New Zealand Chief of Army Writing Competition Winner of the Officer Category December 2020.
Shifting from Physical to Informational Maneouvre
By Mr. S. MacBeth
Our wargames have shown that in any great power conflict, our alliances are an essential factor to achieving success. We will fight in defence of our allies and will operate in close alignment with them, from their territories, alongside their ships and aircraft, and in cooperative and even integrated formations on the ground.(1)
–General David H. Berger, 38th Commandant of the USMC
Start with Why
If I had asked people what they wanted -they would have said a faster horse.
An increasingly connected world will see threats and influences emanate across all domains, requiring land forces to operate with agility and precision, in a timely manner, and with appropriate force and restraint.(2)
-NZDF Future Land Operating Concept 35, 8.1 pg12
With incorporation of advanced communication technologies, warfare and the culture of leadership has shifted from a model that thrives in ambiguity, to one that reduces uncertainty and executes with precision.(3) This shift has created a demand for ever more precise, “real time” information through all echelons of command. Future Land Operating Concept 35(4) (FLOC35) emphasizes the importance of information, as three of the six capability themes(5) prioritises leveraging technology and joint domain(6) information dominance(7) to gain overmatch. In spite of this focus, the Land Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR)(8) concept(9) demonstrates noticeable gaps of capability that tier effectively(10). This paper will posit that the New Zealand Army should generate a scalable land ISR Task Force that operationalizes the sense function to support a viable remit to an allied coalition(11). Though a feasible option in a south west pacific context, the question focusses us onto coalition commitments. This work will consider the changing nature of strategic competition, the re-emergence of decisive precision fires and generate discussion conceptualising the ‘why’ the Army should add value through ISR, whilst the ‘who’ and ‘how’ of detailed structures and processes fall outside the scope.
Constant Competition: The Changing Nature of Conflict
“War in general is not declared. It simply begins with already developed military forces. Mobilization and concentration is not part of the period after the onset of the state of war as was the case in 1914 but rather, unnoticed, proceeds long before that”
-Georgii Isserson, New Forms of Combat
NZ engages in a strategic environment that is increasingly marked by the return of great power competition, highlighted by Chinese and Russian malign activities occurring below the threshold of armed conflict, an area of competition known as the grey zone(12). Following Allied assessments, New Zealand’s strategic outlook will likely adapt from a “continuum of conflict” that denotes “war” and “peace” to an age of constant competition and covert pressure punctuated by short violent overt struggle(13). Competitors simultaneously advance warfighting capabilities with increased lethality, range, and speed(14). These provide multiple lethal and non-lethal inputs that target tactical elements with non-attributable actions, while confusing decision makers through deliberate misinformation(15). This fluid environment demands an interoperable tactical organisation that can interact with a wide array of manned and unmanned sensors, synthesize multi-domain information, and perform rapid analysis from tactical to strategic levels. Accurate information collection and dissemination on interoperable networks is emerging as the decisive factor to increase coalition tempo. A shifting operational paradigm demands a corresponding modification in how we intellectually approach operations and potentially examine cultural and doctrinal “truths” to ensure we are utilizing our scarce resources to best effect.
Face the Future; Sense Making as an Operational End
In time, Armoured Fighting Vehicles will be Command Hubs-‘motherships’-commanding teams of robots and thereby generating a new form of combat mass. They will be supported by longer range and more powerful artillery than the Army has ever used, firing on targets identified by swarms of drones.
-General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith UK Chief of the General Staff, 29 Sept 2020(16)
The establishment of an ISR TF would represent a tangible shift in our understanding of the nature of conflict and NZ’s place in the shifting requirements of strategic competition. The TF is presently amorphous but conceptually meets the criteria to ensure value for investment and will continue to be highly sought after by international partners(17). Decisive as a general-purpose element and capable of supporting special force operations(18), the TF is idealised as cap badge agnostic, scalable Task Element to Task Force(19), able to lead or support all Joint Land Missions(20). Weapons systems do not make an ISR unit lethal, the sensors and communications systems do. By shifting our understanding of the ways and means to achieve NZ’s operational ends, the Army can “face the future”(21) by striking a bold direction, and cognitively shift from engaging in the physical to prioritising the informational terrain.
Adapting Our Value Proposition in a Coalition Environment
The only thing harder than getting a new idea into the military mind is to get an old one out.
-B.H. Liddell Hart
The conflicted Donbass region(22) and the ongoing conflict along the Armenian borders(23) has demonstrated that ubiquitous ISR and precision long range fires are effective against massed elements using traditional camouflage and protection. The find, fix by fires and strike by manoeuvre is quickly evolving to a find and strike paradigm that sees manœuvre in a supporting role. The reduction of combat systems and infantry battalions from the US Marine Corp(24) and the investment in ISR and long-range missile systems by the US, UK and Australia(25) underlines this movement. This trend is likely to continue and pinpoints the requirement to generate an ISR TF that facilitates an option for NZ to contribute in this information-fires centric model. Given the limitations of NZ’s fires resources and decisive combat capability, combined with the requirements of dispersion, speed, protection, communication and sensors, the ISR TF niches NZ into a space it can operate as a multi-national leader at scale. ISR resources are low density, high demand enablers that purchase significant leverage within a coalition, offering disproportionate political results for a small commitment(26). This advantage is equally true where this is a unique ISR capability or where an identical capability is possessed by an ally. In the case of the latter, this could enable strategic burden sharing across ISR activities, with all the attendant advantages of operational and cost efficiencies as well as greater ISR coverage(27). By employing assets at this level NZ could ensure shortened national command lines. NZ should target this scarce operational output that multiplies our ability to enable our effects to be exponentially greater than the sum of the Army’s parts(28). The combination of rapid progress of the strategic engagement space and Allied ‘ways of war’ should drive the NZ Army to consider developing a land power option that maximises leveraging informational maneouvre.
A Lean Start-Up; Get a ‘beta’(29)Version of the TF into the Market
A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.
-General George Patton
As our partners adapt, the window to create a valuable niche capability is finite. As human and machine integration is necessary for this venture, there is opportunity to seize relevance through the minimum viable product (MVP) methodology, thereby quickly gaining ground floor advantage. The conceptual challenge posed by a dynamic ISR and data environment to traditional military command structures and culture should not be underestimated(30). In the 2040 ISR environment, more should be able to be done with less, but only if we are early adopters of tactics and technology. The Army is unlikely to grow or be resourced with extensive decisive combat capability that has comparative advantage in a coalition; ISR represents a niche that will continue to be vital. The present operational trends and lessons should have a catalysing effect. In order to face the future by 2040, the Army should establish an advertised ‘beta’ version of the ISR TF and when called upon, be ready to provide a viable option to face emergent challenges as a relevant partner of choice in a coalition.
1 General David Berger. 38th Commandant of the USMC, Commandants’ Planning Guidance 2019.USMC 2019.Pg 2.
2 New Zealand Defence Force. Future Land Operating Concept 2035.( Wellington: Headquarters New Zealand Defence Force,2017) V8.1: Pg 12
3 Ibid pg25
4 Ibid. pg75.
5 Based on the Army 2020 strategy, the term ‘theme’ is defined as a strategic line of effort that encompasses various objectives. The term ‘objective’ is defined as a task that nests within the identified themes.
6 Joint All Domain Operations is defined as “operations conducted across multiple domains and contested spaces to overcome an adversary’s (or enemy’s) strengths by presenting them with several operational and/or tactical dilemmas through the combined application of combat power. JADO intends to provide commanders access to an abundance of data, information, and intelligence to support the integration of warfighting capabilities across all domains in order to gain physical and psychological advantages, control, and influence over the operational environment. Nishawn S. Smagh. Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Design for Great Power Competition. Congressional Research Service Report. Congressional Research Service. June 4 2020. https://crsreports.congress.gov R46389 Accessed Sept 28 2020.
7 New Zealand Ministry of Defence. New Zealand Defence Government Capability Plan 2019. www.defence.govt.nz.nz . Ministry of Defence, June 2019.pg23
8 For the purposes of this paper we will use these definition of ISR taken from NZDF, NZDDP 2.0 Intelligence and 2016 and ISTAR taken from p 73 ABCA Publication 325 Coalition Intelligence Handbook Edition 4, March 2009, Glossary p6. All reference to these processes and activities should be filtered through these definitions.
Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) . An activity that synchronizes and integrates the planning and operation of sensors, assets, and processing, exploitation, and dissemination systems in direct support of current and future operations. This is an integrated intelligence and operations function.
Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance. The co-ordinated acquisition, processing and dissemination of timely, accurate, relevant and assured information and intelligence which supports the planning and conduct of operations, targeting and the integration of effects.
9 New Zealand Defence Force. Future Land Operating Concept 2035.( Wellington: Headquarters New Zealand Defence Force,2017) V8.1: Pg 25
10 Extracted From FLOC 35, version 8.1, p 52… the Land Force must own and control a Land ISR system that is capable of providing the deployed Land Force with access to JIIM ISR assets and operating unique Land Force ISR assets that provide a commander with guaranteed, persistent ISR. When considering the vision of a unique New Zealand solution to land Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance, the operational themes of scalability, integration, persistency and interoperability are key to the discussion. Present designs ignore the operating parameters required to act as an independent unit or as a member of a coalition optimized for close combat to support the Multi-Role Battle Group (MRBG) in complex warfighting in a mid-intensity setting. The present vision of ground based Maneouvre reconnaissance and surveillance, housed in the 2019 CONEMP, focusses on dismounted reconnaissance elements which provide close target utility but are not fit for purpose to act as the broader base the Army requires to build the land Intelligence Surveillance Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) system. A quick review of this reference and the supporting NZP50 Land Operations Doctrine will immediately identify this gap in capability of Intelligence Surveillance Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) within the land domain.
11 Barring a strategic shock event that changes the strategic landscape, a “coalition” will be utilized to describe a group of western style democracies and will assume that FVEYs, UN and traditional partnerships continue to be relevant in 2040.
12 The Grey Zone will be defined in this paper as activities propagated by competitors that utilize all the tools of national power below the threshold of war to bring about strategic advantage. The two primary competitors in this space presently are Russia and China. Definitions and research can be found in ;Lyle Morris,Michael Mazarr,Jeffrey Hornung,Stephanie Pezard, Anika Binnedijk,Marta Kepe. Gaining Competitive Advantage in the Grey Zone: Response Options for Coercive Aggresson Below the Threshold of War. Rand Report RR2942. Rand Corporation. www.rand.org/RR242 . Accessed 29 Sept 2020.
13 E. Wesley, “Future Concept Centre Commander Perspectives – Let’s Talk Multi-Domain Operations,”. Modern War Institute Podcast., 2019. URL (accessed 15 March 2020)
14 Nishawn S. Smagh. Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Design for Great Power Competition. Congressional Research Service Report. Congressional Research Service. June 4 2020. https://crsreports.congress.gov R46389 Accessed Sept 28 2020.
15 Lyle Morris,Michael Mazarr,Jeffrey Hornung,Stephanie Pezard, Anika Binnedijk,Marta Kepe. Gaining Competitive Advantage in the Grey Zone: Response Options for Coercive Aggresson Below the Threshold of War. Rand Report RR2942. Rand Corporation. www.rand.org/RR242 . Accessed 29 Sept 2020
16 MOD News Release,29 Sept 2020,
17 Dr. Jack Watling. The Key to Armenia’s Tank Losses: The Sensors Not the Shooters. RUSI Defence Systems Vol 22 No1, 6 October 2020. https://rusi.org/publications/rusi-defence-systems/key-armenia-tank-losses-sensors-not-shooters . Accessed 06 Oct 2020.
18 Jim Garamore. Lines Blurring Between Special Ops,Conventional Forces,Mattis Says. Joint Chiefs of Staff Media Release.jcs.mil Accessed Oct 06 2020
19 NZMOD/NZDF. Joint Land ISR Tier 2 Land Capability Definition Document. 2016. Pg16 The Land Operations Tier 1 CDD describes the following levels of force and capability that may comprise NZ Army land force contributions to operations:
Task Force (TF). Comprises a command and control element, one or more combined arms task groups, and assigned joint and interagency support. This implies a brigade (+) level of command or HQ structure. It is the minimum level of organisation that can employ the full array of joint capabilities in the New Zealand context.
Task Group (TG). Comprises a deployable command post, one or more task units, and any assigned joint and interagency support. It is generally the lowest level where a commander can bring together the full range of combined arms effects and implies a battalion level of command or HQ structure. TG capabilities maintained by the NZDF include the following:
Combined Arms Task Group (CATG). A task organised combined arms structure that, for planning purposes, consists of up to three light infantry companies, a protected mobility squadron, and combat support and combat service support (CSS) elements (including enablers).
Light Task Group (Lt TG). A task organised structure consisting of a deployable headquarters and based on a single task unit constituted from an already formed team – such as an infantry company or engineer squadron.
The NZDF also maintains the capability to provide SOTG and HADR TG constructs.
Task Unit (TU). A combined arms TU consists of a deployable command post, at least one task element and integral enabling task elements as required. It may operate independently or as part of a larger TG. It implies a Company/Squadron/Battery level of command. Within the NZ context a TU is generally the smallest grouping that the NZDF will deploy on independent operations at strategic distance. TU may be organised for combat, stability, humanitarian or special operations tasks.
The NZDF maintains a High Readiness Task Unit (HR TU). This is a combined arms group based on a light infantry company with permanently assigned enablers and is held at a higher degree of readiness for specific missions.
Task Element (TE). A component of a TU employed to address a specific operational requirement. Implies a level of command at platoon/troop level or below. In the NZDF TEs are constituted from individual capability bricks and they rely on higher support for sustainment.
20 New Zealand Defence Force. Future Land Operating Concept 2035.( Wellington: Headquarters New Zealand Defence Force,2017) V8.1: Pg 20-44. These mission are Joint Land Combat, Information Operations, Population Protection, Population Support and Capacity Building. The ISR TG is envisioned to work throughout this spectrum and though the paper focusses on Coalition Joint Land Combat, there are many applications in the SWP.
21 New Zealand Army. Face The Future: Concepts On Force Design( Blue Star Works, Adaptive Warfighting Centre, New Zealand Army,2018
23 (https://twitter.com/militaryTimes/status/131284356952750899992?s=08). Accessed by Author.
24 General David Berger. 38th Commandant of the USMC, Commandants’ Planning Guidance 2019.USMC.pg19. 2019.Pg 2.
25 Andrew McLaughlin. Pentagon Awards New HiMARS Contract to ADF.ADBR.com.au. Accessed Oct 07 2020
26 As the Commander of eFP Latvia, the Author witnessed smaller NATO nations like the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Montenegro have provided highly capable Reconnaissance elements to NATO formations and the EFP Battle Groups. In the Former Yugoslavia, the US contributed only a Recce Sqn to the Macedonia problem and in ISAF between 2003 and 2005 Canada contributed an ISTAR Sqn as its sole contribution thus gaining equal say around the table with small niche commitments.
27 Peter Roberts and Andrew Payne. Intelligence, Surveillance &Reconnaissance in 2035 and Beyond. Royal United Services Institute Centre for Defence and Security Studies. Occasional Paper,2016
28 Brigadier Chris Parsons. What Does an Army of 5000 Look Like? Face The Future: Concepts On Force Design( Blue Star Works, Adaptive Warfighting Centre, New Zealand Army,2018) Pg 9.
29 A ‘beta’ version is common lexicon for a piece of software that is made available for testing, typically to a number of users outside the company that is using it. This allows for a rapid feedback loop and removes bugs before the final release.
30 Peter Roberts and Andrew Payne. Intelligence, Surveillance &Reconnaissance in 2035 and Beyond. Royal United Services Institute Centre for Defence and Security Studies. Occasional Paper,2016.