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by Alisha Welch

Like the entire Defence organisation, Army is in the midst of significant reform, focused on operational preparation and transition, structural change and diversity, all centred on ensuring Australia's land force is capable of meeting the challenges of the future. Chief of Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison, recently spoke to Defence about Army's progress on these fronts and more.

Despite the reform under way, Lieutenant General David Morrison states that, first and foremost, supporting Army's deployed people, and preparing soldiers for operations, remains his key priority as Chief of Army.

He says Army needs to maintain its focus on operational service, continually learn lessons and feed that back into forthcoming operations, something that relates directly to Plan Beersheba - a major program that will shape the Army of the future.

Plan Beersheba is the next phase of the Adaptive Army initiative and will adjust Army's force structure so it can generate capability, conform to strategic guidance and meet the challenge of contemporary warfare. It incorporates lessons learned over a decade of continuous operations.

"Army has spent a lot of time in recent years getting its learning loops right," Lieutenant General Morrison says.

"We break these up into short, medium and long-term loops. At the tactical level, the focus is on the short-term. At the strategic level, the focus is on Force2030 and ensuring Army is structured appropriately to support that."

Lieutenant General Morrison says Plan Beersheba also relates to the medium-term learning loop, focusing on Army "after Afghanistan" and what the organisation should look like to be robust and relevant into the future.

"Plan Beersheba is very much grounded in the types of operations we've been doing for the last 13 years - since East Timor in 1999," he says.

"But it goes further than that. It recognises that we can't benchmark ourselves against the Taliban. We need to be a capable land force and we need to have a clear view about how our force structure should be placed to support the ADF's broader maritime strategy."

An integral part of Plan Beersheba involves restructuring the Army's three regular brigades and linking the six reserve brigades to these, which the Chief believes will enable the reserve brigades to travel through a force generation cycle alongside their regular counterparts, as well as give reserves greater access to equipment and training opportunities.

Plan Beersheba also focuses on developing Army's amphibious capability, as Lieutenant General Morrison explains.

"The maritime environment has underpinned Australia's defence strategy for more than a century," he says.

"Much work is being done within Defence to ensure the ADF's amphibious capability is well executed when the Landing Helicopter Dock ships enter service in the middle of this decade.

"The growth in amphibious capability will be a fundamental change to the ADF and of great benefit to the nation. We'll be able to project a military force when and where required and I am impressed by the work being done now to ensure that happens successfully. The cooperation between Army and Navy has been groundbreaking."

While Plan Beersheba is focused on Army's future capability, the Chief reiterates that his primary focus remains on supporting troops on operations across the globe. With the ADF preparing to transition from Afghanistan and the security situation in East Timor benign, Army's operational future may be somewhat uncertain but Lieutenant General Morrison says there remains much to do.

"I can't foretell the future, but we will work hard to make sure we're as ready as possible for whatever may confront the nation," he says.

Regardless of where soldiers have been deployed over the last 13 years, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, East Timor, Solomon Islands or serving on United Nations and humanitarian missions in various theatres, Army's people have proven to government and the public just how capable they are.

An integrated workforce

Government announced the removal of gender restrictions on all ADF roles in 2011. Since then, much commentary has focused on when and how the significant changes will be implemented. Chief of Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison, makes it very clear that he supports the integration of the Army workforce wholeheartedly.

"In certain forums, the issue of gender tends to focus immediately on a single topic," he says, "which is opening up areas of Army that have been excluded to women on the basis of gender. But this is only one facet of changes that are taking place in Army's workforce."

In saying this, the Chief believes Army is way behind the rest of society in relation to the number of women in the organisation's ranks.

"We need a more diverse workforce, we need to have many more opportunities for women, and more women as part of Army. At the moment only 10.1 per cent of Army is female and it has been that way for well over a decade. This tells me we are well behind where we should be.

"What we are trying to do is increase the number of women in Army and that means getting our recruiting messaging correct - and I don't think we have that where it needs to be just yet."

The Chief says Army will also look at the way it conducts initial training at places like the Army Recruit Training Centre at Kapooka and Royal Military College Duntroon, and then make sure women are offered the broadest range of jobs possible.

"I think the policy around opening up all roles to women is well and truly on track," he continues, "and we will have that in place by 2013. In saying that, seeing this through to fruition will take time."