18 Dec 20
Posted by: Heber Ackland

Book Reviews Editor: The following is the first of what will be an occasional feature providing reviews of online content, which may be of value, in particular for professional development, to members. 

“The Forge is an online hub designed to help build and hone the intellectual edge of those involved in the Profession of Arms”.

This quote from The Forge says on the tin what the site does although the original concept was to create a platform where military personnel could share their research and ideas. As someone with a personal and professional interest in promoting through career learning, and digital architecture, I was interested from the get-go. The site is high quality in look, feel and user interface leaving you in no doubt that it has been designed by people who know what they are doing – not surprisingly, at some cost. This is vital ground as such a site must draw in an audience of officers, and other ranks, in a cluttered digital marketplace, attracting the most junior personnel starting out on their careers.  Clunky just doesn’t fit the bill.

So, you get the idea – I’m a fan of the concept, the design and the branding. But is it any good?  Well, first up it does a good job laying out the case and approach for Professional Military Education (PME) in Australia, with a clear breakdown of four key subject areas, reflecting the actual content of Australian staff courses: Command, Leadership and Ethics; Joint Warfare; National Security Policy and Strategy; Capability and Technology. To this extent, it promotes and markets the approach and brings coherence and shape to it. It also, presumably, allows personnel to read-in well in advance of attending a residential course, as well as reaching back to maintain professional currency. With a refined search function, links to related sites and journals and information on essay competitions, it is a pretty impressive one-stop shop.

As to content, it contains a range of material from short articles, to longer works and video presentations from the last few years. Running a search for ‘Joint Warfare’ only brought up a small amount of material and none from 2020.  However, refining the search to ‘Operational Art’ and ‘Future Operating Concepts’ brought up plenty of recent material on: deception; autonomous systems in the maritime environment; counter-insurgency and intelligence; Scharnhorst; future war; future workforce and more.  Particularly impressive are the ‘Perry Papers’ which summarise group findings on a range of issues such as long-range strike, Grey zone warfare and the impact of Covid-19 on the world order. With much of the content presumably representing the opinions and research of those on course, the range of subject matter and quality inevitably will vary and with no bios it is sometimes difficult to set the articles in context. There is also a sense that, being an endorsed platform, it is perhaps less open to reasonable challenge and debate than would be the case for fully democratised PME platforms. That said, it seems to this observer that it represents a bold attempt to modernise PME and make it more accessible. It is undoubtedly one of the reference capabilities for such an approach and, I have no doubt, does a good job for the Australian armed forces in terms of reputation and what it signals to its personnel.

On this point, the UK Advanced Command and Staff Course (ACSC)’s research platform The Cormorant’s and the new digital platform under development to support Maritime through life education called The Bridge (due to launch in early 2021) are based on similar principles to The Forge. Indeed, they unapologetically borrow a number of its ideas. So, if The Forge floats your boat, then these may well do too. With the changes that are coming in the way people work and learn post Covid, and as we transform as a Navy, the digitisation of knowledge is only going to grow and sites such as these are going to be an important component of through life professional education.