Optimal use of the Naval Reserve as part of the total Navy

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Commodore Bruce Kafer AM, CSC, RANR


The organisers of the 2016 DRA Conference invited the Chief of Navy to address the conference on how Navy intends to maximise the use of the RAN Reserve as part of an integrated total Navy, noting that the 2016 Defence White Paper (DWP 2016) made little reference to the future roles and functions of the ADF’s Reserve forces. I represented the Chief of Navy at the conference; and in preparing the presentation I considered the current and future RANR workforce within a ‘Project Suakin’ construct and I also considered the recommendations for reform emanating the recent Review of the RANR.

Defence White Papers and Navy’s ‘Journey’ in integrating the RAN Reserve

Before discussing DWP 2016 it is necessary to re-examine the previous White Papers to better appreciate changes in the employment of ADF Reservists during the past 16 years. The most significant change in the utilisation of the Reserves occurred in the Defence White Paper 2000 which moved the employment paradigm from one of mobilisation to ‘surge and sustainment’. In 2009 the DWP sought to strategically balance the ADF workforce with both permanent and Reserve members as a force multiplier. There was recognition in DWP 2013 that the Reserve workforce provides long lead-time capability and was an integral element of the ADF’s capability.  DWP 2016, whilst only discussing Reserves in three paragraphs, considers increasing the use of Reservists through a more flexible, contemporary workforce model, drawing on skills and expertise of Reservists to deliver ADF capability.

The general direction for Reservists since DWP 2000 has been to increase and develop:

  • Flexibility – personnel able to work at short notice for extended periods;
  • Expertise – personnel trained to a standard equivalent, or close, to members of Permanent forces; and
  • Currency – personnel regularly employed to maintain skills and knowledge.

The ADF has signaled its intent to maintain an expanding role for the Reserves, or part-time workforce, through the development of the Total Workforce Model (TWM) under Project Suakin, which anchors the Reserves in the ADF Force Structure. This will deliver a cost-effective and flexible capability, with Reservists employed in roles suited to their skills, knowledge and experience.

Navy has not been idle in its integration efforts since 2000, and actually began developing an integrated workforce in 1996. The first move was to establish the ‘Integrated Program Scheme of Complement’ which established shadow postings of Reservists to Permanent Navy positions. Whilst this program worked to an extent, in 2002 CAPT Parkins, RANR undertook a fundamental review of the existing arrangements and developed the Funded Reserve Commitment (FRC) concept - which remains in place today. The FRC established enduring Reserve part-time positions, funding for in-year projects, and it facilitated backfilling of Permanent Navy vacancies.

In 2005 the Naval Reserve Capability Enhancement Program (NRCEP) had a more operational and capability focus through the creation of over 100 new positions ‘at the sharp end’ of Navy. This program included, for the first time, funding for travel and category-specific training. Whilst the RAN’s journey towards integration of the RAN Reserve has progressed steadily over the last two decades, Navy is yet to optimize its use of the RAN Reserve. To that end, a Review of the RANR commenced in September 2015 with an objective of determining how Navy can optimise the latent capability resident in the RANR.

In examining the general direction of successive White Papers and Navy’s work to date on RANR integration, it is clear that there has been a progressive refinement of the Reserve structure which better aligns with Navy’s requirements of the part-time force. It is a well-developed and integrated workforce that in many aspects is structured and employed in a manner consistent with the principles of the TWM under Project Suakin. The RANR now has the ability to provide a surge and sustainment capability, both at home and in a deployed capacity. It is a trained force that is also able to supplement and augment the Navy workforce. The changes have resulted in more meaningful work and flexible employment for Reservists when compared with the work models of the 1990’s.  

2016 RAN Reserve Workforce

Today the Navy has a Reserve workforce of about 6,700 comprising about 3,200 Active Reservists (of whom just over 300 are rendering full time service) and 3,500 Standby Reservists. The workforce has decreased by approximately 1,400 since early 2015; at that time Navy initiated the ‘RANR Contact Program’ to validate the details of Reserve members along with their work preferences, to ensure that the Chief of Navy was able to meet his commitments under the Call Out legislation. The Contact Program resulted in a change in the shapes and sizes of the Standby and Active Reserves which correctly reflects the current force disposition and individual Reservists’ work intentions.

During Financial Year 2015/16 2200 RANR personnel (or about 16% of the RAN workforce) rendered service. These Reservists delivered an effort equal to 710 Permanent Navy man-years, or approximately 6% of Navy’s workforce capability output. Of note, despite the reduction of over 1,400 Reservists in FY 2015/16, the RAN Reserve had enough members to meet Navy’s capability needs and there were still Reservists available to work if there was a commensurate demand.

During the past year Navy has made improvements in its management of the RAN Reserve. Some recent achievements include:

  • completion of the ‘RANR Contact Program’;
  • 101% utilisation of the Reserve salaries allocation in FY 2015/16;
  • inclusion of the RANR in Plan Acrux (an RAN-wide review of the workforce);
  • inclusion of the RANR in the ‘Cleared for Promotion’ process for officers;
  • guaranteed placement (up to 10%) for Reservists on Navy Promotion Pre-requisite courses;
  • an improved RANR Briefings program in all major locations;
  • increased awareness of, and participation in, the Prince of Wales Awards and Tasman Scheme; and
  • registration of all Active RANR members on ForceNet.

However, the RAN’s utilisation of the RANR remains sub-optimal; therefore the Reserve’s contribution to capability continues to be sub-optimal.

RANR Review

A full ‘root and branch’ review of the RANR was commenced in September 2015 by CAPT Frank Kresse, RANR under the authority of the Deputy Chief of Navy. The requirements included: a comprehensive analysis of the structure, size, roles and management of the RANR; examination of current arrangements for generating, sustaining and employing the RANR capability; and determining if the RANR meets current and forecast capability requirements to 2018 and beyond. The overall aim of the Review was to more fully establish the RANR within Navy’s Totally Integrated Workforce in order to optimise its inherent capability.

The Review’s key observations were that the RANR structure and size are suitable for contemporary and future RAN requirements. It was also noted that about 85% of Reservists are former Permanent Navy personnel, and about 60% of these personnel have had prior operational service. A steady flow of about 400 members transfer annually into the Active Reserve from the Permanent force, ensuring maintenance of the current strength. However the Active Reserve workforce is under-utilised with only about 60% rendering service. The Review highlighted that the capability of the Standby Reserve is largely unknown.

The key findings of the Review were not surprising, however they confirm that there has been:

  • an absence of strategic direction for the RANR as a component of the Total Navy Force,
  • a lack of strategic planning for the RANR workforce capability and overarching management of the workforce,
  • under-utilisation of the capacity and capability inherent in the RAN Reserve, and
  • a lack of overarching management of Reservists’ availability and careers.

The report found that the basis upon which RANR capability is generated, structured and employed is generally sound, but there was a need for definitive strategic direction and guidance. From this flows the requirement for organisational redesign to ensure the RANR remains aligned with strategic direction and Navy requirements. The management of the Reserve needs to be improved to increase both the utilization of Reservists and the workforce as a whole.

The RANR Review’s 55 recommendations address improvement in four main areas –

  • the Strategic Management and Planning of the Reserve;
  • Reserve Workforce Management and Utilisation;
  • Reserve Career Management and Training; and
  • Workforce Budget Management. 

Early adoption of three recommendations has resulted in: promulgation of the Chief of Navy’s Strategic Intent for the Naval Reserve (a major milestone); a directive from the Deputy Chief of Navy for all RAN Active Reservists to register on Forcenet; and the establishment of a Navy Captain position in the Navy People Branch to oversee implementation of agreed recommendations emanating from the RANR Review. The Review report was formally submitted to the Deputy Chief of Navy in August 2016 for review, prior to its submission to the Navy Capability Committee in September 2016 for endorsement.


The RAN Reserve has performed well during the last 20 years, and iterative improvements in its employment and management have derived a flexible and capable workforce. It is well positioned for Navy’s next steps in implementing the Suakin Total Workforce Model. However implementation of key recommendations flowing from the recent RANR Review will be essential if Navy is to optimise its Reserve capability within a fully integrated workforce.

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