BRITISH ARMY PLAYS HARD TO GET ON RESERVES POLICY!
By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.
29 Oct 13. Have those that lead the Army really lost the plot on the Coalition Government plan to cut force numbers from 100,000 to 82,000 by 2020? Do those that run the Army even recognise the necessity to change and that affordability is whether we like it or not the order of the day? Why is it that the Army prefers to live in the past and to retain if it can vast numbers of Regiments and yet moan that even with existing numbers of personnel it would find it difficult to field a Division?
While the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force appear to be absolutely on-target to achieve the increased number of reservists that was called for by the Coalition Government in SDSR 2010 as the number of press headlines suggesting that proposed cuts to the Army are dangerous and the reserves plan which envisages increasing the number of part time soldiers to 30,000 from the current 15,000 is unworkable I get the distinct impression that the Army is not only attempting to encourage a great many of its elite ‘old soldiers’ to shoot down its reserves plan in flame but that it is also actually encouraging the plan to fail.
The Army has always done politics very well. That is not really surprising and being the largest of the three armed forces by a mile and by having so many of its past force members now either in the House of Commons or House of Lords the Army is in a position of great strength in terms of imparting views across Westminster and Whitehall and to press and media. A number of now retired senior soldiers have been imparting views of late to say how they believed Coalition Government policy in so far as it affected the Army is dangerous and wrong. Yesterday it was the 89 year old Field Marshal Lord Bramall who as a past chief of defence staff had also commanded the Falklands task force back in 1982 who came out of the woodwork to lambast the MoD plan to double Army reserve force numbers to 30,000 soldiers at the same time as cutting the number of regular soldiers by 20,000 as misguided. Accusing Secretary of State Philip Hammond as “being absolutely obsessed with figures but guilty of bad accounting” Lord Bramall’s argument appeared to be that you should not cut the number of full time soldiers until you have at least trained the number of full time soldiers required.
I do not and never have believed in throwing straws into the wind and today the very fact that Royal Air Force and Royal Navy have between them have embraced the reserves concept leads me to believe that the Army is yet again guilty of playing politics. Certainly in my view the Army should stand accused in the reserves debate of placing substantial obstacles to progress in the way of the plan. With the majority of press and media on its side and with an increasing number of the great and good who just also happen to be old soldiers being wheeled out to reject the ‘reserves’ policy why it is that if the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy are now on target to meet the reserves requirements that the Army is finding it so difficult?
I suggest the answer is because the Army is doing all that it can to hang on to the past. An example of this is that we are constantly hearing the Army say that they must always be able to field a ‘Division’ in a geo-political event that requires our armed forces to be involved the message from their headquarters is that they can’t even do this with the current level of personnel.
Parliament is of course littered with former Army soldiers particularly those who are now peers of the realm. They are of course entitled to their views but it has to be said that in Army terms at least they have a tendency to attempt to compare and contrast the defence requirement today with the defence requirement of the past. While I continue to believe that we have gone too far in cutting air and maritime power capability in the UK I woul