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The Way Ahead? Alternative Approaches to Integrating the Reserves in 'Total Force' Planning

This paper examines contemporary reserve force planning in Britain, Canada and the United States (US), and considers how the Australian Defence Force might benefit from that experience.
30 June 1999
Dr Alan Ryan

All three countries, the UK, Canada and the US, have adopted the US-initiated concept of the 'Total Force'-an integrated, 'seamless' military comprising both full and part-time components. However, as a consequence of cultural, budgetary, political and historical factors, each country has arrived at a different model. Despite having achieved considerable improvements in their force structure and operational capabilities, many of these initiatives appear provisional and short sighted, limited by a narrow perception of contemporary operational requirements. With the exception of the US Marine Corps, few combat forces appear to have established the internal synergies that will enable them to sustain a coordinated regular-reserve response to a full range of contingencies.

Concentrating on ground forces, as the most numerically significant element of most countries' reserves, the paper suggests that the contemporary focus on military support operations such as peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance is likely to degrade the ability of Western states to respond to more significant threats. Currently, reservists are being widely used for individual reinforcement and augmentation of forces deployed on military support operations. For the most part, the integrated 'Total Force' concept has been taken to mean that reserves can be 'penny-packeted' to relieve under-resourced regular components. In a truly integrated army, providing reservists with the opportunity to serve full-time on operations enhances the abilities of the reservists and the capabilities of the regular force. Unfortunately, this is generally not the case; a reserve that is a mere 'temp pool' does not make optimal use of either component. This trend derogates the ability of reserve units to train and organise themselves for higher-level operations and ultimately does away with the core strategic rationale for reserves, which is to act as a national mobilisation base. Moreover, reliance on individual reservists as a stopgap measure to address personnel shortfalls only appears to damage the total force. Similarly, the tendency to concentrate reserve capabilities in combat support and service support functions will restrict a country's ability to sustain anything other than low-level operations. Although reserve units might not attain the same level of warfighting skills as their regular counterparts in time of peace, they have the potential to act as a substantial force multiplier in war.

The post-Cold War period has been one of strategic turbulence and uncertainty. Despite this, some pundits suggest that war between states is a thing of the past-a belief not supported by current events in the Balkans, the Gulf and the Indian subcontinent. Accordingly, planning processes that obviate a state's ability to generate the most combat power when required do not make the best use of the available manpower. The paper also suggests that Western military forces need to adopt a more creative and utilitarian approach to the use of reservists. As information warfare becomes a reality, more technological expertise will be found in the civil sector than the military. With modem forces adopting the 'concept-led, capability based' doctrinal paradigm, force planners will need to think laterally to develop forces able to anticipate threats and win in the new era of conflict.

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Last updated
1 December 2017
Army: Courage. Initiative. Respect. Teamwork.
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