14 Jun 22. General Sir Patrick Sanders who took up his position as the 42nd Chief of the General Staff* yesterday the 13th of June is I am sure just as the Secretary of State for Defence described him on the announcement of his appointment back in February this year, an exceptional military leader and one who I am sure I speak for many in saying, he is very welcome.
I wish General Sanders well and I am sure that we will under his leadership begin to see much needed change in how the Army is organised, understands what it needs to be and what is expected of it in respect of strategy and importantly, a leader who will listen to his ‘people’ and do for them what is right.
Exceptional and inspirational would be words that I might have proffered myself to describe General Sanders and a man who is much respected internally and externally. In his previous role as Commander UK Strategic Command, Gen Sanders ensured that, at the very least, the Integrated Review process fully reflected the rise in new and emerging threats such as cyber and so-called ‘greyzone’ warfare along with the need to ensure that IR fully recognised the need that the Army has for capability that can meet the challenges that future conflicts may bring.
The latter is an extremely important point as many will regard issues of Army equipment as being shall I say to be kind, less than desirable. The same may well be true in respect of personnel and their families.
It is of course easy to criticise and in doing so we must also accept the in very many aspects the British Army does a brilliant job and always responds to what is asked of it.
However, I recall an excellent opinion piece written two years ago by James Burton for the ‘Wavell Room’ and one that I completely agree with particularly when he talked of the problem being that the Army has a ‘say do gap’ meaning that when senior leadership has accepted that something is important and should be done it is often met with an inability to deliver. Bad enough that this is a problem in respect of procurement and I would add, particularly in the decision-making process that leads to procurement but sadly, as Burton acknowledges, the same is true of how we treat our [Army] people.
Paragraphs in the Burton opinion piece talk of misplaced platitudes, culture and the ‘language of nonsense’ in respect of the British Army being ‘innovative’ and ‘world leading’ in the eyes of the public which, as he notes, has such a disinterest in military matters. And of how the Army appears to have lost the ability to communicate its message to its political masters and that the language of change has become increasingly impenetrable.
Under the heading of Intellectual dishonesty relating predominantly to procurement the opinion piece reflected on the ‘increasing age of obsolescence of many equipment types and reminds that not so long ago the HCDC struggled to understand why it was that with a “budget of so much, we get so little” and that answers provided by the Army in evidence are described by him as a “preponderance for evasive language to creep into deliberately obfuscated answers”. I particularly like the reference quote from Professor Peter Roberts of RUSI who suggest that “it is rare to meet anyone in the procurement line of business who isn’t ‘busting a gut to try and make the whole thing work.’ So where is it going wrong and the suggestion to this that intellectual dishonesty of the problem is central. Defence, and the Army particularly, would rather set up yet another initiative to try and circumvent this process rather than try to reform the procurement process and develop it.
A commonality across all aspects of the military is the use of terms such as ‘world leading’ and that the British military is universally respected for what it achieves. The truth is that it certainly was highly respected but that years of defence cuts and decisions that relate to cutting of manpower and specific capabilities that we used to operate and specialise have changed how others see us.
Rebuilding the Army and changing cultures that have for far too long determined its modus operandi will be extremely challenging both militarily and politically but that is what General Sir Patrick must prioritise along with listening to issues that relate to his people be they on ‘the offer’, housing, welfare and facilities for families.
Motivation of his people along with an honesty and integrity that arguably has been missing must be the number one priority. The Ajax procurement mess along with deciding what the Army needs and what it does not need come a close second. Third and perhaps far more complicated is the process of Army operation and whether or not the Regimental System is either outdated or essential.
Born in Tidworth Garrison military hospital and raised in Norway, Gibraltar and Iraq, General Sir Patrick Sanders was commissioned in 1986 and spent his early service as an Infantry Officer in The Royal Green Jackets in Germany, Norway and the UK. He has commanded on operations in Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
His staff appointments have been in operational and strategic roles. He has been a member of the Directing Staff at the Joint Staff College, Pol/Mil adviser for the Commander of Coalition Forces in Iraq in 2003-4, Colonel Army Strategy, Chief of Defence Staff’s Liaison Officer to the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Operations) in the MOD.
His higher command appointments were 20 Armoured Brigade, the 3rd (UK) Division and the Field Army. He was promoted to General in May 2019 and commanded UK Strategic Command until May 2022. He became Chief of the General Staff in June 2022.
He is Colonel Commandant of The Rifles and the Honourable Artillery Company, and President of the Armed Forces Winter Sports Association. He speaks French and Norwegian, colloquial Spanish and can tell when he is being insulted in Arabic, Pashtun, Dari, Albanian and Serbo-Croat. General Sanders enjoys cycling, all forms of skiing, shooting and whisky
Role of the Chief of the General Staff
The Chief of the General Staff (CGS) is the professional head of the Army, with responsibility for developing and generating military capability from an integrated Army (Regular and Reserve) and for maintaining the fighting effectiveness, efficiency and morale of the Service.
The CGS reports to the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) and, as a Service COS, has a right of direct access to the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister. The CGS is a member of the Defence Council and the Army Board, the Armed Forces Committee, the Chiefs of Staff Committee and the Senior Appointments Committee
The Chief of the General Staff:
Maintains the institutional health of the Army by exercising Full Command responsibility for all Army personnel
Ensures the efficient and effective governance of the service
Chairs the Executive Committee of the Army Board and the Army Command Group
Contributes to the conduct of defence higher level business, with a particular responsibility for providing specialist advice on Army matters
Develops future Army capability within the context of Defence strategic direction and resource allocation
Leads the senior management team of the British Army
*prior to 1964 the title had been Chief of the Imperial General Staff.
CHW (London – 14th June 2022)