Any Reservist will tell you it’s hard to drum up support for big exercises – whether they be Talisman Sabre or annual division and brigade Warfighters.

Exercises can be a hard sell – it’s tough competing with family or civilian work commitments. Soldiers may already have met their 20 ‘Reserve Service Days’ (RSDs) to satisfy their minimum service commitment. Exercises also don’t offer the promotion opportunities and recognition of courses and operations.

Could the UK Army’s ‘Bounty’, where soldiers are paid a $4,000 tax free annual bonus for attending such exercises, be one solution?

The Case for the ‘Bounty’

I’ve currently been serving with the UK’s Army Reserve on a Reserve Foreign Force Service Arrangement (RFFSA). The RFFSA allows Reserve members of the Australian Army to serve in the reserve equivalent of a number of allied forces. 

One stark point of difference I’ve observed in UK Reserve units is their use of what they call the bounty – an annual bonus paid to members if they complete a range of competencies and training annually. The bounty increases each year that the member meets the bounty up to an amount equivalent to $4,000 tax free. 

The size of the bounty is especially significant given a UK soldier’s RSD daily wage is taxed – a junior soldier or officer who only renders 27 RSDs in a year therefore makes more money from the bounty then they do from their usual wage.

To obtain the bounty, members need to complete the following, each year:

  • Render at least 27 RSDs in the last training year,
  • Complete mandatory training modules including their equivalent of online Force Preservation Awareness Training, as well as key skills such as living in the field, first aid, navigation and participating in a section attack,
  • Pass the ACMT, the equivalent of our RP3A,
  • Pass a Riflemen Fitness Test (RFT), equivalent to our PESA,
  • Attend 4 of the 7, ‘Assured Weekends’ – Battalion training weekends that their unit’s Commanding Officer has mandated as compulsory, and
  • Attend the ‘Annual Camp’, i.e. the Bde Warfighter.

In spending time with the UK Reserve, I’ve seen the positive effect of the bounty in encouraging large attendance for battalion weekends. Virtually the whole battalion turns out to meet bounty requirements. The term ‘bounty hunter’ is joked around in the ranks, given to someone whose primary motivation for attendance is to chase the bounty each year. 

The Downsides of the Bounty

From my short time embedded within a UK Army Reserve unit, I’ve also observed that the bounty poses challenges. 

Firstly, soldiers seem to prioritise the Brigade Warfighter over other elements of training. Soldiers put off attending promotion courses and instead pursue the training that’ll secure the bounty as a priority. While ‘assured weekends’ are well attended, a similar incentive doesn’t exist for the few, often company-led weekends, that aren’t. 

Secondly, the bounty process is occasionally inconsistently applied by command teams. Specifically, a waiver system allows unit commanders to award bounties even if members do not fully meet the requirements. This often applies to soldiers who miss the annual Warfighter exercise due to competing promotion courses or training support requests. The number of waivers presented each year can lead to inconsistencies; a waiver granted one year for a certain member may not be granted under similar circumstances in a different year, or with a different commander or different member.

Could a similar bounty incentive for higher training standards exist in the Australian Army Reserve?

SERCAT 4 and the High Ready Reserve

The UK's bounty system can be executed in the Australian Army Reserve using an existing ADF policy, under SERCAT 4, which is currently only active in the RAAF. Within the Australian Total Workforce System, the ‘High Ready Reserve’ of SERCAT 4 offers financial benefit to members who can provide “short notice capability” to Defence. 

Under SERCAT 4, members receive all the benefits of full-time service, with the exception of superannuation, accommodation support, and access to leave. Using a generous bonus and an opportunity to be at a higher level of training, this would incentivise part-time soldiers to attend a series of activities as agreed to in a Service Obligation Contact. This service obligation can be tailored for the needs of Army. 

Would it be possible to allocate more SERCAT 4 positions within Reserve battalions, allowing each unit to financially incentivise soldiers to maintain a higher standard of training and attendance? Much like Reserve battalions having a pool of SERCAT 7 or SERVOP C position numbers, could a pool of SERCAT 4 positions be allocated for a platoon per battalion, full of people who could commit to rendering 30, 50 or 100 RSDs in a year?

Increased Incentives for Effective Service

Another option to incentivise greater training commitments from SERCAT 5 personnel could be increasing the remuneration and threshold for ‘effective service’. Currently, members who render 20 RSDs each year receive the annual $600 Health Support Allowance, as well as further eligibility for other entitlements such as the Defence home Ownership Assistance Scheme (DHOAS). While intended for the purpose of allowing service members to ensure their “health levels [are] at required standards” and “achieve home ownership” respectively, in practice these payments are spent however recipients please. 

A new payment, larger than the Health Support Allowance and not exclusively for the purpose of supporting health outcomes, with an eligibility criterion attached to training standards higher than 20 RSDs, could incentivise members appropriately. 

My experience observing the UK’s ‘bounty’ suggests generous financial incentives could be an important tool in not only providing short notice capability across the Army Reserve, but also help units complete their unit training support requests and bolster attendance on field weekends and major exercises.