Return of the Irish Guerrilla — Part 2

By Robert Gilbey

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Reforming the Reserve Defence Forces to include an Irregular Reserve Force as part of an Irish Resistance Operating Concept

desirable single force package should essentially have the appropriate balance of protection and projection, supported by a structure of Permanent and Reserve Defence Forces, DoD Civilians and Contractors. In an ideal world, Ireland would have the capability to police and protect all its territorial domains, while having a capacity to perform sustainable expeditionary missions in line with Irish foreign policy commitments. This would not only require fixing the issues with pay and conditions of service personnel, but also making significant investments in large capital projects such as military operated primary radar, fast air intercept platforms, multi-role vessels (plural, because two is one, one is none), strategic airlift, heavy lift helicopters that can deploy overseas, and so on. If however the Commission on the Defence Forces “will have regard to the level of funding provided by Government for Defence”[1] as outlined in the Terms of Reference, then the expectation will be that limited investment in one area of Defence will be at the expense of others.

he Commission on the Defence Forces will undoubtedly be considering suggestions for future force concepts that will seek to rebalance the distribution of resources across the three branches of the Defence Forces. While this article would not presume what that composition would look like, from a Reserve perspective, this article would argue that the Active Reserve should no longer include infantry units within the establishment. This article would go as far as to say that, notwithstanding perhaps artillery, the Reserve should not have any combat arm units at all.

nalysis from the Personnel Management System (PMS) showed that Reserve combat units had dramatically lower retention rates when compared to combat support (CS) or combat service support (CSS) units[2]. In 2012, Department of Defence analysis concluded that “Reserve training is not the same as PDF training, with key courses being of reduced timescales in accordance with the availability of Reservists”, meaning that “Reserve Privates and PDF Privates are not directly comparable or interchangeable across all duties. This holds true for other enlisted and Officer Ranks[3]. With the Department of Defence predominantly valuing training inputs over performance outputs means that individual Reservists and Reserve units, regardless of capability or performance, would never be able to be considered equal among their PDF counterparts. In 2015, the White Paper on Defence stated that as a “motivational measure” “the Government have decided that a small number of suitably qualified members of the RDF, with personal circumstances that allow them to do so, should be afforded the opportunity to undertake operational duties, at home and overseas”[4].

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is a stretch to believe that this token exemption will be applied to Reservists in combat arm units. Rather, the opportunities for overseas service will probably only be offered to specialists whose expertise in their field either matches or exceeds that of their permanent counterparts, on the condition that a resource gap could not be filled. The likelihood of combat arm Reservists serving overseas is further reduced considering that PDF career advancement is dependent on completion of overseas service. So, a combat arm Reservist securing a place on one of the limited and lucrative overseas missions is improbable, that is, of course, assuming that the desired suitably qualified Reservist would want to be sent overseas when one considers the vacuum of support available to enable such a deployment.

herefore, if all the time, effort and training will not be validated through operational utilisation, then why invest in the charade of Reserve combat units? And why should combat units dominate the establishment of the Reserve, absorb the lion’s share of recruits, only to not retain them? And what makes defence planners think that if Reserve combat arms are insufficient for overseas service, that they will be perfectly suitable for armed aggression against the State?

his is not to diminish the role of the infantry or other combat units, but rather to accept that Ireland has arguably the highest trained regular infantry available. The rest of the Defence Forces including the Reserve should ultimately exist to put that infantry into a position of advantage to close with and kill Ireland’s enemies. As the chart below[5] illustrates, international trends point towards a greater emphasis on combat support and combat service support to enable smaller and more professional combat arm units. This where the Active Reserve can add scalability and mass as an enabling entity in the mission planner’s toolset

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he Active Reserve establishment should solely focus on combat support and combat service support across all branches of the Defence Forces (including the Air Corps), taking advantage of being able to go to market to recruit specialists who maintain their civilian occupations and accompanying remuneration packages, while being accepted to participate in Ireland’s defence narrative on a needs basis.

ithout deep diving too far into details, Active Reservists should be constituted as part-time employees of the Defence Forces. All service should be paid. Performance-related gratuities should be paid. Legislation to protect their employment in the event of mobilisation should be available. An employer support body should be established within the DoD to engage employers and employer support funds should be established to cover the employer’s costs incurred by temporarily releasing an employee for training and operations. Reservists should have access to top-up pay to supplement their income where Defence Forces pay does not meet their civilian pay.

should be noted that UK Reservists enjoy nearly all the aforementioned support and conditions of service, and a 2011 cost model comparison identified that “the steady-state costs of a [Reserve] infantry battalion are 20% of those of a Regular battalion of similar size. The costs of a [Reserve] infantry battalion mobilised for 12 months, including a six-month operational tour, are 87% of a Regular battalion over the same period”[6]. Therefore, assuming the same applies to the CS and CSS units and a 1-in-5 year operational deployment cycle, if the Reserve establishment matched the PDF CS and CSS unit establishment on 1:1 ratio, it could effectively double the CS and CSS capacity on a routine operational needs basis for an average 33.4% uplift in cost.

Financial Support Initiatives outside Vote 36 — Defence

new €1,650 Defence Forces Tax Credit could be introduced to recognise the contribution of serving members of the Defence Forces both Permanent and Reserve (Active). The Defence Forces Tax Credit will be a symbolic gesture of Government to demonstrate its whole of Government commitment to the Defence Forces, recognising the unique nature of military service without having to increase salary expenditure under Vote 36 — Defence. As well as increasing the take home pay for members of the Defence Forces, the tax credit will act as a retention enabler for Reservists whose civilian pay will be favourably impacted by it for as long as they continue to serve. This tax credit will also act as an incentive for members of the Permanent Defence Forces to continue their participation within Ireland’s defence operations through the Active Reserve.

he Government should also consider either waiving or at least reducing employee PRSI rates for employers who employ Reservists and have a formal corporate Reserve Forces Leave Policy that facilitates training[7] and mobilisation. Again, the Government needs to recognise the contribution of employers towards Ireland’s defence narrative. The sooner it is expressed that defence is a societal problem needing a collective societal solution, the better; and this financial incentive is indicative of that whole of Government commitment.

Managing Talent

eserve units should have structured establishments that mirror their permanent counterparts, but each unit should also have variable capacity (e.g. specialist cell) to hold specialist talent that is not organic to the Permanent Defence Forces. Opportunities for direct entry commissioning should be available and governance committees should be established to recognise and regulate onboarding talent with civilian skills and credentials that are transferrable to the military. For example, a CIS unit will unlikely have a vacancy built into its unit structure for an automation and machine learning engineer. However, should an automation and machine learning engineer apply for the Reserves, a governance committee can assess that person’s talent and military value, assign a place within the specialist cell of the respective unit, at a rank that is conducive to their professional standing, along with an assignment of appropriate tech pay. The benefit here is Defence’s immediate access to talent without incurring the cost of specialist training. That talent can then be put straight to use, and military training can then be built into the individual’s professional development plan.

he key to success here is to develop an overarching Defence talent management system that can track personnel as they enter, move through, and leave the Defence Organisation. Legislation and military regulations should be designed to facilitate the fluidity of portfolio careers with the intent of consistently retaining talent within the operational fold.

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ll personnel — Enlisted and Commissioned, Permanent and Reserve should have careers that are meaningful and well managed. If a member of the Active Reserve can commit a year to serve with the Permanent Defence Forces, there should be seamless HR polices that allow for that sort of inter-organisational transfer. Likewise, if a member of the PDF wanted to explore a civilian career or study, but still retain ties with the Defence Forces, they should be able to migrate into the Active Reserve to maintain their operational currency. If the civilian career opportunity does not work out, they can transfer back into the PDF where vacancies permit; all structures should be designed to maintain the operational effectiveness of the Defence Forces.

hese terms and conditions of Reserve Service would lay strong foundations for building the “Tech Enabled Force”[8] that the Chief of Staff, Mark Mellett is currently advocating for.

Inactive Reserve

ll members of the Permanent Defence Forces and Active Reserves will be expected to be retained within the Inactive Reserve for 5 years after leaving the service. On completion of the 5 years there should be a voluntary opt out mechanism. Unless the opt out mechanism is used, personnel can expect to remain within the Inactive Reserve until the age of 55, after which point their service commitment will naturally expire. The Inactive Reserve will also act as a holding group for those on career breaks, extended unpaid leave and other absences. Active Reservists who meet the criteria of non-effective will be migrated to the Inactive Reserve to free up vacancies.


aving a Reserve Force is a fundamental military principle. To date, the civilian and military management of the Reserve Defence Force has been unsuccessful in yielding much of its vast potential, essentially because it has not been able to guarantee the quality and availability of Reservists.

eservists are under-utilised and the expectations set upon them to meet set milestones of military training, only to leave them on the bench by design is crippling the organisation’s capacity to retain talent.

Active Reserve tailored to deliver combat support and combat service support is the most beneficial use of Reservists who wish to support Ireland’s Defence Forces at home and overseas. It must be structured as an integral part time component of the Defence Forces with all the accompanying legislative enablers and financial supports for both Reservists and their employers. A civilian intermediary employer engagement body within the DoD should be established to manage the relationship between defence and society. Building up a network of supportive employers can only be a beneficial step towards not only facilitating the availability of Reservists but the resettlement of transitioning PDF talent too. The Reserve Defence Force should act as a retention agency for transitioning talent from the PDF into society; as well as offering Defence the opportunity to have better access to off-the-shelf talent.

The next article is this series will explore the idea of Ireland creating an Irregular Reserve as part of an Irish Resistance Operating Concept.


[2] Carroll, Jonathon — “Relying on the goodwill of the individual, and luck”. Defence Forces Review 2019

[3] 2012 Value for Money review of the Reserve Defence Force.

[4] 2015 White Paper on Defence

[5] Gansler, J. and William Lucyshyn. “Improving the DoD’s Tooth-to-Tail Ratio. Revision.” (2014).

[6] Future Reserves 2020 — The Independent Commission to Review the United Kingdom’s Reserve Forces -Para 97

[7] As outlined in the RDF Employers Handbook

[8] RTE Radio 1 interview with Chief of Staff — Defence Forces step up role in Covid battle Broadcast — 13:00, 8th Jan 2021

IDFOC enables current and former officers of the Irish Defence Forces to connect in order to pursue opportunities of mutual benefit, support and friendship.

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