A Young Man's Game

A young man's game

A young man's game


I note from the Armed Forces bi-annual Diversity Report that as of the 1st October 2017, 23.6% of the UK Regular Forces and 13.9% of the Future Reserves 2020 are under 25 years old. In the last year, this has decreased by 1% in the UK Regulars and 0.9% in the Future Reserves 2020. Of the Officers, 7% of the UK Regular Forces and 5.3% of the Future Reserves 2020 are under 25 years old. At 1 April 2017 48% of UK Regular Forces personnel were under the age of 30. The overall average age was 31. The Army had the lowest average age (30), and the RAF the highest average age (33).

Age of Officers in the UK Regular Forces and the Future Reserves 2020, as at 1 October 2017

Age of Officers in the UK Regular Forces and the Future Reserves 2020, as at 1 October 2017

Both Officers and Other Ranks in the Regular Forces are younger on average than is the case in the Reserves. The average age of Regular officers is 37 years old compared to 43 years old in the Reserves while Other Ranks in the Regular Forces have an average age of 30 years old compared to 35 years old in the Reserves.

Age of Other Ranks in the UK Regular Forces and the Future Reserves 2020, as at 1 October 2017

Age of Other Ranks in the UK Regular Forces and the Future Reserves 2020, as at 1 October 2017

These average ages appear high. Average ages in the Royal Navy and the RAF are higher than the Army. We would expect that  given the need for more technically qualified servicemen given the nature of their weapons platforms. There is also a minimum requirement, however much the Services have been cut, for command, control, support and logistics which would increase the average age.

Average age of Infantry recruits from 2001-2012. The leap in average age may be a result of more accessible higher education and benign economic conditions during that period.

Average age of Infantry recruits from 2001-2012. The leap in average age may be a result of more accessible higher education and benign economic conditions during that period.

Notwithstanding that the proportion of servicemen aged between 18-24 has declined in recent years.  In 2000 this age bracket accounted for 31% of all personnel, in 2017 this had been reduced to 24% of personnel.

More soldiers are aged over 35 than are under 24 years old.

More soldiers are aged over 35 than are under 24 years old.

The ugly fact though, is that war fighting is a young man’s game. I have written before about how small the Infantry portion of the Armed Forces is. The same is true of the other combat arms, Artillery and Armour, but with at a best guess, less than 12,000 fighting infantry soldiers fit to fight, the government of the day has limited optionality in committing itself to any kind of armed response. Worse, if those available forces were to be committed they would again be at elevated risk because there are no great numbers in reserve behind them. In a worst case extreme scenario we could lose the fighting strength of the British Army in a matter of days bringing unthinkable last ditch options in play. In pursuit of short term gain UK governments have therefore lowered the nuclear threshold.


I would find reassurance in lower average ages across the board but what do I know? I’m just an old guy armed with a mouse and a keyboard.

Strength of the full-time trained and untrained UK Regular Forces since 1980.

Strength of the full-time trained and untrained UK Regular Forces since 1980.

Size matters. UK Regular Forces are 50% smaller than in 1980. The total strength of the full-time UK Regular Forces (trained and untrained) at 1 January 2018 was 147,033. Between 1990 and 1995 the strength of the UK Regular Forces reduced by around 72,500 personnel (a drop of 24%). The reduction in strength was a result of the MOD’s Options for change strategic defence review announced in July 1990. The review was intended as a response to the changing strategic environment in the post-Cold War era, establishing a smaller better equipped forces and making defence policy focused more on capabilities rather than threats. 


Since 2000 the total strength of the UK Regular Forces has generally declined year on year (except for four years of slight growth in 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2010). The Regular Army has fallen in size in the last 12 months by 2.3% with rises in numbers of Gurkha's and Reserves off-setting some of the decrease. Overall, the Army has a 6.3% shortfall in manning from it's Trade Trained liability against 3.7% for the RN and 5.9% for the RAF. 

trend in the total trained strength against the requirement for the UK Armed Forces.

trend in the total trained strength against the requirement for the UK Armed Forces.

The manning shortfall across the Services is not historically unusual. It has more impact now however because the overall size of the Armed Forces is dramatically smaller than was the case even since 2000. The 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review has indicated that the requirement for the UK Armed Forces would be 144,200 personnel by 2020. The 2020 target is 53,960 (27%) personnel fewer than needed at 1 April 2000.


Is the world 27% safer today than in 2000? With our Armed Forces at their smallest since the Napoleonic Wars we would wish that to be the case. Back on Planet Reality we know that is not so. In December the House of Commons Library carried out an analysis that looked at the real-terms (ie inflation-adjusted) changes to defence spending. It found that between 2010 and 2015 the Ministry of Defence's (MoD) budget had fallen by £8bn in real terms. That's a cut of 18% compared with the 2009-10 budget.

In January, the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Nick Carter said in a speech to the Royal United Services Institute that Britain "must take notice of what is going on around us" or that the ability by the UK to take action will be "massively constrained." For the CGS to speak out in public and in plain terms was unusual. In previous times his stark warning would have sparked a national debate about Defence. Not so now. The truth is few people care and why should they when dealing with their own busy lives? Nor do most politicians. The consequences of under resourced defence will be felt hardest by those serving if they are called to action. The repercussions though, will be felt by us all.

Snowflake Soldiers?

This is what the fuss is about

Another week passes and one with yet another silly story about Defence. Following the spurious, ‘Queen Elizabeth Sprung A Leak,’ tale we had the '£1 per head for Christmas in Afghanistan,’ then the ‘Be The Best,’  slogan being scrapped nonsense and now we have the over-the-top criticism of the Army’s new inclusive recruiting campaign which has driven retired officers to pen letters and columns for newspapers in apoplectic rage.  We will be hearing more stories like this as more and more people become restless as the growing budgetary penny pinching bites harder. What all of this disguises though, is a real honest and open debate about the threat, what the government wants the Army to do, how it is going to man and equip it and how the Army will shape itself to meet its commitments. Quite frankly, I very much doubt if many in Whitehall can sensibly address that whether they be in uniform or not.

% of BAME recruits 2015-2017

% of BAME recruits 2015-2017

This though, is another storm in a teacup, just like the telephone answering thing last week that started up a whole convoy of Outrage Buses. My understanding is that the last 'Belonging' campaign is rated a success within the Army, (applications +34%). Capita, to whom the recruiting process is contracted, obviously, are not. The process is so designed, or ill designed, to present the potential recruit with so many obstacles most simply give up long before they enter any training depot. The scandal with Capita is that the situation does not appear to be improving year on year. Notwithstanding that, any effort to broaden the Army's appeal throughout society has to be a good thing given the pitiful representation of some ethnic groups. I discussed recruiting issues, and some modest suggestions in previous posts here and here.

breakdown, by Service, of the numbers of Armed Forces personnel by self-declared religion as of 1st April 2017, (Simple addition evidently leaves something to be desired at the MOD).

breakdown, by Service, of the numbers of Armed Forces personnel by self-declared religion as of 1st April 2017, (Simple addition evidently leaves something to be desired at the MOD).

Moreover, and this may come as a newsflash to some of my fellow retired brethren, the MOD has a Prime Ministerial, (David Cameron), target that 10% of all recruits to the Armed Forces should be from a Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) background by 2020. The Army meets this target, (as at April 2017), probably because of the Commonwealth intake; the other services fall well short. Additionally, the MOD has a further target of 15% of the services to be female by 2020 with women eligible for infantry and armoured roles from this year in a further crackpot farewell decision from Mr Cameron.

% of female recruits 2015-17

% of female recruits 2015-17

The armed forces face numerous headwinds, most of which we have previously discussed but in essence, may be summarised as follows,

  • Near record employment (currently the unemployment rate in the UK is 4.3%, the lowest since 1975). The drop in unemployment in the 18-24 year old bracket is especially dramatic.
  • Demographic change. The UK has an ageing population with those of military age declining as a proportion of the total. In addition, the proportion of BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) members of the population is rising, a segment of the community which has, hitherto, shown a low propensity to apply for military service.
  • The ending of the deployment to Afghanistan in 2014 has removed the “recruiting sergeant” of active land warfare operations, a factor which has traditionally helped to maintain interest among young recruits, who have regularly seen footage of British troops involved in overseas conflicts relayed into their homes.
  • A shrinking military footprint. The MOD’s estate has been downsized in recent years, partly in order to meet other policy objectives, such as provision of land for housing. This has led to a situation where in many towns around the United Kingdom the only remaining military presence is provided by cadet units. 
  • These trends are exacerbated by other factors such as an increase in obesity in the United Kingdom in the past two decades plus an increase in post 16 year olds staying on in education (a factor which has particularly affected recruiting in the Army). The UK has the highest proportion of obesity of 27% in Europe, i.e. a Body Mass Index (BMI) of over 30. A further 36% are overweight (BMI of between 25 and 30).
  • Medical screening by Capita is bureaucratic, inflexible and has long time lines. 90% of individuals who are failed when attempting to join the Armed Forces do so on medical grounds.According to a “snapshot analysis” taken from the Army Recruiting Review in February 2017 over a twelve month period 14,269 applicants (both Regular and Reserve) were failed on medical grounds; as opposed to 575 who were failed for prominent tattoos; 262 for residency requirements and 182 for having unacceptable criminal records.
  • The Strategic Defence and Security Review 2010 (SDSR 2010) led to four rounds of redundancy in the Army and two in the Royal Navy, plus reductions in the Royal Air Force. This drawdowns have tainted the recruitment picture, with the Armed Forces still attempting to recruit new (younger) personnel whilst making more experienced personnel redundant. This created a perception that the Armed Forces were no longer “open for business”.
  • In 2013 the waiver of the 5 year residency requirement for Commonwealth Troops was terminated. This has led to a significant reduction in the number of Commonwealth recruits. In 2016, with Home Office agreement, a limited exception was made for 200 in restricted trades. Currently there have been over 13,000 applications for these places – the window for applying has been closed for the next two years as a consequence. Given the competition for places, the successful applicants are some of our physically fittest recruits but the resultant gap of over 500 recruits has had to be filled elsewhere.

Lower retention than expected and a failure to achieve recruiting targets means under-manning is deteriorating. The Royal Navy and the RAF are now running at around 10% short of their annual recruitment target, whilst for the Army the shortfall is over 30%.

The imaginative among you will already have figured out a variety quick fixes to the immediate manning problem which might include for example lifting barriers to entry for the Commonwealth and that traditional source of fine fighting soldiers for the British Army, Ireland. Capita also need to be gripped, low and hard. I hear and read much anecdotal evidence of their shortcomings but the systems failures are known and documented. A paragraph from the 2017 Tri Service External Scrutiny Report (published in July 2017) bears repeating at length, as it acts as a very good summary of the problems inherent in the current system. Although this relates to the Reserves, the problems are very similar for the Regulars as well.

“It is commonplace on every unit to hear that default referrals have been based on instances such as nonrecurring childhood ailments (brief use of an inhaler or a very minor fracture); precautionary prescriptions that were then never used; or emotional stability because of stress/counselling in the wake of, say, a family bereavement. Medical deferrals also receive a bad press from recruits, especially in the case of manifestly athletic candidates (in at least one case playing at national level) to whom a rigid Body Mass Index has been applied. As we say earlier, we acknowledge the grounds for a specific medical standard but it does seem clear to us that in too many instances it is being applied without adequate background knowledge or common sense. We are also told that the medical opinion being applied differs widely between locations. One unit which initially experienced a near 100% referral rate, went to the lengths of making their local Capita assessing GP an honorary unit member to address the problem – which it did. As medical assessments are now conducted under civilian contracts it is reasonable to assume that the assessing GPs and their staff have little Service background. If they are to deliver this Service effectively, they need better instruction/direction and we sense there needs to be better quality control across the regions. The single Services should review their recruiting medical contracts to ensure assessments are carried out with a greater degree of consistency and common sense.” 
evry picture.........

evry picture.........

Capita took responsibility for recruiting in 2012. They should hang their heads in shame at their performance. Regular solider applications, which were c70,000 in 11/12, fell to c45000 12/13 and has remained broadly at around that level ever since. Regular solider enlistments fell from c10,000 in 12/13 to 6,500 – 7,500 from 13/14 onwards.

Many of the comments following last weeks furore which I have read in the press and on social media show a lack of appreciation for the way in which life for the average student at school has changed over the years. Given the shrinking size of the UK’s Armed Forces since World War II and also the shrinking footprint of military installations around the country, unless they have served in a cadet unit, or already come from a military family, most people leaving school have very little, if any, experience of or exposure to the Armed Forces. Something which I have highlighted since the inception of this blog. Decision makers probably overestimate the degree to which young people understand the military and its ethos and in fact some surveys have shown that they have very little understanding at all. The annual PWC Forces for Change survey found that 18-34 year olds were less aware of the job opportunities provided by the armed forces with only 75% of respondents believing the Armed Forces were important to the UK economy in offering jobs and employment opportunities compared to the national average of 81%. 

Things though, are not quite as bleak as they might appear. While the institutional historical memory may be dimming, and the lights may have gone out altogether for the retired cohort, the Army has been here before. 


I joined in 1978 which was not a particularly good time for the Armed Forces. Money was short. Training, ammunition, clothing and supplies were all rationed, (unless units were heading to NI). Recruitment was challenging and it wasn't at all unusual for battalions to do an operational tour with a platoon seconded from another regiment to bring it up to strength. Indeed, my CO at the time offered £20 a head to anyone who brought new recruits to the regiment. Observers fretted about 'society going down the tubes,' with the advent of punk rockers and political instability saw soldiers clearing up rubbish in the streets and on fire duty in place of those then on strike who anyway were paid more than the soldiers brought in to do their work. It all changed when Mrs T was elected the following year. For my part, and those around me, we didn't enjoy our soldiering any less and it did have it's lighter moments. On arriving at the QM Stores to exchange my well worn plimsolls on one occasion I was sent off at the high port by the QM with the classic, 'bugger off ya chancer; there's another 3,000 miles in they gutties.'

3 SCOTS deploying to Iraq last week on Op Shader.... not a snowflake in sight.

It is of course entirely normal for one generation of soldiers to look out of the window and think things have changed for the worse. It was ever thus. Back in 1980, after many hours waiting on standby in some side streets in Lurgan during the Hunger Strike riots, we got the order to move in and take over from the RUC who were taking a bit of a battering. As we moved forward a more experienced Corporal turned to me and said, 'Dinnea sweat it, this is nothing like as bad as the Ardoyne in '72.' I thought to myself, 'well a brick in the face or a sucking chest wound probably feel just as bad whichever postcode and time you happen to be in.'  That Corporal, 'Annie' Oakley, was incidentally, one of the best infantry soldiers I ever came across. He moved like a cat and had a natural understanding and affinity for his environment, whether on the streets or in rural areas. 

Moreover, I have been deeply impressed with those of the current senior NCO cadre in the Army who I have met. If the Army has that right then it has grounds for optimism. The years spent in Afghanistan should and are yielding significant rewards in the quality of training output. The training itself may be a shade less 'gritty,' but it appears to me, with my limited knowledge, to be more thorough. The past aggression and 'grittiness,' of training has anyway been overplayed by critics over the past week. Even at the Scottish Infantry Depot in 1978, which was no lay-up, NCO's were ordered not to swear at recruits. This was a challenge for many of them given few could complete a word never mind a sentence in normal conversation without inserting some slice of profanity.

Frank - Army advert from 1992 containing two of the things you rarely see as an infanteer; helicopters when you need them and pretty girls.

In summary, the MOD is doing what it has been mandated to do to address BAME recruitment. With limited manpower, budgets and real estate the Army is constrained in its outreach to its traditional recruiting base which is filling with young men and women who don't actually know much about the services, don't come into contact with them and who enjoy higher career aspirations and education attainment than perhaps did previous generations. The recruitment process is a complete clusterfxck and acts as deterrent to recruitment which should be timely, transparent, informed and engaged. The two scary aspects to the entire debate is a seeming absence of political will to confront and solve what are hardly intractable challenges. The lack of interest from the Prime Minister herself is worrying. The second, as I alluded to earlier, is a complete vacuum in the mainstream press with regard to the higher level defence debate. It is 2018 but in that regard we could easily be in 1938. In respect of those currently serving, I think we can have every confidence that they meet or exceed any standard laid down by their predecessors. We just need more of them.

British Army; Faces - It takes all sorts....

Army; Is the Door Open Or Is It Shut?

Kevan Jones, the Shadow Minister of Defence, recently asked in a written question what the shortfall was in Infantry establishment numbers. The answers are a cause for concern.

Regular Infantry establishment and shortfall numbers (MOD)

The very first thing which leaps off the page is the total number. As of the 1st December 2016 the British Army had a total Infantry strength of 19,420 against an establishment of 20,164. Of the serving total, some 4,380 were serving outside their parent regiments in training establishments, Special Forces and the like leaving an available Infantry pool of 14,860. That is a risible number for a country of our size and commitments. Life in the infantry is very physical and injury is common. It would not be unreasonable, (although no figures are quoted), to suppose that at any time between 5 and 10% of the nominal roll is unable to fight because of short or long term medical issues. If we take the lower end of that we have a fighting strength of 14,117. I do not doubt for a second that those 14,117 men are any the less soldiers than any of their forbears but the number is simply not big enough to prosecute anything but the most modest localised conflict.

Army Reserve establishment and shortfall numbers, (MOD)

Then we have the Reserves. Of a Reserve Infantry establishment of 6,048 the actual strength is 6,240 of which 1,420 were serving outside their parent units on 1st December 2016 leaving 4,820 available for Regimental duty. That apparent surplus is encouraging. It would be interesting to know though how many of the 1,420 serving outside their parent units are actually serving with regular battalions and does that in itself improve, at least optically, the poor regular Infantry numbers? Also, I can't reconcile the numbers in the written answer with those provided in the table above which was published with the answer and which reflect, apart from the Parachute Regiment, a recruitment and retention shortfall of great concern. For example, the London Regiment is shown as being 38.6% below establishment, the Yorkshire Regiment 30% and the Royal Regiment of Scotland 24%. The huge shortfall in Junior Non Commissioned Officers must be a particular worry. 

Ever since the unseemly rush to reap a so called peace dividend with Options for Change in 1990 all three Armed Services have been the larder that successive governments have raided to pay for other vanity projects. The Reserves have been lauded as a plausible adjunct to total strength to be called upon when needed allowing regular infantry numbers to be hosed. It seems to me that is not quite how life is working out, either for the regular or the reserve infantry.

Why is that? Why are young men seemingly increasingly reluctant to join the regular or reserve infantry and what can be done about it?


From a 1970"s recruitment poster. By coincidence, the Corporal standing beside the target was my training Corporal in basic training at Glencorse. He was Royal Scots, hell of a sniper too.

From a 1970"s recruitment poster. By coincidence, the Corporal standing beside the target was my training Corporal in basic training at Glencorse. He was Royal Scots, hell of a sniper too.

The reasons are many and varied but a good starting point is to accept that it has never been easy to maintain the Infantry at full strength, especially during times of relative economic health. Even during the 1970's, (although infantry battalions were significantly larger than they are now), it wasn't unusual for a battalion doing an operational tour to be supplanted with men from another battalion to bring them up to full strength. Moreover, the Army is in a constant state of renewal needing a steady intake of new recruits throughout the year, every year. On average, it is a young man's game. Without recruits from the Commonwealth the numbers would be even worse. They matter more than they did then however because the overall numbers are so low. A recruiting shortfall seemed serious back in the days of a 165,000 strong Army. It's a bit more of a wide awake moment when the Army is less than half that size.

It is also common to lose experienced young Officers and NCO's after a prolonged conflict. Many feel they have 'done the script,' and when it looks like years of training and routine lie ahead rather than adrenaline-pumping action they leave. That sentiment spills out into recruitment. While it sounds perverse, it is easier to recruit in times of strife than in peacetime. While the Army probably needs a prolonged period to gather itself after years of active service and to execute the latest reorganisation it doesn't help recruitment. 

Somewhat at odds with this is a reluctance among the soldiery to be posted far from home when in the UK. Being close to Mum and girlfriends at home is considered a good thing which is probably why when I look at the Arms Plot the Army has made efforts to keep regiments as close as is practical to their home recruiting areas. More important from an infantry perspective is that many recruits are sons of soldiers and while some fathers are proud to see their sons join their old regiments many advise them to go in the opposite direction with the echo of words from their own fathers and grandfathers ringing loud, 'get a trade son.'

The amalgamations of the 1990's and 2000's which turned much of the infantry into multi battalion super regiments have not helped. Generally, regiments which retained their identity and culture such as the Parachute Regiment and the Guards have fared better than others like the Royal Regiment of Scotland who are some 12.6% light on establishment numbers. The creation of the RRS was not especially well managed when compared to others like the Rifles but the RRS faces other headwinds with constant reruns of IndyRef on the front page not helping either officer or soldier recruitment.

Engaging Capita to manage military recruitment was a grievous error which no one seems to want to admit or correct. I have met many young men and women in recent years who have been driven to exasperation trying to navigate their way through the recruitment process. Required standards of entry, specifically medical, have also been too onerous. If a potential recruit had a bad cough at the age of six its enough for Capita to bin the application. A risk averse recruitment policy will get you exactly what it sets out to do but it ignores the fact that our infantry have always been imperfect. Many have come from broken homes, have endured various kinds of deprivation in growing up either social, educational or parental but have transformed themselves and their life chances after time in uniform. Capita have quotas. They don't have imagination. They are also inefficient. The MOD signed a contract with them in 2013 partly to 'mitigate the risks of ICT.' The new computer system is still nowhere in sight. 

Another drag on recruitment may be the perception that Her Majesty's Government in general, and the MOD in particular, are not quite as loyal to the Armed Services as one might like to believe. The recent scandalous hounding of former servicemen for made up crimes in Iraq, done without a squeak of protest from Main Building, is a disgrace. So too is the interviewing of former soldiers who served in Northern Ireland which includes Chelsea Pensioners, one of whom was questioned in relation to a 45 year old incident when he returned fire on a terrorist. What makes this much worse is the long roll of terrorists who were given a free pass by Tony Blair. Military housing and education for dependents also require attention as do other areas of concern such as mental health support.

Finally, David Cameron's feckless political decision to allow women to enlist in the infantry is unhelpful in maintaining the tight bond which is built and nutured in infantry sub units. Without engaging in operational arguments I simply contend that it produces another headwind to core Infantry recruitment and retention.

So, what is to be done?

I have a simple plan, the implementation of which should be immediate and which will lead to recruiter postbags overflowing with applicants forthwith.

It's good to talk

Get every Infantry CO and RSM in a room and ask them what they think the problem is. Then, have a big dinner and give them half a cellar of wine and find out what the problem really is. Spend two days in sub groups coming up with plans specific to their regimental recruiting needs. Subject to that,

Ask the Rank & File

Get out and nail down a large sample of recent leavers. Ask them why and ask them 'what would it take for you to come back.' Do the same with a large sample of recent applicants who didn't ultimately enlist and ask them the same. Then, issue an essay competition with a reasonable cash prize and invite officers and men to present their own solutions. There are a lot of creative and active minds in the Army. Unlike the Americans however, new thinking is rarely encouraged or listened to. Rather, based on often erroneous assumptions, decisions are made and then magically become 'the way,' and are adhered to without measurement or review. Afghanistan was a rather shining example of that but lets not go there.

Sack Capita and end the obsession with digital recruiting. It isn't working.

Looking from the outside in it has never been more difficult to enlist, at any level. The roadblocks and timelines presented to potential recruits deter all but the most enthusiastic. That may be the plan but it is not a very clever plan. There are no end of vacant high street properties on which very short leases could be taken for the establishment of temporary 'pop-up,' recruitment offices. They should open in the evenings and weekends with effort focused on those regimental recruiting areas where there is a shortfall. Get back to basics. Social media is a tool to be used where appropriate, not a means to an end.

Create an 8 Week Outward Bound 2nd Chance course for teenage offenders.

Take over an old camp like Cultybraggan in Perthshire and recruit 'lite' offenders who both want and would benefit from a second chance. If they can prove themselves through the medium of civilianised adventure training that they have the potential to become self motivated individuals with a sense of self worth and pride then they win the opportunity to apply for military service and other government and local government agencies including the police, fire brigade and ambulance service with a line through their conviction.


The Royal Navy has taken a proactive and creative approach to filling some of the critical skills gaps which it faces. The Army should too but the best actions need to be taken at a political level. Resurrect the plan I presented to the then Minister, Bob Ainsworth, seven years ago which I described here. That is, to offer any serviceman serving a minimum of five years fully paid tertiary education on resettlement, from an MBA, degree to apprenticeships. US Armed Forces benefit from this in something called the Montgomery Amendment to the GI Bill. Give soldiers a reason to enlist and stay for longer than three years. 

Pay & Conditions

Give all servicemen an immediate 10% pay rise. OK, even with reduced manning numbers I guess no government will do it, such would be the noise generated by every other public lobby group, (although it didn't stop Mrs T). The government could think smarter though. Long term government borrowing rates have never been cheaper. The government should issue government backed bonds to raise a fund and use it to offer 30 year fixed low rate mortgages to servicemen with low deposit and credit requirements. To administer it the MOD have a choice. HMG could buy what remains of the Co-Op Bank, (no one else wants it); go ahead with the planned divestiture of Williams & Glyns from RBS, (which was recently put on hold) and use W&G as a Services bank, (HMG still owns 70% of RBS) or sub contract it out. Once the platform is proven they could extend the offering to NHS staff, Emergency Services and so on. Our Armed Forces have a tradition of breaking the cycle of limited life aspirations for men and women who have not enjoyed great life chances in childhood. Time for politicians to convert words into action.


A cycle of UK training in geographically limited training areas with occasional spells training in Canada and the odd tour every 20 years to the Falklands and Belize interspersed with the odd tour somewhere dusty to train tribesmen has a somewhat limited appeal after the first three years. Time for the Chiefs of Staff to get on the phone to their US, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand counterparts and ramp up Long Look, (if they still call it that), the exchange programme with other armies. Get the numbers up and spread it through the ranks, send whole platoons or companies to Fort Bragg for six months. Why not? Soldiers need challenge and they need variety.


Time for a root and branch review of the super regiment structure which can start with the CO's and RSM's conference above. What and where are the good, the bad and the ugly. Can it be more successful with tweaks, does it need a major overhaul or should  we dial back the clock? The Army has been in a constant state of reorganisation for 26 years which has mostly been a challenging game of how to do more with less while retaining the look and feel of a serious and credible permanent member of the Security Council. More dramatic change could be detrimental in the short term but it is more important that the platform is robust to serve with a long duration view.

Raise a new Regiment / Battalion

The infantry has been in organised numerical decline since 1991. Enough. No one wants to join an organisation that is contracting with all the implied career implications that entails. A boost with the raising of an additional battalion would lift the Infantry and indeed the whole Army. In any event, we badly need a lift to the infantry establishment. Only a fool or a general quietly hoping for a knighthood would agree that we have sufficient fighting strength. The options here are varied and open, ranging from taking the Argylls back to battalion strength from their current company sized ceremonial role, to bringing back a regiment from suspended animation to adding a battalion to one of the better recruited super regiments or perhaps a second guards battalion to the Grenadiers or Coldstream. Obviously, another Gurkha battalion could be raised in a heartbeat.

More imaginative thinkers may wish to consider that with 15% of British citizens having been born abroad the Army no longer reflects the national demographic. The discussion about creating a Sikh regiment pops up now and again, (it's always the Sikhs), and perhaps one day a company or battalion may be formed. More striking is the absence of recruits with names ending in -'ski' of Eastern European origin. A composite battalion might be the answer but there is definitely a job waiting for a charismatic and thoughtful leader. Such a leap forward into the past could only be done if mandated by the government but why not?

In summary, the numbers in the tables above tell the story. The Army has halved in size yet shortfalls currently exist across the Infantry. Not only does that reduce our fighting capability but it also reduces the available pool from which to select candidates for promotion or for Special Forces duties. The danger of then falling into a spiral of falling standards and morale and yet larger shortfalls is never far away. The life of an infantryman is far from glamourous. They though don't need our love or a cuddle. They simply need respect and the knowledge that there is switched-on support behind them. There is no organisation on the planet better able to 'make do,' than is the British Army, just as there is no organisation less able to say 'no,' or to admit to weakness. As voting taxpayers, concerned citizens if you like; we have a part to play in highlighting the structural failings of the Army, and those of their political masters, because if we don't who will? If pressed, I would put the whole thing into one sentence by asking the MOD and Chiefs of Staff, 'why are you going out of your way to make the Infantry so unattractive and difficult for our sons and nephews to join?'