Hammond: Army Regiments facing Axe

English: Infantry of the British Army recruiti...

Infantry of the British Army recruiting areas by regiments (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hot on the heels of the Aircraft Carrier u-turn rumours came the Secretary of State’s speech at the Royal United Service Institute’s Land Warfare Conference. With the Strategic Defence and Security Review calling for a reduction in the size of the Army’s manpower, it was inevitable that at some point proposald would crop up to trim the Army, in terms of regiments, Battalions and capabilities.

The programme is euphemistically being called ‘Army 2020’, as part of ‘Future Force 2020’. Interesting, when the 2010 Defence Review was pretty much out of date with three or four months!

“Army 2020, as we call it, will deliver a new structure designed to meet the needs of a smaller, more flexible and agile Army. Set on a firm foundation, in terms of both men and materiel. Well-trained, well-equipped, and, crucially, fully-funded.”

Apparently three key considerations underpin the structuring of the Army – sustainability, capability and integration:

“That requires the UK’s Armed Forces to be intelligent, flexible and adaptable, both in approaching the fight and during the fight. With an expeditionary capability and a theatre-entry capability.”

Expeditionary capability is hanging by a thread as it is, and any future cuts might render it a thing of the past.

“But all of us here recognise the reality that this process is not taking place in a vacuum. The wider national interest requires that we build for the future with strict financial discipline. Tackling the fiscal deficit and returning the economy to sustainable growth are themselves strategic imperatives. Efficiency and the successful application of military force are not mutually exclusive concepts. Indeed, military productivity, which binds them together, is a key concept in the future management of our Armed Forces. The value that our Armed Forces produces for the country is based on their capability to deliver standing military tasks and project formidable power when national security requires it. That, not balancing the books, is the raison d’être for the existence of our Armed Forces and the MOD.”

The talk about financial discipline is of course welcome. Of course, the thing about balancing the books is just lip service – even the dumbest observer knows that slash and burn is the name of the game.

Hammond had something interesting to say about logistics:

“Working closely with partners to operate logistics more rationally through Alliance structures. Looking, sometimes, to others to provide the tail, where Britain is providing the teeth.”

This has been tried before many a time. When we think back to NATO, early on there was a strong movement to adopt the same calibre small arms, and standardise as much as possible – hence how military equipment has a NATO stock number (even the hull of a warship, it seems!).  But standardising on 7.62 and 5.56 is one thing, but what about when it comes to rationing, uniforms, fuel, and the myriad of other cultural differences? It’s one of those things that sounds great to an accountant – get rid of the support lines and just buy it in when you need it – but you can’t just hire in military tail whenever you need it. A tail doesn’t just bolt onto the teeth effortlessly. Would other countries be able to handle supporting the cultural diversity in Britain’s army, for example? We’re talking leather in beret bands (anathema to a vegan!).

In terms of Reserves:

“The Future Reserves must be structured to provide, as they do today, some niche specialist capabilities that simply aren’t cost-effective to maintain on a full-time basis – for example in areas of cyber, medical or intelligence. But the Future Reserve must also be able to provide on a routine basis those capabilities across the spectrum of tasks requiring less intensive complex training.”

I feel this is slightly cynical. Again and again we find ministers attempting to replace regulars with reserves. And that is what it entails. No disrespect to reservists, but it is always going to be a downgrading in capability. I know that there are some success stories with use of reservists – some of the medical reserves, for example, and the Royal Engineers railway guys, but I can’t help but wonder if we have already pushed the reserve agenda as far as we can? Maybe he’s thinking in terms of reducing Regular Logistics?

Or, more ominously, is he thinking in terms of privatisation of logistics? This, if true, is rather worrying. My personal feeling is that privatisation in defence has been pushed too far by successive governments, and that the cost savings pale in comparison with the problems experienced. Wherever privatisation is heralded, I cannot help but fell that it is motivated by a desire to help wealthy businessmen make even more money. Rumsfeld, Cheney and Haliburton springs to mind.

On the Regimental System:

“I also understand that people worry about how, in the midst of all this change, we will maintain a strong thread of continuity. Retaining the ethos, traditions and connections that are part of what makes the British Army so effective – particularly a regimental system and regionally-focused recruiting. Of course, a Regular Army of 82,000 will have a different structure to one of 102,000. And some units inevitably will be lost or will merge. But let me be clear, we value the history and the heritage because they deliver tangible military benefits in the modern British Army. There is no question, as some have suggested, of abandoning the regimental system in the British Army. But that does not mean that we can avoid difficult decisions as the Army gets smaller. That means focusing on analysis of recruitment performance, demographic trends and future recruiting needs.”

Thinking wider about the Regimental system, one wonders if it might mean an extension of the restructuring that occured in 2006.

In the current British Army, there are 37 Regular Infantry Battalions:

  • Grenadier Guards (1 Bn)
  • Coldstream Guards (1 Bn)
  • Scots Guards (1 Bn)
  • Welsh Guards (1 Bn)
  • Irish Guards (1 Bn)
  • Royal Regiment of Scotland (5 Bns)
  • Duke of Lancasters Regiment (2 Bns)
  • Yorkshire Regiment (3 Bns)
  • Mercian Regiment (3 Bns)
  • Royal Welsh (2 Bns)
  • Princess of Wales Royal Regiment (2 Bns)
  • Royal Fusiliers (2 Bns)
  • Royal Anglian Regiment (2 Bns)
  • Royal Irish Regiment (1 Bn)
  • Parachute Regiment (3 Bns)
  • Royal Gurkha Rifles (2 Bns)
  • Rifles (5 Bns)

One would imagine that if the MOD is intent on reducing infantry manpower and infrastructure, it will attempt to reduce the number of parent Regiments through mergers, and then reduce the amount of Battalions. For example, in 2006 the Royal Greenjackets (2Bns), the Light Infantry (2 Bns), the Devon and Dorsets (1Bn) and the Gloucester, Berkshire and Wiltshires (1Bn) merged to form the 5 Battalion Rifles Regiment. There are a lot of 2 and 3 Bn Regiments in the order of battle that might make sensible mergers.

One wonders how Hammond – and indeed Cameron – will fare when it comes to the inevitable decision that the Royal Regiment of Scotland cannot sustain 5 Battalions. As outlined by Mike Jackson years ago, demographically it just isn’t sustainable. Yet when Alec Salmond and his ilk start their bluff and bluster about Scottish heritage, who will blink first? In 2006 Blair called in Jackson and said, to quote, ‘I need you to help me out of a hole here’. There have already been unfounded rumours in some Scottish media outlets about disbandment of Regiments. Hell hath no fury like an old boy whose Regiment is threatened. In particular, regional pride in the form of Ireland and Wales might also be heavy going. The Guards, although seemingly out of date, are bombproof from any kind of change when it comes to the Army’s respect for all things senior and historic.

The traditional Regiment structure has been evolving ever since the early nineteenth century. The Cardwell Reforms in the 1880’s saw the establishment of country Regiments, which in turn were merged into what might be call sub-regional Regiments between the end of the Second World War and the end of the Cold War. The County Regiment structure which appears to be held up as a traditional golden age only existed for around 60 years. History suggests that where Regimental structures are concerned, a state of flux is actually the norm.

That things have to change is, sadly, non-negotiable. As with the Royal Navy, we would all swell with pride if the Army regained some of its former glory. But strategic necessity and my tax bill just don’t warrant it. But on the flip side, we don’t want to see a rerun of previous defence cuts, with cuts so savage that the guys that are left have an impossible job to do, and are then asked to do too much by the very same politicians who slashed the Armed Forces in the first place!

Interesting times ahead indeed. My predictions – more mergers and cuts in Infantry units, cuts in Armour and Artillery, and cuts and increased reliance on reserves in specialised support functions – in particular logistics.



Filed under Army, News, politics, Uncategorized

22 responses to “Hammond: Army Regiments facing Axe

  1. I can see privitisation of things very close to civilian items – foodstuffs, bedding, things like that. Even light, rear-duty vehicles and heavy haulers can be farmed out without TOO much trouble (though we here in the States have ended up with monopolies, like Oshkosh building all our heavy cargo and vehicle-carrying trucks). But definitely not identity-bearing items like uniforms and such.
    Oh, and please, watch your post titles, okay? We get Top Gear on BBC America on Monday nights, and I was looking at the Email notification of your post, wondering why “The Hamster” was getting involved in defence. Especially since it’s Clarkson who usually gets into it with the military! 😀

  2. x

    To be honest I have had my fill of commenting and thinking about UK defence. Really since the end of WW2 with consumerism finally taking over from nationalism as a driver of Western thought and the invention of atomic weaponry the standing government sponsored army has become an anachronism. We mustn’t forget that the notion of an army as we know it today is historically quite a recent invention. Even more recent, during the 20th century, is how the British Army has come to displace the Royal Navy in the mind of the British public as the primary defender of national sovereignty. Understandable really with the two largest wars fought in human history happening a few hundred miles away on the Continent and taking huge numbers of personnel. The RAF is non-issue. They aren’t really a service in the same way as the other two. They service a particular class of vehicle mainly to support the Army; to conflate the terms airpower and RAF shows a poor sense of understanding what the junior service actually does and its history. In Afghanistan our 102,000 man army just about managed to deploy 6,000 to fight men with rifles. How long would it last in a 3 to 6 month shooting war with a near peer enemy even in support of the US? The 180,000 Cold War British Army would have only lasted days if that war had turned hot.

    What land forces does the UK require? That is easy to answer. An armoured division of three brigades and supporting arms. Three mechanised divisions each off three brigades with supporting arms. A Household Division with 8 Guards Battalions, artillery, and 2 cavalry regiments. A light division of 3 brigades equipped with the same scales of and similar equipment to the RM and parachute brigade. A parachute brigade of three battalions with the necessary vehicles and substantial of transport air craft to move them. A Ghurka brigade. A brigade sized RAF Regiment with light armour and heavy mortars. And finally a RM division of 2 brigades with supporting arms and enough shipping to keep a battle group (1500 men, plus a cavalry squadron and artillery battery) at sea 365 days a year. That is an army of 3 corps about 200,000 men. That was just of the top of my head. It is all so obvious. And yes I am joking. Depending on how you view the world we don’t need them, we can’t afford then, or we choose not to have them. Spend a few weeks browsing over at Think Defence and you will find many who would see the above as perfectly reasonable. The “Army Strong” view is very prevalent over there. Suggest our small Army only deploys because the USN guarantees the safety of the seas and the land and air routes are only available because of the US’s economic and diplomatic power and you are dismissed as a heretic. It is the service that wields the bayonet that is all important don’t you know? And not the services and diplomatic efforts that can the army into theatre and sustains it. Lastly the day of the drawn out interventionist or nation building campaign fought for ill defined goals is over; the PM who takes us into such a conflict will not win the next election.

    My real view is that really we have to accept that we cannot the rising former Third World powers in terms of manpower. And armies are all about manpower.The only place we can compete is using our technological edge to mitigate their numbers and fight at sea, in the air, and soon in space. What of land forces? In coming years crisis will develop quickly and on increasingly shrinking planet happen anywhere. Opposing forces will gather, diplomats and politicians will go into conference, and both sides will sit and wait for the other side to flinch. If there is an exchange of ordnance it will be limited and there will be rapid cessation. No nation or group will be able to afford to loose their forces not just because of the expense of regenerating them, but the cost of building them will mean there will be no depth. Even the Chinese and Indians will be short of the latest weapons and platforms for generations to come. This is a return to early modern or pre-Napoleonic warfare.

    In this paradigm whoever gets their land forces across the beach to plant their flag first will probably win. The rule of thumb to displace a force that that is dug in takes 3 times the number of forces. Put your marine battlegroup ashore and it will take a brigade to move them. Put a brigade ashore and it will take a division. Better a battlegroup at sea that can move at 20kts an hour than an armoured brigade arriving in 6 months time being moved in chartered shipping. That though is too radical for some. They believe it is better to spend £15billion each year on 102,000 who can’t go anywhere quickly. Personally I would spend half of that amount once a decade to buy ships and transporters to move Marines and the Parachute Regiment at speed to where they are needed. As I said that is too radical for many. In my model that is 6 commandos and 3 para battalions. Rounded out with the Guards?

    Why the Guards? Another thing to consider is, what part of “land forces” is the most active? Well if who wields the bayonet is more important than anybody else, then surely those wield it most often and to the greatest effect are the most important of all? And that would be our special forces who are recruited mostly from the RM, Para’s, and the Guards. Not exclusively as SF members are drawn from all the service and so belonged to all manner of corps and regiments. But mostly they are recruited from those I have listed or there supporting army formations (eg 29 Cdo RA). A smaller more selective army will I should imagine still attract those quality soldiers who enter say the RE and then volunteer for SF. It goes without saying that smaller land forces will mean smaller SF. We need to sustain the SF. They are probably as important as the deterrent.

    A few final thoughts,

    1) I would suggest that the quickest way to reduce the size of the Army would be to get rid of as many female soldiers as possible. There said it. I would do the same with the RN too.

    2) The RAF Regiment appears to be surviving while teeth formations are lost.

    3) I am concerned about civil emergencies. Or more accurately support of civil powers. How can a small Army mount another Op Banner? Or a short term Op Banner like operation? We British don’t put troops on to the streets like our Continental cousins. Well we do. We have put our troops on to the street in Iraq and Afghanistan. And lots of other places from Malaya to Israel to FY since WW2. And the last time I looked Ulster is part of the UK. So we do put soldiers on to streets. Perhaps this is a role for the TA? A role similar to the National Guard in the US. A body of disciplined armed men there to help the civil authorities in times of extreme emergency. A bit ill defined. And fraught with possible dangers. But if HMG can’t trust those who voted them it says a lot about our society. And though there may be potential dangers putting citizen soldiers into harm’s way, perhaps we should concentrate on the possible benefits? I fear the next pitch battles the West fights will be on its own streets.

  3. WEBF

    Why thin out female personnel?

      • James Daly

        I can imagine the hairy armpit Brigade getting very angry about that one!

        • x

          Unfortunately it isn’t the politically active middle class feminist Lefty who takes the Queen’s Shilling is it? It is the apolitical girls from council estates or the “jolly hockey sticks” all rounder from the “better” school. The former is looking for escape and the latter is looking for an adventure beyond office life. But is signing up to go war an escape or an adventure? That is what you are doing when you sign on the dotted line.

          Yes there are women now out on patrol in Afghanistan because of the need to address culturally sensitivities. It is a vital role and they are brave young women putting themselves at considerable risk. But they are being shepherded by whole platoons. They don’t go out on every patrol. But this is one particular instance. I do wonder if they are physically cut out for it. I have never been really super fit, but I can carry and lift more for longer than all the female hocky and runners I have known. Why? I 6ft tall and 15st and they are 5ft 6in and 8st to 10st. If I can out preform sportswomen I wonder how much the larger gap would be if I was 21 and actually was a sportsmen and trained regularly.

          If the Army is to be leaner and more agile and will be fighting in wars without front lines perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad thing for the RLC driver to be as fit as the infantryman? Women in the services always performed vital rear-echelon work. And for that work to be done at the optimum to support operations running at high tempo there was a need for women to be organised in a disciplined manner that mirrored the organisation in the field. Any service location is at risk in time of war and so even serving in the UK would be hazardous; but not as hazardous as the enemy being less than 100m away and actively trying to kill you. But with rear echelon being cut away and the” “distance” between rear and front diminishing that is where we are heading. Actually that is where we are at now; at a time where the soldiering part of being a soldier has to have equal weight to the trade. If the soldier is a platform we have to choose to the best platform.

          On a more philosophical note I do find it morally objectionable too. And I think women’s presence in a unit is corrosive to efficiency, morale, and general good fighting order.

          I would welcome arguments against this point of view.

  4. x

    Nobody going to come back with a rebuttal? You must all agree with me then…….. 🙂

    • James Daly

      Funnily enough I typed a quite lengthy reply a while back, and then when I clicked the ‘reply’ button it disappeared. And now I can’t remember what the hell I wrote!

    • John Erickson

      I was going to offer that maybe the women didn’t need to be thinned out, that they were just retaining water at that time of the month. Then I decided I didn’t want my wife to see the post and slaughter me.
      Oh, you’re OTHER statement. Well, that’s just not as much fun, nor nearly as dangerous to respond to! 😀

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