Army Individual Readiness Notice
The objective of this audit was to examine whether Army effectively administers the Army Individual Readiness Notice to support the achievement of its purpose.
Army preparedness and individual readiness
1. Army preparedness is defined as Army's ability to deploy appropriately trained and equipped units and individuals, at short notice, and be able to support these units and individuals for the duration of their deployment. These two aspects of preparedness are referred to as readiness and sustainability.
2. Army readiness encompasses individual readiness, equipment readiness and collective training. Individual readiness refers to the availability of individual Army members to be deployed on operations, possibly in a combat environment, at short notice to perform the job for which they have been trained. The individual readiness of Army members influences the speed with which Army can be mobilised and the ability for Army to sustain prolonged operations. Accordingly, the Chief of Army's Preparedness Directive 2008 states that: ‘individual readiness is the foundation of collective preparedness.'
The Army Individual Readiness Notice
3. The Army Individual Readiness Notice (AIRN) defines a minimum level of readiness, across six components, which every trained member of the Australian Regular Army (ARA) and the Army Reserve (Reservist) is required to attain and continuously maintain. The six components of the AIRN are: individual availability; employment proficiency; medical fitness; dental fitness; physical fitness; and weapons proficiency.
4. The requirements of the AIRN are set out in Defence Instruction (Army) OPS 80–1 Army Individual Readiness Notice (the AIRN Instruction). This Instruction specifies that Army members are to be reported as either Ready or Not Ready in each AIRN component; that members are required to be regularly assessed to confirm their continued compliance with the requirements of the dental, medical, physical and weapons components but are deemed to comply with the individual availability and employment proficiency components unless it is otherwise reported. And that a member's overall readiness status is to be reported as Ready if they meet the requirements of all six components and are not overdue for a review in the dental, medical, physical or weapons components.
5. The AIRN Instruction directs individual members to be responsible for ensuring they remain AIRN compliant at all times, and commanding officers to ensure that the members under their command are provided with the time, facilities and resources necessary to comply with the AIRN. In practice, individual members take responsibility for making and attending medical and dental appointments, usually at the behest of their commanding officer. Commanding officers take responsibility for organising group assessments of members' physical fitness and weapons proficiency. Medical assessments are conducted annually by a nurse or military equivalent, and every five years by a doctor. Dental examinations are conducted annually by a dentist.
6. The AIRN was first introduced in 1997 when the Army did not have the number of personnel on overseas deployments that it does today, and operations were usually of a peacekeeping nature. Today, Army's operations are at their highest level since 1973 and Army is involved in more warfighting operations. Army informed the ANAO that, as at May 2010, 2373 Army members were deployed on operations.
7. The ANAO first audited the AIRN system in 1999–2000 and concluded that there was scope for Army to improve both the effectiveness of the AIRN in achieving its objective and the efficiency with which it was administered. The parliamentary Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit (JCPAA) reviewed the findings of that audit in October 2000 and recommended that Army define rigorously what constitutes a sufficient level of readiness and the cost implications of readiness. In 2003–04 the ANAO conducted a follow-up audit of the AIRN and concluded that data integrity issues still existed in the AIRN reporting and recording system, compromising its usefulness.
Audit objectives, scope and criteria
8. The objective of this audit was to examine whether Army effectively administers the Army Individual Readiness Notice to support the achievement of its purpose.
9. The audit examined how Army administers the AIRN, giving particular consideration to how Army collects, monitors and reports on AIRN data. The audit also compared the implementation of the AIRN across a sample of Army units, facilities and services.
10. The high level audit criteria used to assess the administrative effectiveness of the AIRN included whether:
- Army regularly reviews the AIRN to ensure it continues to fit within Army's structure and operating environment;
- the purpose of the AIRN is clear and the mechanisms of the AIRN support its purpose;
- the systems and processes for recording, storing and reviewing AIRN data in PMKeyS ensure that the data is accurate, timely and complete;
- the roles, responsibilities and requirements of the AIRN are well understood and consistently applied across Army;
- appropriate and adequate resources have been allocated for the administration of the AIRN;
- performance targets for the number of personnel who are AIRN compliant within Army are appropriate and achievable, and levels of AIRN compliance are regularly reported to Army's senior commanders; and
- Army uses appropriate cost information to inform decision making for the AIRN.
11. The Army Individual Readiness Notice (AIRN) stipulates individual readiness requirements that every member of Army is required to attain and continuously maintain. These requirements address an Army member's medical, dental and physical fitness, as well as their proficiency in using a weapon, job performance and availability to deploy at short notice. Stipulating such requirements as a basic standard that all Army members should continually strive to comply with makes good sense.
12. To administer the AIRN, Army seeks assurance that every member does meet, and continues to meet, AIRN requirements. To get this assurance Army:
- uses Defence's electronic personnel management information system, PMKeyS, to maintain an AIRN record for every member; and
- requires members to be regularly reassessed to confirm their continued compliance in the dental, medical, physical and weapons components.
13. To emphasise the importance of the AIRN, the relevant policy states that the AIRN's purpose: ‘is to maintain a minimum level of [individual readiness] within Army to ensure that Army personnel are capable of being deployed at short notice'. This purpose implies that, simply complying with AIRN requirements provides a sufficient level of individual readiness to ensure that Army members are capable of being deployed on operations at short notice. However, during fieldwork for this audit, relevant Army stakeholders interviewed by the ANAO indicated that, in practice, the AIRN is seen as providing a baseline or a basic standard of individual readiness that is then built upon to ensure Army personnel are ready for deployment.
14. To underpin a shared understanding across Army of the purpose of the AIRN in Army's contemporary environment, the ANAO has recommended that Army review the purpose of the AIRN as set out in the AIRN Instruction to ensure that it accurately reflects the AIRN's current use.
15. Further, there is scope for improving Army's implementation of the AIRN by:
- reviewing the suitability of the AIRN component requirements for providing assurance of individual readiness;
- addressing the lack of clarity in the current reporting of a member's AIRN status in PMKeyS associated with only using the two categories of Ready and Not Ready to report on a member's overall readiness status;
- actively monitoring AIRN data, at a strategic level, to identify whether there are any critical matters relating to individual readiness that should be brought to the attention of the Chief or Deputy Chief of Army; and
- reducing the incidence of some testing being duplicated in order to separately satisfy the requirements of the AIRN and ensure that members are ready for imminent deployment.
16. Notwithstanding these improvement opportunities, the ANAO considers that the AIRN is generally well administered within Army at the unit level, with the notable exception of the large proportion of members who are reported as Not Ready in PMKeyS only because they have not adhered to the testing frequency requirements of the AIRN Instruction.
17. As part of the 2009 Defence White Paper, the Government committed to extensive reform of Defence business to improve accountability, planning and productivity. In response to this, in June 2009, Defence announced the Strategic Reform Program (SRP), Delivering Force 2030. Under the SRP, Defence has committed to make gross savings of some $20 billion over the
10 years 2009–19. Defence is expected to achieve these savings as the funds are to be reinvested in delivering stronger military capabilities, remediating areas where there has not been enough funding in the past and modernising the Defence enterprise ‘backbone', all of which are essential to support the fighting force. The SRP includes an efficiency and effectiveness stream that specifically addresses the cost of preparedness.
18. In this context, the ANAO considers that it is important that in addressing the matters raised in this report and in seeking to improve the effectiveness of its ongoing administration of the AIRN, Army estimate the expected costs and/or potential savings of making any changes to AIRN requirements.
Key findings by chapter
AIRN Policy (Chapter 2)
19. As noted in paragraph 13, the purpose of the AIRN as stated in the AIRN Instruction: ‘is to maintain a minimum level of [individual readiness] within Army to ensure that Army personnel are capable of being deployed at short notice.'
20. Army Headquarters is responsible for reviewing the AIRN Instruction and for interpreting AIRN policy. Army Headquarters has reviewed the AIRN Instruction four times since its inception. However, the stated purpose of the AIRN has not been reviewed since the AIRN was introduced in 1997.
21. The AIRN Instruction was most recently reviewed and revised in December 2008. Army advised the ANAO that there were limited records available of the analysis or work undertaken leading up to the 2008 revision. A noticeable change in this latest version, when compared with the 2006 version, is the removal of a definition of short notice. The 2006 version specified short notice as 28 days, but no definition of short notice is included in the 2008 version. Removing the definition for short notice from the AIRN Instruction is consistent with other audit findings that indicate that, in practical terms, the AIRN is seen as providing a baseline of individual readiness and a common start point for members entering pre-deployment training. Nonetheless, in the normal course of events, compliance with AIRN requirements remains fundamental to ensuring the availability of suitably prepared Army members to undertake the enhanced individual and collective training required to generate individuals and force elements capable of deployment.
22. While conducting the audit, the ANAO became aware of a number of proposed changes related to the management of Army preparedness and deployments which will affect the ongoing management of the AIRN. Some of these changes were addressed in the recently released Chief of Army Directive 49/09, Management of Army personnel on operations and other changes are discussed in the updated version of the Chief of Army's Capability Directive (now the Chief of Army's Preparedness Directive) endorsed on 4 March 2010.
23. The Chief of Army Directive 49/09, Management of Army personnel on operations specifically addresses the management of Army members deploying on operations. A key requirement of this directive is for units to be appropriately prepared before they arrive at pre-deployment training. This is to enable troops to focus on mission specific training and other
pre-deployment tasks that cannot be completed in the normal unit setting. The directive requires commanders to ensure that members arrive for pre-deployment training with everything within a unit's control up to date. The first matter on the list of nine actions for commanders to address is AIRN compliance.
24. The Chief of Army's updated Preparedness Directive recognises that within the current Army environment there is a continual cycle of training and preparation for deployment, deployment on operations and return and rest after deployment. The ANAO has recommended that Army reviews the AIRN Instruction to consider whether the purpose of the AIRN as currently set out in the instruction accurately reflects its role in ensuring the availability of suitably prepared Army members to undertake the enhanced individual and collective training required to generate individuals and force elements capable of deployment.
Compliance with AIRN components (Chapter 3)
25. A brief to the Chief of Army, dated 26 October 2009, advised that 59.0 per cent of Army's trained force was individually Ready and 41.0 per cent was Not Ready on 30 September 2009. This calculation did not take into account all members of the trained force as it excluded 3246 fully trained members who were exempt from meeting the requirements of the AIRN on that day. With these members included, to consider the total population of the trained force, 53.6 per cent of the trained force met the AIRN requirements to be assessed as Ready, 37.2 per cent was Not Ready and 9.2 per cent was exempt (with more than half of exempt personnel actually deployed on operations at the time).
26. Army advised the ANAO, in May 2010, as follows:
AIRN has moved on from the original intent given the current level of collective operational deployment. As a result, the policy and detailed requirements fail to accurately reflect the actual level of Army readiness. Army, as part of a broader tri-service review of individual readiness, has commenced an assessment of the policy around readiness assessment with a view to capturing more completely the true level of readiness.
27. The ANAO calculated that 22.8 per cent of Army's trained force was Not Ready on 30 September 2009 only because these members were overdue for a review in one or more AIRN components. The remaining 14.4 per cent of members who were Not Ready on this date had been assessed as Not Ready in at least one AIRN component. With almost a quarter of Army's trained force assessed as Not Ready solely because they had not undertaken testing for one or more AIRN components in accordance with the timeframes set out in the AIRN Instruction, the effectiveness of the AIRN system is undermined and the usefulness of conclusions drawn from the data is compromised.
28. Of the members who were reported as Not Ready only because they were overdue for a review in one or more components, more than half were overdue for reviews in the physical and weapons components. This most likely reflects the six monthly review period for these components and the inability of Army units to always successfully manage compliance within this timeframe.
29. Of the members who had been assessed as Not Ready in at least one component, the largest proportion had been assessed as Not Ready in the dental component. This was closely followed by the proportion of members who had been assessed as Not Ready in the medical component.
30. Long waiting times for dental appointments were seen by many of the Army members interviewed by the ANAO during this audit as a barrier to their maintaining AIRN compliance. This perception was not substantiated by the average waiting times at Army dental facilities provided by the Directorate of Defence Force Dentistry for August 2009 (see Table 3.4 in Chapter 3). However, Army dental personnel informed the ANAO that at particular times, dental services can experience periods of increased demand, which blow out average waiting times, caused by a combination of:
- members failing to attend dental appointments;
- the poor dental health of recruits; and
- the requirement for all members to be dentally fit for the duration of any deployment.
31. To comply with the requirements of the AIRN medical component members are required to undergo an annual health assessment. These assessments are conducted by a nurse or military equivalent, and have a focus on preventative health. During fieldwork for this audit, Defence personnel interviewed by the ANAO commented that the value of conducting annual health assessments of fit, young soldiers was questionable, particularly given that it is unusual for an injury or illness that would prevent a member from deploying to be first identified during these assessments. Indeed, if such a medical issue is identified, the medic refers the member to a doctor for further assessment. Furthermore, a member's medical fitness to deploy is assessed whenever they seek medical attention. In these circumstances, there would be benefit in Army assessing the cost effectiveness of routinely undertaking annual health assessments for all members. A more risk-based approach may be able to be employed in determining the frequency of a member's health assessment.
Costing proposed changes to AIRN requirements
32. Army informed the ANAO that it does not know the cost of operating and administering the AIRN, and it is not currently a priority for Army to obtain this information. The ANAO accepts that at this time there is little point in Army applying resources to cost the AIRN itself. However, in the context of the SRP under which Defence is expected to achieve significant savings, the ANAO considers that it is important that in seeking to improve the effectiveness of its ongoing administration of the AIRN, Army estimate the expected costs and/or potential savings of changes to these current requirements.
33. In this context, examples of matters raised by the ANAO in relation to the effectiveness of AIRN component requirements include:
• the review period for the physical and weapons components (currently six months, see paragraph 3.16);
• the approach for determining the frequency of preventative health assessments for Army members (currently undertaken annually for all members, see paragraphs 3.27–3.31);
• the timing of initial dental treatment for recruits (currently, not usually undertaken until after they have undergone both recruit and initial employment training and have joined their units, see paragraphs 3.50–3.51);
• the duplication of medical and dental examinations for members prior to an imminent deployment (see paragraphs 3.52–3.54); and
• the benefit of five yearly dental examinations for Reservists (see paragraphs 3.55–3.60).
34. ANAO has recommended that Army reviews the requirements of the AIRN components to ensure that they represent a cost effective contribution to maintaining individual readiness.
Component waivers, overall exemptions and reporting of AIRN data (Chapter 4)
35. Army acknowledges that, over the course of their careers, Army members will move in and out of AIRN compliance for reasons both within and beyond their control. To manage periods where Army members may be unable to comply with the requirements of the AIRN for reasons beyond their control, the AIRN Instruction includes provisions for members to be granted an overall exemption or component waivers.
36. Overall exemptions are granted to:
- members who are unable to comply with the AIRN for service reasons, for example, members deployed on operations and members on leave;
- members confirmed pregnant;
- members posted to the Regional Force Surveillance List;
- Reservists providing non-effective service; and
- members who have been assessed as permanently unable to maintain AIRN compliance for reasons beyond their control, but whose continued service has been deemed to be in the best interests of Army.
37. Members of the Training Force and Standby Reserve are also exempt from meeting the requirements of the AIRN.
38. Currently, the overall readiness status of a member, who has been granted an overall exemption is reported as Ready in PMKeyS. This is not consistent with the requirements of the AIRN Instruction which, depending on the reason the overall exemption was granted, sets out different requirements for how the member's overall readiness status should be reported.
39. The reporting of all members who have been granted an overall exemption as Ready creates the potential for confusion within Army units, particularly when units are managing members confirmed pregnant and Reservists who are not providing effective service to Army. It is not useful to have the overall readiness status of these members reported as Ready when clearly they are not capable of being deployed. Indeed, the ANAO identified that in some of the units visited during fieldwork for this audit, such members were not being granted overall exemptions. The ANAO also identified some inconsistencies in the administration of overall exemptions applying to deployed members.
40. Component waivers are granted to a member at the discretion of their commanding officer. Waivers acknowledge the temporary inability of the member, for reasons beyond their control, to comply with the requirements of a particular AIRN component.
41. The AIRN Instruction does not specify whether the member should be reported as Ready or Not Ready in the waivered component. In practice, a member can only be granted a component waiver for a component in which they are reporting as Not Ready, and granting the waiver changes the readiness status of that waivered component from Not Ready to Ready.
42. Unit commanders visited during audit fieldwork were generally reluctant to grant members component waivers as it made it more difficult for them to keep track of and manage these members who were not able to comply with the requirements of particular AIRN components.
Reporting of AIRN data
43. Most information relating to a member's readiness status is manually entered into PMKeyS by administrative staff at the member's unit, or at the medical or dental facility where the member had their dental or medical examination. There is some electronic transfer of dental and medical information into PMKeyS when the dental or medical facility is using the Health Key Solution (HealthKEYS) health management information system.
44. Centrally storing AIRN data in PMKeyS enables Army to aggregate this data to report on AIRN compliance across different groups and formations within Army and Army as a whole.
45. However, there is an inherent inaccuracy in any AIRN report compiled for different Army groups and formations related to the time lag between when the information about a member's AIRN status becomes available and when this information is manually entered into PMKeyS. Further inaccuracy is introduced by the unreliable interface between PMKeyS and HealthKEYS, resulting in some information not successfully transferring between the two systems.
46. Reporting a member's overall readiness status in only two categories, either Ready or Not Ready, groups together members with very different circumstances into the one category, limiting the capacity to draw meaningful conclusions from the data. As such, to understand the implications of their unit's AIRN data, commanding officers often rely on supplementary briefings provided by administrative staff or their junior officers. When AIRN data is aggregated for groups or formations within Army larger than a single unit, the additional information about why members have been categorised as Ready or Not Ready is either significantly diluted or not available.
47. Administrative staff from 1 Brigade are in the process of developing a new AIRN reporting tool, the Brigade Reporting Tool (BRT) to help improve the reporting to commanders. The ANAO encourages Army's initiative in developing an improved AIRN reporting tool which will allow improved analysis and use of AIRN information at both the unit and strategic level.
48. The only specific comment made in the AIRN Instruction on the level of performance expected in relation to AIRN compliance is that all Army personnel are required to be ready always. While it is appropriate for Army to expect all members to continually strive to comply with the AIRN, there are a range of reasons why, at a given point in time, there will be members who do not satisfy one or more of the AIRN components. Accordingly, a performance target of all Army personnel being ready all the time is neither a practicable nor useful measure of Army's management of individual readiness. Army informed the ANAO that due to the complexity of individual readiness it considers that performance targets of AIRN compliance for whole of Army are of limited value. Rather, performance targets and measures are best managed at the unit level where these complexities can be more easily communicated.
49. The AIRN Instruction requires Chief of Army to report AIRN data to the Chiefs of Services Committee (COSC) as at March and September each year. Army advised the ANAO that reports had not been provided to COSC since June 2006. In addition, while the AIRN Instruction envisaged that AIRN data would be used by Army Headquarters for operational planning purposes and reporting Army's level of preparedness, in practice it is mostly used by unit and sub-unit commanding officers to understand and monitor the readiness status of the members under their command and is not used by Army Headquarters.
50. Accordingly, the strategic oversight functions relating to individual readiness as currently outlined in the AIRN Instruction were not operating at the time of audit fieldwork.
51. Given that individual readiness contributes to Army preparedness, and that good governance requires that agencies have a structured and regular system of performance monitoring and review, it is important that Army ensure appropriate AIRN performance information is provided to senior ADF managers. Noting the complexity and current limitations of the AIRN data, recommencement of reporting of overall AIRN data to the COSC, without implementing improvements to the categorisation and analysis of AIRN data, would be of limited benefit in appropriately informing these senior ADF managers. Accordingly the ANAO suggests that Army review, in light of the findings of this report, the approach to effectively reporting on Army individual readiness to COSC. In addition, the ANAO considers that there would be merit in Army Headquarters taking an active role in monitoring and analysing AIRN data and drawing critical matters to the attention of Chief of Army and/or Deputy Chief of Army.
52. Defence's detailed responses to each of the audit's three recommendations are set out in the body of the report underneath the relevant recommendation. Defence also provided the following overall response to the proposed audit report:
Defence welcomes the ANAO audit into Army Individual Readiness Notice, which assessed whether Army is effectively administering the AIRN to support the achievement of its purpose, and whether Army reliably measures the administrative costs. The ANAO has previously audited the AIRN in 1999–2000 and 2003–04. Defence agrees to the three recommendations included in the report.
For Army to be prepared to undertake military operations it is required to commit appropriately trained and equipped troops at short notice. Army, at all times, maintains a level of organisational readiness that reflects the degree of urgency of any potential response.
To meet all potential operational requirements Army employs a multi-layered preparedness system, which addresses readiness from the individual Army member, through to unit level all the way up to the organisation as a whole. Defence agrees with ANAO's observations that the system of individual readiness and its measurement of ‘Ready/Not Ready' is too narrow. The AIRN is a foundational component of preparedness for operations on which further systems of collective level training and assessment are applied, and as such its use in reporting is more suited as a measure of individual readiness by unit level commanders and below, rather than providing a snapshot of operational and strategic readiness.
The use of AIRN as a reporting tool has evolved from its original intent given the current level of collective operational deployment. As a result, the policy and detailed requirements fail to accurately reflect the actual level of collective Army readiness. Accordingly, Army's individual readiness requirements will be included in a Vice Chief of the Defence Force-led (VCDF) review of the readiness requirements of all three Services. Army has also commenced a review of the AIRN policy to better align individual and collective readiness requirements directed in the Chief of Army Preparedness Directive. Army will integrate ANAO's recommendations to establish a more objective and timely assessment of AIRN at all tiers up to the overall Service level. Army, and Defence overall, remains able to meet the operational requirements dictated by the Government.