POD's Response to Spectator Article.

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  1. Any chance of giving us a C&P of it? it's want us to register to get it.
  2. No problems...

    From the Spectator 10/9/04

    No way to write an article
    General Sir Mike Jackson turns his guns on Bruce Anderson, whose hostile analysis of Britain’s defence arrangements appeared in this magazine last month

    Needless to say, I was intrigued by Bruce Anderson’s assessment (‘No way to run an army’, 21 August) of my performance in former roles and now as Chief of the General Staff, and the — to him — apparent connection between that performance and my physical appearance. To deal with the latter trivial point first: an operation to reduce surplus flesh surrounding my eyes was carried out in the summer of 2003 in order to improve my vision. It was performed by the NHS on the basis of medical requirement; the matter therefore turns on vision rather than vanity.

    Bruce Anderson regrettably incorporates in his polemic several glaring errors of fact. First, he describes me as being ‘in charge of British troops in Kosovo’ in 1999. I was in fact the Nato commander of the multinational force known as KFOR (Kosovo Force), and thereby in command of contingents from more than 20 nations, including the United Kingdom. National command of the British contingent rightly rested elsewhere. Secondly, Bruce Anderson is of the opinion that four infantry battalions total 4,000 men. Would that they did! The accurate figure is some 2,500. Thirdly, it is true that I am reported as making a judgment regarding the role of sentiment in running the British army. To the best of my knowledge, the only public record of this is a letter to the Daily Telegraph by Robert Fox, published on 20 August, in which he correctly quotes me as saying that I cannot let the army ‘run on sentiment alone’ (my emphasis). This is presumably Bruce Anderson’s source — in which case his omission of the qualification ‘alone’ in his article can only be either neglectful or tendentious. Fourthly, his allegation of condescension by the Parachute Regiment is contradictory. It appears to be his opinion that other regiments are ‘lesser’ by definition. For my part, the Parachute Regiment is neither greater nor lesser, but different. For the avoidance of doubt — and had he had the courtesy to have asked me, I would have disabused him of the notion — the only occasions on which I have used the term ‘crap-hat’ were to insist that it should be abandoned.

    Let me now turn to the gravamen of Bruce Anderson’s criticisms. He accuses me of being ‘unwilling to resist’ what he describes as a ‘grave threat to the army’s warfighting capability’. My counter to this charge is that to describe a less than 2 per cent reduction from today’s trained strength of 103,500 to around 102,000 as ‘grave’ is hyperbole. He may, superficially, have a stronger point where the 10 per cent reduction in infantry battalions from 40 to 36 is concerned. But he might care to remind himself — or understand ab initio, as the case may be — of the factors regarding the infantry order of battle. Of the current 40 infantry battalions, six are presently committed full-time to Northern Ireland; there are, therefore, 34 available for non-Northern Ireland tasks. But of those 34, seven or eight at any one time — under the so-called ‘arms plot’ — are moving, re-roling and retraining. The arithmetic is not difficult: for non-Northern Ireland tasks, the army accordingly disposes some 26 to 27 battalions. Given continuing progress in Northern Ireland and the cessation of the arms plot, in the future structure the army will have at its general disposal most, if indeed not all, of the 36 battalions in the future order of battle. I should add that the 2,500 posts saved by the reduction of four battalions will be largely re-allocated to the parts of the army which are more hard-pressed than the infantry: engineers, logisticians and intelligence operators, for example. Does tomorrow’s 36 deployable general-purpose battalions rather than today’s 26 to 27 constitute a ‘grave threat to the army’s warfighting capability’? I think not.

    Bruce Anderson shows, thankfully, some understanding of the way the army goes about its business by applauding the versatility of the infantry soldier — presently largely achieved by moving and re-roling complete battalions via the arms plot every two to six years. But the Army Board — not just Jackson — has concluded that the infantry cannot go on in this fashion. Hard-won experience and expertise, particularly where armoured infantry is concerned, is discarded every few years; career planning is haphazard; brigade integrity is, to put it mildly, sub-optimal; and family stability — which is always a compromise in a mobile profession — is adversely affected. Bruce Anderson is of the view that ‘it is essential that we have infantrymen who can operate as Panzergrenadiers, and vice versa’. Let me assure him that we do have infantrymen who operate as (in English) armoured infantry — who can ‘play football with the locals’, as indeed can any infantry battalion or for that matter any unit of the army; but if he thinks that light infantry can equally well, at the drop of a hat, become armoured infantry, he either has little understanding of infantry soldiering or he is again being tendentious. It takes four to six months of formal training before an armoured infantry battalion is taken on as such in the order of battle; the reality is that such a battalion is not fully on top of this complex role until it has been at it for around two years. We cannot continue with this in-built degradation to our capability.

    But to stop this rather less than optimal merry-go-round of the arms plot means that infantry battalions will become fixed in role, and largely fixed in geography. To achieve in the future one objective Bruce Anderson had got right — the requirement for the infantry soldier to have a broad experience base — it will be essential to move infantry officers and soldiers between battalions with different roles. This can only be sensibly done within a large regiment if cap-badge identity is to be maintained. The British army’s regimental system is categorically not under threat; but future circumstances require a different manifestation of that system, as has happened often enough in the past. I can assure Bruce Anderson that his assertion that ‘the regimental cap badge ... [will be] devalued’ is without foundation. Perhaps I should remind him that today nearly half the infantry are on a large regiment basis; his inference that today’s large regiments are less capable than the single-battalion regiments has no reality either in performance or in manning. And I can assure him that the future infantry regiments will not be ‘anonymous’.

    My last point is perhaps the most important. Bruce Anderson charges me with being unwilling to resist ‘the civil servants’ blandishments or the politicians’ charm’. This is a rather fanciful way of describing the role of the CGS in our British democracy: yes, there is robust debate within Whitehall generally and the MoD particularly as to the size and shape of the armed forces; but ultimately the allocation of public funds to the various functions of state is a political decision. The outcome of this process presents a service chief with a clear choice: achieve the most powerful structure and capability you can from the resources given to you — or go. I am satisfied that the future size and structure of the British army, coupled with future technological advances, will provide the enhanced capability that all serving soldiers seek. The Army Board’s duty is to ensure our army’s capability and ethos up to some two decades ahead, and it is my duty to lead the Board in so doing. That process involves change, inevitably an uncomfortable process but one which if not grasped would indeed lead to a ‘grave threat to the army’s warfighting capability’. It is by moving on that we avoid Bruce Anderson’s grave threat; standing still is likely to realise that threat. Space regrettably precludes me from discussing the balance between ‘boots on the ground’ and new technology — suffice it to say, we must embrace both.

    In conclusion, I thank Bruce Anderson for his unqualified acknowledgement of the British army’s reputation; he may rest assured that my purpose, along with that of the other members of the Army Board, is to maintain, indeed to improve, that reputation — earned as it is only partly by generals but very much more so by the indomitable spirit, commitment and good humour of the British soldier, to whom I pay unqualified tribute.
  3. pretty exhaustive, mind you, like to know which member of his staff had to write it! :wink:
  4. It skims over the fact that the reduction in infantry strength will have been implemented long before any of the high technology solutions are in service. Even the Spams have not so far managed to overcome the laws of physics by producing an armoured vehicle at half the weight of an MBT, but which still packs the same firepower and protection and can then be fitted into a transport aircraft.

    With the greatest of respect to POD, it also escapes the fundamental point that all proposed cutbacks are Treasury-driven to make up for botched procurement projects(Astute, Nimrod Mk4, Typhoon) and the reluctance of Grasping Gordon to shell out for ops in Iraq. ECAB has not covered itself in glory in this financial knife-fight. Any way you cut it, it's a reduction in capability and manpower for the medium-term.
  5. chimera

    chimera LE Moderator

    Claymore - I disagree with your point that it skims over the reason for funding 'cuts'. Jackson quite rightly says that he (as a Service Chief) has to work within the resources allocated to him, and that those resources are prioritised by the Government according to its political motives. The reasons behind the allocation of such funds are pretty irrelevant. He has to make the best of what we have been given. We might whinge that it isn't enough (and obviously it isnt) but then what other option is there?

    I think that the article is extremely well written, and rather nice to see a serving senior rank standing his ground against the carping of an ill informed journalist with pre-conceived views.
  6. Yeah Chimera, and like a good little boy, he touched the forelock, said thanks and bowed out. Who are you, the government's military apologist? And not all journalists are ill-informed. Without them, many of the ills besetting the armed forces would not come into the public arena nor be dealt with -e.g. body armour, SA80 problems, the MoD's pensions scam, the waste of time and money on big-ticket procurement items that don't come in on time and on budget.

    We don't, no matter what you apparently smugly think, live in a cosy litt;e coccoon. The forces are paid for by the taxpayer and the taxpayers' only window on what goes on is via the media.

    Jackson, along with the other chiefs, should have had the same balls he displayed on the road to Pristina airfield five years ago and made a stand against a government which loves the thought of intervention and victory, but doesn't want to pay for it.
  7. Somewhat OTT, Claymore, in response to a perfectly reasonable post. Chimera may have presented a perspective on events that is different to yours, but a number of people, including me, prefer his take to yours.

    Were you, by any chance, bullied at school?
  8. His take as Claymore pointed out is viewed by a lot of us as being slightly pink and pension tinged...we dont have any of the kit yet but penny to a pinch we'll lose the troops shortly.........and by the way whens the recruitment ban gonna be lifted?
  9. I have to say that I was pretty impressed by Gen Jacksons reply. Prior to reading it I had been well taken in by media speculation that he had become the governments man and was not the soldier he used to be.

    Reading the article, it is clear (to me at least) that this is not the case. I couldn't help thinking that for a man trying not be too sentimental about the regimental system, he is actually fairly emotional!

    For what it is worth, I believe he is acting in the best interest of the Army and, having read that article, that the direction we are going is the right one, however painful it may be in the short term.

    I would agree a little with Claymore - where is the kit? On the other hand, Gen Jackson can only use the resources he has already or knows he is getting in the near future. It is hardly his fault the government of the day have elected to bankroll the so called efficiency drive on systems which are not even on the drawing board yet!

    As for the pensions, they are not even within his remit, so why would he comment? I would guess he is no happier than we about it, but why fight what you can't change? Save your energy for battles that can be won, I would say!
  10. Maybe I'm a cynic, but it seems to me that certain people posting in this forum may either be known to he who (used to) walks in shadows or someone close to him!
  11. I wasn't refering to our pensions..............And yes more could have been done to highlight the kit not even being on the drawing board yet!
  12. To make cuts now based on the assumed benefits of technology to be delivered in the future makes absolutely no sense in the current strategic landscape with the current threat level.

    When all the world is at peace and British soldiers dozing in their barracks, then yes, let us fill our boots with new technology and endure a few harsh cuts. But to cut proven capabilities to make room for future capabilities 10 or more years down the line is reckless.

    Most of the kit hasn't even been developed. When it has, its procurement will be botched.

    PoD's role in all this is the sacrificial lamb - the government knows that the Army's ire will be directed against him first and foremost, and as for the public, well they don't know who PoD is and don't know/care enough to bother Tony about it.

    He's been put in this position, his professionalism, honour and determination to do as good a job for the Army as possible under the circumstances keeps him in his job - so let's stop carping about the General and switch fire to the real villains of the piece.
  13. Gen Jackson gave a good explanation of what will happen.
    Governments decide and troops obey orders.
    I think we can trust the products of OUR system to do the best they can within the perimiters set for them.
    A sad day to lose the old Regimental Identities which have served so well for so long.
    I do hope an even more Professional Force results.