Announcing the changes to a packed House of Commons (you didn’t think I was being serious did you?) Liam Fox made yet another round of defence cuts dressed in the finery of strategy. I am also beginning to feel sorry for the current Secretary of State for Defence, I can’t imagine when he took up politics he would find himself emasculating the British Armed Forces to the bewildered expressions from his fellow right wing MP’s and the traditional Tory vote. Whilst DFiD busies itself with funding IED factories, space programmes, C17’s and Mercedes dealerships all over the world the MoD is finding itself subject to yet another round of reforms, sorry, should have said, salami slices.
Summer is always a good time to bury bad news and the febrile atmosphere in Westminster about the phone interception scandals means this will be lost amidst the waves of outrage about voicemail.
Last year Liam Fox boasted about how he would cut MoD costs by 25% without affecting those beloved frontline troops. Of course, only an idiot would believe such a thing possible but Liam Fox was adamant.
Some things will have to change and believe me, they will
You’re not wrong Liam.
The new government had a difficult task, the infamous and growing black hole in the defence budget (£43b and counting) was always going to be difficult to resolve and the dire state of the nations finances meant defence was inevitably in for a rough time but to ring fence and increase spending on overseas aid whilst simultaneously engaged in two enduring campaigns is simply not the behaviour of a right wing government.
I must be living in some sort of alternative universe where Saint Bono has a greater influence on defence spending than the Secretary of State for Defence.
There would be nothing at all wrong with cutting defence if commitments were equally curtailed, if a coherent strategy resulted in a sustainable posture but the SDSR was simply just another in a long line of defence cuts masquerading as a strategic vision. No difficult choices were made and the ‘Adaptable Britain’ posture means that politicians can continue to take the piss out of the armed forces, write cheques with their mouths the forces will find increasingly difficult to cash and strut their stuff, talking big but failing to admit we are rapidly becoming a fur coat and no knickers laughing stock.
No strategic shrinkage my big fat arse.
They make me sick
OK, rant over, sorry for the sweary bits, what has been announced.
The widely predicted drop to about 84,000 soldiers in the Regular Army will occur post 2015 as we move towards the promised land of Future Force 2020.
On top of the 7,000 cuts announced in the SDSR this means roughly another 10,000 so Liam’s bold assertions that budget savings would not impact the front line and Dave’s insistence that there would be no strategic shrinkage seem a bit hollow.
So post 2015 when we have officially declared victory in Afghanistan some of those returning will be asked to leave, cheers fellas, off you go.
Totting up the figures of the SDSR and these announcements;
- Royal Air Force will lose 5,000 personnel or roughly 13%
- Army will lose 17,000 personnel or roughly 17%
- Royal Navy will lose 5,000 personnel or roughly 14%
The remaining Army personnel will be formed into 5 Multi Role Brigades of about 6,000 personnel each although the composition, especially Combat Support and Combat Service Support units, have yet to be formalised.
The returning units from Germany will be housed in a number of consolidated locations, forming MRB’s in the East of England and Scotland
Lyneham will be the preferred location for future Defence Technical Training, wonder where that leaves the hugely expensive St Athan facilities?
The Typhoon Force will be built up at RAF Lossiemouth which will become the base for the Northern QRA missions
Just to keep them happy north of the Border the MoD presence will actually increase
And finally, at Regional Brigade level, the Army will maintain all 10 Brigade headquarters. Project AVANTI recommends disbanding HQ 2nd Division at Edinburgh, HQ 4th Division at Aldershot and HQ 5th Division at Shrewsbury and replacing them all with a single 2-star support command, which will be based in Aldershot.
The Army has also concluded that 19 Light Brigade in Northern Ireland should be disbanded.
In yet another review led re-organisation the Great White Hope of the Armed Forces will be expanded.
I have to say, despite the contribution of reserve forces to current and past operations, I remain sceptical that they can live up to the expectations now being firmly placed on their shoulders. Some significant barriers remain to a greater use of reserve forces.
Employers, as economic conditions continue to be difficult there are few organisations outside the public sector who have any enthusiasm for allowing their staff to regularly take extended time for pre deployment training, deployment and post deployment time. I think employers currently receive about a hundred pounds per day if they need to employ a temporary worker which for many simply is not enough.
Without a serious look at legislation and funding any changes, the current system may prevent an increase.
There are many arguments for a greater use of reserves, especially in specialist trades like medics or engineers where they can utilise their civilian skills but in other areas it is difficult to match skills, experience and rank. This can sometime lead to utilising reserve forces in roles not commensurate with their rank/pay or creating risk pockets in other areas. The current use of the TA, for example, works very well indeed and they should be collectively recognised for having moved on significantly from the BAOR days but pushing it beyond the current boundaries may well do more harm than good.
Using reserve forces for a greater percentage of supporting roles in the UK, changing the relative percentages of deployable and non deployable personnel may prove useful. Greater integration seems to be the order of the day, perhaps fewer sub units and a more flexible engagement model may emerge with these units supporting non critical, lower intensity, deployments.
I find the notion of reserve forces taking a greater role in UK Resilience and Homeland Security most intriguing. I especially hate the term Homeland Security; it’s so American and has rather worrying overtones. The UK has a mature and capable civil resilience infrastructure in both legislative and organisation terms, the armed forces have been seen as a provider of absolute last resort for some time now but especially in light of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. The MoD has also continually moved away from this notion and encouraged (through chargeback mechanisms) Category 1 responders like the emergency services and local authorities (the lead agencies in emergency and security response) to resource themselves, which they have largely done.
What role the reserves will play in this is yet to be defined but I find the notion rather woolly headed thinking, aping the US National Guard but without the doctrine, equipment or structure. I looked at this particular issue in the run up to the election but I still don’t quite see the point (click the link and have a read)
The statement makes a comparison with the relative percentages of reserve and regular forces in the USA, Australia and Canada but we should be extremely wary of these comparisons. The USNG is funded differently and there is a massive difference between the US and UK forces in the number of uniformed personnel to civil servants and contractors that serves to skew the figures. The US is also looking at the future of its various reserve forces; click here for the findings of the recent Reimer Panel Report.
The Future Reserve Review document is here if anyone fancies a read.
General Houghton who had a big part in this reserves review is a very clever and strategic thinker and the general idea of using a greater percentage of reserve forces (Whole Force Concept) have great merit but the devil will be in the detail and if we think we can do it on the cheap the result will be far worse than expected.
Will be covering reserve forces in a future post.
The announcement firms up commitment to a few areas that were previously a little vague
It commits to a published 10 year equipment plan in 2011, fully funded and balanced
Over the next decade the oft discussed 14 Chinooks will be ordered, the QE aircraft carrier will receive cats and traps, initial spending on F35C confirmed (less than 20 aircraft I think in this period with an unspecified number to follow), Type 26 developed, Rivet Joint (Air Seeker) aircraft confirmed and Warrior upgrade.
Significantly, no mention of FRES and the decision to put cats and traps onto the QE either says it’s definitely coming into service or definitely being flogged to France, depending on your viewpoint!
Excuse me for being cynical but every time I hear about real term increases and future funding provisions in a Parliamentary session that may well include a completely different party in power I tend to just shrug my shoulders and as my kids might say, yeah whatever.
£3b extra on equipment post 2015 and £1.5b for the reserves is on offer.
It is stated that the increase will take inflation into account, is that standard retail inflation of defence inflation because the difference is crucial and not insignificant.
This just leads me to believe that the jam on offer is a mirage and in 5 years time the MoD will be having yet another crisis at PR time, concocting yet another finance led review and calling it a strategic adjustment.
Seems there was a spot of confusion about the second carrier getting the catapults, from the Scotsman
THERE was confusion last night over the UK government’s plans for the new aircraft carriers, as officials claimed that Defence Secretary Liam Fox “misspoke” when he said that both of them would both be prepared for use by fighter jets.In his statement on Monday over the future funding of the military, Dr Fox said that the decision made in the autumn to effectively mothball one of the new carriers might be reversed. But yesterday the Ministry of Defence insisted that the minister had made a mistake and had “misspoke”. A spokeswoman added: “As previously announced, only one of the carriers will get the cat and trap.”