The dust has settled, Twitter has calmed down and even Con Coughlin has stopped writing disreputable drivel so what do people think about Army 2020?
My thoughts, in no particular order
The Fat Lady Hasn’t Finished Warbling
The announcements covered the major units but sub unit changes have yet to be fully briefed so expect more information to come out in dribs and drabs over the coming months and perhaps even years.
Army 2020 is a process with a future end state, how it gets there is still very much work in progress and will be for some time.
When we discuss these matters I also prefer to keep things at a high level because ultimately we are talking about service personnel, their careers and families. If it is not in the public domain I will not be making assumptions or speculating on sub unit changes unless it is in the broadest sense.
Did We Need to Go This Far?
I don’t think anyone would question the need to put the MoD back on a proper fiscal footing or that national security ultimately comes from financial security so deficit reduction is very much the only grand strategy the nation should be pursuing but spending is all about priorities.
Legitimate questions about these priorities can and should be asked even though in the light of the subject of this post the answer is irrelevant.
A Lack of Moral Fibre
The Government has shown a complete and utter lack of backbone.
It started with the diktat that no one preparing for, on or recovering from operations would be selected for redundancy. It might seem somewhat cruel to give someone their P45 whilst in Afghanistan but in order to avoid negative headlines in the media the Government has actually created a more serious problem. Not only has it tied the hands of those planning the force reductions by focusing on a subset of personnel who had the somewhat random fortune to be on operations at the appropriate time it has also reportedly created the unintended consequence of a rush to volunteer for Afghanistan and thus stave off the brown envelope.
The second is the apparent unwillingness to address the tough issues of Gurkhas (who are widely believed to now cost double that of a British soldier), the Household Division and Scottish regiments.
None of these are terminal to the reorganisation but they do add unwanted complexity and restraint, inevitably compromising the final outcome.
A Two Tier Force
Organising into the reactive and adaptive force is a neat way to retain combined arms manoeuvre combat power at the same time as resourcing enduring operations ‘on the cheap’ it represents a risk of a two tier Army emerging.
Soldiering or peacekeeping might be a simplistic way of viewing the split but if the best and brightest gravitate towards the reactive force there will emerge a two tier force with a clear poor relation in the adaptive force.
Some think the reactive force will attract all the high flyers, funding and kudos, leaving the adaptable force as the poor relation.
An alternative may see the adaptive force deploying all over the world on a regular basis in the upstream engagement mission whilst the reactive force stays at home, filling sandbags for Local Authorities and training on a wet Salisbury Plain with a handful of kit they have prised out of the whole fleet management pool and surrogate main battle tanks, or that would be Land Rovers to you and me.
Avoiding this split will be difficult; those at Kentigern House are going to have to work ever harder to avoid this fear becoming a reality, as I am sure they now understand only too well.
The Whole Force Concept
The ‘Army Reserve’ is to be built up to a trained strength of 30,000 personnel, integrated more closely with regular forces and contractors with about a third of the adaptive force comprising of reserve personnel and a tenth in the reactive element.
Greater use of civilian ‘contractors’ is nothing new; we have the RAF’s Voyager tankers, numerous training PFI’s, the Army’s C Vehicle and Heavy Equipment Tractor arrangements and of course one might view the Royal Fleet Auxiliary as being a distant relation. For expeditionary and sustained operations using contractors for everything from water provision to transport to catering is a simple fact of life and this is just a recognition that it will continue.
Recruitment for an enlarged reserve will be difficult based on recent historical experience although with the broader range of deployments on offer with the adaptive force it might be less of a problem than thought. Leveraging the civilian skills of reservists is tempting and in many regards a perfectly reasonable expectation but not all truck drivers, welders, IT specialists and medics join the reserves to do the same stuff they do in the week, except with a little more varied scenery.
The MoD made a great deal about increased funding for reserve forces, £1.8 billion over the next ten years. Doing a quick spot of mental maths that equals a paltry £180 million per year. We have just spent just under half a billion pounds for a Typhoon software upgrade, £50 million for an A400 simulator and we even spend £10 million a year on the Red Arrows.
An additional £180 million across 30,000 personnel really isn’t a great deal of money, £6,000 a year.
On equipment, there already exists a significant disparity between equipment (training v deployment) used for regular units, let alone the TA. If we look at the cost of communications equipment, weapons and personal equipment it is difficult to see how the additional investment will make a large impact. This is before we look at additional needs for training provision, estate, welfare, medical and other operating costs.
Most TA centres have been backloading their stores and vehicles for some time. With greater reliance on the White Fleet and centralised equipment and with a reduced regular force there will inevitably be equipment freed up but even accepting this, providing the same equipment provision is going to be a challenge.
We also assume that this big pot of cash is for the Army exclusively, it is not. The increased RAF and RN/RM reserve (4,900 in total) will also share this money.
Is £1.8 billion over ten years anywhere near enough?
There is a planned consultation with employer’s representatives but whilst the MoD may be hoping for legislative change I just cannot see this happening, at least not in a significant manner. If the new model foresees reservists spending a maximum of 6 months plus pre-deployment training (which is likely to be another 6 months) out of 5 years that is a big potential commitment for both the reservist and their employer. Whilst the civil service or NHS might be able to cope the vast majority of people in the UK are employed by small to medium sized organisations. No matter how they are compensated for legislated against this would be a big problem. Expecting a business to employ someone and then for that person to only be available for 1 year in 5 plus normal recurring training might be a difficult proposition to sell, especially given it is an elective activity, not in response to an immediate or obvious threat like in the Cold War era.
Given the desire to have a reserve with more specialist skills might exacerbate this problem as those in possession of these skills and employed by a small business become much more difficult to replace with contractors or temporary staff. If recruitment discrimination against reservists does occur it will be almost impossible to prove and if proven, any sanction against employers will only increase that discrimination, albeit with more subtlety.
If the reserve has a tour cycle of 1 in 5 and so does the Regular army but without many of the benefits and the added bonus of career disruption and likely recruitment discrimination it is tricky to envisage an avalanche of recruits and more importantly, a high retention rate. Without a higher retention rate the Reserve will be limited to lower ranks and lesser experience personnel.
Decisions on terms and conditions of service, employer engagement and legislation changes will be made early next year but this remains a significant risk to fulfilling the Army 2020 vision.
A large increase in trained strength, changes in commitment and terms and conditions of service, not a great deal of extra money and a poor prospect for additional strong employment protection legislation, now that is definitely a big ask.
Do we have a Plan B for if the Army Reserve fails to achieve the significant increase planned for it?
A New Found Love of Civil Resilience
For many years the MoD has been working to wean Category 1 responders off reliance on the Army, the Civil Contingency Act, subsequent guidance and activity and JDP 02 makes it abundantly clear that civil resilience support is pretty much the domain of civilian organisations with the armed forces providing only specialist and very much last resort support.
Expect this to be rewritten any time soon but JDP 02 (Defence Contribution to Resilience) makes interesting reading, all 317 pages of it.
The new found interest in all this ‘homeland’ stuff might be viewed by some as clutching at the relevance straw and likely to be ditched as soon as interesting operations abroad come back into fashion (they inevitable will)
A cynic might wonder of the Army’s new found love of the previously ginger stepkid style civil resilience mission (sorry, I refuse to use the term homeland any more in this post) is an opportunistic grab at relevance, ground based air defence for the upcoming sports day being arguably a good example.
The responder community has for years been told by the MoD to basically jog on so I would not expect the MoD to be welcomed back like the prodigal son as it tries to muscle back in on resource budgets, missions and influence in the resilience space.
If Cat 1 responders do take the opportunity to reduce resilience budgets and have the Army on speed dial instead is the Army setting itself up for a rude awakening?
Comparisons to Haldane and Childers and an Opportunity Lost
As good as Army 2020 as a piece of work is, and it is, it starts with the premise of preserving cap badges and avoiding tough political decisions, hardly a recipe for decisive and innovative thinking.
Both the Haldane and Cardwell reforms resulted from near disasters abroad and had a massive impact on the Army, transforming its capabilities, morale and professionalism. The Hammond reforms are simply a means of doing less with less. General Nick Carter and his team have no doubt pulled a rabbit out of the bag and Army2020 represents I think, an extremely well thought through the process with much to commend it.
Some have hailed it as genuinely revolutionary but again, I think that might be a stretch because much of it is simply a continuation of things that are already the norm or already in place.
One of the things that have completely overshadowed the review is the Regimental system, is a curate egg if ever there was one; so much is just right but it does create a barrier to innovation and change and we just might be at the point where it is time to do a Haldane or Childers and undertake a serious reform that frees the Army of much of its historical drag, including the Regimental system.
The fundamental building blocks of the Army, the Corps, Regiment, Squadron and Battalion have not changed in any significant way for several decades, if not more.
One of the desired outcomes that the review was predicated on was a minimal or zero reduction in cap badges which has concentrated all focus on this rather than the actual effectiveness of the process.
It is an easy claim to make that the Army has too much fat in it and needed to be cut in comparison with the heavy reductions already made in the RAF and RN, especially given it has remained untouched whilst the defence main effort in Afghanistan and Iraq were/are in full force. Critics point to its inability to resource Afghanistan without resorting to OP ENTIRETY, dragging in significant numbers of the other services and generally complaining of overstretch but whilst many don’t understand what the ‘rest of the Army’ do whilst they are not in Afghanistan and therefore many of the comments are fatuous and rather unpleasant the way the Army is organised does create difficulties.
There are an increasing number of joint arrangements but having a review that has hard boundaries between services is an opportunity lost.
The UK has many sets of light infantry, 3 fixed wing aviation operators, 3 rotary wing aviation operators, 3 sets of military police, 3 sets of military intelligence, 4 sets of ordnance disposal, 3 operators of small boats, 3 organisations that look after communications, logistics, engineering and medical capabilities. Even within the Army there many anomolies, the split between the RLC and RE for EOD tasks and fuel handling to name but two.
It is also curious that the Royal Marines and RAF Regiment were excluded from the Army 2020 review.
It is across the whole of defence that we should be looking for efficiency savings, not just in three neat service centred blocks.
A radical review would have started with a clean sheet of paper, worked back from there and frankly, not given a flying you know what for whether regiment A forged its reputation amongst the entrails of johny foreigner. This might not mean a single defence force whatever the comparative experiences of Canada or Israel might tell us, it might not mean the abolition of the RAF or FAA, the merger of the RLC, REME and RE or any other predisposed ideas that might be conjured up by thinking radically.
But it should mean we question mini empires that are getting smaller, based on dubious justifications and arcane reasoning.
This is why SDSR and Army 2020 is a lost opportunity and why comparisons with Haldane et al are false, in the wider context it was ,and is, hobbled by corporate timidity, small mindedness, service and cap badge politics.
The After Show
More amusing was the depressingly inevitable squabble between the noble Lords Dannatt and West. Maybe one day we will have a set of grown ups (and former grown-ups) that realise squabbling over an increasingly sparse set of crumbs is not a strategy that serves UK’s defence forces well. As much as one can have huge respect and admiration for these kinds of people sometimes you find yourself wishing they would just be silent.
So, on to SDSR 2015 reductions and more talk of homeland warfighting.
Plenty of time for that but can’t help thinking the announcement about the MoD’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual conference at more or less the same time as that describing how because we are so stretched, resource poor and basically skint we are making thousands redundant was rather poor timing.