Having graduated the Royal Military College – Duntroon (RMC-D) at the end of 2017 and subsequently completing the Infantry Regimental Officers Basic Course (ROBC) in the early months of 2018, through no fault of my own I have had extremely limited experience in the implementation of combined arms. Whilst there is a combined arms package at RMC-D, the outcome for so many junior leaders was the ability to rattle off the characteristics of amour, engineers and aviation, but with no real understanding of how this translated to troops on the ground. For me, this realisation came on Exercise Hamel when I had armour and engineers in support with no experience or reference as to how to best utilise them.
By night, without communications, all tasks involving armour seemed difficult, whether it be marrying-up whilst moving or employing tanks during the assault. For a motorised platoon commander, with no formal instruction on the use of tanks in the close fight, a few learning points became immediately apparent. First, whilst T31 (Tank Troop) was attached to my callsign, I did not have them on my net. Instead, all communications were relayed through my officer commanding (OC) to the troop leader. This did not seem like a problem at first, as requesting Tango (Tanks) support through the OC allowed me further time to assess the situation I was in. However, as I heard the tanks advancing, I had little to no control over their route, and no ability to relay fire control orders. This resulted in myself leading my platoon through the scrub in order to marry-up on foot, making the importance of communications immediately apparent.
This Hamel ‘war story’, whilst underwhelming, is an example of what I am sure many junior commanders experience when they first work in combined arms teams. For myself, I found the best way to use armour by night, in close country, whilst in contact and without being able to find the tank phone, was to keep it simple. Although climbing atop the troop leader’s tank and delivering a prompt set of orders was never formally taught to me, this quick conversation allowed for me to deliver my intent and allow him to execute, using his superior knowledge of the platform and best way to employ them.
Ultimately any lesson learnt is not a one size fits all solution, rather the above example was the simple answer to the situation I found myself in. For future use I believe it is imperative to gain some form of direct communications with attached callsigns before the commencement of a task. Further, including these assets in the planning cycle is extremely beneficial, albeit not always possible. In lieu of combined planning, a simple plan focused around ‘actions on’ could be delivered prior to the first combined action after a situation has unfolded. Finally, further familiarisation with platforms prior to their employment will enhance the speed in which action can be undertaken and will allow a commander to better tailor their plan using the strengths of attached callsigns.
Whilst the RMC and ROBC continuum stresses the importance of combined arms as the backbone of the Australian Army’s manoeuvre approach to warfare, it is less than desirable that the first time junior commanders get to use, or simply witness, their capabilities is on exercise or operations. This could be easily remedied by the introduction of a practical combined arms phase on ROBC or the attendance of staff cadets at Exercise Chong Ju, where capabilities can be demonstrated to all levels of potential commanders.
About the author: Gabriel Mead is a first year Lieutenant, currently posted to 8/9 RAR as a rifle platoon commander.