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Type: Theses
Title: The Australian Army in the 21st century: organisational adaptation to new conditions of military engagement: a complex adaptive system perspective
Author: Omarova, Amina
Issue Date: 2016
School/Discipline: Entrepreneurship, Commercialisation and Innovation Centre (ECIC)
Abstract: Modern military engagements are characterised by complexity, dynamics and unpredictability that force armies as complex social bureaucratic systems to adapt to continuously changing conditions of war. This is an on-going vital matter since modern society has been under stress from recent military engagements in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria as well as current terrorist attacks in France and Belgium. We are seeking a way to describe and understand from a theoretical perspective both the operational conditions and the process of adaptation that the Australian Army needs to employ in response to external changes of these extreme kinds. In this regard Complex Adaptive System (CAS) theory offers an advanced method of understanding contemporary warfare and military organisations that will represent the core focus of the thesis; its main goal being to appraise organisational change in the Australian Army through the lens of CAS theory. The literature review on this topic identifies changes in contemporary warfare and characterises both modern military engagements and organisations as complex adaptive systems. Any army representing the defence of a nation state strives to be both capable and effective in its military engagements, most notably in conditions of war or hostilities against a known enemy combatant. The objectives of capability and effectiveness, often understood as ‘fit for purpose’, means that an army must always be in a state of readiness to change, not only to keep abreast of the methods and tools of warfare technology that continuously evolve but ideally to be strategically ahead of the enemy, whether in a classical battleground scenario or, as seems more likely, fighting an opponent who has the advantage of local knowledge, an element of surprise and other features of asymmetrical warfare providing them with the upper hand. Contemporary warfare, as described in the history books, has already moved beyond our capacity to understand and interpret the nature of conflict. Moreover, the lessons of military engagement for the Australian Army in recent years fighting insurgency in faraway lands point to a new level of complexity where unforeseen and unknown factors play a decisive part in determining success and failure in strategic planning and actual operations. Difficult though it may be, the Army has no choice but to embrace new ‘out of the box’ thinking and get to grips with the mysteries of CAS in order to adapt and remain effective. This leads us to the main research question that is: How does a modern professional army adapt, structurally and functionally, to the changing nature of military engagement, which is increasingly characterised by complexities arising outside of conventional operations? CAS theory can be seen as a promising perspective in appraising these complexities as it provides a number of characteristics that offer a better understanding of the nature of modern warfare and military organisations. To apply CAS theory to a real-life case of organisational change we have chosen the Conceptual Framework for Adaptation (CFA) since it provides a good descriptive model of CAS. Moreover, CFA, currently being developed by the Defence Science and Technology Group (DST Group) in Australia, is the most familiar framework for the Australian Army in the task of reviewing the complexities of both modern warfare and military organisations. For this reason, the thesis uses CFA as a methodological basis for appraising a case of organisational change. The findings will draw on ideas taken from CAS theory and CFA as a means to appraise organisational change. From a practical point of view, we have selected a recent case of organisational change that had been introduced into the Australian Army. In particular, in response to future environment complexities, the Australian Army has released Adaptive Campaigning and launched the Adaptive Army Initiative (AAI). This is an ambitious program that puts the whole organisation on an adaptive footing, claiming to be a restructuring of higher command and control arrangements by providing a systemic approach to adaptation across the entire Army. The review of the AAI aims to explore from a theoretical perspective, how the Army as a complex organisation, and given its multiple functions, levels of command and control, can actively manage this adaptation to a continuously changing environment. During the AAI review we conducted 19 face-to-face interviews that included 13 senior Officers, 3 mid-ranking Army Officers and 3 external to the Army people. We also recognise that organisational learning plays a crucial role in the way the Army adapts to external requirements. To cover this ground we conducted a review of the lessons mechanisms, Army Lessons Network (ALN); the focus being on the operational aspects (process, structures and roles) that make an organisation adaptable to changing conditions. Thus, the thesis describes how the change was designed and implemented as well as the outcomes that have been possible to track so far. Appraisal of the lessons processes in the Army, through the ALN review, helps us to understand the role of organisational learning as a mechanism of change. Both the AAI and ALN analyses demonstrate that the Army has developed characteristics of CAS. Taking into account the views of experienced senior Army Officers about their own self-generated initiative to drive and foster an adaptive, change-oriented culture, the thesis demonstrates the depth of understanding of the challenge of achieving ‘fit for purpose’ organisational performance as well as the important contribution of leadership, a supportive socio-culture and the lubrication of organisational learning. This is what the thesis has revealed and its special knowledge contribution is to obtain the insights from Army leaders as practitioners about what is going on in a modern army in a continuous process of transition. Indeed, gaining access to the thoughts of these truly professional soldiers has provided the thesis with unique and original insights into military operations. The thesis explores the development of a model of the Army as a complex adaptive system. It acknowledges that in the context of the practical orientation of the Army theory-building this is just the beginning of a long road-testing process. A serious attempt has been made to start the theory-to-practice process with an extensive exploration of leading ideas inspired and drawn from complex system thinking.
Advisor: Ireland, Vernon
Elsey, Barry
Dissertation Note: Thesis (Ph.D.) -- University of Adelaide, Entrepreneurship, Commercialisation and Innovation Centre (ECIC), 2016.
Keywords: complex adaptive systems (CAS)
organisational change
organisational learning
organisational adaptation
Australian Army
Conceptual Framework for Adaptation (CFA)
irregular warfare
Provenance: This electronic version is made publicly available by the University of Adelaide in accordance with its open access policy for student theses. Copyright in this thesis remains with the author. This thesis may incorporate third party material which has been used by the author pursuant to Fair Dealing exceptions. If you are the owner of any included third party copyright material you wish to be removed from this electronic version, please complete the take down form located at:
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