People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf
– often attributed to George Orwell

In June 2022, NBC published a piece addressing concerns the US military has on the sustainability of an all-volunteer force, thanks (in part) to an ongoing “recruiting drought”. As the ADF, especially the Army, seeks to expand its force size, similar issues are sure to be very shortly on the horizon.

The question arises – while our volunteer force has served us well in the past, is it going to be enough to confront the challenges of tomorrow? With increasing workforce shortfalls across the Australian economy, the Army faces growing uncertainty in its ability to meet the demands of Government.

With a historically low unemployment rate of 3.4%, the ADF now faces a preparedness challenge in an era of increasing strategic uncertainty. Of equal concern, the ADF may well be unable to adequately crew its new platform acquisitions.

Such issues are already being faced by the Army’s combat teams and battle groups, who face critical shortages in key logistics support personnel such as drivers, signals operators and command support clerks. An army invariably marches on its stomach, and we are facing a reality that sees our supply lines, by land, air and sea, vulnerable to disruption – not due to enemy interdiction, but by not having enough personnel to sustain the Army’s manoeuvre elements.

As the United States Department of Defence considers the limits of the all-volunteer force, Associated Press reports Russian prisoners being offered amnesty to join the ranks of the Russian Army in Ukraine.

Since Australia removed the National Service Scheme in 1972, the ADF, much like its allies, has relied upon volunteers to defend its strategic interests. However, in the face of a “retention challenge” now commonly acknowledged in Australian media, the ADF may find itself akin to the Spartans at Thermopylae, if solutions aren’t sought.

The contentious point, however, lies in how the solution is generated. Unfortunately, simply recruiting more people isn’t the sole solution to the ADF’s recruitment and retention woes. A transient work force will not provide the surety required to force generate and effectively conduct operations. Furthermore, the best solution that can be generated by the establishment of a highly capable but nonetheless small force, is to fit into the order of battle of a more powerful ally.

Whilst this has proven to be effective in more recent conflicts, the echoes of the Second World War advise planners to ensure that a force be able and available to defend their own backyard, with or without the immediate reliance upon one’s close allies.

Looking at the Army specifically, the solution lies in the same historical vein as that cautionary tale against total reliance upon an ally. The raising and maintaining of a large and regular reserve would enable a lower cost solution to the existing recruitment and retention issue. Perhaps the best method of execution lies is a previously employed structure – the High Readiness Reserve (HRR).

In the 2005/2006 Defence Annual Report, the HRR was presented as a solution to a distinct problem set surrounding Reserve modernisation and shortages in the army logistics system.

A HRR, raised and tailored to a modern strategic problem set, could make the most of the highly educated and sophisticated young workforce, who are otherwise likely to leave before their career has properly started. If the Reserve can be incorporated as a regular part of life, built around esprit-de-corps and national pride, a fighting force could more easily be raised from existing members in the event of a call out.

A HRR may take the existing Army Reserve architecture and expand upon it. Expanding the current twenty day minimum effective service period to fifty days for all HRR members would enable more consistent training and development. Focusing on recruitment of key logistics support personnel in identified roles would enable enhanced support to regular units.

Similarly, the raising of HRR companies and squadrons within reserve rifle battalions and regiments would enable the generation of rapid call out reserve combat teams to support existing regular battle groups. This provides entirely organic combat ready task elements who can engage in regular training with full-time units.

Acknowledging that task units such as Battle Group Cannan and Battle Group Warratah currently exist and do routinely support ARA activities, this proposal seeks to expand and enhance that contribution through funding, recruitment, and increased integration.

Further enhancements to this program may be found in the transitioning of existing and soon to be retired platforms to such HRR sub-units. The allocation of retiring ASLAVs to reserve cavalry units would enable mobility and platform familiarity, whilst also providing a tangible, organic asset for independent training. Similarly, the allocation of Armoured Personnel Carriers and Bushmaster platforms to reserve infantry battalions would enable integrated training in armoured platforms, thereby reducing the requirement on ARA units and enhancing independent training opportunities.

Further expansion into dedicated opposition force training tasks for HRR units is another extremely valuable topic for exploration but requires examination as a stand-alone area of enquiry.

Whilst acknowledging that reserve units have their own challenges in guaranteed parading, this structure provides promise for force expansion, whilst also making best use of the Total Workforce System. The maintenance of a HRR battle group to brigade sized element, would provide a much-needed personnel boost, whilst also ensuring continued commitment to the ADF and its readiness by reserve personnel.

As the ADF’s recruiting pool moves further into a competitive, job-seeker oriented market, it is critical that flexible service options, which do not comprise force readiness, are developed and offered.

Whilst small, the ADF is renowned as being a highly capable and professional force. Historically, the surge to serve in times of war was reinforced by a people well versed in shooting, horsemanship, and sport – in 21st century Australia, two of these are substantially less popular and available to the average person. Instead of mitigating lower levels of societal preparedness for emergency military service, further building a well maintained, expertly-trained and highly disciplined Reserve will serve to enable the Army to be ready now and future ready.