Slimming the ranks

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by Kromeriz, Jan 18, 2013.

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  1. Article from The Economist. No time to comment.

    Bagehot: Slimming the ranks | The Economist

    [h=1]The army’s prowess owes as much to military culture as hardware. Treat it with care[/h]Jan 19th 2013 |From the print edition[​IMG]

    EARLY in the British army’s war in southern Afghanistan, in 2006, Lieutenant Tim Illingworth of the Light Infantry found himself in a tight spot. He had been attached to an Afghan unit sent to clear the Taliban from Garmsir, a small town in the Helmand river valley. But its commander lay dead in the dirt beside him, the troops were fleeing and, from a mud building in front, the 26-year-old British officer was being raked by Taliban fire.
    His response, for which Lieutenant Illingworth received Britain’s second-highest award for gallantry, was to grab the dead Afghan’s grenade-launcher and fight back. Almost alone on the battlefield, he fired three grenades and emptied seven magazines into the Taliban position. Hopelessly outgunned, “while exposed and under withering fire”, according to his medal citation, he then fell back, dragging his brother officer’s corpse by the foot.
    This talent drain is a worrying aspect of a much bigger change. Britain’s defence budget is being slashed, and its small but robust armed forces—a crucial element of the country’s claim to global influence—heavily cut back. By the time the army leaves Afghanistan, nearly 10,000 soldiers will have been laid off, including many now fighting there. By 2020 the army’s strength is due to fall by a fifth to 82,000, its lowest level for centuries. It will have been dramatically reshaped, too, greatly reducing Britain’s ability to project force. And there may be further cuts yet. Late last year the Treasury demanded an additional £735m ($1.2 billion) from the next two years’ defence budgets plus a 1-2% annual reduction from 2015. The second cut, which will apply across Whitehall, would bite deep. Top brass say it could mean a further loss of capability, perhaps in amphibious warfare, or cutting Britain’s revered special forces. David Cameron, the prime minister, who shows no loss of appetite for deploying troops—including to Mali, where he sent a transport plane this week—is worried about the headlines this would generate.It is hard to comprehend the risks that well-trained soldiers embrace. At the end of a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the British public would rather not try. According to a poll by YouGov, 77% want the troops back from Afghanistan, where 439 British soldiers have died so far. Yet the army is not unhappy. After a shaky start in Helmand, it feels it has acquitted itself well, and it is enjoying a lot of public sympathy for its sacrifices. What is more, British soldiers like fighting. It is, to simplify only slightly, what they join the army to do. Mr Illingworth “loved every minute” of his tour in Iraq and two tours in Afghanistan. In fact, as the army prepares to leave Afghanistan by the end of next year, it has the opposite problem: a sudden exodus of its best young officers in anticipation of leaner, less violent times ahead. Mr Illingworth is now running a mining company in Liberia. “It’s slightly depressing how many guys are calling up to ask me how I managed to get this job,” he says. “If there’s going to be no operations, everyone’s going to leave.”
    Deeper cuts look likely, however. Britain is broke. And it still spends a lot on defence—only America, China and Russia spend more. Yet the implications of this diminution go well beyond the loss of expensive kit, such as fighter jets, or historic regiments. The army, as Lieutenant Illingworth’s derring-do illustrates, is not like other public services. It has a peculiar culture of excellence: no British police officer must be prepared to die in the line of duty. The austerity-inspired reforms now in play threaten to dilute that—in effect, by making the army more normal. That is why losing talented young officers is such a troubling augury: because they are among the army’s most distinctive attributes.
    British officer recruits tend to be better educated than those of other Western armies. Over 80% are university graduates; half the current chiefs of staff went to Oxford or Cambridge. By comparison, the American army attracts few recruits from Ivy League universities. Other European forces, which until recently were largely based on conscription, attract even lower-flying officer material. There are several reasons for this, including the British army’s early move to professionalism in 1960, the high status afforded to young officers by the regimental system and a history of relentless operations—the last year the army was not engaged overseas was 1968. And its importance cannot be understated. Another of the army’s biggest strengths, its non-commissioned officers, is partly a tribute to the judgment of the young officers who select them for promotion from the ranks.
    A bit less eager for action
    The coming shrinkage is likely to make the army a less attractive career, leading to a less able and ambitious officer recruit. The new army shaped by the cuts will be more home-based—with 20,000 troops due back from Germany by 2020—than at any time since 1792. It will also be less expeditionary, less ready, less full-time, after a big expansion in the reserve, and will have fewer opportunities for senior command. The terms of service of this stay-at-home army, it is logical to imagine, may fall more into line with those of other government departments, with higher salaries but fewer perks, and more recourse to employment tribunals. The army might even end up unionised, speculates Hew Strachan of Oxford University. It would be a very different force from the one Mr Illingworth joined, eager for action.
    The worst may be avoided. It is not the first time Britain has slashed the defence budget or pondered what sort of forces it wants or can afford. It did so in the 1960s, before Northern Ireland erupted, and in the 1990s, before its recent decade of wars. And new conflicts may arise: the world is hardly peaceful. Yet the budgetary pressures on Britain’s armed forces, and thereby on the military culture underpinning them, are unprecedented. It is tempting to think the army that emerges from this austerity may have less appetite for fighting, as well as fewer capabilities. For a warrior nation, that would be an historic change.
  2. Hmm... Very interesting. When I left, 9 months ago, I know the sappers had 3 times as many young officers signed off as they would normally plan for. I'm not sure if the trend has continued or is the same for other capbadges?
  3. DangerMouse

    DangerMouse Old-Salt Moderator

    The numbers are appalling in the RA, and a number of other capbadges. The "offer" - pay, pension, allowances (CEA, LSAP, et al), and lifestyle just doesn't justify the disadvantages of service life. Expect a huge spike in redundancies once Tranches 3 and 4 close, too: people who would otherwise sign off are hanging on in, in the hope of a payoff. That's not the worst problem for DM(A), though. It's not the short-term, current losses that are the main threat to the Army, I suggest:

    There is a lot to be said for getting out now, before the rush. The majority of my peers from ICSC(L) intend to leave at their Immediate Pension Point (IPP). The freezing (and thus in real-terms, reduction) of salaries, the diminution in pensions both from RPI to CPI and, post-Hutton/2015 in overall value, the ever-greater restrictions on Continuity of Education Allowance (CEA), the diminishing opportunities for overseas service, the gradual-but-inexorable ratcheting-down of Terms and Conditions of Service (TACOS) towards civilian comparators (without recognising the concomitant improvement in quality of life inherent to the latter), and the insidious but unacknowledged effect of the looming spectre of four years of rolling redundancies on personnel’s emotional commitment, all result in an organisation which is vastly less attractive than that which we joined. The Army’s atavistic response to gapping and MS (posting) pressures appears to be the ever-more-rigorous application of the, fundamentally-flawed, MS Binding Principle, in the form of directed postings, inflexibility and institutional inertia. This will only work for so long: the presence of a £250,000+ pension pot manifesting itself at our peer group’s 16-year point acts to suppress the immediate impact of all of these changes, but I fear that there is a bow wave of mid-ranking officers biding their time, accruing their savings, and building their CVs, who the Army will lose at a rate which it can not yet begin to appreciate: the second-order effect of redundancies may only be reaped when, in due course, officers in each cohort who necessarily steeled themselves and their families for redundancy, but apparently survived it unscathed, arrive at their IPP with far clearer visions than generations hitherto, of the opportunities in civilian life – and act accordingly.

    If the Army mishandles these people in the present - and it is mishandling them, it will lose them in the future.

    (Slightly-amended extract from an unsent letter)

    (And it's going to get worse - see the LAND Component Main Effort thread, AKA There is no money, the Army is going down the tubes thread, here:
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  4. I was told that one of the effects of three years of redundancy packages is that sign off rates have dropped off as people wait to see if they have a potential windfall, which doesn't bear out the sappers piece Tricam. I may have been given duff gen though...

    Speaking to a civvy mate he said that the hardest thing to do in business is manage planned decline / reverse growth. Economies of scale kick in and everything starts getting more expensive and it then becomes nigh on impossible to break out of a vicious circle of rising overheads and falling morale. I would be interested to hear views from ex-forces on the outside or TA who know about this sort of thing. How does the Army manage its contraction without causing an implosion?

    Also, there is a huge - and perhaps arrogant - assumption that the Army will be alright in the end. After all, we have survived 300+ years, haven't we? Just because "Maj X" or "Colonel Y" leaves we will still have plenty of good quality blokes left to fill their boots, or so the argument goes. On the flipside, we now have a career that appears to promise less operations, less adventure, less pay, less security (job, pension, and CEA etc). If this is the case then of course we will attract and retain less good people.
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  5. Last man csjt - The reports of 3 times as many having signed off only applied to junior officers who are not eligible for redundancy anyway - so mo point in individuals waiting to see what happens. It was reported back to us from APC at the time from adjutants etc so pretty reliable. I'm just not sure if the trend continued or perhaps has now stabilised.
  6. Agreed. You have, however, omitted to include the hugely damaging effect on pension accrual that the current pay freeze is delivering.
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  7. DangerMouse

    DangerMouse Old-Salt Moderator

    That reminds me of another example - apparently AGC(ETS) were losing officers at the rate of one per week until six months ago when the flood dried to a trickle as everyone now waits with bated breath to see whether they can get a golden parachute in to an organisation that isn't going downhill rapidly...
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  8. I have to say Opsec on T3 has been remarkably tight. The quiet before the storm, perhaps?
  9. Why is the Bootie in the foreground the only one with his beret on the right way? Are the rest French?
  10. 123

    123 LE

    Interesting article.

    I see the author believes that the officerdom of the British Army compares favourably to its western contemporaries due to their comparatively more impressive education.

    I've read some harsh critiques on the Army's general Officer quality though, particularly when measured against the US. I've also saw the contrasting viewpoint made that an Army is perhaps better for not having the bulk of its Officers come from the most exclusive learning establishments.

    Does this make a difference? Or is it in fact better to have more academic types as officers?
  11. Good question - the Paras appear to be WW2 and printed from a reversed negative (or re-enactors ...).
  12. DangerMouse

    DangerMouse Old-Salt Moderator

    1. What/where are the critiques that you've read? - if they're publicly available, would you provide links, please; if they're internal analysis, please PM me and I'll give you my DII address.

    2. I don't think that there's a dichotomy by between "academic types" and "non-academic types". Officers must be many things - commanders, leaders, managers, inspirational, compassionate, intelligent and - yes - educated. The US has got this right to an extent we can only dream of. They mandate professional qualifications, and encourage their officer cadre to challenge themselves and embrace learning opportunities; we are prepared to take officers who scrape a Third in Geography, then cruise through the rest of their career without ever opening a non-fiction book... More pertinently, MOD encourages this: the Modular Masters Programme, an ideal, cheap, compromise accepting the reality of limited time and money, allowed officers to study in their time, but at MOD's expense. It was taken as a cost-saving measure in PR10, as part of the death-by-a-thousand-cuts that has dealt a fatal blow to the terms and conditions of service on which we all joined.

    So, yes, I believe that educated officers (and soldiers) are essential. It think that we're failing to attract and retain them though, and that - come Tranche 3 on Tuesday, and Tranche 4 within a year of that, and then SDSR '15, we have little chance of reversing that trend.

    Some quotes and articles:

    Or this article from a decade ago, from which I learnt some of that advice back in 2002:

    And war is only getting more complicated - technologically, politically, and legally, viz:

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  13. There remains a need for well educated officers and soldiers. The contiguous problem to the retention of 'good' young and middle rank officers is the retention and recrutiting of soldiers with similar abilities, brains and education. When they go, all the officers won't save the day with no 'raw material of manpower.'

    While I can see the problem in meeting the needs for recruitment and retention among officers, do stop and think about the problem of recruiting the right type of young man as a private soldier!! Within a short time we could have a situation where no young man with a decent non university education would even give a thought to joining the Army as a soldier!
  14. DangerMouse

    DangerMouse Old-Salt Moderator

    I agree with you - modern warfare is increasingly complex, and there is no place for 'thick, uniformed thugs'. But are we not already in the position where young people with decent educations and middle-class backgrounds regard the Army as 'Sandhurst or nothing'? I've not served at a training regiment recently enough to comment on current recruits (I'm thinking particularly of combat arms, too), but I ask the question because I remember being told a) by one Scottish infantry Phase 1 instructor that 40% of their recruits were functionally illiterate, and b) by some senior officer, that the Army is simply failing to compete with both outside employers and the other two services - that a well-educated 18 year-old with good prospects might join the RN or RAF, but not the Army.

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  15. I suspect you're on the right lines there. I also suspect that the 40% functionally illiterate comment fits not just the Army but an awfully large lump of civvy street too.

    It certainly appears that the Army of today, and tomorrow, will be a very different and somewhat less 'enjoyable' organisation than the one I joined in 1967. I fear the result of the present cutbacks could very well be 'thick uniformed thugs' led by mediocre at best officers. It wouldn't be the first time in history that it happened, but I pray to God that I'm wrong!! The police 'police by consent' although they often seem to forget it .... and the Army can only carry out its role properly when it has respect and approbation from the rest of society.