Contemporary Operating Environment
Off Time, Off Target: Addressing the Structure of the RAA (OS) Officer Career CoursesBy Benjamin May and Daniel Gillam August 15, 2021
A note from The Cove Team: This article was first published in The Royal Australian Artillery Liaison Letter journal.
The Royal Australian Artillery (RAA) and our Coalition partners are changing, as is the nature of the battlespace that we may find ourselves fighting in. The complex, integrated contemporary operating environment necessitates an agile, well-rounded junior officer that can both contextualise the battlespace, as well as bring order to it. For these reasons, a review of the learning outcomes addressed by our junior officer course progression is due.
Form should always reflect function, just as the RAA (OS) course structure should reflect our officers’ career progression and employment. Unfortunately, this is not currently the case and recent papers have already addressed the shortfalls in the wider RAA junior officer career structure. These commanders have questioned the requirements of subalterns, and proposed similar solutions for the course and career structure required to achieve these. Most notably is the removal of the Fire Support Officer (FSO) component of ROBC and reallocation as a stand-alone course occurring at the start of the training year. It would see a post-Joint Fires Team (JFT) command Captain employed as the FSO, resulting Captains occupying the Battle Captain (BK) and FSO positions within a battery, and a member from the RAA’s large pool of Lieutenants filling their Forward Observer (FO) position. This article is based on the eventuality of these proposals, but takes a further, more-critical look at the learning outcomes addressed by the Regimental Officers Gunnery Course (ROGC).
ROGC teaches trainees how to perform as an artillery range planner and OIC practice, instructor in gunnery, and to conduct the duties of an Adjutant and joint fires staff officer (A/OPSO). This article argues that these learning outcomes are sequenced incorrectly within the RAA (Offensive Support (OS)) officer’s career structure, resulting in these skills being both ‘off time’ and ‘off target.’ It will argue for the removal of ROGC from the RAA (OS) officer course structure, and redistribution of its learning outcomes between the ROBC and FSO courses discussed previously. The authors seek to argue that the repositioning of these learning outcomes will better prepare our junior officers for the diverse regimental experiences they will encounter. This will be achieved by deconstructing the learning outcomes currently pursued by ROGC, and reallocating them within the proposed RAA (OS) course structure.
Getting ‘On Time’ and ‘On Target’
Recent data indicated that of 55 recent ROGC graduates only nine went on to perform the role of BK, providing little return on investment for the qualifications they learn on this course. Due to the majority of Captains posting out of regiments at the end of their second year, their range planning qualification generally does not become relevant until they are a Battery Commander (BC), four years later. This not only results in a significant amount of skill fade, but as their future BK would also not be ROGC-qualified, they would then be required to personally draw their battery’s traces.
For these reasons, the standard range planning learning outcome of ROGC should be moved to the RAA (OS) ROBC. It is generally accepted that understanding range planning makes more effective FOs. This is because they obtain a more comprehensive understanding of gunnery including ballistics, Probable Error for range (PEr), and ricochet. Furthermore, as FOs these Lieutenants will have a far better understanding of ballistics and range safety, resulting in more effective fire support planning and execution for their supported combat team. Not only does this increase their own professional ability, but it also improves the RAA’s reputation. The authors argue this concept a step further, proposing that the ability to conduct range planning also makes a more qualified and competent Command Post Officer (CPO). CPOs are designated artillery range safety appointments, yet they do not receive any formal artillery range safety training that would qualify them to assume this responsibility—learning standard range planning on ROBC would rectify this issue. Whilst it might be argued that standard range planning is too complex for junior Lieutenants, the authors would point out that this learning outcome only serves to solidify and build upon the ballistics and ammunition characteristics already taught on this course. Further, range planning is merely a process, and there is no learning outcome acquired between ROBC and ROGC that makes an officer inherently better at range planning—it is a fundamentally new process regardless of when it is taught. The difference is that a Lieutenant’s range planning skills can then be honed and employed for the next five years of regimental time (on average).
This is also a matter of opportunity cost—there are more important things a BC could be doing other than drawing traces, especially when they have qualified subordinates who understand their intent. The self-evidence of this concept is embodied in the scenario for the current ROGC range planning assessment, which tasks the trainee (the BK) to construct a trace meeting the requirements stipulated by their notional BC. This is not to say that BCs should be detached from range planning—guidance and intent must still be provided in order to empower their subordinates. Herein lies the difference between ‘range planning’ and ‘trace drawing’—the former is a function of command, whilst the latter is a function of control. In the long term, this recommendation would significantly increase the RAA’s corporate knowledge, as the next generation of BKs and A/OPSOs will have up to four years of range planning experience. This enables them to produce traces of far better quality, resulting in more effective battery and regimental training (especially because BCs could then devote more time to exercise design). Most notably, this reallocation of learning outcomes does not increase the total time spent on courses, but rather repositions them so they are ‘on time’ and ‘on target’ (this model would ensure that 100% of FSOs and BKs are qualified in range planning).
Recent papers have argued for the investment in, and removal of the battlegroup fire support planning component of ROBC, and reallocation as a stand-alone ‘FSO course.’ The FSO course would be conducted as a third year Lieutenant or first year Captain. This article proposes that this stand-alone ‘FSO course’ is augmented with the remaining learning outcomes currently pursued by ROGC. This model better prepares junior Captains for employment in a battlegroup JFECC, and enables ROBC trainees to focus on understanding the core aspects of gunnery such as ballistics, equipment principles, and fire discipline. The brigade fire support, IG, OIC practice, and advanced practice range planning components of ROGC are better suited to the FSO course for a number of reasons. Primarily, it makes sense for the brigade fire support planning component of ROGC to be taught after learning about battlegroup fire support. This logical transition would see these two learning outcomes combined on the FSO course, enabling its trainees make the conceptual shift from fire support execution to fire support planning.
Additionally, as the FO with the most current experience, the FSO is uniquely positioned to mentor the next generation of JFT commanders. As they receive experience in the battlegroup Joint Fires Effects Coordination Centre (JFECC), they can add context when discussing how a FO’s actions affect both combat team and battlegroup manoeuvre from a planning perspective. The advanced range planning qualification also acts as a logical stepping-stone from the standard range planning received on ROBC. It provides an additional touch point to consolidate this skill set, enabling them to mentor junior range planners and provide a degree of quality control for the BC. Finally, for technical shooting exercises the FSO is in a good position to OIC certain practices, enabling the BC to focus on instructing and assessing new FOs. Exposure to OIC practice at this more-junior level in a controlled environment better prepares junior officers for the role of DPRAC that they will assume later in their career. Again, this reallocation of learning outcomes incurs no net increase to the time allotted to these courses.
This article sought to generate discussion on whether the learning outcomes pursued by the RAA (OS) officer courses are sequenced correctly, and proposed a model that is better aligned to the current employment demands. It has argued that the core learning outcomes within the RAA (OS) officer course structure are structured inefficiently, resulting in skill sets that are ‘off time’ and ‘off target’ when compared to employment demand. It was shown that only a small number of ROGC-qualified Captains go on to be employed as BKs, providing a negligible return on investment and detracting from the BC’s capacity to command their battery.
It proposed that the basic range planning component of ROGC be reallocated to ROBC. The article also drew on previous works in support of establishing a ‘FSO course’ to increase the effectiveness of junior Captains employed as battlegroup and brigade fire support planners. It argued that this course better defines what the RAA demands from junior officers at this stage of their career, and should therefore inherit the technical range planning, Instructor Gunnery (IG), OIC practice, and brigade JFECC components of ROGC. By reallocating these learning outcomes to this course, FSOs can provide quality control to the trace drawing now done by Lieutenants, as well as leverage their experience to mentor and IG new FOs. All of this frees up the BC to focus on commanding their battery, whilst adding no additional time to courses.
Once the officer course structure presented in this paper matures, the RAA will benefit from more well-rounded junior officers that can conduct range planning immediately following graduation from ROBC. It would see CPOs and FOs with a greater understanding of their primary equipment, resulting in more effective fire support and subsequently, an increase to the RAA’s reputation amongst their supported arms. It will increase the quality of battery and regimental training by enabling BCs to focus more effort on exercise design and empowering junior officers with years of experience conduct range planning in accordance with their BC’s guidance and intent. What this article has not addressed is the change management process that would need to occur to ensure a smooth transition and the requisite up-skilling as a result of adopting this model over the current structure.