Tactical and Technical
Expansion of the Army ReserveBy 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.