Sunday, 19 August 2012

When is a defence cut not really a defence cut? When its linked to implementing the Leven Review...

 A small example of how announcements can be made repeatedly, and also how cuts are not really cuts was seen today in the Mail on Sunday. The paper ran a long article citing claims that the MOD is about to cut 25% of its senior (e.g. 2* and above) officers, in both the Military and Civil Service. The original story can be found HERE. The story leads on the concept that all three 4* Commander in Chief roles (CINCLAND, CINCFLEET and CINCAIR) plus the CINCNAVHOME role, will be scrapped as part of plans to streamline the top level of the military.

In reality these announcements are not anything new – anyone who has read the Levene Review which came out in 2011 saw this as a major recommendation of the review. It suggested that the role of CINCs was probably unnecessary in the modern era of better command and control. At its most basic, a CINC existed to exercise control over all forces in their area, in the absence of ability for home commands to work in a similar manner. This is a historical legacy, dating back to the days when it was not possible for effective C2 arrangements to allow London to direct all the many diverse overseas locations where UK troops were stationed. Over time the CINC job title has reduced in number, down to the current three 4* posts. In practise, the CINC posts were delegated by the Service Chiefs to exercise effective control over vast swathes of the military, while the Chiefs fought the political battles in Whitehall.

Does this mean then that the UK is ‘cutting top brass by 25%’? Well the answer is, no not really. What has instead happened is that the MOD has adopted a new command structure whereby there will only be one 4* Officer in each service. The old CINC posts have been retitled and dropped to 3* level – e.g. CINCFLEET has become the Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff, and been given the new title ‘Fleet Commander’.  Meanwhile, the Service Chiefs will take on a more integrated role, exercising considerably more command over their Services, working remotely at their Service Headquarters several days per week, and spending less time in London focusing on the political battles. At the same time senior officers will occupy posts for up to five years, giving them far more time to focus on delivery in key roles.

This is an interesting move – it removes the potential for friction between the 4* Officers in the service, and ensures that there is a more clear chain of command between the heads of the Services, and the forces they command. It does not necessarily change much in terms of command structures – the old CINC posts will go, but they will immediately be replaced by 3* Officers by next year. So there is a net loss of no posts at all from this reduction. What will instead happen is the more subtle process of downgrading posts through the system – e.g. the DCINC role, usually done by a 3* will either be abolished or downgraded to 2*. So, the wage bill reduces, the costs reduce and the ranks reduce, but there is still unlikely to be a net loss of senior officers at the moment.

It does though make for interesting opportunities for the up and coming generation of officers. One of the challenges that Humphrey has commented on before is the way in which the very best officers in their early forties will often leave the military after they’ve conducted command tours. Many see the gap between their current post, and taking on a meaningful role again to be simply too great – it could be 15-20 years before they reach the apex of the pyramid and are in contention for senior jobs. By downgrading top level jobs, it means that ‘punchy’ job opportunities will open up at the 1&2* level – suddenly it may be more tempting for some of them to stay if they feel that they have a real shot at promotion to this level. It will be interesting to see how the current generation of high flyers’ react to the increased opportunities for meaningful posts at 2* level – will they stay the course, or will they continue to jump ship and go to industry?

The story then is a bit of a non-story – but its interesting to see the differing lines being taken on it. On the one hand there is a spot of good PR for ‘getting rid of senior officers’ (even though this has already been announced), and on the other hand there is a good opportunity for opposition politicians to make political capital by denouncing further ‘defence cuts’ (even though they’ve already been announced). In reality though, not much will change – there will still be the same jobs, just done under a different post title, and with a slightly more junior officer in charge. The really interesting change is the manner in which the Service Chiefs are taking far more role in their military, and less on the Whitehall battle. How this pans out in the next few years, as all three services rely heavily on very good 2* officers to do the ‘Assistant Chief of Staff’ post, in order to fight their corner remains to be seen. Arguably this decision is placing a heavy burden on the 2*s who will have to step up to the plate and deliver for their Service, rather than relying on 4*s to do it for them. Interesting times indeed…

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