This article was originally submitted as part of Cove Comp 23.

Australia’s strategic landscape is undergoing realignment described by the 2020 Defence Strategic Update as the most significant shift since the end of World War II with our environment increasingly characterised by expanding cyber capability, grey zone activities, and great power competition. The 2023 Defence Strategic Review (DSR) further warns that the nation is experiencing its most challenging circumstances in decades with contests taking place across economic, military, strategic, and diplomatic levels

Geostrategic competition between the United States (US) and China has exposed the Indo-Pacific to challenges within which traditional methods of warfare are increasingly being combined with or replaced by hybrid tactics, such as cyberattack and foreign interference. These challenges and shifts in the security environment are unlikely to diminish into the future, and the Australian Army will need to adapt how it operates to ensure its resources are utilised to full effect.

In looking towards the potential future of combined arms operations in 2045, I will reflect on how my own role and the Army Reserves may adapt in a landscape of new threats, technologies, and operating environments.

The tactics, command, and implementation of combined arms has evolved throughout history to incorporate and utilise advancements in technologies and reforms in military doctrine. The future of Army combined arms is likely to follow similar iterations in exploiting new technologies and maintaining asymmetric advantage. This will include advancements such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and autonomous systems – as outlined within the Army’s Robotic and Autonomous Systems Strategy and the 2020 Accelerated Warfare Statement.

Army’s combined arms will further adapt to other changes in keeping with 2023 DSR recommendations for a shift in Army capability towards littoral and long-range strike potential. Examples of this evolution include acquisition of the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) and the reform of Army structure towards Australia’s north.

Changes in Army’s posture and structure will continue to meet the future demands and challenges that Australia will face, including climate change, potential small- and large-scale conflict close to and far away our shores, and advancements in technology that may not be predictable in the current era.

The Army Reserve will not only adapt to these changes towards 2045, but there is also an opportunity to leverage and exploit reserve capability and talent in their contribution to Army’s combined arms. I suggest this evolution will take place over three broad areas supporting combined arms: combat, specialist, and domestic support. These adaptations will be bolstered through changes to the Army Total Workforce Model.

In 2045, the Army Reserves could contribute to combined arms following the implementation of enhanced training and development of combat capability across all combat corps. At present, the Army’s reserve forces have been underutilised in combat roles in recent conflicts in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Research has found a generally lower expectation of and bias towards Army Reservists, which has likely contributed towards inconsistent standards of training and combat effectiveness. We are likely in a similar predicament to that found by a United Kingdom review into its own reserve forces, which found them to be utilised in ways that are neither effective nor cost-efficient, and fail to capitalise on reserve potential.

This is in contrast to US leveraging its own reserve capability, whereby more than one million National Guard members have been deployed to combat theatres since 2001 and have recently been utilised in drone operations and intelligence analysis during the war in Ukraine.

By 2045, Army will have taken steps to address these systemic issues through review and reform, and reservists will have become more widely utilised in combat roles either in complementing regular Army or as reserve units deployed across combat and peacekeeping operations. This will have been achieved through standardised training curriculums implemented across the reserve system, higher expectations of reserve skill and capability, and increasing combat specialisation.

Units in certain locations will specialise their training to provide combat capability in particular arenas or unique skillsets such as littoral warfare, infrastructure defence, or autonomous platforms – allowing for more attractive and efficient utilisation in deployment. Precedent for reserve deployment and specialist training exists within Rifle Company Butterworth, which has seen reservists complete jungle and urban combat training in Malaysia and Singapore, as well as support regional contingency operations and relationship building with military partners.

This 2045 evolution in capability will be facilitated through changes to recruitment and the role of reservists as part of a refined Total Workforce Model. Programs and initiatives targeting potential demographics, such as university students through the Ready Reserve Scheme, will have been implemented as well as further integration of civilian skillsets into reserve service.

Research has shown Australian Army reservists hold unique professional and life experiences, skills, and abilities compared to regular Army. Recruitment processes and the reserve system will not only begin to exploit these assets, but build and integrate that capability for the long-term.

Reserve recruitment will identify key skillsets and knowledge useful for Army through primary and secondary skill selection, rather than a single corps focus. An accountant or university researcher entering the Royal Australian Armoured Corps may have a secondary specialisation additional to combat training that leverages their civilian experiences and is useful to Army – such as finance, ordnance, or research design. In this way the reservist contributes to combined arms in combat, but also has their civilian skillset fully utilised by Army. Further training could be provided in this secondary skillset, and reserve units would eventually take on this training function.

Leveraging civilian skillsets and talent will also offer experiences complementary to a reservist’s work life. In this way, Army may no longer compete for time and energy with civilian careers that contrast with reserve roles, improving long-term retention and Army utilisation of human resources. If the time spent building an Army career complements civilian career progression, then long-term retention will improve and both career domains will benefit.

This utilisation of secondary civilian skillsets has broad application over a wide variety of domains useful to Army in 2045, such as autonomous systems, research and analysis, policy development, or linguistics. The soldier without those civilian skillsets or with a preference for differing work could specialise in corps-specific or support capability.

Examples include the infantry soldier with a secondary specialisation in autonomous platform operation or maintenance, close-combat shooting, or skills relevant to domestic support such as disaster response or infrastructure security.

Accreditations and courses such as first aid or security licencing will be transferrable to civilian life, further boosting retention. In this way, the Army Reserves will provide a deeper contribution to broader combined arms through combat effectiveness, specialisation, and through secondary skillsets.

A similar approach could be applied to reserve specialist occupations in 2045 and their contribution to combined arms. Reserves deployed to Australian operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, in specialist roles such as nurses, lawyers, and logisticians. In 2045 these roles will have expanded to focus on new technologies and warfighting domains, such as space and cyber. In these evolving areas of combined arms, reservists may have at least equal footing as regular Army in bringing their civilian work and education experiences to bear on Army projects and operations.

Civilians with particular skillsets can be recruited to meet these needs through specialist classifications or officer roles not requiring full-time service or leadership tasks, taking a similar approach as recommended to the Australian Public Service in competing with the private sector for unique skillsets. In 2045, Army will have a particular need for expertise such as artificial intelligence, cyber, and quantum computing and will contest with other sectors for those skills. This specialist reserve role approach will bolster Army’s ability and flexibility to bring these unique skills into service.

The final avenue by which reserves will complement the combined arms of Army in 2045 is through domestic support. The DSR outlined how enhanced domestic security and response capability will be required from the Army Reserves into the future and by 2045 reserves will complement regular Army in providing key infrastructure security, as well as having taken over primary capability for domestic response to natural disasters and crises.

This will contribute to combined arms by allowing regular Army further time and capability towards warfighting training and conflict response. This will be achieved through improved reserve training and unit specialisation in these areas, such as modules on disaster preparedness, firefighting, and infrastructure defence, alongside regular collaboration with relevant domestic agencies on training and operations.

This essay has considered how my role, and the Army Reserves could adapt over time to contribute to combined arms operations in 2045. This contribution will evolve over time to meet the needs of Army, and opportunities exist to leverage and exploit the potential of reserves in supporting combat through deployment, specialist combat training, through capitalising on civilian skillsets in specialist roles, and through improved capability in supporting domestic defence and crisis response. In utilising Army Reserves in these ways to directly effect combined arms operations or to support regular Army, the broader Army effectiveness and capability will be improved.