armies, to ensure that we are doing our part to generate collective capability as part of that combined multidomain force to provide the governments and the communities that we serve with options to demonstrate collective capability that gives effect – gives expression to collective will.

It is not specifically directed at anyone. It is directed at everyone who might seek to challenge that global rules-based order.

Dr. Edel: I’d like to wrap here by thanking all three of you for coming here to have this conversation because this is I’d say an underappreciated, but it’s really an underdeveloped part of how we think about this domain. This is a conversation about not only this partnership, but about how these nations work together to generate, as you just said, collective capacity, collective capabilities.

And one thing that really struck me in our conversation is if it hasn’t hit you in the face already, the fact that we’re moving into a new and much more contested environment, it’s very clear that the risks that we are assuming are greater. And so the risks that we need to take from how we do business as usual, to potentially what our budgets look like, to the amount of friction we’re willing to stand as we push back against coercive attempts to undermine this rules-based order is growing.

So I’d like to thank you very much for coming out for this very public conversation that is the start of a conversation about where we go next. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)