The Extra £1.8 Billion Budget for the Reserves

Whenever the MoD (or any Government department for that matter) wants to inflate the pitiful amount of money allocated to a project they call it a ten year plan and, obviously, multiply by that number.

The SDSR and subsequent Reserves White Paper confirmed that the reserve forces would benefit from £1.8 Billion additional funding over the ten next ten years.

With a planned trained Army Reserve of 30,000, 3,100 in the Royal Marines and Royal Navy Reserves and 1,800 in the Royal Auxillary Air Force the numbers make for some interesting long division.

I will save you from the sums but it works out at just over £5,000 per person per year.

40 days minimum commitment at roughly £50 per day for a Private plus a thousand Pounds Bounty payment comes to £3k alone, which leaves £2k for everything else; recruiting, non trained personnel, equipment, ammunition and consumables, training, travel and everything else, and these back of a fag packet calculations assumes everyone in the reserve is the rank (or equivalent) of a private and only ever qualifies for second year bounty.

The MoD is at pains to point out that the money is extra or additional ‘investment’ so these figures might not apply.

Don’t put too much against these figures, they really are wildly simplistic but when the MoD talks about £1.8 billion, remember, it isn’t actually a great deal, even if it is extra.



About The Author

Think Defence hopes to start sensible conversations about UK defence issues, no agenda or no campaign but there might be one or two posts on containers, bridges and mexeflotes!

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Ian Hall
April 26, 2014 5:05 pm

Those sorts of maths are usually associated with Alex Salmond…

Red Trousers
April 26, 2014 7:14 pm

Do we actually need Auxilliary Kevins at all? The real ones are not much use, let alone plastic ones.

East Anglia is infested with Kevin ACF troops, all looking dorky and spotty with poor berets and shambling “drill” at the annual Remembrance Day commemoration. And yet East Anglia reliably recruits to the Army.

There was a thought that RAuxAF Squadrons might be useful for Int duties, but the ever increasing demands on the level of DV clearance to receive US/UK imagery meant that no one got passed, so it was a bit of a spastic idea.

April 26, 2014 9:12 pm

There are three RAuxAf squadrons labelled as doing intelligence or imagery: 7006, 7010 and 7630 ( There is not, to my knowledge, currently any extra automatic hurdle involved in a DV for people in these areas, though Defence is introducing an ‘enhanced’ DV for those who work most closely with the UK collection agencies.

John Hartley
April 26, 2014 9:12 pm

Well £ 1.8 billion split half to buy missing kit & the other half to operate it, might be a better use of that money. No disrespect to the reserves intended, but that is the way I see it.
P.S. Can we have a whip round to buy RT an inflatable Kevin that he can beat up with a bat, every full moon?

April 26, 2014 10:01 pm

Reserves are proven to be as vital as the active regular troops. We have shown here across the pond that the reserves have been a valuable asset. You can save money, but you have to equip them the same. We are cutting back at dangerous levels also. Maybe one day they will wake up and smell the coffee or tea so to say.

Your cousin from across the pond,

April 26, 2014 10:16 pm

In the UK, aren’t the “reserves” a fairly thin layer (basically folks who have come off regular, but are on a retainer) and the bulk in numbers is made up of TA?

RE “Reserves are proven to be as vital as the active regular troops.” as a reference to the Whole Force Concept. Being emulated in the UK, but no one, as yet, can say about the likely success.

Ref. to the leading in article:
“a planned trained Army Reserve of 30,000, 3,100 in the Royal Marines and Royal Navy Reserves and 1,800 in the Royal Auxillary Air Force”
– a further 8 thousand “lost” in training, as the drop out rate is so high that there is no point in counting?

April 27, 2014 3:25 am

even if it was not for the cuts I would still advocate a larger reserve force. The fact is that we have never been able to afford a large enough professional army to fight a major conflict and we have always relied on reservists to make up the force.

Its worth noting that if we ever face a pier enemy there forces along with out allies such as the USA will also be made up in large part by reservists.

The USA has shown how effective reservists can be but as the view of the British military establishment has always been against reservists I can see this project withering on the vine.

April 27, 2014 11:14 am

Five grand EXTRA per person per year sounds pretty good, actually. Assuming that some of that goes on the increased commitment (40 MTDs per year not 27, so an extra 13 MTDs, or about a grand) that still leaves a very nice wedge for better training, ammo, kit etc. Think TD is being unnecessarily pessimistic. Or am I reading this wrong?

April 27, 2014 11:47 am

Like many, im not sold on the reservist subsituting size of professional armed forces. If the kit needs to be the same, the “savings” are on pay which coincidentally is spent on professionals training…to be professional. In economic terms these savings arent massive whatever way you want to express it and in military effectiveness the substantial reduction in effectiveness is difficult to deny. As technology and complexity increases, requirement and focus for proficiency also increases, so it looks like we are moving in the wrong direction from an effectiveness standpoint. Stepping back a little, all this sounds that the political and defence leadership do not want to face up to the reality of being able to “do less with less”. The spin has progessed over time from “punching above our weight” to “reservists augmenting regulars” to now “reservists replacing regulars”. This all looks like, smells like and feels like a “hollowed out force” and we appear to be kidding ourselves about what tools, capacity and options the country really has now. I hope Im completely and utterly wrong.

Mike W
April 27, 2014 12:08 pm


“Stepping back a little, all this sounds that the political and defence leadership do not want to face up to the reality of being able to “do less with less”. The spin has progessed over time from “punching above our weight” to “reservists augmenting regulars” to now “reservists replacing regulars”. This all looks like, smells like and feels like a “hollowed out force” and we appear to be kidding ourselves about what tools, capacity and options the country really has now.”

No, I don’t think you are wrong. In fact, you have said exactly what I have been banging on about for the last two or three years. You have, however, expressed it much more succintly, incisively and cogently than I could. Of course we already have a “hollowed out force” and it will get worse. The only answer is an increase in defence spending.

April 27, 2014 12:09 pm

Odd that there was no money to provide barracks for the 3 infantry battalions we have just lost and yet for this farce, in a time of supposed austerity, there is money.

It is enough money to buy what 6 batts worth of modern 8×8.

April 27, 2014 1:15 pm

I think the reserves can work, but it requires a better understanding of where the reservists can truly augment the regular army. Maybe the ratio of reserves to regulars in the Infantry and Armoured units should be less, whereas in units such as the Signals, Engineers and Logistics etc it could be increased.

My understanding is that the large wet gap crossing role within the Royal Engineers has transferred to the reserves where they have combined this with construction of logistic support bridging and the amphibious rigs, this is a sensible use of reserves in my opinion as the rigs were not massively used on a regular basis in the field army, although an entire regt was earmarked for the role. And we cannot say that the medical services have not benefited from the use of reservists in the last decade.

The regular armed forces need to understand what they can gain from employing reservists sensibly and in a manner that compliments and does not replace the professionals.

We also need to get rid of the idea that reservists are inherently dads army types, they are a product of the training and recruitment policy set down by the regular army and if the regular army are not happy with the product then they should look no further than themselves. They place too much emphasis in fitness over basic soldiering, on mobilisation it easier to get someones fitness up to scratch (within reason) rather than trying to get their soldering up to standard as well. I think the regulars use fitness as a stick to beat the reservists with to justify the superior skills of the regulars.

Is this money enough? It can’t hurt but the reservists need to gain access to equipment at weekends from the regulars and more priority needs to be placed on true soldiering over ticking matts boxes.

Mike W
April 27, 2014 1:20 pm


Agreed, x. We could, taking in to consideration the economy of scale, probably procure anything up to 8 or 9 hundred of such vehicles or spend the money on restoring a few infantry battalions. However, with a deficit still running at just under £100 billion, the austerity policies (quite rightly) will have to continue for another three or four years. The previous administration has a huge amount to answer for. I know where my vote will go next time and it will not be for that profligate lot. Unfortunately I don’t think we shall see an increase in defence spending for at least half a decade, if then.

Mike W
April 27, 2014 1:29 pm


” . . . but it requires a better understanding of where the reservists can truly augment the regular army. Maybe the ratio of reserves to regulars in the Infantry and Armoured units should be less, whereas in units such as the Signals, Engineers and Logistics etc it could be increased.

Have only just seen this. Agreed. Have some reservations about Royal Engineer units, some of which are very much part of the real “teeth” Arms (e.g. Armoured Engineers) but generally your comment makes good sense.

April 27, 2014 1:58 pm

I was just demonstrating the scale of the investment by giving an example of something tangible that could be obtained. In times of austerity £!.8 billion shouldn’t be spent on intangible things.

As for the 3 infantry battalions that does anger me. Surely the MoD has enough land available to build upon so they could have been housed and kept active for a good deal less than this £1.8 billion?

Three working infantry battalions en masse are better than granularity of the reserves.

Yes most of the builders’ wages would have gone to Poland but………

April 27, 2014 2:13 pm

@Mike W

‘Have some reservations about Royal Engineer units, some of which are very much part of the real “teeth” Arms (e.g. Armoured Engineers)’

Yeah I agree, I just think that the use of reserves need a lot more thought and just saying that a third of the Army is going to be reservists and then applying that to the whole of the Army is a bit simplistic. I’m sure there are some units that could comprise a 50/50 ratio and others that would be better predominantly regular. We just need to go over all our units with a magnifying glass and an understanding of where the regulars lack certain skills.

April 27, 2014 2:14 pm

@ x

I think an Inf btn costs about £35m a year.

April 27, 2014 2:24 pm

@ Topman

So that is £350 million per decade (let’s leave inflation etc. to one side) for one battalion. £1050 million for 3. That leaves us with what £750 million.

A house (3 bed) costs £100,000 to build. Let say we would need 2000 (we wouldn’t but it is a nice round number) £200,000,000 so on housing.

That leaves us with £500,000,000 for 3 sets of barracks, a couple of schools, some shops, and all the other stuff found on the “Patch”…..

As I said this is dependent on the MoD having the land available. How many airfields have been sold off for a quick profit I wonder?

April 27, 2014 2:29 pm

‘A house (3 bed) costs £100,000 to build. Let say we would need 2000 a couple of schools, some shops, and all the other stuff found on the “Patch”…..’

And that is why reserves are so much more attractive to the bean counters. You do not need to house a reservist or worry about their family or even their weekly wage.

April 27, 2014 2:42 pm

@ David Niven

Nothing to worry about until you need to send your part timers up against a professional peer enemy, then you’ll worry and we will lose, the bean counting, spin and marginal savings long forgotten. Sometimes we appear to risk forgetting this is an unsavoury business which if you have to use is about winning and unlike the olympics, 2nd place however well improvised is not somewhere you want to be. Whether it is the reservists replacing professionals or its “fitted for but doesn’t have”, it appears we are not facing facts and reducing our role abroad in line with our realistic capability but dressing up a reduced capability – which we will discover when we least want to. Looks like we need to learn with knocks.

April 27, 2014 3:10 pm

@ David Niven

The parts of the reserves that are working well are already funded. Where they will struggle is the sharp end. That isn’t to deride TA soldiers who have gone to war. Far from it. But it appears these individuals are exceptional in all senses. 3 real battalions are better than a collection of TA soldiers. Infantry soldering is hard work. It isn’t as somebody here once said just for those who can’t do out else. It is challenging in the extreme. This £1.8 billion would have meant three full battalions for a decade or more. What I detect in these discussions (not here, generally) about UK reserves and woman in the infantry is an undercurrent of what I will call at best ignorance of or at worse utter contempt for the work of the infantryman.

April 27, 2014 3:20 pm

@x l don’t think there is any peer enemy that does not have a reserve element. And as long as we employ them intellegently they should not be a problem.

April 27, 2014 4:19 pm

I don’t think I said we shouldn’t have a reserve.

April 27, 2014 4:54 pm

@ DN

I took x to mean we shouldn’t have so many reservists in the Infantry?

April 27, 2014 5:17 pm

@ Topman

Yes. It seems reservists come in two types. Those who want to do something different from their job; even though their success in role will come from transferable skills. Look at our friend Phil who takes his ability to learn and read vast amounts of history and transfers that to learning complicated medical things. And those who want to do their day job in a different environment. Being an infantry soldier is a role suited to only certain types and infantry soldiers have a shelf life. You can be a grey haired enlisted reservist technician and be an asset. I don’t think it works like that for infantry.

April 27, 2014 5:35 pm

I’d agree, we need to be careful on how to do it. However we have reservist inf now and many other countries do have them in a larger %, I’m thinking Canada, US, Oz. The challenge for the army is can they set it up to make it work as others do?
I’m not sure, the jungle drums say the army weren’t impressed with the idea of having so many reservists and there was a lot of heel dragging over it. Although that’s a bit out of date now, hopefully they are getting to grips with it.

April 27, 2014 6:09 pm

Nor did I say we don’t have reservist infantry. We have some very good infantry reservists who have been decorated for bravery. But they are good, would be good, despite the overall system. As I said the last time we discussed this and the time before i think the reservists we have are the reservists we have. And for every Phil sadly there are some who aren’t worth the effort/money. Adverts on phone boxes and in the media may drag in a few more but not many. I think we are at the limits of advertising. Money is always a consideration but how many are lost because of pay, and how would many would be persuaded because of pay? I will hazard a guess not that many to make a difference. I would go further knowing what I have seen the problem is a residue of dead wood. I believe I am right (having been reminded by MikePapa in the MCM thread) that many reservists in Scandinavia train without pay or pay that isn’t anyway near that the MoD pay out to our reservists.

It appears my belief that infantry are a special case may be a point of contention here. :(

April 27, 2014 9:36 pm

The nub of the issue is not the training of individuals (unless specialists). It’s the training and experience and ability of SNCOs and Officers. TA officers especially (and TA combat arms officers especially, especially) don’t seem to have the confidence of the Army. Most TA officers I knew either deployed as specialists, were in command of specialist units or sub-units or enjoyed a long, long tour as watchkeepers.

There is a big question mark in my mind whether or not the TA can produce combat arms officers as capable as their regular counterparts. In fact I would say it was damned near impossible. This isn’t a huge drama as you could simply post regular officers or reserve officers into TA units and sub-units. But then what do you do with TA officer recruitment and the unattractive and damaging nature of a regular officer being posted in as a PC in a TA unit? You can’t bin TA combat arms officers as there’d be, spookily enough no officers, but you can’t peacetime man them with regulars.

I would say the best compromise is to only recruit ex regular officers as TA combat arms officers (or at least those in command slots) and stiffen the establishment of regular officer staff as TA combat units move through readiness states. As long as the Toms have basic proficiency which we’ve proved thousands of times over they can and do have now, it would work well I think, if you didn’t have a shortage of suitable officers (which if you made the move between regs and reserve easier you might get around to some extent).

Gloomy Northern Boy
April 27, 2014 10:13 pm

We would have been in a great deal of trouble in the Great War and the 1939-45 Re-match without largish numbers of Volunteer Reserves to rebuild numbers and hold the line after the heavy losses early in both those wars…and I believe the Imperial Yeomanry did a decent job in the South African War as well…so unless we are assuming that we will never again be involved in a significant land campaign for a prolonged period, we do need to think seriously about Reserves in some numbers and all roles…

As matters continue to unfold in the Ukraine, I am no longer much inclined to make that assumption…so then the question becomes “How do we get the reserves we need?”….and the first part of the answer is for the Regulars to stop asking “Why bother with reserves at all? They are a liability…”

The problem of sufficient numbers of effective reserves is amenable to a solution…but only if the people involved get to grips with the need to solve it, rather than looking for a different way to say “waste of time – lets not bother”. Not least because young men or women potentially interested and reading this sort of exchange (as some probably are) will quite possibly decide not to bother…how is that helpful?

Is the Army big enough – no, probably not – but as people wisely observe we end up going as we are whenever a war starts, so making sense of the Reserves question is vastly more intelligent and responsible than simply writing the whole idea off because it isn’t what we would have done were we in charge!

Feel better for that… :-)

Brian Black
April 27, 2014 10:32 pm

From the Army site:
“MOD will be investing an additional £1.8 billion in high-quality training, a paid annual leave entitlement, more modern equipment, and giving the TA better access to welfare support and health services.”

People have mentioned the American’s use of the Guard; it appears that when NG units have been used for complex counter insurgency tasks in Afghanistan, they are likely to be company groups attached to regular battalions within regular brigade combat teams. Larger Guard units have been more likely to be tasked with less complex duties, such as force protection and convoy protection.

This indicates that Afghanistan has been problematic for the Americans. Guard BCTs are meant to be interchangeable with regular army BCTs; but though NG BCTs were used that way at the beginning, as time went on they’ve been increasingly held back from the more complex taskings.

The British Army is now looking at deploying mixed regular and reserve brigades with perhaps one or two reserve units of battalion size. It won’t be certain whether the Army can achieve that until it actually happens. And then there is a question of whether commanders will have the confidence to utilize brigades that are in large part reservist formations.

There will be issues of whether the Army can recruit enough reservists in the first place; can they retain people long enough to get the right balance of skills (that 30,000 trained strength refers to anyone phase1 trained, if people don’t hang around much longer it won’t be much of a force, even if the headline number is there); and can they pull a geographically fragmented force of reservists together to make suitably trained units bigger than a company?

We will have only one all-regular division to call upon; if the reserve plan doesn’t work, or if there isn’t a long enough period of peace to iron out the wrinkles before a major conflict comes along, then the small regular army could become very stretched very quickly.

April 27, 2014 10:38 pm

The era of a few weeks training, square bashing, and getting a bolt action of your own from the state as a way of war are long gone. War is too technical. Manpower is too expensive in the age of inflation and a fiat reserve.

If you want to kill the enemy in large amounts you need to convince the chattering classes, who will be far from the mud and the blood, that things like mines and cluster munitions are necessities to win the wars they start but in which they don’t participate .

More manpower isn’t an option for the West. Especially fighting for a flag with a blue field and a circle of stars.

April 27, 2014 10:41 pm

@ Brian Black

My understanding is that elements with the NG feel as they have been shafted by a regular Army too busy playing with information warfare and trying to be SF. Use of the NG just shows the draw down on the US Army has already been too great.

Gloomy Northern Boy
April 27, 2014 11:02 pm

“The age of square bashing…is over” – clearly, but that doesn’t mean a modern reserve force is unachievable – it just needs more thinking about – more money – and a greater seriousness of purpose to get it in place and make it work…because as @Brian Black points out, we will run out of regular soldiers very quickly if we don’t..!


Gloomy Northern Boy
April 27, 2014 11:08 pm

One of the chaps just killed in Afghanistan was a Reservist according to BBC R4…God rest him, his comrades in arms and many condolences to all who mourn his passing.

We shall remember them.


April 28, 2014 4:41 am

There’s an idea to catch the right kind of folks for TA in their working years?

Full stop (to make the tablet accept the grammar; the link would not like the addition)

April 28, 2014 9:39 am

@ACC – Already done in some form: the only porper reference I can find quickly is this:

A friend/acquaintance from school did a Gap Year Commission with the Royal Artillery. Went on to do a full commison and win the Sword of Honour:


I think there some confusion about how the Army Reserve will actually be employed in the Army 2020. From everything I’ve read the aim seems to be to be able to regularly generate units up to the size of Coy/Bty/Sqn that will then come under the operational command of regular units.

This isn’t so far from where we are at the moment and have been since for much of the past decade. What Army 2020 does is formalise this and link regular and reserve units (or creates hybrid units) to facilitate this. It recognises that company sized units are about the largest effective unit that the reserves can generate and maintain in peacetime. Reserve bns are really just administrative HQs.

Is £1.8 Billion enough to make it work? Who knows. Its likely as much as the Army could either get extra from the treasury or take from existing budgets, without causing problems.

Note that alot of the changes to the reserves within Army 2020 have been about consolidating existing units or generating specialist capabilities. Reverse Infantry saw no new units being formed and a number disbanded/merged or changed to other roles.

April 28, 2014 10:02 am


I quite like the idea of 38 escorts, 16 SSNs, and 3 CVF but it ain’t going to happen. Sadly i think the latter is more likely to happen then us here in the UK ever seeing the likes of another Churchill or Thatcher or >insert name of competent PM here< again.

As I said above I think everybody in the UK who is remotely interested or suitable for reserve service is already in the reserves. They do stirling work. There is no immediate conventional existential threat to the UK despite what the wailing establishment would like us to believe about Russia. And if the latter is any threat we already possess the personnel and platforms to deal with it because it is a limited threat.

Phil makes a good point about the use of ex-regular officers. In my experience ex-servicemen come in roughly two very broad types types. At one extreme there are those who served in a support arm for 18 months before being invalided out with fallen arches who turn their homes into mini-replicas of 1950s barrack block, sport short-back-and-sides, are the backbone of their local RBL, and constantly bore everybody to death with tales of their time in. And at the other there are those who weren't at the sharp end because the sharp end was a long way behind them, those who actually lived out Walt's Bravo Two Zero fantasy for real, and who when they leave the service don't want to see another rifle, RSM, or NAAFI ever again. Over egged the pudding again haven't I? My point is the blokes you want in large numbers aren't probably the ones who will stop on. And of that group the ones that will stop on are already doing it,.

I think the answer or the reasons lie outside the services themselves. By services I really mean the Army. I think Afghanistan has shown we have already ran out of soldiers. I know wars are about holding and winning territory. And a society has always needed and will continue to need hard men with weapons and the will to use those weapons. But we need to ask for what purpose is our army?

I don't think the National Guard model will work. It isn't a cheap model for a start.

I think the answer is more likely to be found in technology than manpower. Be it technology to reach our objective more quickly in greater numbers (more ships and planes) and to make them more lethal (as I said above munitions some find inhumane.) Or technology that means we don't send manpower.

Heck we can't even give each section a wagon to ride in, yet we want more soldiers………….


April 28, 2014 10:04 am

‘Australian Defence Force (ADF) Gap Year program for 2015
The Army has Gap Year opportunities for Infantry soldiers, drivers, administration clerks and supply coordinators.’

(April 1 2014 – March 31 2015)
2Lt Gap Year Commission Level 3 £19,539
2Lt Gap Year Commission Level 2 £17,949

So while the Aussies have a gap year program for both soldiers and officers, we just offer them to officers. What the army is missing is a larger component of the middle class within its NCO and SNCO members. Without this the army and the reserve will have problems generating enough recruits to change perceptions and thus aid recruiting.

‘The nub of the issue is not the training of individuals’

I think it is, the training needs to be comparative to the regular component (within reason) for confidence in both parties involved and to eventually get the SNCO’s and Officers that the army will have confidence in. It is also a two way street as the armed forces can gain knowledge of current industry practices from its reserve forces which may be of benefit.
If we do not think that training the reserves to a greater standard than the minimum that they are at now, then disband them and save your money, call out the regular reserve when you need to and if things are looking like an enduring operation conscript from the general public.

April 28, 2014 10:20 am

@ Tom

We all know what A2020 is about. We are just questioning whether it is achievable,

For a decade or so I used to be a regular visitor to a TA centre which housed an infantry unit (amongst others) and I know how many went from there to Afghanistan. I know the individuals ranged from proper amatuer soldiers to those who looked liked they had traipsed through the local army surplus shop and had been dressed by their mum. I know the numbers sent and the name of the unit didn’t quite match by about 110 bodies or so. I had a lot of dealings with our local RFCA (may they burn in hell).) A good family friend was a WO PSI and then went on to work for the RFCA; he started soldiering when THAT rifle was still a novelty. I have other friends and families who are or were TA. The £1.8 billion is about increasing numbers and increasing retention. My experience suggests to me that the parts of the AR that are working are working well. But it is a very hollow organisation and has been in decline since the end of the Cold War. I am just a casual observer. I could be and hopefully am wrong. I am also a bit of pessimist. I know what it took for the TA to do what it did in Afghanistan. I just think there isn’t much more that can be wrung out of the organisation. If I were the MoD I would be throwing the money at what worked and doing what I could to retain regular infantry (and making sure the latter is properly equipped.)

April 28, 2014 10:37 am


I think you make a good point about the scale of our forces and the public expectation of the role. If we shorten the expected duration of operations from ‘indefinite’ to 3 years then we actually have plenty of soldiers. Its about how we use them.

Investing in the infantry should actually be about how to equip and deploy what we have. More C17, more Atlas, more Merlin, FRES UV. So we can get a whole light brigade to where we want in days, a medium one in weeks, backed up by an armoured one when the ships or trains arrive. Sustain and rotate for 2 or 3 years. Then go home. If its worth staying longer then our (non US) allies have to come to the party. Done.

April 28, 2014 10:52 am

The above clearly shows an expectation of the type of conflict coming next. I applaud what generals Wall and Carter did, when the SDSR plans for the army were ironed free of some early wrinkles: at least the capacity for a short and sharp engagement was not totally dismantled (as it was looking like when everything was being structured to fit with the Rule of 5).

April 28, 2014 11:13 am

Supplying a fighting force of more than a BG in strength solely by air is a pipe dream only the Americans can dream of. We couldn’t do it in WWII for more than a few days and we certainly can’t do it now. There needs to be realistic expectations of what we can deploy and sustain by air and consequently what missions such a force are suitable for. This is why we now have an ABTF, we are cutting our cloth in a more realistic manner.

As for infantry officers, I don’t agree. I know a number of officers who have drifted in and out of various levels of commitment with the regulars. Rather than lose regular officers who have had enough offering them flexible semi-retired positions in command of combat units and sub-units is more useful and a more efficient use of scarce manpower. People’s lives change and a lot of people circle the services like moths around a flame occasionally diving back toward it for various times (especially after getting a divorce! There’s a whole raft of dumped and divorced potential officers and SNCOs who we could nick from the Foreign Legion recruiting pool).

Another point about managing expectations. The AR works fine when again you cut your cloth. This is why AR combat units are not expected to deploy as such, they will be closely integrated with regular formations in the fashion of manpower plugs. The less demanding the combat role the more the AR is able to achieve on its own feet. This is not a secret and is admitted by pretty much all volunteer reserves in the West. There’s also the matter that at the very least an AR infantry battalion represents an awful lot of experience and latent capability – nothing a few months of training and cross posting wouldn’t sort out. The armies that won WWI and WWII were built on reservists.

April 28, 2014 11:46 am


I wasn’t suggesting to attempt total supply by air. Merely to use more airlift to get the pointy end out into the field quicker and at greater scale, after that to sustain the formation through a conventinal mixed logistics chain.

The thought evolved as an alternative to stationing a brigade in Poland or the Baltics to deter the reds, or to trying to upscale the infantry when we can’t equip and deploy what we have got.

April 28, 2014 1:02 pm

I’m rather hesitant to suggest this considering the UK’s bad experiences with the private sector with Airtanker and all, but there are short term chartered planes that can be used for strategic airlift on a one shot basis, usually the An-124s. You can use them to temporarily flesh out your forces if you are desperate.

April 28, 2014 1:13 pm

@ Observer

We’ve used them quite a bit. For example the F3 when coming back from the FI used to get stripped down and moved inside a charter aircraft.

April 28, 2014 1:28 pm

The OC of the infantry unit I mentioned was a regular captain (commissioned long serviced SNCO). I think his full time staff there 2/3 PSI. Then there was a full time caretaker (who lived on site) plus another cleaner. Beyond the internal staff there are external bods like civilian armourers, the idiots from the RFCA etc. All this in a large building long past its sell by date. Looking at it now it was/is an awful lot of money just so 10 or so bods could support the regulars. In the last round of cuts they closed another local infantry unit’s building and they have been merged with this unit I am talking about. Even with savings from closing the other building still a lot of money……..

April 28, 2014 2:09 pm

Merely to use more airlift to get the pointy end out into the field quicker and at greater scale, after that to sustain the formation through a conventinal mixed logistics chain.

But you have to have realistic ideas about what such a force can do. You won’t be dropping them into an operation that requires a medium or heavy brigade since that implies combat and there’s no way we can sustain that sort of combat operation by air – even the Americans would struggle. I would argue a Mali style operation is about as intense an operation the ABTF can do and I am pretty sure we could adequately support it from the air. It is a quantum leap to go from being able to support this sort of operation to being able to support a more intense operation from the air. A more intense operation means more forces, means more of an effort needed – it’s exponential growth.

As for not being able to deploy what we have. Whrre does this myth come from? We’ve deployed BG to Divisional level forces on my count 6-7 times (more if you count big exercises like Purple Star) since 1991. We maintained 5x or so BGs in Iraq with 2-3 BGs on HERRICK at the same time for a short period. Thereafter we easily maintained 5-7 BG equivalents for years in a landlocked country and fought and conducted complex operations in an environment where we had to build all the infrastructure from scratch.

April 28, 2014 2:32 pm

@x: if you want to reserves to be effective, you have to start treating them like the regulars with regard to initial training and retention. The National Guard sends people through regular training schools and makes them sign for 6 years, not 3. It should also be borne in mind that the reason the reserves have assigned the missions they have is because we have the regular units available. This is all very well when we assume our only likely assignments are COIN campaigns that utilize a small proportion of the total force, but it’s definitely not the case when larger demands are met.

@Phil: during the peak of both TELIC and HERRICK, we had 43 regular and 17 reserve units from which to deploy our 8. If 8 was a strain, frankly we do *not* have deployable units in the sense of what the US would define the term. They were actually deploying about a third of their active and reserve components at the time.

April 28, 2014 2:47 pm


As I have argued before, sending blokes on basic training is a waste of money. The money should be sent on recruiting, training and retaining SNCOs and officers (regulars and reservists). Basic training is basic training and at the end of the day provides a soldier who is theoretically capable of maintaining their body outside in the cold and wet and accomplish the basic MATTs. Everything else is experience.

43 units had a lot of tasks to cover.

Off the top of my head and back of the fag packet Bn equivalents in brackets, they were:

–the standing garrisons and military tasks (including a BG contingency force) (7 Bns)
–supporting the PDT of deploying units (1-2 Bns)
–doing PDT themselves (there’d be 2 Bdes in this part of the cycle) (14 Bns)
–being on operations (7 Bns)
–recovering from operations (7 Bns))

=37 Bns give or take a few. The pool is soon drained. Especially when you think that in reality it is more likely to have been 35 battalions involved in the HERRICK rotation (ignoring completely the fact that Iraq required a whole different chain of training, support, ops and recovery) – which I get from 7x 5 rotations.

Keeping a 6-7 battalion force out in the field indefinitely and still having to accomplish standing tasks is hardly a thorn in the side – it is a massive main effort. It takes more than you think. Scale it up and you find the Americans being able to deploy only a relatively small number of their total BCTs.

Gloomy Northern Boy
April 28, 2014 3:36 pm

@x – Feel obliged to disagree with you on the Fleet – we need 3xCVF, 3xCanberra Class, 36 Escorts and 18 Submarines…numbers of lovely big grey ships or sleek black submarines need to be divisible by three…it just feels right… :-)

I also take a different view on Reserves, but a debate about the composition of a Fleet we won’t get will cheer me up no end so I will now leave that alone…


April 28, 2014 3:46 pm

@Phil: we have been over the reserve training area before, with regard to your previous excellent article. I would merely restate the argument that our issue here is not skills per se but whether reservists are seen as worthy of respect. Undergoing the same basic training, in the same establishments, builds mutual respect. Declaring that it’s all the same since the MATT’s are the same is not good enough IMHO, and many of your previous comments about some reserve units bear that out.

April 28, 2014 3:54 pm


I agree it is about legitimacy and I was thinking last night what makes a reservist “legitimate” in the eyes of a regular. In other words what is needed so that an AR soldier would be given exactly the same tasks as a regular equivalent to their rank.

It’s not basic training. The measliest AR private will always be given a Joe private’s job on tour. Legitimacy is derived from attending exactly the same career courses as the regulars and from operational experience. If AR SNCOs had done the regular JNCO and SNCO cadres at Brecon and kept up with attending regular courses then you go a long way to bridging the legitimacy gap. Nobody is going to give a shit if Sgt Reserve did 14 weeks of being a crow-bag at Catterick 12 years ago – but if he’s done Junior and Senior Brecon and all other attendant and necessary regular courses then you’re getting somewhere.

Joe is not important. Joe can be created relatively easily. Sgt Trust takes much, much more.

April 28, 2014 3:55 pm

“realistic ideas about what such a force can do”

For instance reinforce a NATO ally who was being threatened by an exernal enemy.

In that situation you could concentrate on flying in the combat elements, including a modest proportion of wheeled medium armour. In a co-operative allied country you could pick up fuel and food locally for the first couple of weeks; concentrating on flying in military stores until your land based logistics tail: trucks, trains or whatever, catches up. Slim pointed out that air supply only works if you have it of limited duration and know where your relief column is coming from. But he made it work and work well in one of the most under resourced theatres of WW2.

For the scale of what could be achieved with how many planes I’ll cheerfully be guided by the experts. But my point is essentially that more air lift will allow us to do more, quicker, with the land forces we can afford to have.

April 28, 2014 4:10 pm

Best way to move ground forces is via sea and/or rail. Within NATO the road network would also be excellent. So if you wanted to reinforce a NATO member your best bet would be a wheeled force that could drive across the continent in no time meeting up with wheeled roving re-supply columns from Host Nation Support. A very weak air supported force is not the type of force you send in such a scenario unless you intend on using it as a 2-12 hour disposable speed bump covering force (which is perfectly legitimate in a big fight if very desperate). There’d be no force left to keep in combat after a few hours so they’d only need first line scales, anything left isn’t going to be up to much.

April 28, 2014 4:21 pm


Part of the objective of course it deterrance. So the symbolic speedbump force would have some validity there.

Turn it round though: if your wheeled 8×8 force has driven to the area of operations all your airlift if kept free to build up a big supply dump for it use when it arrives.

April 28, 2014 4:26 pm

Wouldn’t fancy building a supply dump with nobody to cover it. And a light infantry task force is more a political statement than a real deterrent. Nuclear weapons and Article 5 are the real deterrent to violating NATO integrity. The threatened nations organic armed forces would be more than sufficient for acting as a litmus test for territorial violation.

April 28, 2014 5:44 pm

Short answer Phil your light inf can sit in a defensive posture covering your air/road/rail head while the rest of the force builds up. Bad luck if the enemy jumps you before you’re ready. Best start in good time and slightly in the rear of your local allies. Probably something worth exercising at from time to time.

As an aside I was just reading about how in the 1793-1814 wars the British fathomed out that you needed at least a 70,000 all arms force to be effective against continental armies, but could never pull together enough shipping to transport more than 40,000. And they only did that once. More often it was 10 – 15,000 a shot. And that took a massive organsiational effort. And there was never at any stage enough transport for horses.

In due course they got their 70,000 man army on the continent. But it came piece by piece. First of all Baird’s Division was accidentally left behind in Lisbon in 1809 when Moore’s army was evacuated from Corunna. It was actually too far away for Opfor to get to. One division wasn’t much use but they did provide a secure port for Wellsley’s small army to land at later that year. They continued building up the force piecemeal until Wellington had the full shooting match deployed by the spring of 1813. So the problems aren’t new.

April 28, 2014 5:48 pm

Phil said “Wouldn’t fancy building a supply dump with nobody to cover it.”

If only the UK had a hardy band of men used to patrolling fences……….

@ wf

I agree. But I think it would be a big jump. If a guardsmen doesn’t turn up for training they go fetch him; it would be interesting to see how that worked here. The way the NG operates is ingrained in US society. US employers are accustomed to it. It would be too much in the current economic environment for UK employers to take aboard. I know what you mean about COIN but I think there is little likelihood of high end long lasting WW2 conflict breaking out. And it would take a huge upswing in numbers. Remember in the Cold War with what 180,000 the Army’s main ploy was to withdraw. We can’t afford it.


I have been very good lately. I have managed to get what I think the UK’s minimum “warfighting” fleet should be down to 60 units. If the words “patrol frigate” pop into my head I lick my fingers and stick them in the nearest electric socket. >ouchouch< :)

April 28, 2014 5:51 pm

I think your scenario replicates the same old mistakes we have made in the past. We scrape together a completely inadequate force and then convince ourselves it can have some utility in a widespread ground conflict. Sitting around an airhead dug in is completely pointless if the enemy is close as you won’t be able to use it either for para dropping or air-landing. Re-running 2 PARA at Arnhem is not a road I’d like to think we’d be stupid enough to go down again. It’s the same for railhead or port – the enemy will just mortar and bombard the place into uselessness and you’d not have the force to go and silence those guns. If the balloon goes up like that you need a serious, heavy force with perhaps a medium rapid reaction force able to move quickly by road in wheeled vehicles. Faffing around with a light infantry task force supported from the air is simply a waste of an experienced battlegroup.

April 28, 2014 5:55 pm

If only the UK had a hardy band of men used to patrolling fences……….

As long as it isn’t Harrier jets on the other side of the fence.

April 28, 2014 6:12 pm

Actually thinking about it our situation now is as comperable to the 1780s as it is to the 1930s.

Pitt the Younger’s administration’s reforms for procurment and adminstration laid many of the building blocks for success in the decade that followed. But the army was still tiny and under equipped. We had a hell of a scramble in the 1790s to turn that tiny regular army and various shades of militia and volunteers into a credible sized and well trained and deployable force. It took years.

And then we spent 1793-1810 frittering that force away on all sorts of crapply executed schemes (a bit like what Phil describes above) until we finally hit on the winning formula in 1810-14.

Gloomy Northern Boy
April 28, 2014 7:02 pm

@Peter Elliott – Slim was certainly under-resourced, but in absolute numbers of men and items of equipment all our WW2 Theatre Commanders had vastly more to play with than the CDS currently has…albeit far less capable. I quite like the inferred comparison between Putin and Napoleon however…although I think Napoleon III is a rather more exact comparison…either one far more sensible than the “New Hitler” nonsense though…

@x – We agree on about 60 then, and you actually know what you are talking about…I am positively cheerful… :-)
If your thinking includes a new T46 Destroyer/Cruiser with TLAM in numbers I may even pour myself a glass of mild.

I still agree with @Phil


April 28, 2014 7:26 pm


I know – that’s why I openned the whole sorry business by wishing for ‘more planes’. My whole scenario was based on: if we had more transport planes with the same sized army. And somewhere else I also wished for 8x8s (also for the same sized army) so I sort of agree with @Phil anyway.

I thought the discussion made an interesting change from ‘more ships’ anyway.

And Slim only just had enough planes for his tactical resupplys. He kept having to beg, borrow and steal them from the ‘hump’ strategic air supply route into China. And units often spent days on half rations waiting for the deliveries to resume.


April 28, 2014 7:45 pm

What’s all this @Commenter in the body of comments business? Are we a load of teens? Stop it this instant.

PS: I bet somewhere somebody soon will change their name to @Something or #Something. Reminds me of a joke from the the 80s in the now defunct and much missed PCW about a couple wanting to call their child Goto because they thought he would fit into the system better when he was older.

April 28, 2014 8:07 pm

Slim seems to come up in comments a lot?

Yes, it was a pity that his landing craft were pinched, too. Much longer to Rangoon that way. Luckily they could do some odd-change business on the way (Sicily and the mainland Italy) before being used for the main show, the invasion of France (Anvil also happened, not just Normandy).
… Priorities, priorities; such is war (and other business, too, though not always as pressing)

April 29, 2014 11:25 am

Guilty as charged for mentioning Slim rather often: for my money the best British General of WW2, possibly of the 20th Century.

Brilliant at stratgy, tactics and logistics. Skilled in navigating the political waters of coalition generalship. Inspiring to his men right down to private soldier level, humble and without bombast. Innovative in combined arms warfare. Operated at the bottom end of the resources foodchain and without the latest ‘wonder weapons’.

Gloomy Northern Boy
April 29, 2014 11:57 am

Peter – wrote a bloody good book as well – I’m fortunate in having a first edition with a handsome green dust-jacket showing the XIV Army badge, and fold out maps that make it much easier to follow the action without constantly flipping between text and map…


April 29, 2014 12:09 pm

First of all Baird’s Division was accidentally left behind in Lisbon in 1809 when Moore’s army was evacuated from Corunna


April 29, 2014 12:42 pm

I’m away from my books at the moment and both my memory and the internet are somewhat sketchy on the exact composition of the British contingent remaining around Lisbon in Jan-April 1809. Baird himself fought, was injured and evacutated from Corunna in January. But there was a small but significant force left behind in the Lisbon area. Maybe Spencer was the General Officer commanding them? I will check when I get home.

The French were advancing southward to complete the capture of Portugal and had taken Oporto in March. But Wellesly’s reinforcement’s arrived at Lisbon in time to prevent any further advance, turned the French out of Portugal, and formed the basis of the army which evenutally won in 1813-14.

Brian Black
April 29, 2014 9:52 pm

Tom mentioned earlier that under the Army 2020 structure, the reserves would only form company groups. These are a couple of quotes from last year. Providing companies to regular units is indeed to be run-of-the-mill stuff, but there is the intention of using reserve battalions on some jobs.

Philip Hammond (The Secretary of State for Defence) July 2013:

“The revised Army Reserve structure of around 30,000 will no longer exist simply to supplement the Regular Army in times of national conflict but, as part of an integrated whole force, will be ready and able to deploy routinely at sub-unit level [companies], and in some circumstances, as formed units [battalions].”

Mark Francois (The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence) March 2013:

“Our policy in recent years has generally been to use reservists as individual reinforcements to serve alongside their regular counterparts and there has been no requirement to mobilise and deploy a Territorial Battalion (TA) or the Army Reserve as a whole. Under Army 2020 we anticipate that in the future we will routinely use reservists not only in providing augmentation but as part of the integrated Army, operating in formed combat and support units.”

If the theory behind force 2020 relies on deploying reserve units as a whole, and the Army can’t pull it off, then that could strain what’s left of the regulars.

My only experience of the TA dates from the ’80s, so might be a bit out of date. But as an Army Cadet I’ve done the main annual exercises with TA artillery and infantry. The artillery battery was severely undermanned; they could not have put all the guns into the field without quite a few cadets filling up the gun crews (only needed a couple of trained men, but at least five bodies for an effective crew). The infantry were not so crippled by shortage of manpower, but were short of a handful of NCOs. So as a fifteen year-old cadet corporal (actually bombardier) I got my own section to command.

Like I say, this was a while ago; but my experience doesn’t fill me with confidence for the future reserve force, if to get a company / battery up to exercise strength the TA back then had to rely on cadets.

Deja Vu
May 3, 2014 9:23 am

Coming late to the discussion but as a Cold War TAVR but specialist warrior I would endorse DN’s comments.

The ideal role for volunteer reservist units is to complement Regular units not attempt to replicate them. Individuals could still reinforce units as augmentees. In these circumstances there would also be a career path for officers as subject matter experts on staffs.

I am quoting from memory but one of Monty’s actions as a Divisional commander during the phoney war in France was to replace a TA battalion CO with a regular officer. At his interview the outgoing CO, (a Welsh bank manager I think) remonstrated that he had not missed a weekly drill in 20 years. Monty remarked that his German opposite number would have trained 5 days a week over those years, at which the CO conceded the correctness of his replacement.

Gloomy Northern Boy
May 3, 2014 10:01 am

@Deja Vu…by no means a universal rule…”An Englishman at War; the wartime diaries of Stanley Christopherson…” was written by a “Weekend Warrior” who started his war in the Inns of Court Regiment and ended it commanding the Sherwood Rangers…a Yeomanry Regiment led for the most part by the Officers who had commanded it in peacetime…which was one of the most experienced and valued Armoured Regiments in the Army by 1945.


dave haine
May 3, 2014 3:40 pm


‘First blood to the auxilaries’!

First aircraft shot down over the UK was brought down by RAuxAF pilots flying Spitfires. By the end of the war 20% of all RAF operational units were commanded by RAuxAF or RAFVR commissioned officers, including at least one Air Vice Marshall. All of whom stepped down to their peacetime rank once hostilities were over.

In the BoB RAuxAF sqns were considered every bit as good as the regular sqns.

I’ve been told a very similar story about the rn, with RNVR and RNR officers displaying extraordinary service to their country.