Sunday, 16 March 2014

"And in other news" - the Armed Forces Pay Award and the Royal Navy opens fire on Plymouth...

Its been a quiet couple of weeks for newsworthy items on Defence blogging front. Humphrey has very deliberately not commented on the situation in the Ukraine, believing that his ability to comment meaningfully on it is limited, and that its far better to avoid adding idle speculation to what is a delicate and tense situation. Two items of news though did catch the authors eye, and are worthy of brief comment.

Firstly there was news last week that the Armed forces are to get a 1% across the board payrise in the current financial year. The reason this is interesting is the actual report written to underpin this, which contains a lot of really interesting insights into the current state of the Armed Forces – the full report can be found HERE.

The pay award for the UK Armed Forces is perhaps unique in its implementation, with a truly independent group of individuals spending the year studying the military, visiting them and hearing their concerns and looking in depth at specific issues, prior to making a recommendation to the Government as to the size of the pay award. This means that their annual reports make fascinating reading as they often highlight a wide range of issues and problems which would otherwise not be picked up.

Within this years report, the author noted several issues. Firstly, the ongoing issue as to whether UK service personnel are well paid relative to civilian life or not. It has long been a public view that the military are underpaid relative to what they do, but  this report suggests that independent research by a major consultancy firm shows that when compared to nearly 35000 other job roles and responsibilities, the overall remuneration package actually compares remarkably well to the rest of UK society. This year is the first time that any work has been done on pay comparability, and it is important because it places the military package in context to the wider civilian workforce.

The findings indicate that on a basic level, military base pay for both Officers is 100-109% of the median of civilian sector and Other Ranks is between 107 and 118% of the median. Interestingly when wider packages are taken into account, Officer pay falls to between 79-100% of the median. What the work suggests is that at present the military receive a pay award which compares very well with the wider public and private sector, although it does note that as the economy recovers, this may change.

The overall suggestion is that the Armed Forces enjoy a very good level of pay and reward relative to most professions (particularly for junior entrants), and it is only at the highest levels when this starts to fall behind. Such data is revealing as it weakens the case for a substantial payrise and undermines the argument of ‘poorly paid troops’ – as we move to a post HERRICK world, the reality is that even the most junior private will be earning roughly £18000 per year as a starting salary, which compares favourably to many other roles. One suspects that this work in future will play an important part in determining the size of pay awards – it is important that a situation is never again reached where the Military Salary is vastly behind its public and private sector peers (as in the late 1970s), but equally the UK has to avoid creating a situation where the military is an unaffordable force.

World Class comes with a large price tag to boot..

The report notes that the total cost of providing a 1% pay rise plus some allowance changes is over £80 million this year. This is worth remembering when people call for large wage increases, or increases to the headcount of the military – the current UK military is an extremely expensive beast to run and the only way large headcount increases could be sustained (e.g. manning an Army of 100,000 for the long term) is through either salary cuts or substantial equipment cuts elsewhere.

More broadly the report has some fascinating observations on the state of manning within some very niche, but utterly critical areas. For instance, there is some information on the seemingly parlous state of manning for the Strategic Weapon System operators (e.g. Trident) specialisation, particularly at the Senior Rate level, noting that at some critical areas, a 13% manpower outflow is forecast for this year. This shows once again the importance of retention at critical levels – you can recruit as much as you would like at entry level, but unless you can offer a sustained level of manpower, the ability to support crucial tasks like the nuclear deterrent is at risk. Similarly, looking at the level of manning in the diving branches, its clear that while recruiting targets are being achieved for new entrants, there are significant gaps further in the system – e.g. the Army is currently 43% under manned for its divers liability.

Another interesting point to note is the growing need to look again at the ethnic demography of the Armed Forces, which according to the report suggests that only 3% of the Armed Forces are made up from Black & Minority Ethnic (BME) groups at present. This is a worryingly low figure, particularly when the report also notes that within a few years, the BME group will represent nearly 25% of the target population for recruitment. How the Military is able to get a message across to encourage increased recruitment from this large pool is critical – encouraging a military which not only reflects the society it defends, but also is able to fully recruit from its available manpower pool is going to be a real challenge. It is absolutely vital that as society changes, the Armed Forces reflect and remain relevant to that society as a whole.

This is actually going to be a major challenge for the MOD over the next few years. Taking an organisation that has historically been an overwhelmingly white middle class group, and which will be located in a relatively small number of static locations which are not going to be in urban areas, and keeping it in the minds of a BME population which has not historically played a major role in the military is going to be a real issue. It will not be easy, but when one quarter of your recruiting pool comes from this group, it is vital that you get sufficient visibility and recruits from this pool, otherwise long term manning is simply going to be unsustainable.

The final comment of interest came from the experiences of the AFPRB visits to various sites around the UK, including Reserve units. Paragraph 2.4 notes:

“personnel told us that they thought recruiting the required number of new Reservists by 2018 would be a challenge and there was  widespread scepticism about whether targets were achievable. ”

This sense of scepticism is in sharp contrast to the official assurances at higher level that the ambitious recruiting targets will be met. That there was seemingly such widespread doubt is slightly worrying – the Reserve is going to be hugely involved in trying to meet these targets, and if this doubt exists, then instilling a positive atmosphere of success will be difficult. Given the scale of the challenge ahead, a great deal of work will be needed to overcome these doubts and put the force in place.

So, the AFPRB report is not perhaps the most exciting piece of news to break on MOD related matters, but it is one that often contains crucial small details which accurately highlight the experiences and conditions that the Armed Forces are expected to work under. As such, it is well worth reading to get a truly independent and informed insight into the issues facing the modern military today.

How it should be done! Firing a Stingray at sea

Stingraaaay, Stingray….
A less informed insight is perhaps the kindest thing that can be said though about some of the reporting on the incident in Plymouth this week. According to multiple reports, a Type 23 (HMS ARGYLL) reportedly had an impressive negligent discharge when a training variant of the Stingray Torpedo carried onboard was discharged by mistake, leaving the side of the ship and bouncing off a security fence before being stopped by a shipping container.

What was perhaps most depressing about the incident was the way in which breathless media reporting kept harping on about linking the presence of the vessel to the fact that there are nuclear submarines based in the dockyard. The manner in which a totally unrelated fact was linked to something else to add more drama to a story may get people to read it, but arguably generates far more scaremongering than would otherwise be the case (although it would perhaps be helpful if a certain Broadsheet had spelt nuclear correctly, rather than ‘nucleur’!).

Similarly the story generated a fairly appalling level of journalistic research, including several papers using the line that the Stingray was fired from torpedo tubes usually below the waterline, but exposed at low tide. Anyone with even a basic knowledge of a Type 23 would know that in fact the launcher is located as part of the rear superstructure which includes the hangar complex. Ironically, these clear assertions of fact were located next to pictures in the same article showing a torpedo being fired from a Type 23 – and yet seemingly no one thought to question the apparent mismatch.

What is depressing about this is that this sort of shock horror journalism is what will pass for most peoples understanding of what the Royal Navy is up to these days. Humphrey has blogged before about the challenges of getting the British Public to actually see media coverage on what the RN is up to (e.g. the so-called ‘Love Boat’ press release). It is stories like this though that seem to get the news – while understandable that people want to read of disaster and not good news, its depressing to consider the uphill struggle faced by Royal Navy PR when persuading the media to pick up on the day to day ‘good news stories’. Who wants to read about the importance of things like HMS PORTLAND doing Maritime Security Operations in West Africa, or the return of HMS MONTROSE from a hugely demanding mission in Syria, when they can instead read poorly drafted and researched hyperbole about the RN going to war with Plymouth instead?


  1. I think the incident where a T45 'lost' a radar component is more news worthy than an unhappy training accident...

  2. ""or the return of HMS MONTROSE from a hugely demanding mission in Syria,""

    mmm - "Visiting Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ras Al-Khaimah, Cyprus, Malta and Gibraltar during its trip"

    "The crew had been away for 200+ days and had travelled 32,000 miles and visited 10 countries, including Greece, Djibouti, Bahrain, and Kuwait."

    On another point - the Brown Jobs did well in just missing a village when they fired a big gun in the wrong direction - lol

    I shall research the "Armed Forces Pay Award" and comment - some of the findings seem a little suspect to me.

    Thank you for the link Sir H.

  3. A particular favourite of mine is the line:

    "Stingray was fired from torpedo tubes usually below the waterline, but exposed at low tide."

    Rather than an understanding of the Type 23 this appears to be an understanding of some pretty basic physics. My understanding of ships/boats/bouyancy is that they stay with the water and that the tide being low wouldn't reveal more of the hull... unless she was grounded.

  4. Vaguely related is this piece from across the pond which I'd be interested in your thoughts on, it touches on various areas you've mentioned in the past :

    APatS rather missed my point when I mentioned it over on TD, I do like the way that (in whatever small, limited fashion) the Septics open these kinds of things out to public debate.