Tactical and Technical

Expansion of the Army Reserve

By Iain Adams September 24, 2021

We live in an uncertain world and the Australian Army needs to be serious about adequately mobilising the Reserve capability given the real threat of large-scale conflict in the medium term. Australia needs to urgently undertake many actions such as larger strategic fuel reserves that are held within Australia NOT simply stored in the USA on the Gulf of Mexico, and also a focus on ongoing and sustainable sovereign industrial capability. It also needs to reinvigorate and enlarge the Army Reserve (ARes) to the point where it is a more credible mobilisation base despite decades of salami-slicing and trade-offs that dwindled its capability to mobilise for major conflict by the time the regular army does its first rotations. The reserve has no real armoured capability, no real means of transporting itself rapidly over long distances, little or no indirect fire support, and no remote sensing capability or drones. The reserve has low levels of training and struggles to integrate with full-time Army given the training gap. Recruitment and retention of reservists remains problematic. I suggest that the ARes should be at manned at a level where trained and routinely parading reservist numbers, at least, twice the size of the Regular Army. Here is my proposal to make the reserve a credible force that can mobilise to meet the strategic threats in our region.

I propose a fundamental revamp of ARes, particularly in – but not limited to – these areas:

  • Remuneration: Base wages for the ARes must be at a level of the Regular Army. ARes wages must remain as tax free but also enhanced by generous forgiveness of HECS or other professional study debts, generous access to military hospitals and other medical care and superannuation contributions.
  • New ARes-specific training area / mega base: A new training area and associated mega base is needed. The old local Reserve depots have largely failed, access to local firing ranges has been lost to bureaucratic ineptitude.
    This new ARes specific base and training area must be adjacent to new strategic In-Land Rail Link. It should be huge. I suggest something like the size of the Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area that occupies about half a million hectares. It must be well-equipped; a helipad and airfield are necessary. Motel standard, individual room style accommodation, formal messes and classrooms are needed so that courses can be run, and pre-deployment administration conducted. Simulators, weapons training simulation system (WTTS) facilities and live firing ranges are a must.
    The number of existing ARes depots must be dramatically reduced. The retained depots MUST be consolidated. Retained depots must be bustling, almost crowded places of training. These retained depots must be places where young Reservists are able to feel part of a dynamic and valued organisation. These retained depots must be enhanced with ample parking, usable overnight accommodation, IT equipped offices, conference and training facilities, gyms, kitchens, messes, a hospital and an airfield, and easy access to WTSS. Examples of suitable depots might include such as Holsworthy and Richmond in the Sydney region. Small inner-city depots need to be sold off and the funds redirected to the consolidated depots and/or Mega base.
  • Trans-continental mobility for ARes: The new mega base should be located near the transport and logistics hub of the city of Parkes. From Parkes, many of Australia’s regional centres, all capitals and most major ports are all able to be reached within 24hrs by new double decker trains.
  • Fly-in-fly-out model: ARes should adopt a Fly-In/Out organisational model for training.
  • Command: The ceiling rank for part-time ARes should be Major. Battalion Commanders and above (LTCOL or higher) positions should be the preserve of full-time professionals. Where suitable ARes candidates for battalion or higher command are available, they should be offered full-time status. The entry-level officer rank should be 2nd Lieutenant. Regular Army Commanders should first prove themselves by commanding the equivalent ARes unit/formation before they are accepted for that regular position. For example, a regular Major may be promoted to LTCOL and given the command of an ARes battalion. Once he/she has proven themselves, they may be offered a regular battalion.
  • Cavalry: Immediate transfer of all wheeled ASLAV 25 and ASLAV APC to ARes so that reserve units have effective tactical and strategic mobility anywhere within Australia, either self-propelled or via the in-land rail. The equipping of Regular Cavalry with Boxer vehicles should be accelerated to compensate for the loss of the ASLAV.
  • Air mobility: The ARes needs dedicated aviation support AND Army has no easy nor quick method of generating pilots and ground crew. Army should purchase something like sixty (60) Short Aviation C-23 Sherpa or GAF Nomad class aircraft. This class of light military transport aircraft are truly multi-mission and capable of faster, higher-altitude and longer-distance coverage than helicopters. They are far cheaper than helicopter, they are even cheaper to purchase or operate than the sophisticated fixed wing transports favoured by the RAAF.
    The new mega base could house all major ARes equipment. The base could then be linked to each state capital via these aircraft. Each week these aircraft could ferry reservists to and from the base when other means was ineffective. The Australia of my youth had the capability to build aeroplanes. Companies such as GippsAero want to resurrect the GAF Nomad as a GA18. We must re‑establish an indigenous aircraft industry that is not foreign controlled and hamstrung by high tech patents.
  • Pilots:  Reservist pilots could be recruited from those civilians who are already qualified and hold a Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL). Having a CPL qualification in Australia is expensive and does NOT guarantee work. Army need only offer CPL qualified pilots short Specialist Officer training and the opportunity to fly these milk-run flights. The opportunities for Army and these pilots would be bound to follow. Once established, this fleet of aircraft would be invaluable for ARes administration, tactics, strategy and disaster support to the nation. These already licenced pilots could be operational on the proposed light transport aircraft within 12 months of recruitment, compared to six years for current Army officer pilots.
  • Disaster recovery: All ARes must be trained, qualified and equipped to assist state level disaster recovery agencies. All ARes soldiers must be trained not only on their own small arms and equipment but also trained to a level acceptable by Rural Fire Service on firefighting assets to assist RFS-like agencies to counter wildfires, particularly in summer. This must include training and formal qualifications on chainsaws, fire hoses, Light Rigid 4WD trucks, and buses.
  • Papua New Guinea (PNG): Defence of Australia is inextricably linked to PNG. History has shown that military units do get deployed to PNG (See: Kokoda Trail battles of 53 Bn and 39 Bn. See also recent operations in Solomons, Timor and Bougainville). With the dedicated light (3,000kg cargo or 25 passengers) aircraft Australia ARes should conduct frequent combined exercises (Coy+ level) with PNG Army. In addition, ARes officers should conduct annual TEWT on-the-ground in PNG. ARes engineers should focus on road maintenance, local employment and sealing of roads along important economic corridors of PNG.


Undertake the steps I have outlined, and we will have a reinvigorated and enlarged Army Reserve that is relevant in peace and a credible expansion base – both domestically and internationally and in preparing for possible armed conflict.



Iain Adams


Major Iain Adams is a retired Armoured Corps Officer who served in a mixture of Regular Army and Reserve roles over a period of 40 years. Apart from RAAC, Major Adams has worked in a number of appointments across several corps including Intelligence, Infantry and Aviation. Since retiring, Major Adams has worked in Defence Industry as a weapons developer.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.


Raises some really interesting points, sir. Some thoughts from my own experience in the Reserves (and as a volunteer firefighter). Remuneration. After the latest changes, Reserve salary is now already proportionate to the ARA , with the added bonus of being tax-free. However, I agree that additional non-salary bonuses could help attract and retain more people. Things like guaranteed healthcare would be a real drawcard for soldiers who may not have access to private health (Defence could even just pay for all Reservists to have Defence Health private coverage). HELP loan forgiveness, and free postgraduate study for officers at ADFA would be a big drawcard for officers, especially if it could help advance their civilian careers. Respectfully, I think having an ARes specific megabase/training area is potentially overkill, and would only increase separation from the ARA when we should be aiming for greater integration. However, I do agree that consolidation of small depots, and provision of adequate services such as parking, free gyms, health facilities, accommodation, ranges, and messes with a strong mess culture for all ranks would be a great way to enhance Esprit de corps. The FIFO model already exists to a large extend under the force generation cycle. TAS, SA and VIC already routinely force concentrate in either Pucka or Cultana. People from WA frequently fly to QLD for exercises. Courses are now largely the responsibility of the University Regiments, and students fly all over the country spending on which particular Regiment runs the course in question. Prior to the recent travel restrictions, Tuesday nights and weekend training have increasingly taken a more minor role, and relegated to primarily admin opportunities, with serious warfighting training occurring on longer exercises up to 16 days in duration. The ceiling rank of MAJ already exists in practice for most Reserve Officers, and WO2 is a hard ceiling for most NCOs too. I'm unsure how further limiting their career progression would be a method for strengthening the recruitment and retention of ARes officers, and I think both that and the proposal for Reserve Officers as 2LTs would only further entrench the perception that Reservists are inferior in every way to their ARA counterparts. Yes, the initial officer training of Reservists is much shorter than the ARA, and they have less practical exposure to command as LTs, however, from CAPT onwards the training continuum is much more similar between ARA and ARes, and, as they move more office and management based roles, Reservists can often close the gap with their full-time peers by drawing on their substantial experience in civilian leadership and management. Better recognition of civilian work and education would be essential here. The rank of 2LT could certainly be bought back, but for both ARA and ARes, and used for officers who have graduated from RMC, but are not yet fully proficient in their regimental trade. It could be similar to PTE(P), with ARA progressing to LT one year post-ROBC, and ARES two years. Having ARA officers command Reserve Battalions/Regiments prior to ARA unit command would also increase the perception that ARes units are not 'real' units, and could lead to cultural issues between an ARA CO and his ARes OCs and other unit staff under him. Organic ARes CAV beyond PMVs is a good idea, but will likely require a higher training liability that may not be achievable. Similarly, the ARes needs a legitimate OS capability beyond the 81mm mortar, but this has similar training issues. The ARes artillery is now fielding fixed- and rotar-wing UAVs, as well as trialing weapons locating radars, and this is an area where they could prove a greater capability gain. Air mobility/pilots: recognizing civilian competencies is definitely an area where the ARes should really improve. Having ARes SSO pilots for non-combat piloting makes a lot of sense. Similar fast-tracking for drone pilots would allow us to rapidly expand in that area, and drones, again, are a major area where the ARes could provide a substantial capability boost to the ARA. Disaster Relief: including basic fire fighting as an all-corps skill in the Reserves is very feasible. A two week course, reinforced by one five day exercise each year just prior to fire season would be more than sufficient to generate a bushfire fighting capability equal to state volunteers. Reservists wouldn't necessarily need their own equipment beyond PPC/PPE, but could be sent as reinforcing crews to augment state agencies. This is identical to how interstate deployments currently work in the State volunteer fire agencies. On the whole, however, I am very supportive on the idea of a rapid increase of both size, deplorability, and lethality of the Reserve.

Could I suggest an alternative approach to the issue of unit command? In each Reserve unit, command and second in command should alternate between ARA and ARes. A key task for an ARA CO should be judged would be developing his/her ARes replacement. Failure in this task should be a mark against his/her record. A key task of an ARA 2IC should be supporting his/her CO, and developing junior officers and senior NCOs. Again, failure should be a mark against his/her record.

The above comment is incorrect ARES do not get paid more/equal to ARA. Take a typical infantry soldier. Full time remuneration after tax is $57,653 ($69k inc super). ARES equivalent is $197/day. Effectively the ARES soldier, to earn the amount of the ARA counterpart (who works 231 days after accounting for leave/weekends etc), needs to work 293 days or 350 days if you account for super. Based on this simplified calculation this means ARES members, for the same job, gets paid 25% less (35% less including super). This also doesn’t account for the fact that ARES training days are typically 12+hour days (perhaps there's a case for ARES to get paid more than ARA if you look at an hourly basis - which if Army did we'd all be sipping pina coladas on our own private islands). My suggestions: 1. ‘Extra pay’ for certain types of training (expand the purview of field pay) or a higher 12+ hr day pay threshold (currently you get paid the same for 6hrs as you do 24 hrs). 2. The 2-week qualification period for Employer Support Payments creates an unnecessary hurdle whereby ARES members have difficulty getting through that 2-week period (due to lack of employer support) to ever access the payments. If the purpose of the ESPS is to make it easier for ARES to attend training, then this hurdle needs to be seriously revisited. 3. Agreed, non-salary benefits would attract more people. 4. Equal pay for equal work…the 25% figure above should be much closer to 0. As a side note diversity targets are unsustainable (regardless of what you think of them ethically). We simply can not significantly expand ARES (or ADF for that matter) if we are to stick to a diversity proportion (given we're likely already hiring all the qualified women that come through the door) - but I suppose conscription is always an option.

The current ARES model lacks an achievable collective mission. The periodic and ineffective "reviews" have successively failed to understand the fundamental differences between the Regular Soldier, and the Reserve Soldier. 1. A Regular has accepted a contract of employment, based on a specific offer of what will be gained (pay, career, end of service benefits) against what will be sacrificed (geographical location, deployment, certain personal freedoms). A Reserve Soldier already has those base life gains and sacrifices, and THEN adds the additional layer of ARES service on top - some tax-free income and loss of certain personal freedoms (in particular, absence from their primary role/job) during the time of military service. It is a rare individual Reservist that "needs" the extra income provided their military service. 2. Reservists are "true volunteers" - they have already decided to forgo their kids' soccer training, absorb their partners' complaints, and tolerate the comments of their Regular counterparts. But they don't HAVE to be there for military service. Poor training, substandard admin and ineffective leadership will quickly lead most to question why they aren't spending their weekends with family and friends. 3. Once the question of "Why am I here?" forms in the ARES Soldiers’ minds, it is very hard for leadership to turn it around - hence the average length of service for a Reserve Soldier is dramatically shorter than the obligatory enlistment of a Regular Soldier - the former can leave whenever they want (or just not show up anymore), while the latter is indentured. This means that over half of the ARES training liability is Induction/Basic Training. 4. All of the above contributes to the lamentable state of the ARES as a collective capability of the Army. At best a source of semi-trained recruits for transfer to the Regular Army. At worst, a kind of expensive social club that recognises it will never be deployed as a Unit to carry out its stated role (whatever Corps we're talking about). Recognition of this situation should form the primary concern of Army's leadership. Shiny, new "mega-bases" will never materialise in the real world. Shiny, new Leadership might hold some hope? I have 'turned up' in support of overseas Army deployments to perform EXACTLY my ARES military role, but as a civilian contractor - because Army would not / could not deploy me, or my ARES Unit. OK for me, I got paid at my civilian rate rather than my military rate, and slept in a hotel instead of under a tent. It’s been said that the only reason the ARES has anyone above the rank of Corporal is so that the recruits can recognise one when they it it – and there is some truth in that. The Regular Army is not interested in deploying ARES NCOs, and even less interested in ARES Officers – and that seriously limits the value that the ARES can offer. The Regular Army denies itself the value that an ARES Soldier brings to the battle at no cost to the taxpayer. I have seen fully qualified civilians, with decades of practical, professional or trade experience, denied military advancement and forced to undertake demeaning military courses to prove their capability – so much for Competency Assessment when the first ‘competency’ is to have attended the military course. Until Army recognises the differences, and more importantly, the value that Reservists bring to the battlespace, the ARES will continue to languish until, and through, the next ‘review’.

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