Defence must invest in a large-scale overhaul of the Army Reserves to ensure Australia’s mobilisation base is adequately trained and equipped to thwart growing regional threats, according to Major (Ret’d) Iain Adams.
In my estimation, authoritarian regimes, once they have begun their expansionist imperialism will continue to push until stopped by force or at least the threat of force from a tangible adversary.
I contend that this was true of: Gaius of the House Julii (aka Julius Caesar) as he pushed into Gaul, true of Adolf Hitler as he annexed Poland and I believe will be true of Xi Jinping as he threatens about 20 other nations with territorial disputes such as the South China Sea annexation and especially the threats of violent annexation (invasion) of Taiwan made in July 2021.
It is not yet time to mobilise and re-introduce universal conscription. It is, however, time to heed the plethora of recent warnings about Chinese Communist Imperialism. Knowledgeable and experienced Australians like senator Jim Molan, ex defence minister Christopher Pyne, and Defence Minister Peter Dutton have all warned us. We may have to defend ourselves without the United States’ direct support.
This is particularly pertinent now with the deep domestic divisions that have been exposed within the US in the last five years.
Australia urgently needs to undertake many actions such as store larger strategic fuel reserves that are held within Australia, not simply stored in the US on the Gulf of Mexico, and also a focus on ongoing and sustainable sovereign industrial capability.
This editorial identifies just one initiative that seems to be ignored in most forums: It is time to reinvigorate and enlarge the Army Reserve (ARes) to the point where it is a credible expansion base despite decades of neglect and its recent castration under Plan Beersheba. I suggest that the ARes should be at manned at a level where trained and routinely parading reservist number, at least, twice the size of the Regular Army.
The existing ARes is in a sorry state. It has no real armoured capability, no real means of transporting itself rapidly over long distances, little or no indirect fire support, no remote sensing capability or drones. The reserve has poor levels of training and is treated with contempt by many in the full-time army. Recruitment and retention of reservists remains problematic.
I propose a fundamental revamp of ARes, not limited to but particularly in three areas.
Base wages for the ARes must be at a level of the Regular Army. ARes wages must remain as tax free but also enhanced by generous forgiveness of HECS or other professional study debts, generous access to military hospitals and other medical care and superannuation contributions.
2. New ARes-specific training area/mega base
A new training area and associated mega base is needed. The old local Reserve Depots have largely failed, access to local firing ranges has been lost to bureaucratic ineptitude.
This new ARes specific base and training area must be adjacent to new strategic In-land rail link. It should be huge. I suggest something like the size of the Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area that occupies about half a million hectares. It must be well-equipped; a helipad and airfield are necessary. Motel standard, individual room style accommodation, formal messes and classrooms are needed so that courses can be run, and pre-deployment administration conducted. Simulators, weapons training simulation system (WTTS) facilities and live firing ranges are a must.
The number of existing ARes depots must be dramatically reduced. The retained depots must be consolidated. Retained depots must be bustling, almost crowded places of training. These retained depots must be places where young reservists are able to feel part of a dynamic and valued organisation. These retained depots must be enhanced with ample parking, usable overnight accommodation, IT equipped offices, conference and training facilities, gyms, kitchens, messes, and easy access to WTSS, a hospital and an airfield. Examples of suitable depots might include Holsworthy and Richmond in the Sydney region. Small inner-city depots need to be sold off and the funds redirected to the consolidated depots and/or Mega base.
3. Trans-continental mobility for ARes
The new mega base should be located near the transport and logistics hub of the city of Parkes. From Parkes, many of Australia’s regional centres, all capitals and most major ports are all able to be reached within 24 hours by new double decker trains.
4. Fly-in-fly-out model
ARes should adopt a fly-In/out organisational model for training.
The ceiling rank for part-time ARes should be major. Battalion commanders and above (LTCOL or higher) positions should be the preserve of full-time professionals. Where suitable ARes candidates for battalion or higher command, are available, they should be offered full time status. The entry level officer rank should be 2nd Lieutenant. Regular Army commanders should first prove themselves by commanding the equivalent ARes unit/formation before they are accepted for that regular position. For example, a regular Major may be promoted to LTCOL and given the command of an ARes battalion. Once he/she has proven themselves, they may be offered a regular battalion.
Immediate transfer of all wheeled ASLAV 25 and ASLAV APC to ARes so that reserve units have effective tactical and strategic mobility anywhere within Australia, either self-propelled or via the in-land rail. The equipping of Regular Cavalry with Boxer vehicles should be accelerated to compensate for the loss of the ASLAV.
7. Air mobility
The ARes needs dedicated aviation support and Army has no easy nor quick method of generating pilots and ground crew. Army should purchase something like 60 Short Aviation C-23 Sherpa or GAF Nomad class aircraft. This class of light military transport aircraft are, truly multi-mission and, capable of faster, higher-altitude and longer-distance coverage than helicopters. They are far cheaper than helicopter, they are even cheaper to purchase or operate than the sophisticated fixed wing transports favoured by the RAAF.
The new mega base could house all major ARes equipment. The base could then be linked to each state capital via these aircraft. Each week these aircraft could ferry reservists to and from the base when other means was ineffective. The Australia of my youth had the capability to build aeroplanes. Companies such as GippsAero want to resurrect the GAF Nomad as a GA18. We must re‑establish an indigenous aircraft industry that is not foreign controlled and hamstrung by high tech patents.
Reservist pilots could be recruited from those civilians already qualified and hold a Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL). Having a CPL qualification in Australia is expensive and does not guarantee work. Army need only offer CPL qualified pilots short specialist officer training and the opportunity to fly these milk-run flights.
The opportunities for Army and these pilots would be bound to follow. Once established, this fleet of aircraft would be invaluable for ARes administration, tactics, strategy and disaster support to the nation. These already licenced pilots could be operational on the proposed light transport aircraft within 12 months of recruitment, compared to six years for current Army officer pilots.
9. Disaster recovery
All ARes must be trained, qualified and equipped to assist state-level disaster recovery agencies. All ARes soldiers must be trained not only on their own small arms and equipment but also trained to a level acceptable by SES on firefighting assets to assist SES like agencies to counter wildfires, particularly in summer. This must include training and formal qualifications on: chainsaws, fire hoses, Light Rigid 4WD trucks and buses.
10. Papua New Guinea (PNG)
Defence of Australia is inextricably linked to PNG. History has shown that militia units actually do get deployed to PNG (See: Kokoda Trail battles of 53 Bn and 39 Bn. See also recent operations in Solomons, Timor and Bougainville). With the dedicated light (3,000 kilograms cargo or 25 passengers) aircraft Australia ARes should conduct frequent combined exercises (Coy+ Level) with PNG Army. In addition, ARes officers should conduct annual TEWT on-the-ground in PMG. ARes engineers should focus on road maintenance, local employment and sealing of roads along important economic corridors of PNG.
Undertake the steps I have outlined, and we will have a reinvigorated and enlarged Army Reserve that is a credible expansion base and relevant in peace, both domestically and internationally and in preparing for possible armed conflict.
Major (Ret’d) Iain Adams currently works as a small arms designer at SOTO. Adams, a graduate of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, served with the 1st Armoured Regiment (ARA), 2nd Cavalry Regiment (ARA), and 1/15 RNSWL (ARes).