UK DEFENCE – RESERVES PROJECT FACES CRITICAL ASSESSMENT
By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.
10 Jun 14. Few either within or close to the military will be that surprised to learn that the head of the Major Projects Authority, John Manzoni has formally written to both the Cabinet Office and the Treasury informing them that the Future Reserves 2020 plan is now on the ‘at risk’ category.
Future Reserves 2020 was a plan initially launched as a consultation paper by Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Hammond in November 2012.
It was built around an intention to stabilise and reverse the decline in Reserve Forces manning and increase the trained strengths to 3,100 for the Maritime Reserves, 1,800 for the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and 30,000 for the Army. For the Army the intention was that ‘Reservists’ would by 2018 make up for the projected 20% cut in full-time equivalent posts.
No matter whether the ‘Reserves’ plan was viable, cost-effective and whether it might have been based on well thought out defence strategy it is clear now that it was pushed through with far too little consideration of the potential danger of failure. The reality is that almost two years since the original ‘Reserves’ plan was launched Army reserve numbers, currently believed to be 19,000 personnel, have barely moved. Indeed, in the twelve month period to April 2014 we are told that the net additional number of reserves recruited during that period was just 170 operatives.
Given the above numbers are correct it is rather surprising that the MOD should continue to suggest that the ‘Reserves’ plan is on track. I note also that there is an attempt in some quarters to pass blame for failing to meet initial targets set on to the outsourcing contractor Capita. But while I could be persuaded to believe that the decision to outsource may not have been in the absolute best interests of the overall plan it would in my view be wrong to blame failings on the contractor alone. Part of the problem lies in the belief in the outside world and of those that might be tempted to volunteer that affordability and pressure to cut costs has overridden required defence strategy and capability needs. Neither do potential reservists like the thought that they are replacing full-time soldiers and there is an underlying belief of conceit that translates to a belief that this is another attempt to do defence on the cheap.
It is certainly clear that redundancy downsizing has left a sour taste in the mouth of would-be reservists and it is hardly surprising that this would impact on the number of potential reserves likely to volunteer just as it probably also has had some impact on necessary ongoing recruitment of full time soldiers. Discontent amongst serving members of the military is certainly high and when that occurs it tends to be spread across the whole defence community.
Whilst I have continually questioned the huge capability losses exposed within SDSR 2010 as being hugely damaging in relation to maritime and air power I have never once questioned that taking the Army down to 82,000 serving personnel from a previous 102,000 was anything other than the correct strategy to adopt. I continue to believe that the Army must be made more effective and that clinging on to tradition is now no longer either desirable or affordable. If we were to pull troops out of Germany as intended and bring home our serving personnel from Afghanistan it always seemed to me perfectly sensible that the Army should bear the brunt of planned cuts. Some will no doubt disagree with such a view but I do believe that alongside an understanding that future wars are more likely to be won or lost by technology as opposed to troops on the ground that such an argument is relevant.
The Reserves plan aimed to giving reserve forces better defined and more relevancy including more formal roles in support of specific security and operational tasks perfor