The armed forces are increasingly moving to joint or tri service organisations, helicopters, EOD and a great deal of training all come under the sphere of joint organisations and this has been driven into the services by financial necessity. The degree of enthusiasm by which the services actually entered into these arrangements is open for debate, I get the impression that jointery is a reaction, rather than something that happened as a result of truly joined up thinking.
I get the impression that there is a line with jointery and that line is service centric capabilities, beyond that, seems a step too far.
If we look at the services we see duplication, each has its own infantry, each has its own fixed and rotary wing aviation, EOD, intelligence, logistics, engineering, police.
The Army operates mexeflotes from Royal Fleet Auxiliary crewed vessels, the RAF operate Support Helicopters in direct support of ground forces yet the Army operate Attack Helicopter in exactly the same air space and the Royal Navy have infantry currently in command of operations in Afghanistan.
Is any of this logical, would it be the desired end state if one decided to start from scratch or is inertia, tradition and the fact that it just seems too hard to change standing in the way of real organisational transformation that would make every penny count.
Can we take jointery a step further and raise the spectre of a truly combined, or single service, armed forces?
When this is mentioned people point to Canada, their smashing together of the three was not seen as a wholly successful exercise yet if one looks at the Israeli Defence Force it is clear that such a single service approach can work. Yes, I know the IDF is different in many ways but they are a flexible and efficient force without some of the historical baggage that the UK wears with a weary gait.
The need for operational and economic efficiency dictated that the IDF remain as a single service, even accepting there are different branches within it. All is not rosy however, their recent poor showing in Lebanon was blamed on an over reliance on air power and an atrophying in combined arms manoeuvre training because they had an aviator in charge.
So the question remains, is there a logical and desirable end state beyond the current situation or is the current status quo about as good as it can get?
A complete merge of all three services, ruthless elimination of duplication across services or even a fourth ‘materiel command’ that would consolidate all the logistics, policing, bands, engineering etc functions held within all three?
I don’t know the answers but as the forces shrink, joint working becomes an even greater reality, duplication simply must be driven out because to do otherwise means precious money that might be used to generate or maintain capabilities is lost to the maintenance of service ‘capability islands’
With our rich military history the UK has probably more ‘tradition’ than any other; the regimental system, cap badges, corps marches, regimental mascots, colours, ,mess silver and even drinking songs, it is an incredibly rich subject area and not something we should discard lightly but does anyone else wonder that this can sometimes be an impediment to innovation and efficiency.
If we are to do what is genuinely best for the UK and her Armed Forces we have to think the unthinkable, and this just might include sweeping aside some of those traditions or moving away from the notion that this is how it has always been done.