Tactical and Technical

Flexibility and Cooperation on Operations

By Dallin Stirling September 25, 2020

Experiences in Afghanistan during the last 15 years have highlighted the importance of each soldier understanding the principles of flexibility and cooperation on operations. Soldiers with these traits have successfully been able to meet the requirement to conduct a wide variety of tasks in a range of environments, while working with multinational partners. There are a range of deliberate actions a junior leader can take to ensure their soldiers develop flexibility and the ability to cooperate.

Flexibility and cooperation within their trade

Soldiers must be flexible to conduct the full range of maintenance tasks within their trade and cooperate with others in order to achieve a wide range of maintenance tasks.

Operating in a range of environments

Operational deployments rarely see Australian soldiers working in environments that resemble the most frequently used training areas within Australia. Therefore, soldiers must be at least familiar with the theoretical demands of conducting maintenance and repairs in the types of environments not normally encountered in Australian training areas, such as the desert, mountain and alpine environments. It would be unreasonable to expect anyone to have memorised the specific details for every possible environment, but everyone should know where to find such information. For example, if a soldier is preparing to deploy to Afghanistan and is familiar with accessing military doctrine, they may find that Land Warfare Doctrine (LWD) 3-9-1 identifies in plain language that:

  • in sandy and gritty conditions, electronic equipment, equipment with moving parts and especially air-breathing engines, should be modified to reduce dust ingestion (Australian Army, 2009), and
  • in cold climates, or those with rapidly changing temperatures, battery performance may degrade and lubricants can become unsuitable (Australian Army, 2009).

By becoming conversant with the demands placed on equipment when used in environments different to those found in Australia, soldiers are more likely to prevent, diagnose and successfully rectify equipment failures that are more likely to occur in harsh conditions. LWD 3-9-1 instructs that if the environmental impacts on equipment are not considered, combat effectiveness can be diminished, as experienced by Australian Special Forces operating in Afghanistan during Operation SLIPPER (Australian Army, 2009) when they had frequent breakdown of their All Terrain Vehicles (ATV) due to clogged air filters (CFN R, 2012).

Conducting the full spectrum of maintenance and repairs

Historically, the vehicles used in the Middle East Region (MER) did not return to Australia at the end of each Task Force rotation, they remained in theatre enduring many years of harsh operational use. This achieved significant transport and quarantine-cleaning cost savings (Graham-Harrison, 2013), but placed an increased demand on the logistic systems in country to conduct heavy grade maintenance. With no option to backload to the nearest Joint Logistic Unit (JLU) for heavy grade repairs, RAEME tradesmen were required to conduct repairs that they may not have significant experience with.

One RAEME fitter reported that an ASLAV he worked on had been in the MER for over 11 years. As such, the mechanical components in the turret control system required a complete overhaul (SGT L, 2020). This kind of repair task that would normally be conducted by either OEM or a JLU, depending on the system. Soldiers deployed overseas must therefore be able to perform a wide range of tasks within their trade, not just those conducted most frequently in Australia.

Conducting maintenance and repairs on equipment from other militaries

Every warlike operation that the Australian Army has participated in has required close interaction with allied and partner militaries. Therefore, for soldiers to work effectively while deployed on overseas operations, they must be comfortable with cooperating with people from other militaries and occasionally using their equipment. Two RAEME experiences in Afghanistan highlight this:

  • An Australian workshop at Camp Holland received a request to repair the door for an American Stryker, as the American soldiers were unsure of how to carry out the repairs themselves. Despite working with other English speakers, the Australian tradesmen had to overcome differences in communication style, technical language and technical abilities to achieve task success (Neilson, 2012).
  • An Australian Downed Aircraft Recovery Team (DART) was assembled to assist a Coalition DART in repairing a U.S. CH-47 Chinook after it received battle damage and made an emergency landing at a Forward Operating Base (FOB). Because Australian helicopters had not received battle damage of this nature since the Vietnam War, the Australian members had to rely only on their experience with training aids and theory. After the repairs, the U.S. CH-47 flew back to Kandahar Airfield with the Australians on board (WO1 Luke, 2008).

These examples demonstrate that operations require soldiers to be flexible in the kinds of work they conduct and be willing to cooperate with multinational partners, despite differences in equipment, capabilities and processes. In his Cove article, Pat Henriques (2020) offers similar advice.

“Accepting that briefing formats or styles will not be perfectly symmetrical is also necessary. Interoperability is not necessarily doing things the exact same way, but working together within your individual strengths to achieve a collaborative outcome.”

Flexibility and cooperation outside of their trade

The cultural and threat environment may also demand that soldiers perform tasks outside of their trade, giving weight to the requirement that all personnel be ‘soldiers first.’ For example, RAEME craftsmen are frequently known to operate as ASLAV crew, participate in fighting patrols, and serve as overwatch on large operations (Neilson, 2012). RAEME craftsmen will have completed driver and crew commander training to do these tasks, but not necessarily to the standard taught at the School of Armour’s initial and corps-specific training courses. Therefore, these tasks require considerable flexibility and willingness to learn on the job. Female tradesman were also involved in the “Female Engagement Team” and participated in foot patrols with U.S. forces to liaise with local women (Neilson, 2012). With no formal training in being a Liaison Officer, this would also require a combination of flexibility and willingness to cooperate with a diverse team. Deployments and postings to all-corps environments can help prepare soldiers for such a variety of tasks and allow them to bring a greater variety of skills when they return to a posting within their trade.

Inculcating these traits

There are a range of actions a junior leader can take to ensure their soldiers develop flexibility and a willingness to work with members of other militaries.

Deliberate pre-deployment training

Even when no deployment is scheduled, junior leaders can create opportunities for their soldiers to review the full range of tasks within their trade and discuss how operating in each possible physical, cultural, and threat environments would affect their work. Liaison with peers can allow for tours to other units to learn about their different capabilities and how different corps operate in the operational environment. This would also develop the soldier’s ability to build relationships and cooperate in an all-corps environment.

Historical logistics analysis activities, drawing on corps journals, news reports, Army museums, The Cove and doctrine can be conducted at every level of the Army. Junior leaders can seek out and request support from recently deployed members to share lessons learnt to ensure that knowledge is not lost. It is not likely that these activities will teach soldiers everything they need to know for every possible scenario, but it will help them become self-reliant in closing future knowledge gaps, which will prepare them for a very wide range of deployments.

Seek opportunities to work with international partners

The ability to cooperate well in a diverse team does not necessarily come naturally. Salas, et al. (2009) point out that, 'without an active effort, team diversity is actually likely to cause misunderstandings that degrade team performance'. As warlike deployments always involve working with multinational partners, soldiers will be better prepared for success if they have already had positive engagement with foreign militaries, as they could avoid the degradation of performance that usually accompanies team diversity. To have any real effect; however, this international engagement must be more than just catching a glimpse of a group of U.S. marines at the DSG Rockhampton mess after a Talisman Sabre exercise. For example, before deploying with the British Artillery to Helmand Province in Afghanistan, Australian artillerymen conducted training in the United Kingdom for six months, despite operating the same gun, speaking the same language and having the same rank structure. This allowed them to work seamlessly in a demanding operation, earning the reputation for having remarkable flexibility and adaptability (Defence News, 2011).

Any chance to engage with foreign partners must be exploited to maximise preparation for overseas operations. Leaders should take full advantage of these opportunities on domestic exercises, as well as understanding the exchange programs available to their subordinates to nominate them where available. Even accessing news reports, publicly accessible doctrine and journals from other nations can be helpful. These kinds of activities allow our soldiers to improve their ability to cooperate with diverse team members and become familiar with their systems and capabilities. It allows them to answer questions when planning for multinational activities, such as:

  • Are U.S. Army armourers qualified to maintain small engines?
  • Are junior officers in British Army able to fill staff positions?
  • If a U.S. soldier has a driver code for a vehicle, are they qualified to drive in a threat environment?
  • What tolerance do junior leaders from other nations have for risk to life, injury, or equipment?

This information can then be disseminated through corps journals, The Cove and word of mouth to gradually generate soldiers that are more prepared to cooperate with other nations and therefore a more capable Army.



Recent operations in Afghanistan have shown that soldiers who understand the principles of flexibility and cooperation are better prepared for the demands of overseas operations. These traits allow them to perform their job well despite potentially unforeseen circumstances and conduct tasks outside of their trade, even in a complex multinational environment. Junior leaders can help soldiers develop flexibility and cooperation by encouraging theoretical study and organising practical activities.




Australian Army, 2009. LWD 3-9-1 OPERATIONS IN SPECIFIC ENVIRONMENTS. In: LAND WARFARE DOCTRINE. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, pp. 6-1.

CFN R, 2012. Interview with RAEME VM after SOTG rotation [Interview] 2012.

Defence News, 2011. Australian gunners on final mission in Afghanistan. [Online]
Available at: https://news.defence.gov.au/media/media-releases/australian-gunners-fina...
[Accessed 09 July 2020].

Graham-Harrison, E., 2013. US faces $6bn bill to ship equipment home from Afghanistan. The Guardian, 26 March.

Available at: https://cove.army.gov.au/article/interoperability-the-right-mindset-driv...
[Accessed 7 July 2020].

Neilson, A., 2012. Mentoring Task Force - 2. RAEME Craftsman, p. 44.

Salas, E., Goodwin, G. F. & Burke, C. S., 2009. Team Effectiveness in Complex Organisations, Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives and Approaches. New York(NY): Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.

SGT L, 2020. Interview with RAEME FA after RTF and SOTG rotations [Interview] 2020.

WO1 Luke, 2008. Operation "Slipper" C Squadron, 5th Aviation Regiment. RAEME Craftsman, p. 34.




Dallin Stirling

Dallin Stirling is a mechanical engineer in the Royal Corps of Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. He first joined the Army as an artilleryman, before studying Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University of Queensland. He is currently posted to ASEME as a platoon commander. 


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.

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