Daily Archives: 21 July, 2010

reports Marines could be handed over to Army control

The Ministry of Defence has looked at the possibility of moving the Royal Marines over to Army control, the Financial Times reports.

Ever since their formation in the eighteenth century the Royal Marines have been a part of the Royal Navy. Their early roles included manning guns onboard battleships and providing landing parties. During the Second World War the Corps evolved into the Commando role, and it is in this green beret role that the Marines have best known for in recent years. Rumours about the Royal Marines control are nothing new. According to Julian Thompson, who commanded the Commando Brigade in the Falklands, Field Marshal Bill Slim informed him that in the 1940’s immediately post-war the Navy offered the Marines to the Army in return for supporting a new programme of aircraft carriers.

Apparently the plans would involve the UK’s land forces being reduced from eight brigades down to five, and 3 Commando Brigade and 16 Air Assault Brigade being merged into a single expeditionary brigade. The prospect of the Marines and Paras serving together so closely is likely to arouse a degree of chest-beating, but it will probably also mean some reductions for both Regiments. Currently both have three Battalions (or in the case of the Marines, Commandos). It doesnt take a genius to work out that if two brigades go down to one, that means a reduction in units and manpower.

Despite efforts in recent years – Joint Helicopter Command, Joint Force Harrier, and the Special Forces Support Group for example – there is still a lot of duplication among the armed forces. The Royal Navy has its infantry in the Royal Marines, whilst somehow the RAF has managed to maintain its own RAF Regiment for years. Meanwhile both the Army and Royal Navy have their own aviation arms. ‘Joint-ery’ is often criticised as eroding the individual character of each of the services, but not only does cutting duplication save money, it also encourages services to work together as a matter of course.

There are bound to be implications that go beyond just cutting a few units. For example, if the Commando Brigade is cut down to become one half of a new expeditionary brigade, will there be any sense in retaining enough Landing ships to land two brigades? The Air Assault Brigade’s assets should be reasonably safe for at least a few years, as both the Apache and Chinook are being heavily used in Afghanistan. But after that?

There are bound to be more rumours like this in the coming months, not all of them true. But they are, however, an indication of how far-reaching this Defence Review is likely to be.

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Fox warns on Defence Spending

The Defence Secretary Liam Fox has warned British Defence companies that they will have to cut costs or face losing out on future business from the armed forces, BBC News reports. He was speaking at the Farnborough air show, a gathering of Defence industries, with a particular focus on aviation.

The issue of defence procurement is a tricky one. Undoubtedly, there are many examples of spending being badly handled from the MOD side, and this has driven up costs in many cases. But in a more competitive market, where the MOD will have to make every penny count more than ever, it is right for the Defence Secretary to warn companies to offer value for money. An uncompetitive company is unlikely to be an efficient one where its products are concerned.

No doubt Defence contractors will argue that they already do, and will point to the high costs of basing production in the UK – such as salaries and running costs. but they seem to have a choice – adapt to the changing economic situation, or risk going out of business if the MOD looks elsewhere for its equipment. Whilst its nice to provide work in Britain, in a time of collapsing budgets the priority has to be getting the best kit at the best price, regardless of where it comes from. Going back to competitiveness, is a company that knows its 99% likely to get a contract going to pull out the stops to put together a good product?

The question does need to be asked, why it is possible to buy more and better for less money than from a UK firm? Have companies cottoned onto the MOD’s lax spending controls, combined with the policy of buying British, and worked out that they can name their price? As I have previously mentioned, British Defence Companies have almost always been assured of gaining contracts, thanks to robust lobbying from MP’s over providing work for their constituencies.

Fox’s comments follow on from those made by General Sir David Richards, the Chief of Defence Staff designate. It makes a change to hear a Defence Secretary and the Chief of Defence Staff singing from the same hymm sheet. Whether thats down to teamwork or Richards’s political views remains to be seen. It might be a coincidence, but their comments are remarkably similar…

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Alan Clark ‘dodged National Service’

An interesting story transpired earlier this week, when The Independent revealed that Alan Clark, a well-known military historian and Conservastive MP, dodged national service.

According to Clark’s biographer, Ion Trewin, papers recently discovered in his castle prove that his only personal experience of the military was in the army reserve at Eton and a single day as a member of the Household Cavalry. He later avoided a call-up from the RAF by pleading his earlier ‘service’. Clark, however, later went on to make numerous references to army life, and referred to his military service in his famous diaries.

Its an interesting thought I am often faced with – do you have to have served in the forces to be a military historian? In these days of a small, professional military, I do not believe it is essential. And I think sometimes that not having a military mind can be an advantage, and can offer different insights – in some ways a training as a historian equips you more for military history than Sandhurst. But when military service was widespread, for somebody of Clark’s class and interests to sidestep national service was most bizarre, if not uncommon. If anything, several years serving as a junior officer would have been a great experience for a budding military historian. But it seems that although Clark liked writing about war, he did not want to get his hands dirty.

Sadly, I also think it says something about someone if they shirk away from something that most of their peers do, thanks to a loophole. My Grandad and most of his generation did national service, why should Alan Clark have dodged it? Not only that, but to then go on to make a career out of posturing as some kind of military expert, is slightly bad form. But then again, a look at Alan Clark’s political career and private life tells us that morals were hardly his strong point. Even his own wife is quoted in The Independent as saying “…I come from an army family – my father was a colonel and my grandfather a brigadier. If I had known, I would probably have lined him up against the wall and shot him for deserting.”

In a profession where integrity and honesty counts for so much, poor judgement can ruin a career overnight. Reference Hugh Trevor-Roper and the Hitler diaries, David Irving and Holocaust denial, and Orlando Figes and his negative amazon reviews of his rivals books. Clark is bound to draw parallels with figures such as George W. Bush and Bill Clinton who dodged the Vietnam draft, although at least in Bush’s case he did join the Air National Guard, and Clinton was studying in Britain. Somehow Clark’s episode is rather more dishonest and odious.

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