A new model TA

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A guest post from Phil

In this article I aim to put across some of my ideas for how a new model TA might manage to bridge the risks inherent in its new role of providing even more of an even smaller regular army. It is an article to stimulate debate and I do not pretend that it is the whole answer or even if the model is a good one but  I think it provides opportunities to tackle the two main problems with the current TA: lack of confidence in it by regulars and relatively poor senior leadership.

In a nutshell what I propose is a multi-tiered Army Reserve with an emphasis on good Officer and Senior NCO leadership with resources focused not only in those two areas but in technical training also. How might it work? Well the model is one based on the Danish recruitment system which I wrote about some time ago now here on TD. What happens in the Danish model is that a large number of conscripts receive a basic training period of 4 months but at the end of these 4 months they can opt to sign onto a reserve contract which will see them undergo 8-9 months more training in their role and then be eligible for deployment. The advantage of this model is that it exposes a large number of people to the military who may not have realised they like it – in other words it broadens the recruitment base and attracts more souls.

Now I do not propose conscription into the Army Reserve but what I do propose is a tiered model whereby there are two levels of commitment – the bottom tier is essentially normal jogging and represents almost exactly what is done now with the exception that there would be a legal minimum training period of a 2 weeks a year in camp event and 4 weekends a year. Training could continue as now in 2 week modular courses and the commitment would be entirely open ended with no minimum terms. What I would envisage is that these flexible and open commitments would attract people of all ages (especially mature personnel) and ensure a wide recruitment pool for a higher commitment tier of the Army Reserve. It would essentially act as a hook but also provide soldiers that, as now, could be brought up to operational standards for an enduring operation – units need critical mass and warm bodies are very useful in themselves as they enhance retention and provide for better training events.

Now this basic recruitment and training model would be supplement by a higher commitment Army Reserve and act as one gateway to it. What I would envisage is a tier with higher level of compulsory training periods like the US National Guard and with a firm commitment in the same vein as a company might require a certain number of years of service after putting you through an MBA for example. This tier would be on an individual basis so a unit might have both lower and higher tier soldiers in it.

So in this higher tier soldiers would be eligible to do regular courses in exchange for a certain number of years’ service afterwards at the higher commitment level. The number of years’ service would depend on the type of course – I propose there could be 4 levels of courses: basic military courses (phase one and two training); advanced military courses (phase three training courses, promotional courses); long military courses (your long phase three military courses like Ammo Technician and so forth) and finally long trade courses (courses that have a direct civilian equivalent or use, such as artificer, environmental health etc). Now recruits might decide to join direct to the higher tier and do the basic military courses and thus give 3 years commitment; or after 18 months’ probation and training in the lower tier they might choose to do an advanced military course for 3-4 years commitment, or at some point in their career a long trade course for 7 years commitment (the longer time reflecting the more useful nature of the course and the extra expense involved in putting a reserve soldier through it).

What we would then have is a reserve with a large pool of flexible, casual soldiers able to be brought up to speed for an enduring operation buttressed by numbers of higher commitment soldiers who have stepped up or entered directly, requiring little more training than their regular counterparts for operations, having done exactly the same courses.

To accomplish this would require a change of primary legislation and the terms and conditions of the higher tier reservists. It would become necessary to offer them better pay (higher bounty, the full X-Factor, their trade pay etc), enhanced pension rights and also open up almost the full range of military benefits like access to med centres, dentists, rail cards, even married quarters perhaps but at a less subsidised rent – proper AT courses for example could also be offered. However it is done, there needs to be a real and palpable enhanced set of terms and conditions for the higher tier – there needs to be differentiation.

Stiffening this would be a better reserve Officer and Senior leadership cadre. For Officer entry I would propose removing the Reserve entry option as it stands and making either the 12 months RMAS commissioning course a requirement and / or a new OTC model based loosely on the US ROTC model where a good chunk of the RMAS syllabus is delivered part time over the 3 years of University followed by the final term of RMAS full time: thereafter all Officers must do the regular Army courses and give several years commitment. For Senior NCOs I would propose that they have to conduct the regular Army promotional course for their Corps (an advanced military course) and thereafter give a minimum 3-4 year commitment at the higher level of commitment. This would mean that all Officers and Senior NCOs conduct identical training and are selected in an identical manner – the leadership core would thus become more professional. JNCOs in the lower tier could do a TA 2 week course as now, or they could opt to do the Regular course and move onto the higher tier.

Enhancing this further would be a far more permeable barrier between Reserve and Regular forces. Officers and ORs at the higher or lower commitments would be allowed to sign onto FTRS type contracts to serve with the Regular Army subject, at more Senior levels, to having completed the appropriate courses. Furthermore, Regular Senior NCOs and Officers, and certain Corporals would be allowed to take “sabbaticals” in the Reserves thus spreading Regular experience throughout the reserves by a mechanism other than the Permanent Staff. These things happen now but the objective would be to institutionalise this and promote it and normalise it so an Officer who takes three years out in the Reserves for example, to study, isn’t penalised. The objective is to have a very fluid movement between Regular and Reserve forces to spread experience, to spread leadership, to give reservist SNCOs and Officers command opportunities in the Regulars and to try and raise familiarity and trust.

Underpinning all this would be a selection process completely identical to the Regular forces with potential recruits held to the same mental and physical standards as regular recruits and undergoing the same selection process at Litchfield. Furthermore, all personnel will have the same scale of clothing and equipment and will (with few exceptions) be required to maintain the same levels of basic soldiering proficiency as regulars including basic fitness levels and marksmanship. In addition, partnering Reserve units with their Regular counterparts and encouraging cross posting using the new permeable boundaries will help operational effectiveness by allowing units to get to know one another better and to know strengths and weaknesses – the mere attendance of Squadron or Company personalities and OCs at a Regular Battalions CO Prayers cannot be underestimated, nor can running simple weekend joint MCCP type affairs where regular and reservist soldiers have their deployment documentation and vaccinations done together.

The main challenge to this would be creating an environment where regular counterparts trusted their reservist comrades to do their job at short notice to the same level as regulars are perceived to be able to do it. The system of higher commitment and doing regular courses and being able and encouraged to partake in FTRS contracts is designed to mitigate this risk and breed confidence. The other barrier is of course the money to pay for these extra courses and the higher number of MTDs needed at the higher commitment level and the enhanced conditions packages. And finally there would need to be legislative changes to give the higher commitment legal status and put the requisite reservists and Officers under military law 24/7 unlike their lower tier brethren. However, none of these are insurmountable obstacles. By embracing reserve units into their day to day lives regular units will become more familiar and if the senior leadership is better their impressions are more likely to tend toward ‘decent blokes’ rather than ‘cretins’.

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