The full report can be accessed on the DPN at Objective number BQ37412623 (as an open website we cannot put links to the DPN on The Cove, sorry we cannot provide a direct link if you are on the system).

Poxes of the sun or of the mind bring the force-ten firestorms...
Love the gum forest, camp out in it but death hosts your living in it, brother.
Cellars, or bunkers, mustn't sit square under the fuel your blazing house will be.

– Les Murray (1968), Hesiod on Bushfire

There were people coming off helicopters who were elderly, disabled, young children... they weren't crying but they were distressed...
Essentially looking at Australian refugees in our own country was quite confronting. And I sort of have to deal with that and I have to keep pushing through and do my job and I can't look away.

– PTE Michael Currie, HQ JTF 646 (AAHU interview transcript, 14 Feb 20 Omeo, Victoria)


Executive Summary

The 2019-21 period has required unprecedented mobilisation of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) in response to domestic contingencies, including the National Bushfire Emergency; the COVID19 pandemic; and High Risk Weather Season events. This mobilisation has included extensive employment of the Reserve; and provides a valuable opportunity to reflect on force scalability; particularly the emerging role of the part-time Force. Several traditional compromises have limited the Reserve’s capability contributions in the past; and now warrant revision. Historically, these compromises have included perceptual tensions in the Reserve’s purpose, availability and training/resourcing focus; which have inter alia influenced conceptions of its employment potential. This paper explores how recent domestic contingences can reconcile some of these compromises; and highlight opportunities to maximise the Reserve’s capability contributions to the ADF.

While OP BUSHFIRE ASSIST 2019-20 is the principal focus, OP COVID19 ASSIST is also considered. During these recent domestic contingencies, the Reserve performed effectively by: (1) applying and adapting existing foundation warfighting and leadership training; (2) value-adding a civil-military mindset and skillset; and (3) being well-enabled by the full-time Force.

The author argues that foundation warfighting skills allow the ADF to respond well to short-notice domestic contingencies. To this, Reservists can leverage geography, relationships and expertise to offer an additional civil-military capability edge, allowing the ADF to excel during domestic contingencies (more effective responses, more rapidly), when enabled by appropriate resourcing. While the Reserve is now a ‘Force of Choice’ for domestic contingencies, there are two associated risks. Firstly: stereotyping the Reserve for this exclusive purpose may compromise ADF capability for higher spectrum military operations (including offshore), which may also require Reserve contributions. Secondly: appropriate investments in civilian response capabilities and community resilience can avoid a potential default ‘Force of Convenience’ pitfall for domestic contingencies, balanced also with strategic opportunity costs to the wider economy of utilising Reservists more.

The real successes of the ADF’s domestic contingency campaign of 2019-21 include: (1) the demonstration of the Total Force concept, in a two-way, leading/supporting sense across the part- and full-time components of the Force; and (2) use of Call Out to achieve ADF scalability. The integration and embedding of ‘warfighting’ and ‘civil-military’ skills across the Total Force is now critical to force scalability; and delivering the highest value capability contributions for the ADF and the Nation, covering the full spectrum of military operations. For the ADF, both the full- and part-time components of the Total Force require elements of both skillsets; and a preparedness to balance their application during on- and off-shore contingencies.

This paper unpacks this paradox of scalability compromises to build an appreciation of contemporary Reserve potential – a Future Flexible Force, within a Total Force context. From the inside out, opportunities to embed and exploit enhanced capability and scalability include:

  • developing workforce intelligence on the civil-military skills of all ADF members
  • minor adjustments to Reserve training and task organisation processes to achieve greater impact, scale and focus through flexible force flow
  • resourcing of Reserve brigades to enhance distributed response capabilities within jurisdictions
  • sustained, multi-level engagement with civilian response agencies in each jurisdiction
  • developing strategic partnerships with the civilian employers of Reservists


Paper Review – By MAJ Jeremy Barraclough

Australia’s Black Summer of 2019-2020 was unprecedented, commensurately it called for an unprecedented response that saw articles of the Defence Act of 1903 enacted in response to a national emergency. On 4 January 2020 the Governor General called out the Reserve and this was the first time it had occurred in 117 years of the provisions being available. This unprecedented action saw a peak of around 6,500 military personnel deployed, including approximately 3,000 reservists during February of 2020 in support of Operation Bushfire Assist. Once the bushfires were under control, the new emergency of COVID saw a need for Defence support once again throughout 2020 and into 2021, including support to the aged care sector. More recently support to communities impacted by unprecedented floods saw a huge surge of Defence personnel, peaking at around 7,000 in March 2022. Each of these events were significant and unprecedented; in each instance the ADF was called upon to support national resilience and recovery efforts.  

Some may argue now that the ADF has become a ‘force of choice' for domestic contingency operations. Colonel Renee Kidson has focused on this argument and examined the use of the reserve contribution. Her analysis will be released in an Occasional Paper from the Army History Unit titled “Scaling the Force – Reserve Mobilisation for Domestic Contingencies”. This is an excellent discussion that brings contemporary relevance to the topic from recent experiences of the force. Colonel Kidson provides particular insight into this subject from her personal experience as a Commanding Officer that was tasked to provide assistance to the community during this period of need. She also brings to the analysis her scientific background as well as her significant educational experience. Her paper also builds upon previous discussion from the Army Research Centre’s paper "Every Possible Capability: Some Implications of the Army Reserve Call Out for Operation Bushfire Assist 2019-2020”.  

In this paper Colonel Kidson uses "Good Soldiering" as a framework to explore the Reserve’s contributions and compromises. This framework is described by people, preparedness, profession, partnerships and potential. In doing so she provides an examination of what was contributed, how it did so and also offers potential futures for the ADF to contribute in an array of possible futures. In her analysis she offers consideration of three compromises that must be considered in relation to the use of reserves, they include 1) Purpose, 2) Availability, and 3) Training and Resourcing. These three compromises are worthy of further discussion and consideration amongst reserve personnel and those of the regular forces. Importantly, these considerations ought to occur together to comprehend the value of a total workforce solution to these future problems.  

Colonel Kidson shows through her analysis opportunities for the employment of reserves in future contingencies. However, this leads to a question that needs to be resolved regarding the purpose of the reserve force. The Reservist Handbook articulates a very broad spectrum of roles that reserves have been called upon to perform in the past. This includes everything from reinforcement of regular formations deployed overseas in war fighting roles, to deployment for peacekeeping or humanitarian missions in our near region and assistance to communities during natural disasters in our homeland. However, therein lies a paradox; a reserve soldier cannot be prepared for such a vast array of likely roles when they have less discretionary time available for military preparedness. Colonel Kidson shows that reserve forces possess inherent advantages of a civil-military mindset. They understand and can navigate civilian environments as they possess familiarity and connections with it because of their flexible employment. Colonel Kidson provides a compelling argument that this is not necessary unique to the Reserve but it is concentrated within the Reserve. This leads to consideration of the purpose of reserve forces, is the purpose to round out the regular force or are there other alternatives that should leverage this advantage of a civil-military nexus? Australia possesses a CIMIC capability as a secondary employment with an establishment resident in the Army’s 2nd Division but it is finite and not all soldiers possess this formal qualification. The US Army professionalised their capability into a civil affairs employment specialisations and task organised civil affairs units to deliver these effects. Perhaps this is one of many possible futures for reserve forces, but perhaps this is too narrow and shoehorns them into very confined pigeonholes of capability. These considerations must first contemplate what the Reserve is and what makes it different. The people that comprise the Reserve forces are the point of difference; this difference could be leveraged for advantage in order to better serve Australia’s interests. How this difference is leveraged is just one of many rigorous debates that should occur to describe potential futures of the Reserve and in particular what the 2nd Division could look like in the years to come. 

What is compelling in Colonel Kidson’s paper is the contribution that the ADF has made to assure the Australian population through resilience and recovery. This has been delivered by the individual readiness and organisational preparation as well as structure of the Defence forces. It is the inherent nature of the organisation to prepare for war and high end warfighting that has enabled the ADF to prepare for and respond to other contingencies at home and overseas outside of war fighting. This is evidenced throughout her analysis and is a compelling argument that provides proof for the benefits of “Good Soldiering”.

Whilst not intended to be the last word on the issue, Colonel Kidson has provided an excellent start point for the exploration of the future of the Reserve. More thought, debate and consideration of future needs should be explored and vigorously debated. As Defence professionals it is up to us to debate and engage widely outside of the ADF to obtain an appropriate frame to understand the problem being faced and consider appropriate solutions.