A plan for Britain’s new model army
As military chiefs and ministers meet to slash £4.5 billion costs, Robert Fox suggests a radical plan
It is time to tear up Britain’s defence policy and start again. British forces, ill-equipped and over-stretched, are engaged in open-ended campaigns in two countries, with little idea of how either should be ended. Former ministers and commanders have talked of a 'train crash', and serving men and women are heading for civvy street.
A radical overhaul is necessary. But the old guard, who have been sounding off a lot lately, and the present senior command are too trapped in their institutional conventions to come up with it. Ideas need to come from original thinkers lower down the order: sparky young captains and corporals who can draw on real experience - before they, too, leave.
The country really does need its armed and security services. (People only ever realise why after a major emergency has come and gone.) We should accept that the numbers need to stay roughly the same - a budget of £35bn (two per cent of GDP) and around 200,000 full-time personnel.
But how to spend that money and recruit and use those men and women? Here is a ten-point plan for the 21st century:
• We need flexible forces that can deal with conventional tasks and acquire new skills for humanitarian and disaster relief, counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency.
• Education, training, welfare and support must be improved in order to encourage recruitment. Servicemen and women should be offered something like the American GI Bill - an educational or vocational qualification, a contract of a minimum six to ten years, plus incentives including a provision for housing when they leave.
• We need to be able to hire more foreigners from more countries - Commonwealth and EU and other nationals should be invited under strict contract terms. In effect, our own Foreign Legion.
• The structure of the forces needs to be less fragmented and complex. There are too many HQs. The Army, in particular, is over-officered.
• The RAF should be held at 40,000 personnel, and should stick to its core business of deep strike, surveillance, transport and emergency rescue.
• The Royal Navy should stick to its task of keeping the sea lanes open and preserving maritime security.
• The Army should be restructured as a mobile force of about 90,000 plus a permanent reserve and volunteer reserve of about 10-15,000 each. Like the Roman army, it should be built on an ascending scale of simple building blocks, the company (a few hundred), the battle group or battalion of 1,000, and the brigade of about 3,500.
• The old regimental cap badges could be kept for team loyalty, but should fit the new structure rather than the other way round.
• More obscure specialisations such as arctic and jungle warfare should be cut.
• Extravagant equipment programmes need to be cut or cancelled. The Typhoon aircraft (£24bn), the Astute submarine programme (£5 - £7bn) and the new Joint Combat Aircraft (£20bn-plus) all need reviewing. Likewise the Trident replacement due to be signed in 2012 - at a likely cost of around £75bn over 40 years.
The fact is that ever since World War II, British politicians have been appeasing the defence industry - and the Brown government is no exception. We are lumbered with gargantuan programmes many of which - on purely military (if not political) grounds - could be dropped.
Recently the US Army and Marines produced new training Field and Counter Insurgency Manuals to equip them for the tackling real issues in a real world. They underline the need for sustainable forces and policies. Most important, they point up the need for strategic vision. ·
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