The Quiet Revolution?

“An Officer and a Gentlewoman” by Heloise Goodley is a rather entertaining account of the experience of a city banker with no military experience commissioning though Royal Military Academy  Sandhurst (RMAS) in 2007. She commissioned into the Army Air Corps and is described in the blurb as currently holding the rank of Captain and appointment of Adjutant in a regiment of that corps.

If nothing else I can recommend her description of the ‘sales’ presentation their platoon received from the Cavalry. If you think TD contributor ‘Red Trousers’  is one of a kind then think again.

One of Goodley’s more serious observations is that the training she received seemed unduly focussed towards Cold War scenarios, with insufficient focus on the skills and knowledge that Young Officers would need for the contemporary operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The one exercise she speaks highly of is Broadsword, the third term exercise focussed on dealing with complex urban situations involving a restive civilian population. She describes this exercise as having been written by the Academy’s academic rather than the military staff. Goodley is quietly scathing about some of her instructors, including a toe curling reference to her domineering platoon commander carrying a pillow in her bergen in order to cover up her lack of physical endurance. One has to wonder about the future career trajectory of that officer after the memoir (or indeed the original diary) was submitted to the military authorities! Other instructors are however complimented for their quiet effectiveness and utter professionalism.

In the MoD foreword they speak of a “Quiet Revolution” in the content and style of training at RMAS which has been implemented since 2009. Training now much more focussed on contemporary operational requirements, leading to ‘a different type’ of Young Officer now being commissioned.

There is a whole discussion to be had around what RMAS is supposed to teach. It brands itself as a Leadership Academy and clearly the leadership skills at the core of its DNA are essential for the Young Officers in every arm of the service. It also teaches the Common Military Syllabus (how to be a soldier) and this also is something everybody needs to have. But there are also things it doesn’t teach, which are covered in the ‘Special to Arm’ training which comes next and which all the Young Officers have to complete before they are set loose to command soldiers. In Goodley’s case this would have involved how to fly and fight helicopters. For many of ‘the boys’ (as she describes them) it would involve a prolonged visit to the School of Infantry at Warminster for more advanced training on how to fight through enemy on the ground.

Finding the right  balance between Leadership Skills, the Common Military Syllabus, and what to leave until Special to Arm training is probably at the heart of the ‘Quiet Revolution’. One might surmise that some of the focus on ‘Cold War’ infantry skills has now been passed downstream to the School of Infantry, allowing more time at RMAS for more and better versions of Broadsword.  That would result in Young Officers in the non infantry arms with slightly less empathy towards trench digging and fire-and-manoeuvre; but a better understanding of how to lead the behaviour of their soldiers in culturally and politically challenging environments. One can also imagine that those selected for instructor appointments at RMAS are now chosen on the basis of subtly different criteria than before.

It was interesting to compare Goodley’s picture of RMAS with the October 2011 BBC TV documentary where the immediate future role of Young Officers in Afghanistan was regularly stressed by a cadre of Instructors with demonstrable combat experience and the emotional insights to match . That picture of RMAS is itself now around 2 years old.

To finish I have some questions for the Think Defence readership:

A) Can anyone suggest more reading material about the ‘Quiet Revolution’?

What is it? How does it work? Who is leading it? Has it finished or is it still ongoing?

B) Do we think this is the right trajectory for the Army?

Are the army’s conventional war fighting skills being undermined? Or are the new skill sets a welcome addition?

C) What other parts of our armed forces require a similar overhaul?

For instance is the Joint Staff College teaching the right senior officers the right things in the right way?

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June 2, 2013 11:59 am

The only way to tell if this is the right trajectory will be to wait and see what the next wars we fight will look like. As always we’re preparing for the last war as we leave them, and in future they may be very different beasts again. Maybe some of those cold war skills will come in handy, maybe the Afghan/Iraq skills will.

June 2, 2013 12:09 pm

It really shouldn’t matter what RMAS is teaching within the confines of common sense and absurdity. What matters is Young Officers being produced that are leaders and able to adapt and to learn quickly.

It is the very basics of a future career as an Officer. It is not meant to produce ready and waiting Officers – there are further stages to go through before the Officer is ready to be utilised in their expected role as you allude to. It’s a taster menu of scenario’s and possibilities and it is also a factory to attune civilians into thinking like Officers – in other words its a culture generator.

Cold War skills are the fundamentals. RMAS is in the business of imparting the fundamentals. Just like Basic Training is. And I am suspicious of traininig regime’s that try and teach people how to work in politicised and challenging environments – you can’t teach that you select for it. You can hone and polish the skills and impart intangible knowledge and advice but you simply can’t teach it.

June 2, 2013 12:20 pm

I am very dubious of changing training on fighting major wars towards COIN conflicts. e really must retain the ability to fight proper wars which is still the primary role of the military.

June 2, 2013 12:46 pm

What I am reading above is the tension between feminist values and the more visceral masculine world of war.

In evolutionary terms we are still walking around the plains of Africa. That is why when the big bloke in the pub wants to be served first you let him. Is culture changing? Yes. But probably not as much as Left would have you believe. Transmit a message enough and unfortunately the masses will believe it, even if their actual life experience runs contrary to that message. The success of British forces is due in no small part, especially at the sharp end, to excellent man management. Perhaps the support arms need to meet the teeth arms’ standard in that aspect of military life and not the other way round?

Nations resort to armed force when diplomacy and politics fail. Soldiers aren’t policemen or social workers. That they do as well as they do as peacekeepers is good, but no reason to push them further along that course because their lies failure. Soldiering is about killing the enemy and that is what RMAS teaches, leadership in war.

In Afghanistan the female medics and liaison “officers” have done sterling work and have been very brave. But ultimately their security is dependent on their platoon made up of men. Their presence at the front is no grounds for women in combat.

I will order the book. I suspect when I read it I will find it the story of a woman who joined the military on a whim and then found out it wouldn’t change to meet her expectations and therefore in her humble opinion must be wrong.

If you have any dealings with young women these days you know that being told no is something with which they can’t cope. That is if you dare buck the system and tell them no. All through their education they have been told they can do everything even if the goal posts have to be moved to accommodate them. I am not being sexist by saying that, just saying it as I see it.

I am sure James will be along soon to give us a good talking to about moral courage.
Thank God for him and those of his ilk.

@ TD

Aren’t you the chap who porns scorn on USMC pilots going to infantry school?

June 2, 2013 1:48 pm

@ Peter E

I think soldiering is a square peg that is being hammered into a round hole.

As I said the British forces have always had excellent man management. And that has evolved over the years. But I believe what I am seeing is probably a step to far.

Is she a pilot?

I will read the book.

Anyway the racing is about to start………

Brian Black
Brian Black
June 2, 2013 5:09 pm

I expect those ‘Cold War scenarios’ represent the kind of general warfare capability that we want our armed forces to retain, regardless of whether troops are engaged in irregular conflict or humanitarian work etc at any particular time.
We still train soldiers to march about in columns like it’s 1850, so there’s probably some relevance remaining from things that were done in the 1980s. At the very least, digging and then standing in a hole up to her armpits in water would be character building stuff for her.

I don’t have time to read her book.

David Niven
David Niven
June 2, 2013 5:58 pm


‘ The success of British forces is due in no small part, especially at the sharp end, to excellent man management.’

Could you expand on this? as from my experience the British army’s man management ranges from good to piss poor, it’s rarely excellent regardless at which point of the spear you are at.

June 2, 2013 7:20 pm

@ David Niven

Well let us see. For most of modern times the British Army has been poorly equipped (according to some), poorly lead (that is at the flag level), too small (according to some), poorly employed (at times, blame the politicians), not especially patriotic (again according to some), and so something must make up for all those shortcomings as we are not speaking French or German. Do you know what the Chinese military believe the UK’s and the US’s success in the field is due to? Do you know what they want to emulate more than anything? Have a think and come back with an answer.

June 2, 2013 7:27 pm

I think here it depends on where you are coming from. The Army’s man management can indeed seem ludicrously piss-poor when you have to suffer it but when you think about it is an institution and in a detached way it offers a career structure that invests in personal development in a clear and embedded way; promotion is as close to a meritocracy as we’re likely to get (as sad as that may seem to some!) and it selects for leadership – it doesn’t believe leadership can be trained into someone.

David Niven
David Niven
June 2, 2013 8:33 pm

In the simplest terms, I’d say the the British regimental system has allowed the army to be more successful than most people believe it to be possible, this allows it overcome the shortcomings you mentioned above.
Although I think we aren’t speaking French or German because the average soldier believed he was fighting for the the survival of their country and not necessarily due to excellent man management, the German or French armies of the time were hardly bereft of good leaders.

I presume by the question the Chinese would like to emulate Sandhurst and Westpoint.

I completely agree with you, but we can always learn ways to improve and just to disregard what this officer has to say (by some commentators) because we already know what there is to know is a ludicrous stance and surely sets us up for our next defeat.

June 2, 2013 8:43 pm

@ X – “Do you know what the Chinese military believe the UK’s and the US’s success in the field is due to? Do you know what they want to emulate more than anything? Have a think and come back with an answer.”

Well David has opted for Sandhurst, and it would be a fine choice, but in my ignorance I am going to opt for our NCO class.

June 2, 2013 9:25 pm

“Well David has opted for Sandhurst, and it would be a fine choice, but in my ignorance I am going to opt for our NCO class.”

I opt for lots and lots of top end aircraft firing missiles and dropping bombs.

And hey, they are emulating the West in this with their new aircraft, like the J-XX and J-31 (shouldn’t it be J-XXXI then?) :)

June 3, 2013 9:25 am

@ Jedi

Yes. They see it not only as it key to quicker decision making in the field they all see how good man management helps to bring about unit cohesion which leads to better performance. They are also keen to make their junior officers stand on their own two feet and also make them leaders not bosses. This comes about by getting junior officers invest themselves in their troops. Like I said all about man management.

June 3, 2013 10:27 am

The RMAS intake is a wide range of backgrounds and experience (not forgetting the overseas cadets including a PLA one a few years back). The infantry platoon provides the vehicle for basic officer training in the field. That said it is mostly if not entirely ‘infantry alone’ (resource and cost contraints are an issue), which is a very unbalanced view of the army but practically useful for all junior officers of all arms and services. Hence the need to teach the bigger all-arms picture in a high intensity environment. The fact that current ops are low intensity does not alter the need for high intensity understanding and capability (UK has the equipment, it makes sense to train the officers). The reality is that high intensity capability can be relatively easily ‘down-scoped’ to low intensity, vice versa is not a runner, having the makings is essential. I’d also note that exaggeration by instructors at officer training establishments is not just a UK phenomena, it’s just a tool for making a point.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
June 4, 2013 8:42 pm


not having read her book, I can only imagine what sort of a sales presentation she and an all-female platoon may have been given by the Cavalry. I know that if I’d had that lucky job, the item on emotional auction to the prettiest pair would have been me. Just in a very refined way.

From my memories of Sandhurst, and what I tried always to do afterwards with my soldiers and later young officers, was to develop character, determination and above all else self-confidence bounded by some concept of being realistic. I am doing the same with my children. Everything else is minor tactics, and nothing much else matters.