Select Committee on Defence First Report

Infantry Battalions

7. In the supporting documents to the announcement, the MoD set out the three new roles for the TA. They are—

to provide individuals and formed units as an integral part of the deployable army;

to provide a framework upon which larger reserve forces can be built in times of threat; and

to provide a link between the military and civil society.[26]

These roles are encapsulated in the new mission statement for the TA, which is—

To provide formed units and individuals as an essential part of the Army's order of battle for operations across all military tasks in order to ensure that the Army is capable of mounting and sustaining operations at nominated states of readiness. It is also to provide a basis for regeneration, while at the same time maintaining links with the local community and society at large.[27]

8. To fulfil its mission the MoD has concluded that an established strength of 41,200 is required [28] to provide for both the TA and the University Officer Training Corps (which is currently 3,500 strong[29]). Of this number, 7,100 will be members of the Infantry[30] which is to be restructured from the 33 existing battalions into 15 new battalions.[31] In evidence to the Committee,[32] General Walker explained—

There is an operational requirement for some five battalions as formed battalions to undertake what I would call key point activities in this country that came out of the operational requirement. The remaining ten battalions, including in this particular case the parachute battalion, are designed to be a pool of general reserve infantry who can undertake tasks that infantry can normally undertake up to unit level training and in the event of a crisis would be used to provide war establishment reinforcement and battle casualty replacement.[33]

Although the tasks of the five 'mobilised' battalions are classified[34] we were told that there is a requirement for five battalions' worth of TA infantry for deployment in the event of a regional conflict.[35] Home defence against a strategic threat would need larger forces but the view of the MoD is that "a strategic threat is ten years downstream, which would give the country time in which to regenerate sufficient forces."[36] In its supplementary written evidence the MoD explained the rationale of this structure in more detail—

There are two main requirements for Territorial Army infantry: to provide specific support for Home Defence and the framework for regeneration in a time of crisis. But we do not plan to have two different kinds of infantry battalion to meet these requirements. Both requirements stem from the planning assumptions set out in the SDR White Paper and in the Government's response to the Committee's report on it: that the threat of direct conventional military attack on Britain has receded to a degree where the warning times for such an attack can be measured in years; that we nonetheless, and while shifting the emphasis towards and ability to conduct expeditionary operations, do not neglect Home Defence; and, while we will rely more on regeneration in future, we have retained key aspects of the organisation and infrastructure for Home Defence.

The requirement for the five TA infantry battalions for Home Defence was based on the assumption that a Full Scale of Effort (i.e. a strategic attack on NATO), we would have a requirement for 45 battalions of infantry. 40 of these are needed to meet tasks that require regular forces, and the balance can be provided by the TA. The five TA battalions, each of three companies, plus 13 of the 40 regular battalions would be assigned to guarding Key Points in the UK. The second requirement is to have sufficient TA infantry so as to provide the basis on which larger reserve forces can be generated in the event that they are required, without the need to maintain these larger numbers in peacetime. By retaining the further ten battalions of TA infantry, we have also been able to ensure that the TA retain a reasonably widespread footprint or presence in the country as a whole.[37]

9. Despite the reductions in the overall establishment of the TA, the MoD committed itself to retaining the geographical spread of the TA. This is in line with our recommendation in our report on the SDR, and we welcome it in principle. In the supporting documents, the MoD states that 'the new TA structure will maintain a widely spread representation of the Army across the regions and counties.'[38] However, to achieve this, battalions have been spread more thinly and over a wider area. In its supplementary evidence, the MoD explained—

We intend that all TA infantry units in the new structure are organised similarly not only to be able to carry out both roles alongside their regular counterparts but also to reflect the regions they represent. For that reason, all 15 battalions will conduct training at up to battalion level, enabling them to conduct operations at that level should be required; but most training will be conducted at sub-unit—mainly company—level, to reflect the likelihood that it is at this level that the majority of the TA infantry will operate in a crisis, in which they will reinforce, as sub-units or individuals, the regular Order of Battle. As the Commander in Chief Land explained at the evidence session on 9 December, the manning of the new battalions will be designed to delegate to company level more of the support that is currently provided at battalion level. We expect to have sufficient notice of a crisis that would give rise to a requirement for TA infantry in formed battalions, to be able to select and, if necessary, enhance units to ensure that they have the right mix of skills and capabilities.[39]

Whilst this structure has succeeded in retaining a relatively wide presence nationally, both our witnesses from the TAVRAs and the Minister agreed that a trade-off between cap badges, retaining the geographical spread of reservist opportunities and retaining combat effectiveness had had to be made.[40] However, their views differed as to the success of the final package.

10. The Minister of State told us—

The first thing that was established was what do the TA need to be combat effective, what level of TA do we need to be able to reinforce our regular commitment? The second thing was what functions do we need? The third thing was to try to preserve the important traditions that exist in the Army through cap badges. Balanced against that was the need to have a footprint around the country[41]

He believed that a balance had been struck that gave them the right package in which the geographical spread was fair in the regional sense and also fair within regions.[42] Our witnesses from the TAVRAs took the view that there are shortcomings in the new structure.[43] Colonel Putnam raised questions about the effectiveness of the new battalions—

... the proposals are very clear in that each company will have two platoons and one support platoon. That support platoon will be either recce, assault pioneers, GPMGSF[44] or mortars. If you have a three company battalion, you cannot have all four of those. One would be missing. If you have a three company battalion that also has retained a reserve band, the band takes the place of one of the support platoons, and therefore you can only have two of those four support requirements. That seems to me to be making it very weak. Equally, those support platoons are where you want to put the two or three year soldier once he has got through his first year of recruit training, to retain his interest and increase his expertise and employability in the event of call-up.[45]

Furthermore, as the battalions are spread over a larger area, the opportunity for reservists to train in the various disciplines within the battalion diminish. Colonel Putnam continued—

We have a battalion stretched between Canterbury and, say, Farnham, and the assault pioneers are in Canterbury and the GPMGSF role is in Farnham. It is likely that a soldier in Canterbury will finish up with a narrow expertise because he cannot be expected to drive 130 miles to Farnham to be trained on a GPMGSF role.[46]

11. A striking example of potential problems of spreading battalions across the country was presented to us when we visited 10 Para (V) at the Duke of Yorks' Headquarters in Chelsea. Before the reorganisation, there were two reservist paratroop battalions, 10 Para (V) in London, and 4 Para (V) in Glasgow. Under the present restructuring, the two battalions are being amalgamated to form one battalion. The need to "draw from the parts of the country where we can get the right people"[47] as well as retaining the geographical spread appears to have necessitated this country-wide battalion. However, with companies based in Scotland and in the south of England it will prove difficult for them to receive training above the company level. Indeed, our witnesses from the TAVRAs believed that commanding such a battalion could be a "potential nightmare".[48] In such cases, as the TAVRAs acknowledged, there may be an argument for basing the whole battalion in one area, even if it is at the expense of the geographical spread.[49] While defending the decision, the Minister did admit that there was a "problem in geography."[50] The TAVRAs further noted that training at the company level could be affected by this new structure. Colonel Putnam argued that even if you start with a company of 110 men, once you remove the support platoon, those elements needed to staff the Battalion HQ,[51] and the training recruits[52] for the purposes of training, a company will, effectively, become a platoon.[53] When the MoD comes to finalise the establishment of the battalions we will expect to see evidence that it has taken these concerns into account.

12. This Committee has yet to be convinced that the right balance has been struck between overall numbers and geographical spread which will allow the infantry battalions to train at the levels and to the standards necessary for them to fulfil the roles required of them. The Minister stated his aim to have "an effective and efficient and well resourced TA."[54] We recommend that the MoD monitors closely the impact of the proposed new structure on training, and if it becomes apparent that the proposed structure is failing to deliver effectively, undertakes to increase the establishment of individual units to such a level that can. We return to this recommendation in our conclusions.

13. Central to the question of training is the level of support the TA receive from the Permanent Staff Instructors[55]. The MoD are currently running an exercise, to conclude in the middle of February, which will set the level of support in terms of regular and non-regular Permanent Staff Instructors (PSIs).[56] While we do not yet know what those levels will be, we agree with the TAVRAs that understaffing the PSIs would have serious implications for the ability and willingness of volunteers to remain in the TA.[57] The Minister said that there would be sufficient support from the non-permanent staff and the same level of regular input, proportionately, as there had been in the past, and gave us his assurance that the "necessary level of support will be there and if anybody draws it to our attention that it is not then we will do something about it".[58] We note that a higher proportion of the new TA is to be composed of units requiring disproportionate numbers of permanent staff (such as Signals) and a higher proportion are to be at higher readiness. It is reasonable to assume that the TA's permanent staff needs will be proportionately higher than they were before. We consider it likely that a smaller but better-trained TA will require a higher proportion of Permanent Staff Instructors than it has had in the past. We will hold the Minister to his assurance that the position will be regularly reviewed[59] and that should it become clear that training is falling below levels necessary for the effectiveness of the TA to be maintained, it will be increased.

26   Modern Forces for a Modern World: A Territorial Army for the Future, Volume 1, para 9 Back

27   ibid Back

28   ibid, para 10 Back

29   Eighth Report, Session 1997-98, The Strategic Defence Review, HC 138-III, p 524 Back

30   Modern Forces for a Modern World: A Territorial Army for the Future, Volume 1, corrigendum to para 11 Back

31   ibid, para 9 Back

32   QQ 109-151 Back

33   Q 111 Back

34   Q 113 Back

35   Q 117 Back

36   Q 115 Back

37   Ev p 36 Back

38   Modern Forces for a Modern World: A Territorial Army for the Future, Volume 1, para 7 Back

39   Ev p 36 Back

40   QQ 45-99, QQ 109-111 Back

41   Q 109 Back

42   ibid Back

43   QQ 14-26 Back

44   General Purpose Machine Gun Sustained Fire Back

45   Q 14 Back

46   ibid Back

47   Q 110 Back

48   Q 44 Back

49   Q 46 Back

50   Q 110 Back

51   Q 122 Back

52   Q 14 Back

53   Q 16 Back

54   Q 133 Back

55   Permanent Staff Instructors are individuals from the Regular Army who train the Territorial Army Back

56   Q 125 Back

57   Q 17 Back

58   Q 131 Back

59   Q 103-131 Back

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Prepared 11 February 1999