The subject of this post started with a question about the viability of building a force around a single vehicle type, took a detour into rapidly expanding the Army Reserve in response to conflict, and then veered into matters of UK civil resilience.

Eventually, I thought it might be interesting to combine all three.

This is a short proposal to establish a nationally recruited single cap badge reserve force with a selection of resilience and defence roles.

National Reserve Force Background

Whilst there is some geography between the UK and Russia, it is obvious that the threat of conflict has risen.

Despite that, it seems unlikely there will be any significant additional funding for the MoD, much less the British Army.

Any means of providing bulk at a relatively low cost would be a welcome addition to the force mix, whether to secure lines of communication, provide a military workforce for defensive construction tasks, handle prisoners and refugees, or supplement logistic efforts.

All of those tasks will need to be done, and if they are done by regular or even conventional reserve forces, they will draw finite capacity from other areas.

It is not inconceivable that there will be a need for some ability to guard key points in the UK either.

Energy and telecommunications infrastructure, cable and pipeline landing sites, refineries, LNG plants, fuel distribution depots, government buildings, harbours, airports, and a host of other critical infrastructure are all attractive targets whose loss would have a significant societal impact.

Guarding would free up armed forces and police personnel for other roles.

It is also a reasonable assumption that if a general conflict in Europe occurs, the UK will need to rapidly scale its armed forces.

This may be low on the risk register, but providing a seed corn to build from would give us a head start and a head start is never a bad thing when the barbarians are at the gate.

UK Civil Resilience is a complicated subject but as we have seen in situations such as COVID and flooding, many of the studies that come after tend to find encouraging words for having more resources in addition to those provided by Category 1 responders, the armed forces and ad-hoc volunteer groups.


Some historic and current examples are useful to look at, not least the Royal Defence Corps and Royal Army Service Corps.

The Cold War era Home Service Force comprised personnel aged from 18-60 with previous military experience. They were established quickly and proved to be quite effective within their narrow role span. At its height, the HSF was over 5,000 personnel strong and had a national footprint. Read more at the HSF Association website.

It was disbanded in 1993, as the threat from the Soviet Union diminished.

The current Military Provost Guard Service carry out a similar role but only for MoD installations. MPGS has a presence at just over 100 MoD sites. What is interesting about MPGS is they have a truncated rank system with an age range of 18 to 57.

The MoD Police and Civil Nuclear Constabulary also have some responsibility in this area, especially for national infrastructure protection such as at the Bacton gas terminal.

The are plenty of examples in Europe, from voluntary civil protection such as the Danish Emergency Management Agency or German Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW) to more defence-oriented organisations such as those found in the Baltic states Latvian National Guard and  Estonian Defence League.

THW even have a bridging unit!

But, all these should be secondary roles.

The primary role will be defence-oriented.

Roles and Organisation

One of the problems with establishing an organisation with such a broad span of roles is that you inevitably run into turf and funding conflicts because of duplication.

Want better civil resilience, well just invest more in existing Category 1 Responders and voluntary organisations, want an expanded Army Reserve, there is a whole infrastructure there to expand into, key point protection, why not just expand the MOD Police and let it form a reserve component?

One could also merge the MoD Police, elements of the Environment Agency, Local Authorities Military Provost Guard Service, Coastguard, Border Force and many others into a single entity.

For whatever reason, we have a myriad of agencies in this space, all tripping over each other, and here I am, talking about adding another.

These are reasonable questions but to have something to write about beyond this point, let’s assume we are starting from scratch with a new organisation.

It shall be called…

Well, there’s the problem, the term National Guard is taken, the Home Service Force likewise (and this would be about more than home service), and anything near the Army Reserve would be a problem. Militia in British history goes back to the 16th century. However, more recently it has had negative media connotations despite still being used by the Monmouthshire and Jersey Royal Engineer units.

Yeomanry is also taken.

In the absence of anything better, The National Reserve Force (NRF)

Primary Role

In the case of deployments overseas, generally, in response to escalating conflict in Europe, there is a broad set of roles that a relatively lightly armed force could complete.

Logistics Support; driving requisitioned trucks and telehandlers, and other logistic support tasks

Military Workforce; building defensive fortifications, prisoner and refugee facilities, decoys, maintenance and logistics facilities, large-scale smoke generation, and the plethora of similar tasks likely to be required. These are not a million miles from pioneer tasks.

Rear Area and Lines of Communication Security; this article from the Strategy Bridge describes the importance of rear area security and I think more contemporary operations in Ukraine have reinforced this.

Secondary Roles

Key Point Protection; supplement existing capabilities in MPGS, MoD Police, and other police services.

Support to the Civilian Authority; A general role that includes everything from supporting Op TEMPERER to the COVID task force with trained personnel and vehicles.

Training Support; Support to the MoD in the case of broad mobilisation, instructors, training support and administration personnel


The HSF didn’t have its cap badge and it generally tagged onto existing Territorial Army units but given the wider scope of this proposal, I think it would be better to establish it in its own right, with its cap badge.

It should also have some organisational separation from the Army Reserve, if not physical.

The British Army maintains Regional Points of Contact that mirror the UK ITL 1 statistical boundaries, and so these are aligned with Regional Resilience Forums and Partnerships. UK boundaries for government, health, policing and other public sectors are a complex subject but given secondary roles, aligning with ITL 1 seems sensible.

In each of the twelve ITL 1 regions would be an administrative and support hub for the National Reserve Force (NRF). The hub would serve as a focus for collective training and equipment support.

There are approximately forty ITL 2 areas with each one forming a natural unit location for training, many will have existing Army Reserve centres, and some may not (more on estate later in this post).

Twelve hubs and forty-odd units to provide national coverage would be the target.

Each unit would have a consistent structure and equipment, although there will naturally be some variation by location.

People and Training

The eclectic nature of the HSF, together with their differing experience levels, meant rank was somewhat of an elastic concept, which wasn’t a bad thing.

I would question the need for conventional rank structures, informal groups would be more sensible, with perhaps three or four layers that denoted function along the lines of an operator, team lead, senior lead and officer.

No messes, no drill beyond a simple attendance parade, keep things simple.

Each unit would have approximately two hundred personnel, with another two hundred at each of the hubs for a total of approximately ten thousand.

Unit personnel could be anywhere between thirty and sixty, with some prior qualifying military service, regular or reserve, from any of the services.

Under thirty, the preferred route would be regular or army reserve but this might be relaxed for some candidates.

Medical and fitness criteria would also be set at a lower point than the initial entry for regular and reserves. Whilst not wanting a division of fat wheezy bloaters, experience and skill have significant value and not every role requires a racing snake that can run a marathon in three hours.

Instead of Regimental and Corps accoutrements, mess silver, trade badges and rank insignia, dress codes would absorb the same simplification approach as rank.

There would be no ceremonial uniform, only working dress, if there was an ad-hoc need, their parent Corp or Regiment would provide it.

Parts of the hub units would be operated permanently using FTRS engagement contracts, regular postings (e.g. PSI) and for some, part of their exit package from regular service.

We have to harness the vast experience that regularly exits the services, but it has to be voluntary, personnel must want to be part of the NRF, not have some obligation forced on them like the regular reserve.

The recently left or leaving would be priority candidates.

Initial recruitment would be via the services leaving processes and national social media advertising. Onboarding would be at the unit level, coordinated by the hub, with criminal records and service status confirmed by the hub.

This simplified process would avoid some of the ‘Capita Drama’ because it would be dealing with people who, mostly, have a service record.

Pay rates for volunteers would be uniform, with a simple daily rate for attendance and a yearly bonus (bounty) for meeting minimum commitments.

Those commitments would be

  • Pass an annual medical and age-dependent fitness test
  • Remain of good character
  • Attend two-weekend training sessions per year at the unit location
  • Attend one-weekend training session at the hub location per year
  • Attend one week-long exercise per year
  • Submit one written improvement suggestion per year

Effectively, three weekends and a week per year, 15 days.

More training and exercise opportunities would be available, but there has to be a floor.

Training activities would rotate between primary and secondary roles on a two-to-one ratio.

Qualifications in driving, plant operation, drone piloting, and construction would be delivered using civilian providers wherever possible.

Again, simplification and locality are priorities.

Where courses have high value in civilian employment, additional commitment or covenants may be requested.

Part of the setup costs would be to establish a national virtual reality training environment, some collective and individual training could be completed using this, either from volunteers personal devices or those held at the unit level (depending on training type and security level)

Site defence plans would be generated by those in the hub locations and held online, securely.

Bespoke training packages would be designed, in a time-constrained organisation, is there any point in making veterans go through the same weapon handling training courses as a junior soldier or recruit?

The same online environment would also be used for administration tasks.

Much of this sounds like wishful thinking, the MoD is a complex organisation with many processes and departments, and it would take high-level buy-in to make it happen.


The population range of ITL regions is approximately 2 million to 9 million people and area, between 1,500 km2 and 78,000 km2.

Self-evidently, recruiting catchment and requirements will be different between them.

Given the low-cost nature of this proposal, the units would have to exploit Army Reserve or MoD training locations wherever possible.

This maximises defence estate utilisation rates.

There may be some of the unit locations with no Army Reserve, Regular, or wider MoD estate facilities. For the likely small number, conversion of warehouse-type buildings may be suitable.

The twelve hubs would be newly built to a standard design, having excess room for vehicles, and defence and resilience stores. It is possible that these could be co-funded by relevant civil resilience responder organisations that would establish a UK-wide network of sites with multiple uses.

Training and accommodation spaces would be included, indoor ranges, workshops and command, control and communications facilities.

The hub sites would also have large open spaces for future expansion, provision of temporary accommodation and stores, a typical out-of-town distribution site for example.

They could also be offered to regional or national voluntary organisations, even those involved with overseas HADR.

This would also require a high level of commitment and leadership to make the necessary cross-national, local and devolved government arrangements.

No easy thing, but there is a lot of potential.

Vehicles and Equipment

Personal equipment and weapons would be drawn from defence stock, mirroring the British Army.

Beyond small arms, crew served automatic weapons, NLAW and Carl Gustav, and those with a higher training demand such as mortars and Javelin would not generally be available.

Tethered and untethered drones would be included in the equipment mix, as would basic radio equipment and computing devices. There is a good argument to use Emergency Services Network (ESN) devices in the UK, and OneWeb or Starlink equipment for vehicles.

Construction plant would feature prominently in the equipment mix, as would defence stores and power generation.

Some equipment may be co-owned with civilian organisations, operating on a graduated availability basis, this means that it would require minimal defence modification.

For a larger scale example, look at how the Airtanker non-core fleet operates in support of the RAF, no reason why we cannot do this with engineering plant or vehicles.

Finally, vehicles would be those readily available to civilians, maintained locally under contract.

Alternatively, whatever replaces Land Rover.

Ideally, a single vehicle type would be selected to both minimise equipment source load and allow a single large fleet to be tendered or an extension to the white fleet contract.

Pickup trucks or something like the Iveco Daily 4×4 would be ideally placed, no need for MAN SVs, keep everything simple and uniform, demountable payloads wherever possible, and of course, maximum use of trailers.


The battlefield may well be contiguous, old definitions of front and rear may no longer apply.

But the simple reality is none of this matters when you have resource constraints, priorities have to be assessed and risks accepted.

At its heart, this is defence on the cheap, or realism on defence, depending on your viewpoint.

Ideally, we would have a much larger army, but we don’t live in that world.

A footnote about Dad’s Army

Inevitably, a force of the old and bold will attract the Dads Army label but what always struck me about Dads Army was that they were Dads, they had something to fight for. They were also often hugely experienced and had seen war, they knew fully what they were getting into and yet still paraded with hand-me-down weapons, think about the size of their balls in doing that before taking the piss.

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This Post Has 16 Comments

  1. Lewis Weaver

    Great article and a very good idea. Recruitment may be a problem I think. The carrot will need to be decent and have perks. Soldiers I’ve met leaving the army recently are doing so because the system has failed them, crap accommodation and food, poor pay compared to their civilian contemporaries, being told to do work without sufficient manpower and resources to complete that task. And we have lost our national pride, linked in with the social media generation seeing what is happening in Ukraine and deciding their son or daughter is not doing that. Another issue in this day and age is going to be the use of lethal force and how it is applied. With alleged war crimes being investigated from Afghan back to 70’s NI this may also put people off.

  2. Jed

    Fantastic thought experiment. As you know I have argued before for a National Gendarmerie type service to consolidate many of those you mention and would see this as a kind of reserve component of such a force, although I think I suggested no commitment to overseas service leaving that to the actual Army reserve forces, and so your NRF would be purely home defence in my mind – but when needs must and in all our conflict they could be enlisted to drive supply trucks to Poland! May I suggest a plain “Mid-earth brown” (Khaki) work / battle dress to differentiate from combat troops ? :-)


    An interesting read and looking forward to reading more about it!
    What would its structure look like…WW2, Home Guard battle platoons were 30 men?

    Plenty to explore

  4. Paul Barrett

    Nobody is interested in joining Reserve forces.

    There is already the facility to do this but few join.

    Employers are extremely reluctant to give time off for Reserve training.

    Even if Russian troops were carving down Whitehall the Muslims would not be fighting.

  5. Zev

    Excellent article. My only quibble would be the name. Although you rightly point out some of the problems with naming it 'militia', I do nonetheless feel that the sense of rootedness associated with the term outweighs any of the problems. By comparison, 'NRF' just feels soulless to me—just another entry in the long list of forgettable organisational acronyms. Whilst very very minor, I do feel this could have some impact on recruitment.

    I would also be interested to know how broadly 'support to the Civilian Authority' applies. Could they be used for riot control?

  6. John Sabini

    I was in an HSF unit. I was ex regular as was around 10% of the unit, remainder ex TA. The mix worked well. As with most units formed from scratch it took around two years to work to an efficient capable unit. The HSF was stood down almost over night in 93 and an opportunity was missed to maybe convert into a civil defence type role.

  7. Smithy

    Great article, would argue that the remit needs to be wider and perhaps rephrased as a national resilience force capable of supporting a number of emergencies from health (COVID like), natural disaster response, civil unrest to national defence. In this way it would be attractive to a wider group.

    BTW – I think we should call it the Fyrd :)

  8. David Niven

    Interesting read, thanks TD.

    I have one concern with the concept.

    Having the organisation provide rear area security, point defence etc as well as aid to the civil infrastructure and supplying workforces makes it a bit complicated and I think it opens it up to other problems such as becoming another competitor to funding etc from the established government organisations.

    How will this effect reserve forces funding? would it be seen as an unnecessary duplicate?

    If it's just a purely civilian organisation that could be mobilised during national emergencies but with a small 'W' role, would this get public backing and possibly increase recruitment as it has none of the attachments to the military?

    For the security role would it not be better to just set up a para military organisation such as the organisations many European nations have?

    Would a Carabinieri type organisation be a better fit for the security roles?

  9. Mark

    Interesting but outdated – sounds a little like forming a drinking & storytelling club (oh, a bit like the TA?). At a time when there’s no money, ‘new ideas’ simply won’t float. But we already have the structure and some of the capability – it’s called the Army Reserve. We just need to be a bit more imaginative, flexible and agile with its terms & conditions of service (service beyond 60 for starters) and it’s use. Just invest in it properly.

  10. Dave B

    There's certainly a vast wealth of suitable logistics hubs sitting empty around the UK. Most on major arterial A roads or just off the motorway network.
    Single vehicle/ pickup probably something like a Shogun or Hi-lux crew cab would be starting point

  11. Ali

    I fully agree with some form of Civil Defence service to assist with civil contingencies from local, regional to national levels. Also having some form of wartime role primarily logistics or rear echelon would be a good secondary skill.

    I wonder whether the teethy elements can be enhanced by bolstering the MPGS – given they already exist structurally.

  12. Adam Hibbert

    Civil Defence Corps, perhaps?

  13. Dave Critchley

    Great article and timely. I've thought for a while that it would be sensible to reform the HSF, and this proposal would fit the bill. I would suggest a two tier reserve structure, keeping the existing Army Reserve units but with a second tier of a National Reserve Force made up of former serving members. A force structure based on the Norwegian model would be worth considering?

  14. Ben

    When push come to shove [and history tells us it will] given the extent of the potential 5th column in this country [thousands being watched even now by the intelligence agencies let alone those unknown], will require armed guards with the authority to use lethal force in so many locations that I doubt we have enough small arms available. Communication is key and easy to disrupt, so I would advocate each sub region would have a small team that can use old fashioned morse, there being enough radio hams in this country [age is immaterial] for personnel. This article is very much food for thought and in an uncertain world, a contingency along the lines of this article should be implemented.

  15. Russ

    I'd suggest allowing non-combat roles to join as part of civil resilience under the same command structure. Catering, First Aid, Logistics and "Civil Defence Engineering" (trench and sandbags) roles, all a one week course, with low health and fitness requirements.
    The combat roles could be done in a two week course with the basics of fieldcraft, soldiering and a marksmanship package. Leading on to a MoD sponsored marksmanship program, much like the Swiss or Finns.
    Alongside this, create a range of simple COTS-based kit that they can use. e.g. weapons mounts for twin cab pickups, that can be made simply by small workshops.
    Also design, prototype, test and create the tooling for low cost weapon systems that can be produced domestically. e.g. a cheap 5.56 rifle and RPG-76 Komar type weapons. Keeping production low to provide for training and building a stockpile, but with designs that can be rapidly scaled.

  16. John Ferris

    You didn’t consider Local Defence Volunteers for a name?

  17. Harry Flashman

    Really interesting article.

    There are many veterans under 60 of the post 9/11 conflicts who would gladly join something like this just for the craic and camaraderie, and they would bring relatively recent experience and skills provided the equipment was of a similar vintage, which I suspect it would be by necessity.

    Reduce the administrative burden to an absolute minimum and focus on delivering a clear practical role, real worthwhile training and the social aspect. No JAMES, JPA or endless online learning.

    Let’s face it, since the RBL became, ahem, ‘professionalised’ and sold off much of its estate, many veterans have nowhere to go.

    Why not call it the Local Defence Volunteers? Tap into that history. Make each unit real experts in their local area, knowing the geography, and name them accordingly. Keeping it mundane/numerical doesn’t tug on the recruitment heartstrings. Allow people to wear some element of their former unit insignia if they wish and so on. Make it fun, if such a thing is allowed…

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