#Army2020 – The Global Golf Bag

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A guest post from Phil

This post represents some thoughts on the recent Army 2020 announcements. They are just that, thoughts on an announcement and must be taken as such since nobody, possibly even the decision makers in the Army, have finalised the entire Army 2020 structure yet.

The Context

Context is all. So what is the context of Army 2020? What is it meant to achieve and why? I will come on to thoughts about how later. SDSR promulgated plans for a new Army structure which unlike those of the RAF and Royal Navy, were kept deliberately vague as the dynamic effects of Op HERRICK and the consequent Army re-alignment to fight it, Op ENTIRETY meant serious planning would have to wait until an exit strategy if you will, solidified. Now though, every unit that will go to Afghan up until 2014 has been warned off and the Army can finally look beyond the final HERRICK roulements – it is now free to plan for the future, not the immediate, ever changing and pressing needs of the Defence Main Effort which required resilience and margins in the force structure on land.

The context of the new Army comprises three main challenge themes: resource limitations, organisational difficulties within MoD which have synergised with the first challenge, and the most important: UNCERTAINTY.

I have written uncertainty in capital letters to denote what I feel will be the single biggest challenge facing the Army and Defence as a whole in the short to medium term. Uncertainty itself embraces two key problems which synergise: the problem of predicting the type of operations the Army might be involved in and the diffuse and physically distant nature of the portfolio of possible future threat actors which makes them seem less imperative than they might be – this has the result of taking emphasis away from Defence since a quantifiable and existential threat concentrates the mind and wallet in a way that the current more intangible threats do not. Resource limitations have obviously had a massive effect on all three services and indeed the entire Government.

The resource limitations and the organisational difficulties experienced within Defence in terms of balancing the budget, resourcing equipment programmes and the consequent cultural problems made some sort of re-organisational exercise inevitable. One can argue the toss, but Defence does not exist in a vacuum and it has had to make its contribution to the high level goal of the new Government of reducing the structural deficit and instigating an economic recovery, especially in light of its own organisation problems – it is outside the scope of this document to discuss these matters, they must be accepted and it is the context that Army 2020 grew from. Therefore the real problem for the Army as a service was how to meet its third challenge theme, uncertainty.

Uncertainty is at the heart of the Defence problem after resources and cultural problems, and it is evident in the National Security Strategy and the SDSR. The National Security Strategy conducted a risk analysis and prioritised the likely threats to the grand UK national interests of security, prosperity and freedom. The most likely threats the risk analysis labelled Priority One and amongst these threats was this potential bombshell: “An international military crisis between states, drawing in the UK, and its allies as well as other states and non-state actors”. Here is one of the four, Priority One threats, and yet behind this simple sentence lies a massive problem – what is, an international military crisis? I think to try and define it would be to dangerously miss the point, the point is: an international military crisis can be almost anything and on any scale below an actual direct threat to the UK by another state – in other words, one of the main threats to this country’s grand interests is opaque and could take on an almost infinite number of variations and scales depending on the actors involved, the geographical area and the source of the crisis.

Any attempt to delineate this threat further, either by the likely type of crisis, or the region the crisis takes place would be arbitrary, unsound and artificial.

The elephant in the room is that nobody knows what is around the corner, nobody can quantify with certainty what the next threat to our grand interests will look like, who it will involve and how it will pan out – indeed, as our grand interests are pan-Global and have no physical limits in a globalised world we can begin to see the massive problem facing Defence and the Army: how to plan for the unknown crisis on a global scale and how to plan for it with the other challenge themes of resource limits and organisational difficulties?

The wider strategic solution to this has been, and has been for some time, set as operating independently at the lower operational spectrum and operating as a key player within an alliance at the high end of the operational spectrum – I ask the reader to accept this for now as it is an entirely separate post.

Global Golf Bag

The Army’s solution has had to contend with a very practical problem which has its roots in uncertainty: there can be no guarantees that certain capabilities will not be needed within the time frame it would take to completely re-generate them. The other problem uncertainty throws up in a practical sense is not only what kit to keep (capabilities) but how to organise that force when you have no idea what you might be doing, where you’ll be doing it, or for how long.

And the Army solution has been what I label, in a tongue in cheek nod to the RUSI devotion to snappy phrases, the Global Golf Bag model. It boils down to keeping a sufficient mass of the hardest to re-generate yet still versatile capabilities to operate in an alliance context (and a division of heavy forces still, relatively speaking, earns us a voice) and putting everything else into a Golf Bag or Adaptable Force.

Questions of organisation are answered by offering no fixed organisation which makes force generation far more harmonious since you are able to pick and choose force elements from a wider pool and not from units which usually own them in an operational sense. For example, a deploying brigade might once have needed to pluck an infantry battalion from another brigade, and when the second brigade came to deploy, it would need to pluck another infantry battalion from another in a vicious cycle that makes any force generation planning extremely difficult.

Now the model to be adopted is like that of the 11th Light Infantry Brigade which was generated using a pool of unallocated units, worked up, deployed and then disbanded on Op HERRICK. By removing the delineations in the force generation cycle it is much easier to pluck from the Golf Bag what you need. So the capability question and the organisation question has been answered in this manner: high end hard to regenerate capabilities are kept in the Reaction Forces and the Golf Bag kept for the upstream tasks and if needed the generation of units for enduring tasks – a concept validated by 11th Light Brigade. A further answer to the question of diffuse crises is the fact that the Adaptable Force is not just adaptable in an organisation sense, it is made quite clear that it will be used on the more day to day basis of crises prevention, or as it is essentially labelled, upstream engagement.

Therefore, what we have is the model of (a) operational independence at lower levels through the use and deployment of the Reaction Force Airborne Task Force and the Lead Armoured Infantry Battlegroup, and the Golf Bag of Adaptable Force upstream engagement efforts and (b) coupled with the ability to deploy a division of heavy forces, or smaller enduring force in order to have influence in an alliance context, an exercise which is as old as the Tudor monarchs.

Or does it?

As has been pointed out, this entire plan depends on the Army Reserve as the latest documentation calls presumably the Territorial Army and Regular Reserve. What we have therefore is half an announcement and somewhat less of a practical solution since the details of how the Army Reserve will be integrated are very thin indeed. Practical words and documents are simply not in the public domain at the moment, all we have are wishy washy phrases and concepts and it is unknown if these phrases are using language lazily or in a very precise manner.

What it seems will happen though is that a consultation will be done on changing the TA terms of service. The author must eat humble pie here as he did not believe that this would be on the cards in a time of economic difficulties as it would cross too many policy areas and be unlikely to pass Parliament. And, to be fair, it seems that the very tight lid they are keeping on possible changes before the consultation suggests that Government sees this as a very sensitive area in a time of cynicism over red-tape and struggling small-medium enterprises who will no doubt employee most of the reservists.

The author still believes that much could be done to improve the outputs of the TA and generate force elements needed to make the Army 2020 credible without changing terms of service and the evidence suggests that this is indeed occurring with the MoD citing increased overseas exercises for TA units, shadowing of regular units and command opportunities that would not have been available before which suggests that TA Officers and SNCO’s may be allowed to slot in and command regular troops on a semi-permanent basis or something akin to the old Gap Year Commission or on FTRS type contracts. Furthermore, this re-organisation finally offers the TA a real sense of purpose and focus which it has not had since the end of the Cold War and its Home Defence and BAOR reinforcement roles. Since 1995 the TA has been organised to flesh out the ARRC into a conventional Corps level operational grouping – providing traditional Corps level assets such as 2nd and 3rd line logistical units, Corps level artillery and GBAD units and engineer support – and fleshing out the Home Defence role against a threat that no longer existed.

The proper integration of the Army Reserve, rather than treating it like a separate force is long, long overdue and hopefully this mere change in focus will affect great cultural change and go a way to enabling the TA to generate what it needs to generate. However, a big question mark remains and it cannot be denied that time is precious since the reforms will have truly begun in 2 years time and the need for the TA will then begin to grow.

One final miscellaneous point on Army 2020: of great disappointment to the author is the recent emphasis on resilience or emergency planning roles for the armed forces and especially the Army. The armed forces are not part of the normal response network to a crisis or an emergency in this country and their involvement has always been, due to historical and constitutional issues, controversial and a last resort except in the most specialised of roles such as EOD.

The author fears that local authorities and category one responders will once again become lazy in their planning and rely on military assets which may not be available when the time comes as they are deployed on operations. It is an area where military involvement must be kept to a minimum for the apparently contradictory reasons that the military tends to excel at crisis response due to its culture, structure and mobility but at the same time it is not trained or experienced in the nuances of civilian emergency response and recovery.

The Army is a tempting partner for category one responders to burden since it can provide some of the most expensive and resource hungry needs of food, shelter, sanitation and water in almost any environment, as well as engineering plant and sheer labour which other emergency responders are loathe to funding adequately.

Summary

So in summary, Army 2020 represents an Army meeting three challenge themes: resources, organisational deficiencies within wider Defence and uncertainty. The role of uncertainty and resource limitation has seen the Army need to integrate reserve formations, focus resources on high end, hard to regenerate capabilities and to adopt a Golf Bag model for force generation for the comparatively less demanding upstream engagement roles and less complex enduring operation roles. The entire organisation will live or die by the ability of the TA to integrate further and generate useful force elements.

The concentration on CS and CSS within the TA represents a sensible balance and a realistic realisation that the TA is unlikely to ever be able to generate a combat arms battalion grouping for complex war fighting operations.

So, there is much risk in an otherwise sensible plan given the context, and we must now wait to see what becomes of the TA and if the planned changes already mentioned and the changes in terms of service are accepted and work.

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