Tactical and Technical

Part Time of Your Life

By Stjepan Bosnjak August 31, 2020


For the last year or so there has been discussions in the wider community about the role of the Australian Defence Force (ADF), as it winds down its supporting role in the Middle East. This intense introspective navel gazing has been influenced by both internal (Defence aid to the civil authorities during the bushfires and COVID-19) and external factors affecting our nation (the recent large boost to Defence funding in response to a changing geopolitical environment).

Included in all this is the role of the Army Reserves, of which The Cove has taken a lead role, firstly with the publication of Colonel Mike Kalms’ Stranded Capability? The value of the Army Reserve Asset in 2020, and following up with Sir Humphrey’s What is the Role of the Reserve Forces? As someone who has spent over 15 years as a reservist in the  Royal Australian Artillery (RAA), both these pieces resonated with me, having witnessed the mismanagement by the system of civilian qualifications and experience mentioned in Sir Humphrey’s blog, and my ego being unable to agree with Colonel Kalms’ claim that Reserves won’t be sent to the Korean peninsula or South China Sea.

While these macro, whole picture discussions need to (and will) happen, so do the micro ones. I would like to write about the Reserve RAA.

In my time as a reservist, I have seen some changes. When I enlisted in 2004 each Brigade had their own Regiment. Our primary weapons platform was the Vietnam era American made 105mm M2A2 Howitzer. However, on my initial employment training (IET) at the School of Artillery I was trained on the newer British made 105mm L119 Hamel, which was the primary weapons platform of the regular RAA.

This disconnect between Reserves and Regular Army has continued. 2011’s Plan Beersheba, the ADF’s response to the 2009 White Paper saw the Reserve Regiments disbanded, downsized into Batteries and merged into their Brigade’s respective Infantry Battalions, with the intent of providing those Battalions with organic indirect fire support. This fire support now took the form of the F2 81mm mortar, which was a capability many Reserve Infantry Battalions previously possessed, and Regular Infantry continue to possess.

Meanwhile the Regular RAA, after being tantalisingly close to achieving the holy grail of no longer being the only modern military without self propelled (SP) artillery ended up with the US 155mm M777. The M777 is designed to be an FOB/FSB gun. The regular RAA use it as a field gun. As a result the M777s are experiencing unexpected wear and tear.

Plan Beersheba’s idea for reserve units to integrate with their sister Regular units didn’t seem to apply to the Reserve RAA. I have never heard of an Infantry mortar platoon putting a call out for Reservists, and it is only recently that an M777 two day bridging course has been created, to allow for RAA Reservists to backfill ammunition number spots. The Army website does not even include mortars as equipment used by the RAA.

In 2018 the Reserve RAA Batteries demerged from their respective Battalions to form an Australia wide Regiment, 9 REGT. One non RAA specific disconnect I have noticed as a ‘common fault’ across all corps and units I have been a part of is that many reservists want to join full time, and it seems to be easier to discharge from reserves and enlist full time off the street instead of just a lateral transfer.

In 2019, the Coalition announced that Self Propelled artillery would be built in Geelong, something that was confirmed in the 2020 Force Structure Plan. Also included in the plan for RAA is long range rocket artillery and missile systems, and “The enhancement or replacement of the M777 155mm lightweight towed howitzer with a rapidly-deployable and lightweight artillery”.

So what is the ‘job of the future’ for the RAA Reserve? Where does it fit into the 2020 Force Structure Plan? While I am certain that there will continue to be some disconnect between the Reserves and Regular Army, RAA Reserves definitely has a role to play.

Due to the nature of fire missions, the artillery Command Post (CP) puts  junior non-commissioned officers (JNCOs) under great pressures. CP’s can be deployed and packed up quickly in inhospitable terrain. They gather and disseminate data and give orders on the ground. Their reports usually make it to the top of the chain first as the Joint Fires Effects Coordination Centre (JFECC) is attached to the Commander, allowing for real time intelligence to reach the decision makers. In a civilian context, they could be deployed to disaster zones and provide ‘eyes and ears’ of what is happening on the front line. Another advantage to placing RAA in Command Posts is that artillery also (in my humble, biased opinion) edges out Signal Corps in terms of radio telecommunications (RATEL). This capability is not restricted to a domestic context. It can be used as part of Australia’s increasing engagement with the Pacific.

Currently 9 REGT are the subject matter experts (SME) for drones across 2 Div, as it links into our traditional Forward Observer (FO) role. The FO’s could link providing drone footage with the mobile front line CPs in these disaster zones.

The use of ‘rapidly deployable and lightweight artillery’ in the 2020 Force Structure Plan certainly caught my eye, as this is a synonym for mortars. And for the last decade RAA Reserves have been the SME for ‘mortillery’, putting us at the forefront in this regard.

All of this helps maintain our skill set in case the excrement hits the fan and we are required to defend Australia from external enemies, and keeps us occupied in serving the nation in the meantime.

Defence in general, and the RAA Reserves has been through a lot of transformations in my 15 years in the green. I am sure it will continue to transform through the next 15 years as white papers and reviews are released, and Government priorities and geopolitical conditions change. Regardless of what the future holds, I will continue to have the part time of my life.


Portrait

Biography

Stjepan Bosnjak

Stjepan has been a member of the RAA in the army reserve for over 15 years, the last eight of those as a JNCO. 

He holds an MA (Research) and specialises in international relations and the China-Australian relationship. His papers are collectively in the top 1% on academia.edu.

He currently works as a public servant.

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.



Comments

A lucid view from the stand point of the man on the ground. Unfortunately, decision makers seldom take this perspective into consideration.

Congrats Stjepan, a great article. I provided a lengthy comment to one of the references you quote. When revisiting it, I see the author refers to himself as a “Colonel in the part time ADF’. Seems to me that this drives at the fundamental problem. ‘Colonel’ should be sufficient, why is there a need to make a distinction between ARA and ARES? Is there really a ‘one Army’ culture? Part of my response was that: “Army roles which involve the operation of complex equipment, eg. AFVs, are considered beyond the capability of the ARES. (The Army saves money by not having to procure materiel to equip them.)” I asked: “Where to from here?”. The author of your second reference also refers to complexity: “This may sound heretical but given the complexity of operations, the challenge of remaining current in role and the sheer time commitment needed to be effective, perhaps the most difficult question of all to ask is – is it time to stop recruiting part time volunteers?”. One of those who commented on this article, a Canadian, said: “In my humble opinion the author and perhaps your Army, like ours, is asking the wrong question … perhaps the real question is: why keep a large and ever more expensive full-time force?”. Seems to me that you’ve correctly identified the fact that the complexity exists at different levels. In terms of the RAAC, there is complexity in operating the AFV and complexity in deploying it tactically. One solution is to equip the RAAC ARES with a vehicle such as the Hawkei on which to develop tactical skills. ARES members can be concurrently trained in the skills needed for the more complex AFV. Such courses would be manageable within Army resources and provide an incentive for progression within the unit. If the Army decides that maintaining both technical and tactical ARES skills is too much of a challenge, then it would seem to be “time to stop recruiting part time volunteers”.

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