Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Reasons to be Positive – Part Three – The Purple Environment


Having previously looked at the less commonly cited reasons why the RN has a positive future, despite best efforts of naysayers to proclaim it doomed, its time to continue with a look at the purple (or Joint) environment.

To many the perception of the purple environment is summed up by the comment made by a frustrated officer, who said ‘The guys in green think Joint is spelt A-R-M-Y’. There is a natural concern from some that working with other services results in a dilution of the ethos of a single service mentality. In fact, this author would argue that not only has working joint been a success for the RN (broadly speaking), but that it has made a crucial operational difference.

Humphrey’s definition of ‘Jointery’ is simple – it means ‘the ability of the three services to work together in mixed postings or units to achieve a common output’. At its most simple is the idea of putting personnel from the services together, making them work together and then trying to make efficiencies through savings. Along the way it builds a common understanding of how to approach matters, and more critically an understanding of how approaches differ – particularly notable in the debate over how to operate aircraft from carriers. The end result should be three services which operate with less friction, and with greater efficiency.

The Canadians are the best example of full on jointery, where in 1967, all three services unified under one banner (Canadian Forces), and promptly formed seven new commands (cynics would argue change is never opposed by seniors when it palpably improves their promotion prospects!). Widely seen now as a lesson in how not to do jointery – the wearing of greens at sea and the use of Army ranks on naval ships in the 1980s were reportedly a disaster for morale. Today the CF has once again all but merged into three separate parts, with each service regaining its distinct identity. Elements of jointery live on though – reportedly all new recruits do (or at least they did) a common joint training, designed to turn a civilian into a soldier, prior to becoming a service specific individual.

Why so positive?

Humphrey is a strong believer that jointery is inherently good for the Royal Navy. Over the least 15 years or so, the following lessons would suggest that jointery has helped shape the RN, and set it up for a more positive future.

Individual Training: While there is unlikely to be a move towards joint training across all three services (although such a paper has almost inevitably been staffed, and filed next to the ‘disband Red Arrows, privatise the Guards, refit HMS VICTORY for sea duties’ papers held in readiness for defence reviews), there is an increasing ‘purple ethos’ in basic training.

If one looks at the training syllabus for both BRNC and HMS RALEIGH, then its clear significant changes have been made. Today’s new entrants undertake a significantly tougher military training course than before – whereas in previous years new entrants were held until they passed RNFT, now they have two attempts to pass, or they are discharged. It feels like a programme of mental robustness is being reintroduced, perhaps to counter some of the more public humiliation of the CORNWALL affair. Today’s junior sailor or officer will be exposed to much tougher ‘military’ training early on. Their training emphasises the importance of using rifles, and basic infantry training. They wear combat clothing and are taught to be war fighters first – a major difference from a few years back, where the sight of a rifle bearing matelot was enough to cause even hardened Royal Marines to retreat to shelter. The RN is taking the joint ethos to heart, and training its personnel to demonstrate basic military toughness. This will in time produce a more robust cadre of individuals who can easily be cross posted to other services and postings – improving employability at all ranks, and helping to fill pinch points on operational plots.

The RN uses joint work to good effect – if you cast an eye across Defence, then there is a wide range of training schools and environments where two or three schools have been merged into one. A good example is the Defence Diving School, at Horsea Island. This school merges the training of both RN divers and Army divers, who train in different environments. By running a single school, with alternating Service command, the MOD makes significant cost savings compared to running two separate establishments and associated manpower bills. It enables funding to be provided to run one high quality school, and pool instructors in one location, enabling better use of resources and training time.

From an operational perspective it means that although both Services have different outputs, there is much greater commonality of training, and it has made it much easier for the RN to provide search divers for operations in Afghanistan (no that isn’t a typo!), and help alleviate the burden on the Army – thus increasing operational experience, relieving pressure on overstretched troops, and possibly improving retention. It means that the RN is able to get a better return on its investment of public money, and achieve more with less. Humphrey is a firm believer in the adage that the RN is about sending warships to sea, and not investing money in property management.

There are plenty of examples of this occurring across all three services – look at things such as the establishment of tri-service defence colleges, such as Cosford for engineering, HMS SULTAN for some training and Chicksands for Intelligence. The reality is that by pooling resources, over the last few years, the RN and the other Services have been able to secure funding to update old facilities, and bring in good quality new training estate to meet future needs. It’s always impressive to go somewhere like Chicksands or elsewhere and see just how much investment has gone into the sites, and how good the training is now. Arguably, without embracing the advantages of jointery, much of this would not have occurred.

JSCSC Shrivenham - the home of 'purple' staff training (Copyright MOD)


Collective Training & Operational Effect

One often forgotten reason why the UK is able to a disproportionately large effect is due to the fact that the armed forces exercise jointly together. This may sound obvious, but it is surprising how few nations do actually undertake this sort of basic training. For the RN, exercises such as Joint Warrior are a fixed feature, enabling the three services to work together to establish joint operating procedures, learn to speak the same language and understand the constraints on operating conditions.

It makes a real difference knowing the environment in which you are going to fight. If you embark aircraft, you bring a substantial tail of personnel, spares, supporting infrastructure and the like. Joint exercises enable the RN to find out what works, and what doesn’t work. It enables them to find out whether stores fit in their assigned racking, and whether a carrier or LPD carries sufficient lubricants, oils and all the other utterly unglamorous, but vitally essential kit required to keep aircraft flying.

One notably unsung success from Libya was not that the RN embarked Apache on HMS OCEAN, but that the Army embarked and successfully operated Apache from HMS OCEAN. A huge amount of work goes into making this sort of thing happen, and it isn’t something that can just be done. When one considers the amount of work that goes into making an AH detachment successfully work from an LPH or CVS, you realise just how many things have the potential to go wrong.

A key reason for the RN to be positive about its future is that it has the ability to work with the other services to iron out the bugs, to build the relationships, and to work out what needs to be done to embark and conduct operations. Very few nations can do this – although some pay lip service to the concept of joint planning, in reality beyond a couple of NATO powers, it is hard to think of many nations that can genuinely ‘work jointly for effect’.

Apaches Operating from HMS OCEAN (copyright MOD)

Joint Operations

One good reason to justify a positive future is that despite most of the recent operations being in countries with limited access, or no access, to the sea, the RN has been able to demonstrate a convincing case for its ability to operate in these environments.

It’s an often forgotten fact that the Naval Service routinely makes up 10%, and often as high as 60% of the forces on the ground in Afghanistan. The commitment of air squadrons, elements of the Royal Marines and also individual service members in key roles has demonstrated that Naval Service personnel and assets are capable of playing a major role in UK operations.

Indeed it could be argued that the Naval Service has, if anything, gone too far in focusing on the littoral and land based operations in recent years. There has been a natural desire by many members of the Service to do an operational tour in Afghanistan or Iraq – a chance to ‘do the job for real’ and the appeal of a medal. There is a growing number of individuals, both regular and reserve (including the author) who hold the OSM for TELIC and HERRICK. The irony is that the RN has been busier than ever providing people for operations in an environment about as far removed from the sea as you can get.

For the Navy there is the danger that this stalls career paths for younger officers and ratings, and encourages them to think in a land based littoral mindset and not a maritime based mindset at an early part of their career. The appeal of doing a HOD job onboard ship is perhaps less than working ashore with 3 Cdo Bde doing ‘punchy operations’. In the years to come the RN is going to have to work out how to handle the Officer Corps, particularly in the FAA and RM who have spent years on land based operations, and not operating in their natural maritime environment. This will influence thinking for 20-30 years as they progress through the system.

The author has a long held theory that the Navy of today is shaped by the influences of Admirals when they were young officers. Today’s Navy in many ways reflects the natural desire of officers to return to global operations, big deck carrier operations and the use of SSNs. What will the Navy of 30 years time look like? Arguably with a current Officer Corps which has grown up on land based deployments, or operating MCMVs out of ports in Bahrain or Libya, and where the roles have been training, influencing and not necessarily ‘steely grey eyed messenger of death in a North Atlantic Gale’ jobs, will this influence their thinking on the evolution of the Naval Service. There will be a challenge to maintain a maritime based ‘naval’ ethos and culture – it is already noticeable that many junior officers possess more sets of CS95s than they do of No4 uniform!

One positive is that the RN has positioned itself well as an organisation able to contribute jointly to wider operations – and continue to meet its standing commitments. It has shown itself to be able to react to changing operational pressures, and focus its resources in new and unforeseen areas – such as using Sea King AEW in Iraq and Afghanistan in an ISTAR role.
Seaking Mk4 in Afghanistan (Copyright MOD)

There is a generation of officers out there who get the Army and RAF in a manner previously unforeseen – they have worked together, planned together, conducted operations together and dodged rockets together. This works to the RNs advantage as it means that a convincing case can be made for CDS and other future senior officers to be drawn from the Naval Service. It is arguable that the last 10 years of constant operations have helped make the RN ever more relevant to resourcing and requirements, even if the bulk of the work has been done on land.

So, this author is cautiously optimistic that the ‘purple revolution’ has been good for the RN. It has freed up resources for new training and investment. It has developed the ability to work jointly to achieve effect on operations, and it has helped develop a new generation of Officers who understand the littoral in the most literal sense of the word.

A final thought. When trying to define joint, it is important to understand the differences in culture and linguistics in the three services. This is most noticeable by the phrase ‘to secure a building’.

The Army storms a building using copious amounts of high explosive to secure it.

The RN locks all the doors and checks the windows are closed to secure it.

The RAF takes out a 35 year property lease to secure it…

5 comments:

  1. Good post, but could have been expanded with with bigger JHF, JFH, Nimrod and SSBN operations amongst others. Another good show of jointinery in the background is Military Flying Training Schools.

    I too am a strong advocate for jointery, its always existed. The services are a 3 legged stool; if one goes then they all go.

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  2. mmm - drag up a sandbag - I feel a war story coming out - I remember back in the 60s the AAC worked from Navy ships, and from RFA ships. A lot of planning and effort went into "combined ops" in those days - so its nothing new. I also remember in 1967, in Aden, RN mechanics working on Army helicopters.
    But I don't suppose it happens much these days as there aren't many ships.

    ""There has been a natural desire by many members of the Service to do an operational tour in Afghanistan or Iraq – a chance to ‘do the job for real’ and the appeal of a medal.""
    I would have found it very scary to work with someone who was "there for the medal".

    "Fishheads" have always worked well with "Brown Jobs" - its working with "Crabs" that cause the problems.

    ReplyDelete
  3. mmm - drag up a sandbag - I feel a war story coming out - I remember back in the 60s the AAC worked from Navy ships, and from RFA ships. A lot of planning and effort went into "combined ops" in those days - so its nothing new. I also remember in 1967, in Aden, RN mechanics working on Army helicopters.
    But I don't suppose it happens much these days as there aren't many ships.

    ""There has been a natural desire by many members of the Service to do an operational tour in Afghanistan or Iraq – a chance to ‘do the job for real’ and the appeal of a medal.""
    I would have found it very scary to work with someone who was "there for the medal".

    "Fishheads" have always worked well with "Brown Jobs" - its working with "Crabs" that cause the problems.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Polyvalent crews were tried by the Merchant Navy 50 years ago.
    They were not effective above Petty Officer rank, but were effective at Fleet Management level.
    Not much use for a reef knot in Head Office.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Interesting post and thanks for sharing. Some things in here I have not thought about before.Thanks for making such a cool post which is really very well written.will be referring a lot of friends about this.

    ReplyDelete