Undermanning is unmanning the British Army?

#1
Readers to this site may wish to read The Times Editorial below which was written in 1999. In view of the constant breaking of harmony guidlines and the overstretch which is currently prevalent in all services seven years later is it better or worse and what do senior officers and politicians propose to do? Can we meet our next commitment to deploy troops to Sudan to meet a UN commitment which may be asked for, along with other UN members, in September. The African Union forces currently there have indicated that if we and others do not deploy extra forces to support them they will pack up and go by late September.

THE TIMES TUESDAY AUGUST 3 1999

THIN RED LINE

Undermanning is unmanning the British Anny

If George Robertson is confirmed as the next Nato Secretary General, one problem will outrank all others in the in tray marked "most urgent that will await his successor. That is the Army's shortage of trained fighting manpower, which is now so acute that there is a serious mismatch between Britain's strategic policy choices and the capacity to implement them.

Kosovo offers a high profile example of this worsening dilemma. Of all Nato forces deployed there, the British Army has by common consent the best ¬equipped troops in terms of professionalism, training and, largely because of Ulster, experience in robust but fair intercommunal peacekeeping. Yet, well before a stable environment has been secured, one Parachute battalion has already been pulled out, a Royal Gurkha Rifles battalion is packing up and one from the Irish Guards will follow them out in October. From a peak of more than 11,000, the British Army in Kosovo will be down to 5,000 by midwinter. In Bosnia, similarly, Britain's presence will be more than halved, to 2,000, by the New Year.

These retrenchments are being driven neither by military assessments of need, nor, on the part of a Government strongly committed to restoring stability to the region, by political choice. The disturbing truth is that the Army simply does not have enough soldiers. Nearly 50 per cent of the Army is now on operational duty, and even when this is reduced to 28 per cent by next year, the Government's target of 24 month gaps between tours will still be beyond reach. The Army is more overstretched than at any time since the late 1940s. And the longer this continues, the harder it will be to recruit and retain career soldiers.

Last year's Strategic Defence Review provided, in addition to the Army's routine commitments, for the simultaneous deployment of one warfighting brigade over six months and an equivalent force for longer term peacekeeping. Kosovo would have stretched capacity therefore, even if the Army were up to its much reduced official trained strength of 102,000 which is 27 per cent down on its Cold War complement, and which the Government is committed, by 2004, to raise by 3,500. But

instead of rising towards 105,500, it is down to around 96,000, a 6,000 shortfall, with more people leaving than joining.

The root of the problem is that the cuts in Army manpower in the early 1990s were so sudden and so steep that, with regiments broken up or merged and 40,000 servicemen abruptly made redundant, the Army ceased to look like a distinct community offering a career for life. By the mid 1990s there was a recruitrfient crisis. That picture has improved; the past year was the best since 1991 for recruitment of soldiers, although there remains a shortfall at officer level; but retention is another story.

The outflow of expensively trained troops is about 10 per cent a year 900 a month. Still more worrying is the rate at which the Army is losing officers. Among captains in their late 20s and early 30s tomorrow's commanders more packed their kitbags and left last year than ever before. They cite deteriorating conditions of service itself related to manpower shortages the question mark over the boarding school allowance which compensates for constant moves, the narrower promotions pyramid that goes with a smaller Army and strains on family life that show up in disturbingly high rates of marital breakdown. The Territorial Army shows a similar downward trend; the lesson of the mid 1990s is that it may be the Government's plan to cut the TA by 18,000, to 42,000, which is reducing its appeal: only 31,000 are currently undergoing sufficient annual training to qualify for the TA bounty.

Mr Robertson has rightly insisted on restoring predictability to military careers and to doing more to meet the needs of family life. But this is not easy to reconcile with the further "efficiency" savings demanded, along with cuts in real terms of £685 million, by the Treasury. Tony Blair is ambitious for Britain's role as an effective military power, seeing it with reason as a distinctively British asset. The concerns of the Chief of the General Staff, which we report today, underline that if Mr Robertson goes, he must be replaced by a heavy hitter at least as'.capable as he of winning spending battles. The Government must will the means to its ends.
 
#2
On a positive note it could mean that the few remaining actually get the full issue of kit.
 
#3
armchair_jihad said:
On a positive note it could mean that the few remaining actually get the full issue of kit.
That was the big lie told to every WO and SCO in countless messes by countless visiting senior officers just before the DCI on redundancy was published under 'Options for Change'

"Smaller but better equipped"

Anyone else remember that Clarion cry?

We just got smaller and more poorly equipped!
 
#6
It really is high time that this was finally sorted. The British Army is universally recognised and highly respected as the most professional in the world. And it's this very professionality which has caused the problem. When the British Army gets sent anywhere by some gobment prat for whom the expression "British Army" is a completely abstract concept, off the lads go and do a wonderful job in spite of the low quality and/or lack of equipment. Then the same gobment prat thinks that the next time and the time after that will turn our just as splendidly. That only works up to a point and then it's downhill all the way.

What's needed is some sort of realisation that the British Army is a vibrant, talented and committed body of wo/men who, because they are just that, are also able to evaluate their positions and to see where the mistakes are being made. But their opinions are rarely taken into consideration, and even if they are, they become distorted by petty gobment egos to such an extent as to be unrecognisable. A reality check would do the world of good, but only if it's applied on a rolling basis.

The gobment is catastrophically failing the very people it should be nurturing, and all for short-term political gains. It has to stop!

MsG
 
#7
Bugsy7 said:
It really is high time that this was finally sorted. The British Army is universally recognised and highly respected as the most professional in the world. And it's this very professionality which has caused the problem. When the British Army gets sent anywhere by some gobment prat for whom the expression "British Army" is a completely abstract concept, off the lads go and do a wonderful job in spite of the low quality and/or lack of equipment. Then the same gobment prat thinks that the next time and the time after that will turn our just as splendidly. That only works up to a point and then it's downhill all the way.

What's needed is some sort of realisation that the British Army is a vibrant, talented and committed body of wo/men who, because they are just that, are also able to evaluate their positions and to see where the mistakes are being made. But their opinions are rarely taken into consideration, and even if they are, they become distorted by petty gobment egos to such an extent as to be unrecognisable. A reality check would do the world of good, but only if it's applied on a rolling basis.

The gobment is catastrophically failing the very people it should be nurturing, and all for short-term political gains. It has to stop!

MsG

By reading history I see quite often the British Army has been under funded and under bad management throughout its existence.
Making do with what they have, and not over reliance on vast amounts of support, I believe is what makes the British Soldier so professional and to coin the phrase "The Best".
However at the current rate of finance at a time of ever greater deployments, is a damn disgrace, humiliation and down right dangerious. Were is Health and Safety, if a private company were to place their employees in such danger as our Government is placing at the minute, they would be shut down immediatly
 
#8
Mick Smith Times journalist posted this article about manning.

Weblog - Mick Smith - Times Online
« Afghanistan 4: Too Little Too Late | Main

July 16, 2006

Spinning the Infantry - A Culture of Deceit

The astonishing way in which the MoD attempted to mislead Parliament by claiming that the infantry was 100 per cent manned is typical of the spin it deploys routinely to hide problems. The same addiction to spin led Des Browne, Defence Secretary, to claim last week that he was sending 900 troops to reinforce the British garrison in Helmand, when in fact he was sending only 200 infantry now - with engineers to build up the British bases, and medics to treat the inevitable casualties, not following them until the autumn. The government and the MoD are so steeped in this culture of deceit that they don’t even seem to realise that they are doing anything wrong.

It is only because of documents leaked to the Sunday Times that we know the truth. The written answer detailing the position as at December 1st last year neatly avoided giving figures for individual infantry battalions because this would have had to reveal the scale of the under-manning, then 2,200 men, an average of 58 men per battalion. Instead it gave an overall figure for the infantry that included the 2,500 infantrymen no longer serving with their regiments - staff officers, instructors in training units, members of the SAS, none of whom are part of the operational battalions. It wiped out the deficit at the stroke of a pen. It was at best misleading, at worst downright fraudulent.

As the leaked documents show, the infantry battalions are now in fact even worse off - with a deficit of close to 3,000 troops, an average of 74 men for each infantry battalion - as a direct result of a whole series of factors relating to the Iraq War. Ministers’ lies about kit shortages, the unpopularity of the war at home, and the need to look over their shoulders at the lawyers before they fire a shot, have all played their part in the dramatic drop in infantry numbers which began in January 2005, and the situation is expected to get worse over the coming months with the most high-profile of the courts martial resulting from operations in Iraq due to be heard in September.

The figures are a major setback for the Chief of General Staff, Gen Sir Mike Jackson, who is due to retire next month. Jackson has pushed through a deeply unpopular restructuring of the infantry that effectively cut the number of battalions by three. The Future Infantry Structure will see a host of famous name regiments disappear, some have already gone, while the rest will follow by March next year.

The Future Infantry Structure has a lot of advantages – not least that soldiers will no longer be constantly switching between the three different infantry roles, armoured, mechanised and light infantry, with the accompanying increased training demands and changes to locations. Families will be able to put down roots instead of constantly moving home and schools every three years.

But interestingly a report prepared for Jackson by a briefing team which made a tour of infantry units in Autumn 2004 found that both senior officers and junior soldiers regarded much of this as “spin” designed to disguise defence cuts. They expressed “significant disquiet about the validity of the assumptions behind the reduction in the number of infantry battalions given the ongoing commitment in Iraq”. For the ordinary soldier, southern Afghanistan was of course not on the radar screen at this time.

One key feature of the Future Infantry Structure was that it would leave the army with around 500 surplus infantrymen, who could be used to bolster battalions with fewer men. But the documents revealed in today’s Sunday Times show that even if recruiting recovers and the number leaving drops to previous levels, the infantry will have 1,200 fewer men than it needs - the equivalent of two battalions - when the restructuring takes place next March. If they continue as they are now, the deficit will be more than 2,200, the equivalent of nearly four battalions worth of infantry, and further cuts in the number of infantry regiments will have to be contemplated.

Liam Fox, the Conservative defence spokesman, who asked the original question that led to the false claim of 100 per cent manning, said that in response to a follow-up question in February asking for manning figures for each individual infantry battalion, ministers had promised to provide full details in a letter, a copy of which would be placed in the Commons library.

But strangely, five months later, the letter has still not arrived and he has just received an apology from Tom Watson, the new junior defence minister, which claimed difficulties in finding a suitable format for the figures. They actually appear in a very simple format on pages five and six of the first leaked document, which this blog is happy to recommend to Mr Watson as a suitable format to give to MPs.

Liam Fox of course now has the figures as does anyone else who cares to consult the documents on TimesOnline. A free press is an important part of any democracy and we’re happy to play our part by giving the honest answer the MoD finds it so difficult to compile. But I can’t help feeling that democracy would have been better served if written questions from MPs, our representatives in parliament, were answered honestly and promptly.

Mr Fox is disappointed but not surprised by the MoD’s response. “This is typical of the government’s spin on levels of infantry establishment that don’t bear much relation to the reality on the ground,” he said. “The government is clearly afraid that the public will recognise the scale of their mismanagement of the armed forces. These figures are horrifying because if something is not done PDQ, we will not have enough troops to cover our commitments.”

The truth is of course that, thanks to Blair’s ill-considered decision to go to war in Iraq, we are already in that position - as the misleading announcement on troops sent to Afghanistan shows.
 
#9
nigegilb
I agree entirely with your sentiments but it would seem that even in the army itself my posting could not stir many to put pen to paper! Yet the world gets more dangerous and the British Forces become more enfeebled. Nearly seven years later with manning levels worse than they were in 1999 and with the wheels coming off the car will we ever learn?
 
#10
What worries me is that the Government is continuing to cut the Services, in real terms, and will continue to do so until something goes wrong and lots of Service personnel lose their lives. There will then be an expensive inquiry with the conclusion that "no-one could have seen this coming".

I think we have been cut to the bone and I think that we are now cutting into the bone. I do not want to be around when the wheels come off the wagon.

Litotes
 
#11
nigegilb said:
Mick Smith Times journalist posted this article about manning.

Weblog - Mick Smith - Times Online
« Afghanistan 4: Too Little Too Late | Main

July 16, 2006

Spinning the Infantry - A Culture of Deceit
An extremely interesting and spot-on post, nigegilb! Thanks for posting that, mate.

MsG
 
#12
The only way this government will learn is when the British Army gets a severe kicking due to lack of kit and funding. By which time it will be too late for the soldiers at the sharp end.
 
#13
gundog said:
The only way this government will learn is when the British Army gets a severe kicking due to lack of kit and funding. By which time it will be too late for the soldiers at the sharp end.
Which is exactly what I've been saying, gundog. It was the same when I was in and nothing's changed over the years. I feel like grabbing the smiling, complacent bästards by the fückin' throat and giving them a good shaking.

They're putting good wo/mens' lives at stake!!!

MsG
 
#14
Bugsy7 said:
gundog said:
The only way this government will learn is when the British Army gets a severe kicking due to lack of kit and funding. By which time it will be too late for the soldiers at the sharp end.
Which is exactly what I've been saying, gundog. It was the same when I was in and nothing's changed over the years. I feel like grabbing the smiling, complacent bästards by the fückin' throat and giving them a good shaking.

They're putting good wo/mens' lives at stake!!!

MsG
If they can charge the office of the Met chief police officer under the HSE for failing to protect Jean Charles de Menezes health, then surely the MOD can be prosecuted for failing to provide protective equipment to the troops?

Also you are not alone in wanting to grab one of the slimy priks by the throat, only i want to give them more than a good shaking!
 
#15
A goverment that has no ministers with any service experience, No respect for the tradition that holds an Army together while wanting to do everything at lowest possible cost, welcome to BLiars world
 

untallguy

Old-Salt
Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
#17
Litotes said:
What worries me is that the Government is continuing to cut the Services, in real terms, and will continue to do so until something goes wrong and lots of Service personnel lose their lives. There will then be an expensive inquiry with the conclusion that "no-one could have seen this coming".

I think we have been cut to the bone and I think that we are now cutting into the bone. I do not want to be around when the wheels come off the wagon.

Litotes
Gen Mike Rose wrote something very similar in The Telegraph shortly after he got out (and could finally speak in public) - I think it was back in '98. Given all the change that has taken place since then, I fully agree with his (paraphrased) sentiment:

"In the near future, the British Armed Forces are going to lose - not just a conflict but the lives of many personnel and the respect, both international and domestic, that it enjoys."

The public image we have as a highly-professional group acts as a force multiplier on many different levels - be it support when we deploy (albeit 'I'm supporting the troops but not the war'), a limited level of defence in the media and Parliament, even as a means of force protection on ops ('don't take on the Brits, you'll get shafted' - it worked for me at a low level in Afghanistan) etc etc. Once we get a kicking (and we will) two things will happen:

1. Great public outcry in UK and either: a) a bit more cash to but some fancy kit; or b) not deploy for 10 years due to fear of public reaction to casualties (it doesn't take many - look at US policy, post-Mogadishu in '93).

2. Every potential opponent on ops loses his fear of the British Army and everybody tries to take us on.

In short, when it goes wrong, more than a few widows will be cashing in life insurance policies, with a lot more doing it again and again.
 
#18
That slimy prat Broon could make a start by exempting all British Armed Forces from tax when on active service. Then we could progress to more pressing subjects. Although I'm not holding my breath.

It's as Mike Jackson says; only when the British Army gets a real good shooing will anybody start to think about any changes. And even then it's debatable whether they'll actually do anything or just launch into arrse-covering exercises. But by then a lot of very courageous and committed people will have unnecessarily lost their lives!

MsG
 
#19
How can the army recruit in this present day and age?

Morale is low.
People are leaving the forces faster than theyt sign up.
The MOD don't seem to be on the Soliders side.
No one with any spine is seen representing the Military on the Television.
Tabloids and the Media slate our forces for being bullies and inadequately equipped.
The government more than ever use the army solely as instrument of policy to gain support.... from whom? I don't know!
Little respect is given to the Soldiers on active service by the cabinet - TB not knowing how many casualties we've had.

If those darned TV adverts werent so compelling Id almost think joining the army was a mistake!
 
#20
Everyone agrees what the problem has been for the last decade or so but still nothing is done. Rather like a Greek tragedy. Is it the case that our senior officers like the buzz of operations so much that they will agree to every government demand until we get a good kicking? Watch the blame game then.
 

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