The woes of the British military

#1
On FP, this by Tom Ricks
Patrick Little, a former British infantry officer, blasts the British military for not adjusting in recent years as the U.S. Army has. This is a bit ironic, given that one of the most influential American military books in recent years, John Nagl's Eating Soup with a Knife, was built on the notion that the British army of the 1950s was a "learning institution," while the American Army of the 1960s was not.

Writing in the RUSI Journal, Little charges that there are "serious systemic shortcomings" that aren't being addressed, most notably a command climate in which "bad news is routinely camouflaged."

"The current climate, with themes of deteriorating communication, intolerance of dissent, tolerance of toxicity, poorly designed processes and perceived tolerance of inadequate senior officer performance, is a real obstacles to learning and adapting."

Where, he wonders, are. Nagls and Yinglings of the British military -- or a General Petraeus willing to listen to them and protect them?

He recommends several major reforms, including:

* Seeking foreign perspectives on British strategy, tactics and doctrine, especially from those who have fought alongside the British military.
* "Re-invigorating" professional writing.
* Creating and using "red teams" to critique concepts and policy.
* Educating officers more in sociology, anthropology and international development, with more emphasis on languages
* Introducing 360-degree appraisals

This all makes sense to me. I think he tends to think the U.S. military has changed more than it has, but he is correct in crediting our military has moved in the right direction.

(HT to JB)
In a follow up he quotes a British military expert
...
Little is correct in flagging up the disgraceful fact that nobody in the Army has been fired. We tend not to fire people as readily as you chaps (more fool us...) but the extent to which known mediocrities and jobsworths have been able to continue to coast their way up the career ladder borders on astonishing. Meanwhile, Majors and Colonels with extensive campaign experience are getting stifled by the system and heading for civvy street. Where's the British Petraeus? Well, maybe he's out there, but as likely he's probably working in a bank somewhere or farming chickens, having got pissed off and voted with his feet. Retention has been helped somewhat by the troubled economy meaning there aren't many alternative jobs to go to, but we've lost too many good people through a system that rewards ticking the boxes and knowing when to keep one's mouth shut."
Disgruntled chicken farmers may wish to comment.
 
#2
Can this be true? No institution is perfect, but I'm sure general's Jackson, Dannatt and Richards all know the problems of the conflict in Afghanistan, and wouldn't be likely to ''shoot the messenger'' as Little seems to imply. Having said this I'm not in the army, so I don't know.
 
#3
It's possible that Little's arguing for qualities, qualifications and aptitudes appropriate for the last war himself. The UK is not the US, and its forces have no appropriate role beyond the defence of our shores - other agencies should be used in any peacekeeping/nationbuilding role which our international political commitments demand. On the other hand, perhaps a wholesale shift in traditional roles to blur the roles between Law, Security/Intelligence and Force is required. In any case, the mistakes and unpopular decisions of the last decade always seem to guide the political direction of the next, whether for the better or not; simply because our military commanders weren't fully up to speed on foreign policy during the Iraq saga is no reason to impose upon them unnecessary time out in study when they should be busy exercising their divisions at Dover.
 
#4
alib said:
...
Little is correct in flagging up the disgraceful fact that nobody in the Army has been fired. We tend not to fire people as readily as you chaps (more fool us...) but the extent to which known mediocrities and jobsworths have been able to continue to coast their way up the career ladder borders on astonishing. Meanwhile, Majors and Colonels with extensive campaign experience are getting stifled by the system and heading for civvy street. Where's the British Petraeus? Well, maybe he's out there, but as likely he's probably working in a bank somewhere or farming chickens, having got pissed off and voted with his feet. Retention has been helped somewhat by the troubled economy meaning there aren't many alternative jobs to go to, but we've lost too many good people through a system that rewards ticking the boxes and knowing when to keep one's mouth shut."
Disgruntled chicken farmers may wish to comment.
How about Lambo? (Yes I know he's just about to leave). And Richards?

It's worth pointing out that in order to be a Petraeus you also need to have the same degree of authority, resources and freedom of action that he had.
 
#6
I think a lot of this has to do with the Govt, and by default Whitehall's centralisation of control and power. The current govt have done more to take power in from the periphery, and concentrate it in London, therefore it follows that the same will apply to the MOD. Case in point, a 3*/4* no longer really controls their budget, even though they are held responsible for it. The whole issue of having TLBs and HLBs was so that money could be used where the main effort required it - now even a 4* can't really say, spend more on equipment and less on mowing the lawns.

This is a real tragedy, as the British Army, having been touting the manoeuvrist doctrine for years now really finds itself manoeuvre constrained, and that frustration boils all the way down to the SO2 level, where as is rightly pointed out there is lots of recent warfighting experience across the J1-9 functions. Speaking from personal experience, it is very difficult to do the right thing when confronted with mediocrity and intransigence - and sooner or later, the frustration builds up. Luckily enough, the frustration where I work is shared by 1RO and 2RO, but they are not so fortunate, as the layer above is pretty jurassic in terms of outlook, ability and willingness to accept change.

Rightly, centralised control would have been a real asset in the previous cold war era, as it was still by and large the era of the enthusiastic amateur (sorry, real generalisation there). However, I firmly believe that the British Army officers and soldiers are a different breed to their predecessors, and speaking for myself, I am utterly flabergasted by outdated processes, jobsworths, village idiots and bumpkins masquerading as officers and civil servants who are still allowed to have some influence and authority in what should be a dynamic, fast paced operational environment. How they can sleep at night I don't know, but knocking off in time to play 9 holes when people could be dying on ops doesn't gel with me.

I agree with Little, I do think some heads must roll, and there should be a cull of the deadwood that infects our organisation - RN,Army, RAF and Civ Service. Importantly, it's not just senior officers that should be retired, but across the spectrum of ranks and grades.

Finally, the job of spending and directing money should be pushed back to front line commands, and further devolved to allow those at the coal face to take responsibility. Budgetary rules should be changed to encourage thrift, but also allow for reinforcement of areas where extra expenditure is needed. If for example I decide to take the train, rather than use hire cars, which saves my budget money, then if my fellow SO2 needs a bit of cash to fund part of an equipment programme, I should be allowed to transfer the money to him/her without worrying that my budget will be cut the following year - as my programme's circumstances may have changed by then.

Nuff of a rant for now - happy saturday!
 
#7
LISpace said:
...
It's worth pointing out that in order to be a Petraeus you also need to have the same degree of authority, resources and freedom of action that he had.
But where are the likes of Lt. Col. Paul Yingling? Only resources needed there are growing a pair.

Course you could say the problem's often trickle down from higher up. The Pentagon under Rumsfeld did a dreadful job. It took Gates to come in, fire people and sort it out. The chaps running the MOD compare rather unfavorably with even dithering old Rummie.
 

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