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Domestic Security Force to Transform Army Land Power

Army Reserve soldiers from 13th Brigade on patrol in search of suspects of interest during a simulated scenario as part of 13th Brigade stability operations training at HMAS Stirling in Western Australia.

Domestic security operations cannot be separated from the conduct of operations offshore. The increased reach of enemies allows them to attack targets directly in the homeland ……and involves not only protection of militarily important targets but also actions to deny the enemy the ability to strike civilian targets.[1]

23 March 2022 marked a step change in military thinking. State-on-state conflict was back in Europe.  Advanced, peer competitors slugged it out in the forests and cities of Ukraine with tanks and drones.  The Ukrainians hurriedly sought to expand the country’s military forces, handing out assault rifles to civilian volunteers outside police stations.  An abiding image is that of a large, middle-aged Ukrainian man, dressed in a hodge-podge of civilian clothes and uniform, cigarette firmly clenched between his lips as he stood behind a checkpoint constructed from coal sacks. His old World War II light machine gun rested on its bipod, ready for action.  Clearly, this was a hurriedly recruited and equipped militiaman; probably not well trained.  But he stood his post, releasing younger and better equipped soldiers to hunt for Russian tanks at the front line.  Does this image hold any lessons for Australia in transforming land power into the next decades?

The sudden change in the world’s security outlook will have many impacts for Army. Not least, it should focus attention on home defence.  In the recent the past, Australia took part in discretionary campaigns of choice in which Army could largely dictate the way it deployed force elements according to existing structures and desires.  Now, we must face what could well become an existential threat.  Old ways and ideas will no longer meet future needs.  Land Power doctrine suggests:

land power… has always been related not so much to size and mass but to quality and the employment of limited military forces to achieve disproportionate strategic effects for political ends.[2]

Is this assertion relevant now? Was it ever? In World War II, surely the apogee of Australian army power, there existed nearly a hundred battalions, many of which were focussed on home defence. Perhaps it is now time to re-consider how Army might meet its renewed home defence responsibilities.

The current strength of Army is in the order of 20 understrength battalions.  In times of war, at least half of these would be earmarked for expeditionary service to the north, or be preparing for such service. The remainder would be deployed to defend northern air bases and the like, or be training to bring new recruits up to deployable standard.  Importantly, they would be the next force-in-being to replace and reinforce the first deployed elements. There would nevertheless remain an urgent need to deploy large numbers of security forces to protect vital assets, critical infrastructure, and population centres.   Although police could assist in this task, they have little ability to deploy away from their home stations and, as recent domestic operations have shown, are largely dependent on the military for logistical sustainment.

In short, there are too many targets, and not enough security forces to protect them.  Already, police and the ADF are competing for recruits. So the increased capacity needed will not be achievable by simply expanding full time establishments.   Although it would be possible to increase active reserve unit establishments, the recruiting problem is similar to that challenging the full time services. Only a certain proportion of the population is eligible and willing to devote time to the current reserve forces that demand considerable commitment   and effort.  Experience shows that only the fit and truly dedicated will make it through the recruiting process and subsequent initial employment training.

So perhaps a different part-time solution offers at least a partial answer that is more palatable and affordable in peacetime, and more effective in wartime.

Overseas experience points to some possible options, and perhaps pose some further questions for consideration.  To illustrate the scale of responses achieved elsewhere in the world, one need look no further than India.  In a nation with significant security challenges and relatively abundant recruits, the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) guards critical industry, infrastructure and government factories. The CISF has approximately 145,000 full time paramilitary police officers.  In addition, there are approximately 750,000 members of other paramilitary forces.

Of more comparable sizes to Australia, there are other overseas examples of part-time security and or guard forces that operate in both peacetime and during times of conflict. For example, the UK Home Service Force (HSF) existed between 1982 and 1992, and specifically recruited ex-service personnel to provide vital asset protection.  Although never exceeding more than about 5000 members, it was a very efficient and effective addition to the home defence organisation.  A current iteration of this idea is the Military Provost Guard Service (MPGS) which recruits ex-service members and uses them for full-time armed security duties at nearly 100 bases in the UK. Given as little as five days of security training, they are equipped and look like any other soldier, patrolling in camouflage and carrying assault rifles and webbing.  The entry requirements allow for a medically-limited deployable status and for entry up to 57 years of age.

Another relevant part time example is the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR).  Existing between 1970-1992, it recruited ab initio enlistees, gave them training of between a week and a month, and then deployed them on operations against the terrorist threat in Northern Ireland during their spare time.  Although beset by allegations of sectarianism, independent reviews noted that, while such partiality affected the UDR’s credibility within some sectors of the population, it did not detract from the unit’s overall tactical effectiveness.  Between eight and eleven battalions, consisting of up to 56 companies, were sustained for over 20 years from a population of around 1.6 million. Eventually converting around half of the soldiers to full time recruits, this is an excellent example of a part-time surge of a military force under pressure to provide security coverage of population and infrastructure.

There are other examples too. France recently recreated the Garde Nationale, a force of paid volunteers to assist with internal security.  Planned to expand to nearly 80,000 members, it will provide support to military, gendarmerie and police operations.  Similarly, South Africa maintained a ‘Commando’ system of part time local defence forces. At its peak, there were over 180 units with 50,000 members.  Although there were various iterations to the system, fundamentally it relied on part-time forces to provide local security across rural South Africa at short notice. It was only disbanded in 2008 due to historical political considerations. 

For Australia, the UDR or MPGS models seem a good fit.  Army has recently woken up to the opportunities of ‘just in time’ training and there have been various thoughts about how to reduce initial training burden and expand the recruiting base.  One approach has been to look at the Regional Force Surveillance List (RFSL) model as a means of expanding the eligible recruit pools.  The RFSL is a very successful model that is largely focussed on our remote community soldiers. It is not readily adaptable to the broader community of potential recruits for which the UDR model is perhaps a better fit. A UDR paradigm could use the historical Army Reserve recruit course which qualified soldiers in two weeks with 2 different weapons, basic navigation, fieldcraft, drill and first aid. A parallel method of entry could tap into the large ex-service population using the HSF or MPGS as its conceptual basis.  This approach probably has additional side benefits to the members of Australia’s ex-service group, many of whom wish to remain connected in some way to the military.  Combined, such strategies could potentially deliver an organisation of up to 50-100 companies, grouped loosely for administrative purposes into battalions.  Alternatively, the force could be structured as a joint ‘SecFor’ type arrangement if that would better fit the ADF’s command and control frameworks.  In either case, Army would be under no obligation to retain candidates deemed unsuitable in training, but it would have the opportunity to best place people according to their specific abilities and experience. 

Enhancing Army’s capability and flexibility to draw on a larger part-time force has great potential to help meet Australia’s security requirements in both peacetime and in war.  A separate guard force would free-up Army units for manoeuvre warfare, expand the recruiting pool and provide security for many vital assets and the Australian population.  The establishment of such a force, however, requires a new mindset within Army about the meaning of military service. The essential and unique aspect of these schemes would be the requirement for a lower level of commitment, and a commensurate lower level of fitness and health.  The model also depends on Army’s ability to accept a level of diversity that would inevitably exist among such members.  While there may be obstacles to achieving the vision, increasing the ADF’s security force would be a small but important initiative towards transforming land power and Army.

This article is a commended entry in the 2022 AARC Short Writing Competition, 'Transforming Land Power'.

[1] LWD1 Fundamentals of Land Power

[2] ibid

The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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