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Academy cadets at attention

By Anthony Bergin

Too often, bad behaviour puts the Australian Defence Force Academy in the spotlight and this isn't the way it would want to mark its silver anniversary.

Peter Leahy, former chief of the Australian Army from 2002 to 2008, has called for a review to test whether ADFA has matured into the organisation this country needs to educate its modern military.

ADFA cadets wear uniforms to class and receive professional training in a military environment. Their degrees are issued by the University of NSW, and their officer training is completed at single-service training establishments when they graduate from ADFA.

At this point, they become commissioned officers.

Leahy, now professor of national security at the University of Canberra, argues that educating officer cadets could be performed more cost-effectively at civilian universities. Students could enlist as part-time reservists and receive financial assistance, training support and mentoring during their university studies. When more mature, they could apply to join the services and proceed straight to the single-service training establishments at Duntroon (army), Point Cook (air force) and Jervis Bay (navy).

It's not widely appreciated that internationally ADFA is a unique military officer education institution: no country in the world has a university college staffed by civilian academics, employed by a civilian university, as part of a tri-service academy to produce its officer corps.

It was established to bring the three services closer together, to strengthen academic studies and to leverage economies of scale. ADFA provides an environment for students to absorb the values of the armed forces, get some military training and contribute (although it's hard to measure) to a tri-service ethos by forming friendships across the three services in the military.

It is still too early, in many ways, to assess the long-term impact of ADFA. Its former students have not yet had time to make their way to the highest ranks in their respective services.

ADFA does provide a focal point for students who want a career in the forces, greater status than the former arrangements where each service provided much more limited offerings and some security for students.

Leahy's proposal to leverage part-time military service with university studies warrants closer study. Universities often have reserve regiments attached to them. There's no reason why ADFA couldn't function more like a civilian university and have attached to it a tri-service reserve unit.

Over a decade ago, Graeme Cheesman and Bob Hall, both former Duntroon graduates with academic expertise in military affairs, argued that students who wanted a military career should be able to join an ADFA reserve unit and get paid according to reserve service rates.

Military training would take place in teaching breaks. ADFA would be focused solely on academic learning and open to those who didn't wish to pursue a defence career.

The benefits would be greater student diversity and better academic standards (the focus would be more on learning than military training). Those in the reserve unit would compete to be selected to join the permanent defence force. This would raise overall academic and military standards for those who eventually joined as full-time officers. Civilian students at ADFA, who initially weren't attracted to a defence career, might over time also choose to join an ADFA reserve unit.

A basically civilian academy, with a tri-service reserve unit attached, might make it easier to deliver a liberal and balanced education to our next generation of military leaders.

Such a scheme would minimise the risk of military culture overwhelming the academic side of the institution. It is time to find out whether the behaviour of individuals reflects on the culture of the organisation. Indeed, whether ADFA has lived up to its motto: to lead, to excel.

Anthony Bergin is director of research programs at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. He taught at ADFA for 20 years.


Originally published by: The Australian on 27 Apr 2011