One of the most common accusations levelled at senior commanders is that once they reach high command, they ‘look after their own’, based on their earlier experience. This is hardly surprising – if a young man joins a service as a teenager, and spends 40-odd years serving within it, being infused with the deepest traditions of it, of course its going to leave a mark. But is this tribalism helpful in them modern, purple-operations era?
It was noticeable during the Falklands War that more than a few of the Naval Commanders concerned were ex-submariners – Fieldhouse, Woodward, and more than a few of the Task Force’s captains. This prominence of the submariner was probably due to the importance of the Submarine to the Cold War Navy. Previous times had seen the Fleet Air Arm provide many senior officers. As for the Army, there have been phases there too – Infantrymen, Guardsmen, and Gunners. Mike Jackson became the first CGS from the Paras.
Yet the RAF has, allegedly, had a lot less diversity than the other forces. The frequent accusation is that nothing more than a ‘fast jet flying club’, thanks to most of its commanders being former fighter pilots. But is this the case? And how does it compare to the other services?
Chiefs of the Air Staff
Lets look at the evidence. These are the last eight Chiefs of the Air Staff, and their backgrounds:
Stephen Dalton – Jaguars and Tornados; Director General Typhoon, Deputy CinC Air Command
Glenn Torpy – Jaguars and Tornados; Air Component Op Telic, Chief of Joint Operations
Jock Stirrup – Jaguars and Phantoms; Deputy CDS (Equipment)
Peter Squire – Hunters and Harriers; Assistant CAS, CinC Strike Command
Richard Johns – Hunters and Harriers; CinC Strike Command, Commander Allied Forces NW Europe
Michael Gaydon – Hunters and Lightnings; CinC Support Command, CinC Strike Command
Peter Harding – Wessex; Vice CDS, CinC Strike Command
David Craig – Meteors and Hunters; CinC Strike Command
Interesting stuff indeed. Apart from one, all have a background in fast jets. The RAF’s limited career structure precludes officers moving around within the service, too. How come no-one who has had a career flying, say, the Hercules or Chinook has made it to the top level of RAF command? Would an ex-Chinook pilot be more inclined to joint operations than an ex-fighter pilot? Interesting as well that the current Chief of the Air Staff spent some time as Director General of the Eurofighter programme…
First Sea Lords
Lets take a look at the backgrounds of the First Sea Lords during the same period:
Mark Stanhope – Submarines, Frigate, Aircraft Carrier; Deputy SACEUR (transformation), CinC Fleet
Jonathan Band – Minesweeper, Frigate, Aircraft Carrier; CinC Fleet, MOD appointments
Alan West – Frigate; Chief of Defence Intelligence, CinC Fleet
Nigel Essenhigh – Destroyers; Assistant CDS (programmes), CinC Fleet
Michael Boyce – Submarines, Frigate; 2nd Sea Lord, CinC Fleet
Jock Slater – Frigate, Destroyer, Aircraft Carrier; CinC Fleet, Vice CDS
Benjamin Bathurst – Fleet Air Arm, Frigates; CinC Fleet, Vice CDS
Julian Oswald – Frigate, Destroyer; Assistant CDS, CinC Fleet
The spread of experience is a lot broader here – not only overall, as First Sea Lords come from a variety of backgrounds, but also individual officers seem to have broader experience too. For example, a submariner has to command surface ships if he wishes to progress further in the Navy, as do pilots. This saves officers being compartmentalised in their experience and skills base. Commanders of escorts and of carriers will know a great deal about aviation, thanks to flying One notable absence, however, is amphibious warfare – no First Sea Lord’s in recent history have commanded a landing ship.
Chiefs of the General Staff
David Richards – Royal Artillery, Armoured Brigade; ARRC (inc ISAF), CinC Land
Richard Dannatt – Green Howards, Armoured Brigade; ARRC, CinC Land
Mike Jackson – Intelligence Corps/Parachute Regiment, Belfast Brigade; ARRC (inc KFOR), CinC Land
Mike Walker – Royal Anglian Regiment, Armoured Brigade; ARRC, CinC Land
Roger Wheeler – Royal Ulster Rifles, Armoured Brigade; GOC N. Ireland, CinC Land
Charles Guthrie – Welsh Guards, SAS, Armoured Brigade; 1 Br Corps, BAOR
Peter Inge – Green Howards, Armoured Brigade; 1 Br Corps, BAOR
John Chapple – Gurkhas, Gurkha Brigade; Deputy CDS, CinC Land
Once again, its clear that senior Army officers have a more diverse background than their Airships. Admittedly, they are all infantrymen apart from David Richards, but in turn most of those infantrymen have either commanded armoured units, or served with the SAS or Parachute Regiment. There has for a long time been a ‘one size fits all’ attitude within the Army, and its by no means unknown for an Engineer to command an Infantry Brigade, or a non-airborne officer to command the air assault brigade. Notice as well how the centre of gravity in the Army changed from the British Army of the Rhine to the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, and as a result they have gained experience of NATO commands, peacekeeping and so-on. In general there has been more real ‘action’ – N. Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan.