Rank Inflation – Am More Confused Than Ever

In the previous post I asked what the perception of rank inflation was, not the reality.

Everyone seemed to agree there was a preponderance of the grown ups but the problem with perceptions is they are often just that. We all observe things and we are all subject to the underlying narrative that the senior ranks are proving harder to cull than those famous sacred cows that were despatched in the SDSR.

One of the first posts I ever wrote at Think Defence was on the subject, click here to see my early clumsy attempts.

I came to the conclusion that it was a reality but not as marked as the media would have us all believe.

Using data from the underused and thoroughly professional Defence Analytical Services and Advice (DASA) I bashed together a few graphical representations of the underlying data.

UK Armed Forces - Officers and Other Ranks
UK Armed Forces – Officers and Other Ranks
FIG 3 - UK Armed Forces Rank Comparison
FIG 3 – UK Armed Forces Rank Comparison

To start with I looked at the decline in what we might means of measure, crude as they are but they illustrate a rate of decline in ships, aircraft and battalions/regiments.

One might expect the size of the forces to follow a similar glide path, accepting these are old graphics and not reflective of the slashing and burning of the SDSR.

This shows a fairly rapid increase in the ratio of officers to other ranks but from the mid nineties that ratio remained somewhat steady.

If we look at the x axis, the time period is quite wide but using the last 10 years data from DASA a little more detail is available .

HM Government
Click to enlarge, rank and percentage of that rank compared to the total

The table above shows the totals and percentages of each rank from 2000 to 2011 (the last year the data was published in this form)  

HM Government
Click to enlarge

Looking at the senior ranks as a group, the table above shows a similar display but the percentage figures are expressed as a percentage of that group, not the total personnel count.

HM Government
Click to enlarge

Finally, the table above shows a simple comparison of officers and other ranks.

What this crude analysis does not do is look at do we actually need a certain rank to be doing a certain job, there is always several stories behind any number but it does show that things have remained largely consistent over the last decade. If that is as it should be is a completely different discussion, especially when we start asking, for example, how many Admirals a navy with a couple of dozen combat ships actually need or why do we have more Air Marshals than squadrons etc (just for clarity, I don’t know if that is true, am just having a tabloid/MP moment).

Despite the media’s inbuilt bias and talent for talking nonsense these are important questions that hopefully the defence reform unit is looking at, where does the narrative meet reality.

You can always do your own detective work.

One of the very little known transparency agenda commitments that everyone would seem to want to forget is the fantastic on-line organisation chart tool.

HM Government
Click to visit


Click the image to visit or start from here

PUS and CDS, as of September 2011

Chief of the General Staff, as of September 2011

First Sea Lord (1SL) / Chief of Naval Staff, as of September 2011

Chief of the Air, as of September 2011

Chief of Joint Operations, as of September 2011

Chief of Defence Materiel, as of September 2011

Defence Infrastructure Organisation, as of September 2011

Hours of fun to be had because you can drill right down to junior level

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Sir Humphrey
February 23, 2012 2:34 pm

I’ve tried to set out what it is that the 2*s and above do at my blog – http://thinpinstripedline.blogspot.com/2012/02/what-have-2s-ever-done-for-us-apart.html