The future of British Armed Forces
This article belongs to With a Grain of Piquant Salt column.
So, what does a medium-ranking power that is still trying to establish its final place in the world do about the last vestiges of its great power status and colonial hang-ups? I am talking about the
As is usual, this essay came together from isolated factors. First, was when I was reading about the fact the British Trident nuclear deterrent was facing parliamentary opposition because that parliament has not discussed it enough. They were not sure whether we will need Trident in 15 years. The second factor was when I was listening to Lord King in the salubrious environs of the Carlton Club in
Let me start with the second factor first. Lord King of
It takes at least 15 years to hire, train and get your majors, colonels and sergeants up to speed. One cannot put in an advertisement for a colonel now, like you would put in for a training manager or for a sales manager. And believe you me, given the problems and difficulties of hiring civilians for civilian jobs, just think about hiring somebody who holds the power of life and death over his men (it could be in the thousands), with awesome destructive force at his command. You cannot do it. You can call in a mercenary, but mercenary and security companies also need these people, so you will still need trained people from some army.
So, looking at the recent issues around recruitment of marines, navy, soldiers in the British Armed Forces means that we are storing up trouble. There is a shortage of recruits, on all wings, both commissioned and non-commissioned. It is so bad that I have heard senior commanders saying that they hope that the commissioning of Prince William and Harry into the armed forces will force an upsurge in recruitment for officers and squaddies. Ummm, no, it doesn't work like that, I am afraid. The current dissatisfaction with the endless
This is where the third factor helps. The days of the
As the third factor shows, there is going to be a high likelihood the British Armed Forces will be asked to be deployed and help out on the homeland itself. This is either due to domestic terrorism akin to the
The problem with trying to punch above our weight is that while it fills us with a warm glow, its economically and politically unsustainable. We are trying to spend like the rich while earning like the middle-class. This can only work for some time before either taxes or borrowings or both need to go up. And you know the appetite for raising taxes for both parties is near zero. So, all in all, we have to move into thinking of our future armed forces as light, mobile forces, rather than an armed force which can handle anything and everything. So, if we try to do everything ranging from a WW2 war to a
This brings me to the first point: Trident. While I am aware of the point that we do need our nuclear deterrent and it needs its own investment. It's not like you can pop out to the corner store and order a submarine with nuclear ICBM missiles or
Some closing thoughts . . . During a PhD seminar at KCL, it was pointed out that the British Armed Forces, since the formation of a standing army and navy, always suffered from a shortage of manpower, whether sailors or qualified personnel or army. So, that sort of put things into perspective. We have always muddled through, but one wonders whether this muddling through is enough in the days of terrorism and highly professional, electronic armies? Attending another presentation by the Right Honourable Nicholas Soames, the ex-Conservative Minister for Defence, I asked him a question, why aren't we using our commonwealth connections? We have Gurkha Regiments, we have a large contingent from
All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!
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