Innovation and Adaptation
Crawl, Walk, Run...SitBy Matthew Jones September 19, 2018
On the 4th of July 1918, at ‘The Battle of Le Hamel’, General Sir John Monash famously achieved victory using a co-ordinated, combined-arms attack, ensuring he employed every combat element at his disposal to its maximum potential. However, 100 years later, did this battle’s exercise namesake manage to employ the part-time soldiers and officers to their maximum potential? And did the two weeks at Shoalwater Bay test the two years of focused lead-up training many had committed to for the activity?
The Road to Hamel
For officers and senior non commissioned officers, the ‘Road to Hamel’ started in 2016 with a series of targeted training weekends. The aim of these activities was to refresh understanding of battlefield operating systems (BOS), command and control (C2), security operations and staff requirements. This series brought together leaders throughout the part time element of Army, many of whom had never worked together in their allocated roles, allowing familiarity, integration and early planning to occur. These activities successfully ensured that most headquarter elements attending Exercise Hamel were up to date with current doctrine and had received the same education prior to integrating into their combat roles.
In 2017 and early 2018, Battlegroup Waratah assembled all ranks to conduct the Telopea series (1). Exercises Telopea Crawl and Telopea Walk focused on combat team (CT) level and below, with the Battlegroup Headquarters joining for Telopea Run. These activities gave combat elements a chance to assimilate themselves in order to operate as part of a CT, conducting attacks, area ambushes and key point security operations. With each exercise the task complexity and asset allocation grew (through the incorporation of joint fire teams and cavalry elements) further testing C2. At the completion of Telopea Run, the CT’s had demonstrated their ability to work as a combined arms team and conduct tasks related to conventional and stability operations. Morale was high and leaders felt prepared for a challenging experience when given the prospect of culminating their training at Exercise Hamel.
Exercise Hamel presented a fantastic opportunity to make the most of this preparation. Working alongside the full-time elements of the Australian Army, with increased resources and most members employed in practised roles within established teams, the usual part time training limitations were diminished. However, the tasks handed to the CTs, which were mainly focused around rear-echelon security, failed to capitalise on this opportunity. While rear-echelon security is an expected role for the reinforcing battlegroup and an important component of brigade operations, the tasks within this role are not particularly challenging for the C2 of a CT and below. This is particularly true when there are no allocated serials or enemy designated to test these elements. Subsequently the Army Reserve CTs failed to have the setting in which to perform, leaving them without the opportunity to present their aptitude and capability to a combined-service audience.
The mismatch between the preparation and expected output presents several risks for the current model. The first is that capable but time poor part-time members may shift their attention away from Exercise Hamel and onto the lead-up activities where they feel the best professional development can be achieved. A lower turn-out at Hamel risks reduced manning within individual fighting elements, which would greatly diminish their capability. A second risk would be for members to attend Exercise Hamel but none of the lead-up training, failing to be appropriately tested in their rank and role. This could present an issue for integration to the Regular Army (whether for an activity or on operations) where unsuitable members may be nominated based on their attendance at Exercise Hamel as a criteria, risking damage to the part-timer's reputation.
- MAINTAIN challenging lead-up training delivered to the reinforcing battlegroup, emphasising combined-arms training at all levels.
- MAINTAIN part-time integration into the combat brigade on Exercise Hamel.
- DEVELOP and ASSESS the capability of part-time soldiers and officers while at Exercise Hamel, keeping this exercise as the benchmark for their expected performance within the Australian Army.
The Battle of Le Hamel legendarily lasted only 93 minutes, which paled into insignificance compared to the time, focus, effort and detail applied to its preparation. In the same manner, the ‘Road to Hamel’ was much more arduous than it’s destination, with CT elements comfortably able to perform to the required standard when they arrived. If Exercise Hamel is seen as the training endpoint, then the ‘Road to Hamel’ was successful. However, if the goal remains to maintain a part-time force capable of deploying alongside its full-time colleagues, as part of a total force, then Exercise Hamel 2018 may be considered a missed training opportunity on the road to something bigger.