The Indo‐Pacific region is in a period of unprecedented transformation, accelerated by the shifting distribution of economic and political power[i]. The importance of the Indo-Pacific to Australian security cannot be overstated and the Army must prepare to conduct operations in this increasingly complex and lethal region, across the spectrum of conflict. This means having a versatile and adaptable force that is well-versed in operating in close country and skilled in jungle warfare.
The operational history of the Army highlights how critical a deep understanding of jungle warfare has been to Australian security. From the days of Kokoda, Borneo, and Malaya, through to Vietnam, East Timor and the Solomon Islands—for Australia, fighting in the jungle has been the rule, not the exception.
It is here that the Army must reevaluate its current approach towards jungle warfare training—to relearn the lessons from the past that are of use, to discard those that are not, and to implement a 21st century approach to jungle warfare. This approach should focus on two critical areas: a move towards realistic—not just tough—jungle training, and jungle training for all arms, not just the infantry.
‘Tough’ Training and Operational Realities
The Army has a number of opportunities for jungle warfare training, including Jungle Training Wing – Tully (JTW), Rifle Company Butterworth (RCB), and Canungra. Courses such as the Junior Officer’s Jungle Operations Course (JOJOC) have also been recently re-raised, to conduct training for junior leaders in close country. However, this training is generally used as a tool to toughen soldiers, focusing on developing mental and physical toughness in arduous conditions—not to trial new tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs), train combined arms manoeuvre, or to test new equipment in the jungle.
The Army needs to clearly articulate the intent behind specific jungle training—is it designed to ‘toughen up’ our soldiers in an arduous, austere training environment? Or, is it designed to effectively prepare our soldiers to fight in a modern, complex jungle warfare scenario? It is critical to emphasise that these are not the same thing. Jungle warfare training by its very nature will be challenging; however, like any other training, simply ‘doing it tough’ will not increase lethality, survivability or overall warfighting proficiency. Training must be intelligent, well designed and have a specific and achievable goal, and if it is not constantly reviewed and updated it will quickly become irrelevant. Further, if we are indeed serious about developing a proficiency in 21st century jungle combat, then the TTPs taught need to be based in current operational realities, not outdated mores; the taboos surrounding the use of equipment such as night fighting equipment, GPS devices and hammocks need to be seriously reconsidered; and we need to review our training environment.
The training areas at Tully are mostly secondary jungle and are extremely restrictive—everything is done on a pre-cut track. The requirement to stick to these tracks means commanders can’t conduct selection of routes, night locations, and there is little requirement to navigate other than counting paces. Further, commanders can’t conduct robust Course of Action Development during their IMAP, as they are hamstrung by the pre-determined patrol routes. The density of the vegetation doesn’t actually enable good training – it prohibits it.
Of course, the Army needs to know how to fight in highly restrictive terrain like secondary jungle, but realistic training for this vegetation would necessitate using machetes to clear routes through jungle, cutting one’s own night harbours and using navigation techniques such as dead reckoning. This would enable commanders to gain a deeper understanding of how the jungle impacts manoeuvre, navigation and fatigue levels, and what tasks are realistic to expect of subordinates.
Jungle Training for Supporting Elements
Another critical issue with Australian jungle warfare training is that it focuses almost exclusively on light infantry operations at the individual, section and platoon level, neglecting other elements of combined arms warfare. The vast majority of sub-units that attend the Sub-Unit Training (SUT) rotation at JTW are rifle companies from battalions within the RAR. Critical combat enablers, such as artillery and combat engineers typically do not conduct the SUT at Tully, nor do the supporting elements which are essential for operations in any environment such as transport, supply and medical elements. As David Hackworth and S.L.A. Marshall argued, in the jungle ‘the “finding” infantry must also carry on as the “fixing” force, leaving the “finishing” to the heavy weapons that can both kill men and batter down protective works.’[ii] Without effective integration of combined arms manoeuvre, it will be nearly impossible for infantry alone to ‘block likely escape routes, strike the withdrawing columns, and continue the mop-up.’[iii] Indeed, in Vietnam the coordination of close air support, mortar fire and artillery fire was often an essential component in setting the conditions for victory, and while not the most critical factor—it was the quality of the leaders on the ground and the gallantry of their men that would prove decisive or not—the offensive support was still of great importance. McManus summarised this in Vietnam when he said that ‘fighting spirit, supported by suffocating firepower, could be a formidable combination.’[iv]
Furthermore, training reports and reviews from World War Two indicate that two of the most significant challenges faced by Australian soldiers operating in New Guinea and Timor during the Pacific Campaign were not infantry-centric, but rather were related to the incorporation of supporting arms to enable the infantry. One of the critical challenges was indirect fire coordination.
The jungle poses unique challenges to artillerymen: in World War II, due to the inability to observe the target and accurately bracket fire, as well as the highly restrictive vegetation, gunners had to modify their normal methods in order to support the infantry[v]. Novel techniques such sound ranging—which involved a forward observer crawling close to the enemy, calling in fire and making adjustments based on the sound of shell splinters whistling over his head—had to be improvised. In at least one instance, ‘artillery fire was called down by an observation post officer standing neck deep in the sea so he could observe the fall of shot 19,000 yards along the coast’[vi].
While the methods used by artillery have evolved significantly since the days of Milne Bay and Kokoda, it would be naïve to think that supporting arms such as artillery would simply be able to deploy to a jungle environment and employ the exact same TTPs they use in open country. Soldiers—regardless of corps or specialisation—must train to employ their skillsets in any environment, especially those that pose the greatest challenges.
The Army must develop a new approach towards developing expertise in the jungle; we must rediscover the lessons of the past which are of use, and discard those that have become irrelevant. Finally, we must adopt a training approach grounded in experimentation, trial and error and a desire to learn from current jungle warfare experts such as the Papua New Guinea Defence Force and the Malaysian Army, and to draw lessons from current conflict in our region, such as the insurgency in the Philippines. Considering the significance of the Indo-Pacific region to Australia, the Army must reinvigorate its jungle warfare training, with a focus on operational realities and combined arms.
About the author
Lieutenant James Lewis is an Infantry Officer currently posted to the School of Infantry.
[i] The Defence White Paper, Strategic Outlook, Department of Defence, available at <http://www.defence.gov.au/Whitepaper/AtAGlance/Strategic-Outlook.asp>
[ii] Hackworth, D. & Marshall, SLA. (1966) Vietnam Primer, US Army, p.8
[iii] Hackworth, D. & Marshall, SLA, Vietnam Primer, p.8
[iv] McManus, J. (2011) Grunts: Inside the American Infantry Combat Experience, World War II Through Iraq, Random House, p.197
[v] Threlfall, A. (2014) Jungle Warriors, Allen & Unwin, p.111
[vi] Threlfall, A. Jungle Warriors, p.113