Saturday, December 16, 2023

Attracting Australians to Military Service

Luke Townsend, 
 Managing Director at Outlook Industries
Luke Townsend Managing Director at Outlook Industries Pty Ltd, has proposed an Australian service questionnaire ("Revolutionising ADF recruiting: an opt-out system", Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 15 Dec 2023). This would be compulsory for all year 11 or 12 Australian students, to determine their suitability for military service. Those considered most suitable would be sent an offer of a full or part time position. He proposes this could be extended to also cover civilian government job offers as well. This is proposed to answer a chronic shortage of Australian Defence Force personnel. However, in this form, the idea is unlikely to receive widespread political support.

A service questionnaire is likely to meet opposition as being conscription by stealth. Compulsory military service is an issue which has divided Australian society, even in times of world war. Also the questionnaire would not address the reasons why young people are not volunteering, and not choosing to remain in military service. The military needs people with advanced technical skills, and are competing with civilian employers for those people. While all trained to fire a rifle, most now sit behind a computer console to do their job. The ADF needs to offer competitive pay and conditions to attract and retain personnel who can maintain and operated advanced systems. 

Mr Townsend gives examples of the Australian 1st Armoured Regiment being removed from the order of battle, and HMAS Anzac has now been mothballed due to lack of crew. However, in the next decade tanks, & most warships will be replaced with drones having no crews. These will new fewer people to operate, but those people will need advanced technical skills, and be supported by techncans to keep the systems running.

Mr Townsend gives the example of Finland with 5% of the population in the reserve forces. However, Finland has a long land boarder which can be defended by troops, in some cases on skis. Australia is an island, requiring ships, submarines, and aircraft as its primary defense, and which will be mostly automated and uncrewed. This will require an advanced workforce, of mostly civilians working in industry, to support.

This is not to say an Australian service questionnaire could not be useful. But I suggest it needs to be voluntary to avoid political opposition. Also the questionnaire could emphasize civilian roles, not military ones. At the same time the ADF could reform its training programs, to offer civilian standard vocational certificates to recruits, as well as the university degrees already offered.

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