Thursday, 21 November 2013

Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth? The Army Reserve debate considered...

Humphrey has been away with work, and watching developments in Defence with interest, albeit from afar. One of the most interesting has been the continued opposition to the restructuring of the Army, and drawing down 20,000 regulars, to replace them with an enlarged Army Reserve. The wider dynamics of the debate are interesting – it seems to Humphrey that there remains a very strong opposition to the Army Reserve playing an enlarged role in national society, and some of the headlines that have been generated on the topic seem to vary from wrong to downright offensive.

Part of the challenge is the way in which the AR continues to be seen in the eyes of many as a grown up cadet force, populated by social misfits like ‘Gareth’ from the office. There is also a dislike of the concept of people conducting soldiering in their spare time, and a sense that the organisation somehow has lower standards than the Regular Army. One only has to spend time over on ARRSE to quickly realise that there is a very large hostility to the very existence of the AR, let alone the roles it plays.

This dislike is puzzling to the author – the AR will eventually represent some 30% of Army manpower, and yet it is still treated by many in the public eye as an organisation worthy of contempt. Reading some of the debates held in Parliament, one is left with the impression that in some peoples views at least, the AR never went to the Balkans, Iraq or Afghanistan, didn’t win many gallantry medals and didn’t lose several score of their members during these campaigns. There instead seems to be a view that soldiering can only be done by full time professionals, and that only a Regular Army of 100,000 personnel can possibly protect the UK today.

It is curious to see former Army (and presumably serving judging by the leaks) Officers express such visceral opposition to the enlargement of the AR.  Many of their arguments about its training and equipment were arguably in part caused by the deep reluctance of the Regular Army to fund and support the TA (as was) over many years. One only has to look at the history of the Reserve to see that it has traditionally enjoyed older equipment, less up to date weapons and vehicles and has often been seen as a dumping ground for personnel not wanted in their parent units to instead act as PSI’s. It is depressing that having seen the AR as something not worth much effort or expenditure for years, the same disgruntled elements now seek to turn on the AR members and make out that they are at fault for not meeting the expectations of some in the Regular Army.

The reality is that the UK simply cannot afford an Army of 100,000 regular personnel anymore if it wants to deploy them into the most high level of conflict. The cost of equipping and training a brigade or battlegroup capable of deploying into somewhere like HERRICK and working alongside NATO partners, while using the most modern equipment and weapons, is absolutely astronomical. The author has long held that there have essentially been two British Armies since 2006, the force deployed on HERRICK which was equipped with the most modern equipment and vehicles, and which got all the necessary updates to meet their tasks. Then there was the rest of the Army, denuded of manpower, resources, training opportunities and often kept with less capable equipment and weapons. One only has to look at the way in which all non HERRICK related opportunities and training really dried up between 2006 and 2012 to realise how much of an effect Afghanistan (and the wider financial situation) was having on the Army.

It feels as if some observers believe that the entire Army is kitted out to the standard of the battlegroups we see on HERRICK, whereas in reality even after some 7 years out there, there is arguably only about two brigades worth of the most up to date equipment in the system – those for the deployed force and those for the deploying force. Yet to get to even this standard has cost billions of pounds, primarily through UOR expenditure. To get the remainder of the Army to the same level of equipped standards would cost billions more, which simply don’t exist. OP HERRICK provided a wide range of new vehicles, capabilities and weapons at a time when it wasn’t otherwise likely to have got them. Its essentially re-equipped the deployable proportion of the Army, and done so outside of normal budgets (although bringing this all into core could be expensive). Yet despite being re-equipped, it feels as if people will continue to complain that it will be too small and unfit for purpose in the future – particularly if Reservists make up a large proportion of manpower.

The problem that the Army faces is that its adventures in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan have led to it being associated with long term deployments into unpleasant locations and not achieving an enormous amount. Sure the wars have been won quickly, but there is a difference between being an Army used to win a war, and an Army used for fighting to keep the peace. There is seemingly little popular support for protracted engagements on the ground, particularly when the sole outcome seems to be negative headlines, deaths of troops and a sense that the investment does not necessarily seem to be producing the desired outcome.

The argument against reductions seems to be that we live in an uncertain world and we do not know what the next military problem may be. This is a reasonable argument to make, but in a world where the UK is an island nation, where defence expenditure in our local part of the world is declining and where there is seemingly no direct strategic threat to our existence, it is hard to see what the threat is that would warrant maintenance of a Regular Army of 100,000 personnel. Any deployment or use of that force would almost certainly be during an operation of choice, not necessity, and by definition would be an expeditionary operation. The public have little taste for such operations at present, and as noted, the cost of sustaining such capabilities remains extraordinarily high. Ironically what seems to be missed by most commentators is that the SDSR (and arguably all Defence reviews since 1991) are trying to help fund an Army capable of going overseas to fight the sort of operations that the Army itself wants to be able to do assuming the support existed for them to do it. What the commentators don’t seem to get is that such operations are very expensive and require a lot of specialised equipment and support which limits how many people you can deploy. In other words, based on the budget we have, the Army is being sized to a level which can be afforded.

The role of the AR in this is simple – it will be able to provide a wider pool of manpower to augment on those occasions when operations occur at the higher levels of effort (which historically seem to happen about every 10-20 years) and provide support when required in other areas as part of a total force. Its not about sticking part time Guardsmen on the Mall, but about restructuring so that rather than having 20,000 troops sticking around which the MOD cannot afford to equip to the highest levels or deploy, that those troops are instead available when needed as a reserve component.

There is no likelihood of an ‘Active Edge’ being called which necessitates the mobilisation of the Army in 72 hours anymore. Instead we know that there is likely to be either short term intervention, for which the UK has plenty of extremely capable spearhead forces, or if the operation becomes enduring, then the AR can be called upon to provide additional bodies as required to generate the follow on forces. Given all troops (both regular and AR) undergo the same OPTAG for HERRICK, its reasonable to assume that by the time mobilised troops get to theatre, they will be of a reasonable standard to do the role required of them.

Perhaps the problem is a combination of Regular Army personnel sensing a loss of career opportunities, coupled with an unwillingness to adapt to the new operational environment. In the last 25 years the Army has gone from being a force waiting to fight for the end of the world in Germany, to a force required to deploy on constant operations. There seems to be an unwillingness to accept that the days of constant operations and sustained deployments are drawing to a close. The willingness of politicians and the public to accept the sort of ongoing HERRICK tours is probably at an end. The future is clearly set out in the SDSR – its about small interventions for a short period of time, at levels which can easily be supported by an Army of 82,000 plus the AR. The future Army will be deployed, but on less regular operations and probably for ‘one offs’ and not a grinding series of tours. This does mean a mentality shift, and a refocusing of expectations. The RN and RAF seemed to have accepted this many years ago, and it is notable that for the last few years they have increased their efforts in ‘defence engagement’ and highlighting the value that ships and aircraft can provide in supporting UK interests around the world (just look at the Gulf where the RN and RAF are the focus of pretty much all UK defence engagement in the region). The future for the Army has to be one where it is seen as a critical player, but one that will arguably play second fiddle to airpower and seapower, which offer more flexibility and less likelihood of long term entanglements.

So, perhaps the disquiet over the growth of the AR and the cuts to the Regular Army should be seen as a wider realisation that the ‘good times’ are coming to an end. The Army has been heavily protected from cuts since 1998, in part due to its ongoing commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, while the RN and RAF have been heavily cut – paying the long term price in force structures in a failed effort to deliver short term operational success. One senses that the mood has changed, and there is a realisation that with the Army extracted from most of its foreign adventures, the time has come for it to share the structural pain. The problem is that one senses some parts of the Army cannot accept that the good times are over, and instead they are pushing back against the inevitable.  

Is the Army looking a gift horse in the mouth? Probably – it has been offered a reasonable settlement to bring troops back from Germany and almost double the AR in size. A lot of political capital has been invested in the Army to succeed in this mission, and there is a danger that a misguided effort to sabotage AR recruitment in order to try to protect the Regular Army size, it will actually do more harm than good to the Army itself. There is unlikely to be any political willingness to fund a larger Regular Army when there is no political desire to use it for more than interventionary missions or small scale deployments.  Given the current offer sees the Army remaining at roughly the same overall size as before (112,000 regular and Reserve versus 115,000 Regular and Reserve today), it is hard to have much sympathy with those who claim the Army is being hard done by. There is an opportunity to build a genuinely world beating ‘total force’ and the political support to provide funding to make this happen. Rather than seize this opportunity to reform, instead there seems to be a hellbent desire in some quarters (at least if you look to the leaks to the media and attitudes on some websites) to stop this in its tracks in the misguided belief that it will somehow keep the Army the same size as it was before. This could be a very foolish mistake to make indeed. 


  1. Well said as always Sir H...but if you see anyone in MTP lurking about I should duck and cover if I were you...

    aka Gloomy Northern Boy

  2. Interesting post Sir H, I think you're onto something when you talk about the Army really not appreciating the deal it's been given, which all said and done is actually not too bad...if they are prepared to evolve and accept a new set of realities.

    I have seen a couple of other commentators on this issue raise the point that the Army has lurched from imperial garrison duties to the BAOR to N.Ireland and then Iraq/Afghanistan and actually once Herrick has ended and the forces in Germany are brought home it will be in the advantageous position of not having a major commitment acting as a drain on resources and will have available a significantly larger deployable element than has been previously enjoyed.

    Of course not having a major war to justify it's resources will be a challenge, but as you say it also represents a good opportunity to change and adapt, to use this new set of circumstances to show why it's relevant in the modern world.

  3. Those reservists in your second photo look jolly smart, but not as disciplined as proper soldiers...

  4. You touch on very valid points here...

    But the one I have seen and fear the most is the 'Afghan effect', the analogy you used on 'two British armies' is very much correct; we have a high tech and very highly experienced section of the Army... but its limited in scope, the core concepts have been left as operational demands came into effect, and they difficult to regain... one of the first things RAF squadrons retrain on, after Herrick tours, is the core and broad range of skills... not those well honed during tour. The RN still simulates high end threats in FOST... The Army, however, has been slow in retraining the core and broader skills and experience. That gap (2006-2012) is a rather frightening one that did not get the attention it deserved.

    And this is before touching on procured equipment that is highly specialised and difficult to integrate into the broader Army doctrine.

    Though its hard to fault the Army on this, they have been totally committed to a large and enduring mission that has dominated defence for over a decade, one that will (and has) leave it haggard, worn, with high tech equipment and vastly experienced personnel, but only in one niche area and type of operations.

    The re-organisation will require a change in Army mindset... not only towards the AR, but also on how the Army is potentially used... it may well be that the old quote "The Army is the best thing fired by the Navy" (or thereabouts) will return, albeit with "Air Force" tagged on the end ;)

  5. I enjoy reading your mostly excellent posts, but the one huge elephant in the room you consistently avoid is the astronomical waste of money perpetrated by MoD, and the fact no senior staff or politician will do a thing about it.

    Therefore, before you can say a 100,000 strong Regular Army is unaffordable, you must consider what your funding and waste baselines are. For example, it remains acceptable to Ministers and seniors staffs that one relatively straight forward project (RMPA) and one exceedingly simple one (Chinook Mk3) squandered well in excess of £5Bn, and the perpetrators were rewarded (gongs and/or promotions.) The problems with both projects were foreseen and advised on Day 1, but these (same people in both cases) ploughed ahead in the full knowledge they would waste money. Why did MoD deny knowing who they were to the Public Accounts Committee, when all one had to do was look at the staff list for name and phone number? The answer is because these people are a protected species.

    The BOWMAN system, primarily used by the Army (but for the most part not wanted or indeed needed by them) was around £3Bn, yet no-one mentions the fact that before the contract was awarded there were two other major programmes endorsed to replace BOWMAN, one with an achieved In Service Date 4 weeks before the BOWMAN contract was let, and another successfully trialled shortly after! Last year the aforementioned PAC noted many BOWMAN radios couldn't be accounted for, but conveniently ignored the reason why was because they were obsolescent when delivered and thrown in the bin. Because, in addition to the 2003 replacements, many units had better equipment procured under UOR in the late 90s. That is, in 2003 a BOWMAN contract was let to procure equipment that the suppliers regarded as obsolescent e.g. separate VHF and UHF radios using different batteries (which later exploded after less than 1% of specified life, injuring troops), when deployed units already had combined V/UHF multimodes. For example, AN/PRC117F, AN/PRC138. The latter was already quite old when bought in the 90s, yet BMN bought even older ones! At one point Harris couldn't reproduce such old radios economically and wanted to sell us surplus, and better, US kit before they scrapped it. (Which is exactly what happened on Apache!)

    And so on, seemingly without end. Avoid this waste. Establish a stable baseline. Then decide what you can afford.

    1. What was "straightforward" about RMPA? The worst candidate was chosen on political grounds (keep BAe's large airframes plant at Woodford in business, and "re-using Nimrod will obviously be cheaper". Warnings - from MoD - that this would lead to serious programme risks were brushed aside. (It ended up needing new wings, new fuselages, new engines... yes, great saving there, Minister, and Woodford's closed anyway).

      Other procurement calamities include BOWMAN, but also FRES (where uniformed experts defined the requirements, changed them, changed them again, threw them out and wrote a totally different set... as a result, billions spent for no results and we're still driving around in CVR(T) and FV432)

      It's convenient to blame "the MoD" for procurement fiascos, overlooking the fact that defence procurement - at a typical 25% overrun - is actually much nearer its planned costs than many civilian projects (from the Scottish parliament building, to the NHS patient database, to the Olympics...) It's also convenient to ignore the effect of the military desk officers tweaking the requirements or deciding that deleting the live-fire testing is a good way to cut costs (the uniforms are depressingly prone to "must make an impact during my two-year tour").

      And over it all is the political impact of buying votes in marginal constituencies - I mean, preserving key industrial capabilities in deprived areas.

      There's problems and faults within the MoD too, but when you remember that most of the civilian staff (the majority at C2 or equivalent, or below) are paid about the same or less as a new graduate in industry, have had their pay frozen for some years, promotion stopped and numbers cut 25% with more to go... it's surprising we don't do *far* worse.

      "Fixing procurement" is fairly straightforward. Smack the knuckles of any politicians trying to fiddle with the details. Military desk officers need to be there for a lot longer, long enough that "successfully delivered on time, to cost and meeting spec" is a credible objective. MoD staff need to be able to pay more to recruit and retain specialists (technical and contractual) at something approaching market rates, as well as their being more sticks for poor performance.

      This has been known, described and declared time and again for at least twenty-five years; and for at least a quarter-century the politicians have been unable - or, more likely, unwilling - to do it.

    2. Paul Adam

      You ask "What was straightforward about RMPA?"

      Well, the clue is in the endorsed programme title - "Replacement". A simple job, and far less complex than many others at the time that were delivered to time, cost and performance.

      MoD decided to make it complex by modifying an existing aircraft, that had already been heavily modified and was known to be the subject of very serious safety concerns regarding fuel tank design. For example, two MoD reports from 1994 and 1996 read like a more detailed and knowledgeable investigation into the loss of XV230 in 2006. With those reports as the baseline, no one in his right mind would have agreed to modify the MR2.

      To go one step further, the programme team was staffed assuming a replacement. If you suddenly decide to modify, a much larger team with very different skills is required. This is precisely what happened on Chinook Mk3.. It started off as a follow-on buy of Mk2s, but was then split into Mk2s and a new standard, the Mk3. But the "team" remained as if it were a simple follow-on buy, with no expertise whatsoever in specifying, developing, producing and introducing to service a new Mark. Which repeated the mistake they'd made with the Mk1 to Mk2 conversion the previous year. Back to baselines. The Mk1 baseline was an unairworthy aircraft, which they simply retained when it became a Mk2.

      And I haven't even mentioned the fact that in each case the same 2 Star was advised in advance of every forthcoming problem, and ploughed ahead regardless.

  6. "Part of the challenge is the way in which the AR continues to be seen in the eyes of many as a grown up cadet force, populated by social misfits like ‘Gareth’ from the office."
    This could be because you changed the name from TA to AR, and because members of the the reserve don't go to war as complete units but as individuals - therefore there isn't the resulting good publicity.
    This could be because the link between the public and the TA was cut when the re-organisation took place.
    I believe ( but I may be wrong ) that the only complete AR unit to be used in a war situation was a Scottish medical unit, used in Afghanistan .

    "and where there is seemingly no direct strategic threat to our existence,"
    I can agree with that.

    " where defence expenditure in our local part of the world is declining"
    Which other European country regularly sends its troops to fight in foreign fields? - We do - That is why we need a reasonably sized Army - if the government of the day would promise not to go and fight in foreign wars then I could see the logic of reducing the size of our military - but they won't - and you can't go to war on the cheap.

    "There seems to be an unwillingness to accept that the days of constant operations and sustained deployments are drawing to a close."
    I can agree with that - I did Borneo; Aden; Rhodesia; Cyprus; Canada; The Falklands; Northern Ireland - there was always a foreign country to go to and an interesting time to be had.
    Nowadays there isn't much to do, or many places to go to, unless you are special forces.

    Sorry that my comments are slightly dis-jointed - lol

    1. see post below. The main strike force--the RF is still about the same framework as most deployments were. and the RF is regular-manned--most of it.

  7. The SAS does not seem to have a problem with Reservists, they have always embraced the concept. A relatively small but highly deployable army is just what we need. A bit like the WWI/WWII Royal Marines. Of course we will need to expand the Navy to maximise the effect. (Sort of tongue in cheek, but actually the natural state for our island nation). Great quote from Mike above. "The Army (and Air Force) is the best thing fired by the Navy" (Oh PS you will always need the RM and FAA of course as the true specialists, who do it day in day out - tempted to put a smiley face here!)

    1. "The SAS does not seem to have a problem with Reservists, they have always embraced the concept."

      That's an interesting take on the relationship. Try running that past someone from 21.

      "Great quote from Mike above. "The Army (and Air Force) is the best thing fired by the Navy"

      It's originally Jacky Fisher - "The role of the Army is to be a projective fired by the Navy".

  8. People fail to recognise that the basic framework for operations is still led by the regulars. There's the Reaction Force where many of the main firepower units are not AR but regular. Ignoring 4 PARA and the RWxY (MBT replacement), the AR in the reaction force is mainly support--CS, CSS. Even the Force Troops--Arty, Engineers, Intel, UAV etc are all Regular army. The reserves only come in in the period after the regulars have moved in--RF main battlegroup, RF, RF plus its AR and then adaptable force units. Even then the AF, the key units--light calvary, foxhound are all regular. The AR only man-s the light infantry plus CS/CSS.

    So there's still army firepower. It's just that if and only if there's a major conflict, regular plus reserves will fight together. Otherwise it's the two tier system.

    Not forgetting 16 AA has very few AR units--4 PARA plus the medical unit.

  9. Oh dear, Sir Humph. So much schadenfreude und Selbstgefälligkeit.
    Well, the Brown Jobs have had it coming and only Afgahnistan saved their bacon under the last government.
    But describing operations in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan as, 'adventures', is uncharitable at the very least and in describing the Army of the future as a second fiddle is blatent arsenic and old lace.
    Indeed the, 'good times', might be over, but wherever the fight may be, it's good old fashioned boots on the ground that have a certain ring of reality.
    Ask your Lobsters.

  10. In the present financial climate I can agree with this statement - "The reality is that the UK simply cannot afford an Army of 100,000 regular personnel anymore " - hopefully this will change in the future.

    Then I read this article which rather spoiled my breakfast!

    No doubt this article isn't 100% accurate, but it does lead one to wonder about other peripheral reasons why we can't afford our Armed Forces.

    1. you really think the Daily Mail is accurate with defence topics?

    2. I did say: "No doubt this article isn't 100% accurate"

  11. There does seem to be an issue whereby a significant fraction of the Army does not believe what the public and politicians are telling them. That is understandable based on history. The retreat from empire post WWII lasted till 1967 and the leaving of Aden, before that there were periods of similtaneously supporting 2 and even 3 operations across the globe. There was then a single year of no active operations before Northern Ireland started, with of course the ongoing commitment of BAOR which had to train as if the real operation would come any day.

    As the Cold War ended! it took a while for the penny to finally drop this was real! the last Soviet troops left GSFG in 1993, the last British troops will leave Germany in 2019, only 25 years later!

    Then came operations in the Balkans through the 1990s, all as part of a coalition but often with us wanting to take the lead and punch above our weight. Then came Afghanistan and Iraq, again in both we are trying to act as if we are only slightly smaller contribution than the US as if it is still 1944. The reality is Hedrick reached a maximum of 10,000 troops after years of political argument over troop numbers and equipment, while the reality is 10,000 is a rounding error in pentagon planning.

    The public and the politicians are saying we do not want to punch above our weight any more, we do not mind making a small contribution to immediate support of a disaster or evacuation of UK citizens but there is no support for a further significant operation and you should plan on not having a major operation.

    From the army point of view the answer is we were told that in 1967 and n Ireland came along in 12 months, however if you see N Ireland as support to civil power rather than overseas operation, there was only the Falklands from 1967 to 1993. The Falklands straightforward unilateral and victory in weeks! is the sort of operation the nation will support. If the next continuing operation post herrick is the equivalent of the time from Aden in 1967 to Bosnia in 1993, it would be 2015 becomes 2041.

    While the public and the treasury would be happy if the next real continuing operation did not come round till the 2040's it would be a very different army by then with most with operational experience long since gone.