CGS: Making the British Army Better

The Times 11 September 2004

'What I’m doing now will make the British Army better able to fight wars in 10 to 20 years' time'

By Michael Evans
General Sir Mike Jackson explains why cash restrictions mean changes to the Army structure are vital

THE head of the British Army was in combative mood in trying to explain why he has decided to make dramatic changes to the historic structure of his service. General Sir Mike Jackson, a paratrooper by trade and once dubbed the Army’s toughest-looking general (which he hated), has been accused of disloyalty and lack of feeling for some of the most famous regiments whose future now looks uncertain.

Under his plans, announced as part of the defence cuts in July, the infantry would be converted into larger regional formations, each consisting of at least two, and probably three, battalions. This instantly placed the sword of Damocles over the 19 regiments, six of them in Scotland, which have survived for years with just one battalion of up to 650 soldiers.

The Army’s director of infantry is wrestling with the problem of how to forge a new family of regiments, which will make it inevitable that soldiers from famous units such as Scotland’s Black Watch and Royal Scots, England’s Cheshire Regiment and Devonshire & Dorset Regiment and the Principality’s Royal Welch Fusiliers and Royal Regiment of Wales will have to merge into regional groupings.

The 60-year-old Chief of the General Staff, probably the best-known and most recognisable commander in the Armed Forces, acknowledged in an interview with The Times that he knew there would be “ramifications”. He recognised there would be a “sense of loss of something held dear”.

However, he said that he was not facing criticism from within the Army itself, but from retired officers and campaigners in local communities from where the smaller regiments recruited, who would “probably never agree to changes to the system”.

General Jackson is riled in particular at the accusation that, as a wearer of the maroon beret and cap badge of the Parachute Regiment, which has three battalions and will be unaffected, he had no understanding of the sensitivities of the small historic county regiments.

“Those who have retired from the Army see the Army from a certain point of view. I understand that entirely; change is always uncomfortable. But what I’m doing now will make the Army better able to fight wars in ten to twenty years’ time,” he said.

His decision to push ahead with the reforms, which have been considered but abandoned by past boards of the Army, was driven by the new realities imposed on him by his political masters.

On the basis of the resources granted to the three Service chiefs by the Treasury, it has been necessary for General Jackson and his counterparts in the two other Armed Forces to make significant cuts. The Army is to lose four infantry battalions by 2008 which will produce a force of around 102,000 soldiers.

When General Jackson joined the Army 40 years ago, it had about 189,000 soldiers. With 102,000 soldiers at his disposal, it no longer made sense, he said, to maintain the same system which had been followed for so long: giving individual regiments, however small, a new role and different location every five or six years under a “merry-go-round” formula known as the arms plot.

The result, he said, was that a regiment such as the Irish Guards trained to become an armoured unit, fighting wars in Warrior combat vehicles, only to give up their expertise and return to ceremonial duties in London a few years later.

“It takes eight or nine months to train an armoured infantry battalion and for two years they are at the top of their job, then five or six years later you move them to another role; that makes little sense,” General Jackson said.

The arms plot would now be scrapped and in its place the proposed larger regimental formations would be given set roles and fixed locations, but with individual officers and soldiers able to swap around within their family of two or three battalions in order to take on different roles if they wanted.

Thus, if there is to be some form of new formation of the Guards regiments, although he ruled out a total merger, a guardsman will still be able to carry out ceremonial duties and fight wars in Warriors, but to do so he will have to move to another section of the Guards formation to swap roles.

General Jackson said: “We already have this arrangement with regiments which have more than one battalion, such as the Royal Anglian (Regiment) and the Royal Green Jackets. They agreed a long time ago, voluntarily, to form larger formations, and soldiers change around between the battalions.”
It was quite wrong, he said, to accuse him of trying to turn the Army into a look-alike of the Parachute Regiment.

His regiment was an entirely different concept because it was always going to remain a light-armed force of shock troops; it was never going to be given multiple roles, moving from infantry to armoured infantry. “The relevant comparison is with the existing larger infantry regiments (such as) the Royal Green Jackets,” he said.

“The whole purpose of this reform is to produce a new structure that will take in the best of the regimental system but without the disadvantages that we have today, and there is a lot of support for this in the Army,” he said.
Saggy eyes is CDS.

Bad luck

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