Telegraph article - "Cuts have left Army '20 years out of date' and Forces 'not fit for purpose' "

jrwlynch

LE
Book Reviewer
#1
Retired senior officers (Barrons, Zambellas and a third unnamed in the article - Air Marshal North) point out that:-

A lack of money and policy of denial have left the Armed Forces not fit for purpose and at risk of “institutional failure”, Gen Sir Richard Barrons said.

The former head of Joint Forces Command until 2016 said that the defence establishment is “close to breaking” and without more money “will fall over”.

Sir Richard made a stark assessment alongside two other former senior officers who have recently retired.

I doubt this is much of a surprise to anyone paying attention, but it's rather more vehement than I've usually seen from the "recently retired" crowd - though there are tales of how Zambellas put Service above career while 1SL... what will be interesting to see if there's any reaction.

Cynically, the best Defence might expect is that with a new SoS and the Brexit mayhem tying up Parliament, the intended review of "take a few more slices off the salami" gets delayed; given the pre-emptive attacks demanding more money be sacrificed to the Great God Skoolzanospitals, I can't see any political appetite for any significant uplift in budget for Defence, nor any willingness to make hard decisions about cutting missions, roles or tasks.

The last time that was done with any rigour, was the infamous 1981 Defence White Paper, which was actually a rational, well-argued reaction to a major collision between capability gaps and funding crisis that prioritised the most important military tasking; but it's grimly funny how "this is no longer a priority" can so suddenly and urgently become "what idiot decided we no longer needed to..."



Source article at Cuts have left Army '20 years out of date' and Forces 'not fit for purpose' (not paywalled)

Evidence session links to National security capability review examined - News from Parliament - transcript's not up yet.
 
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#2
Its Air Marshal, not Air Marshall. I say that merely because when the BBC defence correspondent did the same spelling on twitter last night, the head of the Defence Academy (some Army 3*) decided to break twitter silence to correct him....
 

jrwlynch

LE
Book Reviewer
#4
Its Air Marshal, not Air Marshall. I say that merely because when the BBC defence correspondent did the same spelling on twitter last night, the head of the Defence Academy (some Army 3*) decided to break twitter silence to correct him....
Fixed - damn that cut'n'paste...
 

Sarastro

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
#7
Retired senior officers (Barrons, Zambellas and a third unnamed in the article - Air Marshal North) point out that:-

Stuff
Surely this has been obvious to anyone who takes the time to pause, lift their head for more than an annual leave segment, take a breath, and look around? The problem is that nobody is interested. There aren't enough people, like you say, who are paying attention.

There about 6 categories in this:
  • A. Politicians. Have never been interested, have particularly not been interested since the end of HERRICK because they feel we have "done" some wars and no want no more of it, and are now entirely focused on their own internecine struggles and Brexit. Iraq and its ilk are, to them, an imposed requirement for which they will do the minimum possible at the minimum risk.
  • B. The Public. Have straight up never been interested beyond maudlin displays of sympathy, and will never be interested unless bombs or paratroopers start landing in their garden.
  • C. Defence Personnel, low-level. Fixed on the small picture or, in a few cases, the current battle. They are either satisfied or broadly dissatisfied with X and Y and Z (fill in as appropriate for rank / position / location), and if those things get too bad, they will up and leave: therefore retention is a good indicator of low-level dissatisfaction. They have a general idea of where things are going wrong at their level, but tend not to understand or care too much about the strategic outlook, or how all the small things going wrong knit together overall.
  • D. Defence Personnel, high-level. Headquarters or Defence level staff. Are interested. But there are two types: Standards and Values. Obviously this is a scale on which individuals rank, not a binary choice. A Standard isn't interested in what happens in XX years time, or what we should be doing. They are interested in maintaining the machine as it currently works, within the rules they currently know, and they are happy with (or looking for) a comfortable life of predictability. A Value is interested in the future, and is therefore more aware or concerned about future threats than about maintaining the status quo. They also are more motivated by belief in the Service(s), and believes in a Mission of what they should do, not just what they do do. I'd bet the Standard : Value ratio is about 10 : 1 in the higher levels (closer at lower levels). Both types have recently agreed that things are wrong, just for different reasons: cuts to the status quo, and unpreparedness for the future. Only Values, however, tend to be willing to be outspoken about how bad things might be (see: Barrons; Shirreff; etc), because they are focused on the future. That is the difference @jrwlynch notes between the "recently retired" crowd. There has been a shift of both Value and Standard thinking, driven by the current position worsening, but the Values are way out in front of the pack because they are focusing on what the current changes will mean in 5-10 years time, so on a downwards trend think 5-10 years worse. Conversely, Standards don't measure future trends but past ones, so focus on the things that were better 5-10 years ago than they are today. Look at the arguments that Houghton as CDS - a Standard Ultra - used to make: they were all about what is happening now compared to what happened previously, and then unusually optimistic projections of what would happen in future. Again, it's a scale not binary, but broadly you can map attitudes of individuals onto this scale: are they more concerned about the future or the present? The former are your strategic thinkers. The latter are not.
  • E. The Media. Largely ignorant, as @jim30 points out. There are those who are not ignorant, but their input tends to be comprised from the opinions of either Values (e.g. Mark Urban) or, to a lesser extent (e.g. Con Coughlin), Standards. They also tend to follow the interests of either the Public or Politicians, so there isn't much coverage.
  • F. Academia. To me, these tend to be the biggest disappointment. They are very interested, but to no effect. The vast majority are conceptually engaged in the issues, but work hard to make sure they aren't practically engaged in any way. There are a few notable exceptions who nobody will have heard of, but they are rare. Academia as a whole has a fear of being tarred as "colluding" or lacking independence, and so surrenders their core role, which is to provide the wisdom of the past to current or future decisions.
Obviously this also applies in other countries as well, so you can map the influence of A-F in, say, the US onto us. Currently, the US D (because their A is basically the same as their D at the moment) are one of the biggest influences on UK policy, and one of the few things that are preventing it sinking even lower.

The present problem is that because there is a joint inertia of A, B and E all not giving a toss, nothing that the other elements can do will have the slightest influence beyond tinkering. D, whether in the UK or abroad, have relatively the loudest voice, but still have little impact: particularly when most of D (Standards) are more interested in what is happening right now rather than explaining a future narrative of why it matters. In other words, only a small proportion of D (Values) are actually strategic thinkers themselves. This will only change when this general disinterest and inability to think strategically is interrupted by something going Very, Very Wrong. At that point B and therefore E will suddenly decide that they were interested all along, A will scramble to assign blame and get D and C to Do Something.

The existential question is what something Very, Very Wrong will be. North Korea? Russia messing in Europe? Middle East spilling over? Mystery Option Number 4? We probably can't predict exactly what it will be, but we can predict the potential natures of whatever it is. If we get lucky, it will be:
  • Sooner not later: as we continue to decline, we become relatively weaker, and others relatively stronger.
  • Indirect not direct: a direct attack is the nightmare scenario - an indirect attack gives us time as a resource.
  • Gradual not rapid: as above, time as a resource will be vital to prepare, since the problem is unpreparedness.
  • Larger not smaller: counter-intuitive, but the smaller the event, the less likely a reaction...death from a thousand cuts will result.
  • More violent not less violent: again, a sharp shock will be most likely to break the present complacency.
If we get unlucky, and have the wrong combination of the above, we're going to be pretty screwed. I'd note that almost all of our potential adversaries seem to understand these principles much better than we have, and are making every effort to assert power through long-term, indirect, small-scale, low violence actions, each individually conducted at a rapid tempo, and which are then "over" before any reaction is forthcoming. Russia have been superb at this.

To me, this is the most pertinent part of those quotes from Barrons:

General Barrons said:
He said the military was in denial. He said: “They are never going to say, publicly, or to themselves, or to their enemies, or to their allies, that we are broken. But when they fly, sail, deploy on the land and they look at their equipment, look at their sustainability, they look at the shortfalls in their training, and they look at their allies, they know they are not fit for purpose.”
We're charging down a path (that we've trodden before, many times) of mass institutional denial, where a) the scale of the challenge, and b) the will to deal with it, are so far out of proportion that everyone just ignores the problem. Instead they try to focus on their own patch, and hew to the idea that "someone", or "higher up", are dealing with the bigger picture. But clearly, as these reports suggest, they are not. Still, raising this as something that might need to be addressed prompts replies of hyperbole or scare-mongering, because for most of the people who are even thinking about this (as above, Defence personnel or academics), to admit there is a problem of that scale would also be to admit that they, personally, aren't taking it seriously enough. Anyone who takes it seriously is, by the nature of the problem, destined to be something of a Cassandra, because the problem is that everyone else doesn't take it seriously enough. That is the nature of denial.

It's the fruit of our military institutions hollowing out strategic thinking and strategic thinkers, and a political system that is incapable of dealing with long-term planning. We're going down the whirlpool now, and it's not going to change (within the next 5-10 years, at least) unless something very bad happens. If we get lucky, we might turn it around and less people will die immediately as a result. If we don't get lucky, all bets are off.

Final point would be: we still (I've actually done it above) tend to think of this as "what happens if a war happens?". There is an increasingly strong argument that we are, functionally, in a 21st Century Clausewitzian definition of war with Russia: they are actively conducting political actions through non-political means, including but not limited to military power, while our political dialogue has reduced. It might not mean cavalry and artillery, but its' defined as war according to the definition we've used for two centuries.
 
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#8
Its Air Marshal, not Air Marshall. I say that merely because when the BBC defence correspondent did the same spelling on twitter last night, the head of the Defence Academy (some Army 3*) decided to break twitter silence to correct him....
Hmm He must be OIC 1st Batt Arrse Spelling Pedants..
 

jrwlynch

LE
Book Reviewer
#9
Surely this has been obvious to anyone who takes the time to pause, lift their head for more than an annual leave segment, take a breath, and look around? The problem is that nobody is interested. There aren't enough people, like you say, who are paying attention.

<big snip>
I regret that I have but one "Like" to give to this post.
 
#10
Final point would be: we still (I've actually done it above) tend to think of this as "what happens if a war happens?". There is an increasingly strong argument that we are, functionally, in a 21st Century Clausewitzian definition of war with Russia: they are actively conducting political actions through non-political means, including but not limited to military power, while our political dialogue has reduced. It might not mean cavalry and artillery, but its' defined as war according to the definition we've used for two centuries.
Unfortunately, yes. Just because they don't want to occupy Rotherham (who would?) doesn't mean they are benign.

These days I don't have much direct contact with UK forces (I emigrated) but as the sensible definition of reserves would be something like 'previously prepared for general roles and now able to be effective after thorough Pre-Deployment Training' -- how does this make the Army any bigger than half a dozen battalions? Will the very necessary strategic defence-review accept the status-quo and go for home-defence plus one 'throw' of deployable-but-unsustainable forces, to be used only alongside the US?

I'm glad that I joined in the 80's, when the Soviet Union and the leftovers (political and military) from WW2 made things clearer.
 

Sarastro

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
#11
Its Air Marshal, not Air Marshall. I say that merely because when the BBC defence correspondent did the same spelling on twitter last night, the head of the Defence Academy (some Army 3*) decided to break twitter silence to correct him....
Um...it's Vice Admiral, not Lieutenant General.

Vice Admiral Duncan Potts biography

Awkward...
 
#12
#13
And the head of the DA is actually a RAF 2* ;)
 
#14
Surely this has been obvious to anyone who takes the time to pause, lift their head for more than an annual leave segment, take a breath, and look around? The problem is that nobody is interested. There aren't enough people, like you say, who are paying attention.

There about 6 categories in this:
  • A. Politicians. Have never been interested, have particularly not been interested since the end of HERRICK because they feel we have "done" some wars and no want no more of it, and are now entirely focused on their own internecine struggles and Brexit. Iraq and its ilk are, to them, an imposed requirement for which they will do the minimum possible at the minimum risk.
  • B. The Public. Have straight up never been interested beyond maudlin displays of sympathy, and will never be interested unless bombs or paratroopers start landing in their garden.
  • C. Defence Personnel, low-level. Fixed on the small picture or, in a few cases, the current battle. They are either satisfied or broadly dissatisfied with X and Y and Z (fill in as appropriate for rank / position / location), and if those things get too bad, they will up and leave: therefore retention is a good indicator of low-level dissatisfaction. They have a general idea of where things are going wrong at their level, but tend not to understand or care too much about the strategic outlook, or how all the small things going wrong knit together overall.
  • D. Defence Personnel, high-level. Headquarters or Defence level staff. Are interested. But there are two types: Standards and Values. Obviously this is a scale on which individuals rank, not a binary choice. A Standard isn't interested in what happens in XX years time, or what we should be doing. They are interested in maintaining the machine as it currently works, within the rules they currently know, and they are happy with (or looking for) a comfortable life of predictability. A Value is interested in the future, and is therefore more aware or concerned about future threats than about maintaining the status quo. They also are more motivated by belief in the Service(s), and believes in a Mission of what they should do, not just what they do do. I'd bet the Standard : Value ratio is about 10 : 1 in the higher levels (closer at lower levels). Both types have recently agreed that things are wrong, just for different reasons: cuts to the status quo, and unpreparedness for the future. Only Values, however, tend to be willing to be outspoken about how bad things might be (see: Barrons; Shirreff; etc), because they are focused on the future. That is the difference @jrwlynch notes between the "recently retired" crowd. There has been a shift of both Value and Standard thinking, driven by the current position worsening, but the Values are way out in front of the pack because they are focusing on what the current changes will mean in 5-10 years time, so on a downwards trend think 5-10 years worse. Conversely, Standards don't measure future trends but past ones, so focus on the things that were better 5-10 years ago than they are today. Look at the arguments that Houghton as CDS - a Standard Ultra - used to make: they were all about what is happening now compared to what happened previously, and then unusually optimistic projections of what would happen in future. Again, it's a scale not binary, but broadly you can map attitudes of individuals onto this scale: are they more concerned about the future or the present? The former are your strategic thinkers. The latter are not.
  • E. The Media. Largely ignorant, as @jim30 points out. There are those who are not ignorant, but their input tends to be comprised from the opinions of either Values (e.g. Mark Urban) or, to a lesser extent (e.g. Con Coughlin), Standards. They also tend to follow the interests of either the Public or Politicians, so there isn't much coverage.
  • F. Academia. To me, these tend to be the biggest disappointment. They are very interested, but to no effect. The vast majority are conceptually engaged in the issues, but work hard to make sure they aren't practically engaged in any way. There are a few notable exceptions who nobody will have heard of, but they are rare. Academia as a whole has a fear of being tarred as "colluding" or lacking independence, and so surrenders their core role, which is to provide the wisdom of the past to current or future decisions.
Obviously this also applies in other countries as well, so you can map the influence of A-F in, say, the US onto us. Currently, the US D (because their A is basically the same as their D at the moment) are one of the biggest influences on UK policy, and one of the few things that are preventing it sinking even lower.

The present problem is that because there is a joint inertia of A, B and E all not giving a toss, nothing that the other elements can do will have the slightest influence beyond tinkering. D, whether in the UK or abroad, have relatively the loudest voice, but still have little impact: particularly when most of D (Standards) are more interested in what is happening right now rather than explaining a future narrative of why it matters. In other words, only a small proportion of D (Values) are actually strategic thinkers themselves. This will only change when this general disinterest and inability to think strategically is interrupted by something going Very, Very Wrong. At that point B and therefore E will suddenly decide that they were interested all along, A will scramble to assign blame and get D and C to Do Something.

The existential question is what something Very, Very Wrong will be. North Korea? Russia messing in Europe? Middle East spilling over? Mystery Option Number 4? We probably can't predict exactly what it will be, but we can predict the potential natures of whatever it is. If we get lucky, it will be:
  • Sooner not later: as we continue to decline, we become relatively weaker, and others relatively stronger.
  • Indirect not direct: a direct attack is the nightmare scenario - an indirect attack gives us time as a resource.
  • Gradual not rapid: as above, time as a resource will be vital to prepare, since the problem is unpreparedness.
  • Larger not smaller: counter-intuitive, but the smaller the event, the less likely a reaction...death from a thousand cuts will result.
  • More violent not less violent: again, a sharp shock will be most likely to break the present complacency.
If we get unlucky, and have the wrong combination of the above, we're going to be pretty screwed. I'd note that almost all of our potential adversaries seem to understand these principles much better than we have, and are making every effort to assert power through long-term, indirect, small-scale, low violence actions, each individually conducted at a rapid tempo, and which are then "over" before any reaction is forthcoming. Russia have been superb at this.

To me, this is the most pertinent part of those quotes from Barrons:



We're charging down a path (that we've trodden before, many times) of mass institutional denial, where a) the scale of the challenge, and b) the will to deal with it, are so far out of proportion that everyone just ignores the problem. Instead they try to focus on their own patch, and hew to the idea that "someone", or "higher up", are dealing with the bigger picture. But clearly, as these reports suggest, they are not. Still, raising this as something that might need to be addressed prompts replies of hyperbole or scare-mongering, because for most of the people who are even thinking about this (as above, Defence personnel or academics), to admit there is a problem of that scale would also be to admit that they, personally, aren't taking it seriously enough. Anyone who takes it seriously is, by the nature of the problem, destined to be something of a Cassandra, because the problem is that everyone else doesn't take it seriously enough. That is the nature of denial.

It's the fruit of our military institutions hollowing out strategic thinking and strategic thinkers, and a political system that is incapable of dealing with long-term planning. We're going down the whirlpool now, and it's not going to change (within the next 5-10 years, at least) unless something very bad happens. If we get lucky, we might turn it around and less people will die immediately as a result. If we don't get lucky, all bets are off.

Final point would be: we still (I've actually done it above) tend to think of this as "what happens if a war happens?". There is an increasingly strong argument that we are, functionally, in a 21st Century Clausewitzian definition of war with Russia: they are actively conducting political actions through non-political means, including but not limited to military power, while our political dialogue has reduced. It might not mean cavalry and artillery, but its' defined as war according to the definition we've used for two centuries.
Give today's winner of the internet a coconut.
 

Sarastro

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
#18
...and thread death in 3, 2, 1...
 
#19
I'd bet the Standard : Value ratio is about 10 : 1 in the higher levels (closer at lower levels).
Am I understanding you correctly that the current promotion system favours Standards? If so, at what point do you think the ratio grows perceptedly larger? Or is it more a question of those making it to higher levels growing disillusioned and going the easy and safe way?
 

Sarastro

LE
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
#20
Am I understanding you correctly that the current promotion system favours Standards? If so, at what point do you think the ratio grows perceptedly larger? Or is it more a question of those making it to higher levels growing disillusioned and going the easy and safe way?
The reverse. Values orientated people will naturally leave, so unless the organisation institutes measures to actively retain them, you will get fewer as time goes on. This isn't about choices or decisions: it's fundamental and unavoidable maths.

Bureaucratic organisations don't (usually) actively select out people who depart from the status quo, nor do they (usually) actively retain people who adhere to the status quo. People seem to misunderstand this a lot, particularly in the Army and CS. When others talk about the "people like me" principle, you'll get a lot of officers and senior officers who say: But I'd never do that on a grading board! Therefore it can't be true.

Even if they are right, they are wrong: the problem is they don't understand the maths of risk and data.

At the simplest, a "status quo" decision means a risk-free decision. You are making a decision which is totally within the rules or norms of the organisation, so at the worst, you aren't going to be blamed for it. An organisation entirely made up of those people is stagnant, and will never change. Any decision which is not a pure status quo decision is therefore a risky decision. In some way it is departing from those rules or norms, even if only a little.

Any population which has a combination of 0 risk takers and >0 risk takers will, all other things being even, trend towards eliminating the risk takers. This is because risks don't always work out, which is why they are risks.

You can model risk decisions within that kind of population. I've dug up some academic examples I did on this years ago, relating to how it works in the Army and promotions, because pictures work better than words.

In all of these models, the population is perfectly balanced at the start. Blues are risk takers, Yellows are no-risk takers, there are 50 of each. Each model shows a different level of risk: 50% risk means a risk taker gets a good result (Win, green) half the time, and a bad result (Lose, red) half the time. 80% risk means good result 20% of the time, bad result 80% of the time, and so on. Anything below 50% is not really classified as a risk except under certain circumstances...as over time the risk-taker will gain from it, because most of the time it turns out good.

These are rough models of a promotion system, so when a risk comes good, the taker will be rewarded (move up), when it goes bad, they will be penalised (move down). The population is allocated in ranks from 1-100, like you would get in a grading board, and starts perfectly balanced with risk-takers and non-risk takers. To better show the effect over time, only a proportion of the risk-taking population will take a risk at any one time (e.g. they aren't crazy - they mostly adhere to the status quo), but it works identically if they take risks all at the same time, it's just harder to visualise. Additionally, at certain points (once the entire risk-taking population has taken a risk in one "round") the bottom 1/3 will be removed, simulating a pyramid promotion system like the Army.

Scenario 1: 50% risk
This is the control scenario. Risks are perfectly equal, so you would expect the population to remain stable. This is because an equal number of risk-takers will benefit as will be penalised from their risks.

https://www.arrse.co.uk/community/gallery/photos/10817/

As you can see, there are two effects. The eventual population does remain even. However, as time progresses, there is a stratification of the risk takers - groups form where some risk-takers move down, and others move up. These meet so that you get bands of blue and yellow - risk-takers and non-risk takers. Also note that the non-risk takers don't have to do anything to remain in place...simply the fact that they are not taking risks means that they are both unlikely to rise, but also not going to fall. Over time that means they will, relatively, stay in the same place.

However, most risks are not 50 / 50...

Scenario 2: 80% risk
In a more realistic risk scenario, the risks only come good 20% of the time...again, they are risks. Again, everything else remains equal. This shows what happens.

https://www.arrse.co.uk/community/gallery/photos/10816/

The risk-takers increasingly fall to the bottom. The blues naturally get booted by the culling of the bottom 1/3. By the time you get down to 10% of your original population, you have only 2 risk takers left (80% risk means 80% have failed, which eventually puts them in the bottom third who get booted). More than that, look at the last 10 columns: those 2 risk takers will eventually get booted. Even the one who has consistently stayed at the top will eventually fall through the ranks if they keep taking an 80% risk.

This shows another effect: risk takers at the top eventually stop becoming risk takers or lose their top position. This is because when you're at the top, there is nowhere else to go...so why would you take a risk? This is part of what I call "golden child" syndrome, where rewarding your top 3rd / 10% / 1% too much actually changes their performance and behaviour. Statistically, that change will be negative...since they've been good up to then, which is why they were top. This is highly counter-intuitive, and people at the top of organisations hate it (of course they would, it suggests they need to be treated less well for doing a good job!)...but it is consistent across various data tests. You could equally call it the "serve to lead" principle: the closer you are to the top, the less you should behave like it.

However, even that isn't a hugely realistic model of risk-taking in a big status quo organisation. A more realistic one is that risk-takers don't get relatively disadvantaged a little in the rankings: they get straight up booted out, or to the bottom.

Scenario 3: Losers Leave
In this scenario, the risk level is only 50%, like the first one. So, naturally, the population will remain equal (like the first one). Except this time, if you lose a risk, you get booted.

https://www.arrse.co.uk/community/gallery/photos/10815/

The population is rapidly culled of risk-takers, and it takes half the time that it did with the previous scenarios. Remember, this is with 50% risk as well.

Conclusion

A first point to make about all the above is that these are models - they are not precisely how promotion in the Army or other organisations work, and there are many other complexities. Equally, defining people as "non-risk takers" and "risk-takers" is false. People are more or less willing to take certain kinds of risks at certain times. The point is that the fewer risks you take, the longer you will survive. That is also why all other factors are scrupulously even. What the models do show is that the simple action of risk-taking itself creates an outflow of risk-takers, even if you reward successful risks. Therefore, to keep a population of risk-takers and non-risk takers balanced, you must take additional action to ensure that the retention effect of risk-taking is as close to 50% as possible. That is a basic requirement to offset this effect.

The general operation of risk in an institutional, status quo driven organisation like the Army is a combination of these. Risk will be somewhere higher than 50% - probably not as high as 80%, but certainly above even, because risky behaviour is not encouraged. Equally, although a failed risk will not result in your immediate booting, the right kind of failed risk can certainly result in you falling to the bottom of the pile. For this, don't think of risk as jumping out a plane or charging a machine-gun position. Think of risk as challenging a superior for doing the wrong thing, or using some of your budget to try a new innovation that may or may not work. Those are precisely the kind of risks that won't get you fired or killed, but will absolutely affect your grading against your peers, sometimes radically so. In a system which eliminates the bottom tier, that will eventually eliminate you for taking risk.

None of those eliminations require any conscious decision to either reward "people like me" or non-risk takers, or penalise "mavericks" or risk-takers, on the part of superiors or grading boards. It simply is the maths of a system where risk-taking is not offset, which ensures that non-risk takers will always survive longer.

That is why the answer to this is never going to be fixed in pronouncements from the top that we need a healthy "risk culture", or by officers on grading boards trying their level best to fairly grade the stack they see in front of them. The first will only encourage people to take more risk, which without structural changes, will see them eventually removed. The second is simply irrelevant - by the time the OJAR / SJAR stack appears at a grading board, it is too late: the risk-takers have already been penalised for risk-taking, because some risks went wrong. This is also why it is hard to argue: how do you make an argument that someone who did something wrong should be preferred to someone who didn't?

It also falls foul of 20th century ideas of efficiency, which is fair. If risks don't work 80% of the time, you've got 80% wasted effort. This is something that Stanley McChrystal addresses in Team of Teams much better than I'll do here, but his point is: that kind of efficiency leads to total stagnation and inability to change, and we are in a period where we must change or die. 100% efficiency in the wrong direction is actually the most inefficient thing you can do.

How to change it...

The answer is that the organisational promotion / manpower system needs to offset for the data trends above. It needs to bake in ways of rewarding or insulating risk-takers from risk for the very behaviour of risk-taking. There are many ways of doing this, too many to explain here (e.g. risks insulated = independent of reporting; identifying innovation practices and grading higher for simply undertaking them; etc).

Needless to say, the military (and CS from what I've seen) do none of this. They exist in a political ecosystem that, is highly controlling, never rewards risk, and often harshly penalises risk-takers. Moreover, the people in charge themselves don't really seem to understand this level of information detail; aren't willing to listen to those who do; and are psychologically primed to reject it. Additionally, I've noted there is a strong reluctance to accept that such latent effects of data can have a controlling effect on promotion. People don't like to believe that their own advancement (or even failure) isn't linked to their own performance. After all, getting this idea into the head of the current headshed implies that they, personally, are probably not risk-takers, and are in their position simply by staying in, rather than from heroic leadership quality. Army officers, particularly combat arms ones who you find in the top influencer positions, are perhaps uniquely unprepared to accept this. It strikes at the very core of what they believe about themselves.

I don't have much faith that this will ever be recognised or changed in the Army. But that is largely from unwillingness to understand or accept numerical fact.
 
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