OVERSTRETCH AND TIME AWAY FROM HOME
76. In assessing the demands placed upon Service
personnel in the United Kingdom we have to recognise how much
our Armed Forces' activities have changed in the ten years since
the end of the Cold War. As the retiring CDS, General Sir Charles
Guthrie, recently put it
In our changing world nationalism,
sectarianism, poverty and greed are likely to continue to foster
a spirit of distrust in many places. This will not necessarily
lead to major wars between nation states but it is very likely
to generate friction between sub-regional groupings, sects or
factions with few clearly defined battle lines between them. This
leads to an altogether more complex scenario than existed during
the superpower stand-off of the Cold War. Then we were fundamentally
defensive in nature. As the defenders we could choose our battlefield,
and in our case we chose the Norwegian Sea, the Hanover Plain
and the airspace above them both. I commanded at just about every
level in Germany and came to know the Plain as well as I know
Hyde Park. The enemy had to come to us on ground of our choosing.
This is no longer the case. We must now go to the trouble spot
and take on any potential adversary often on ground of his choosing.
This is more demanding, more complex and can be every bit as dangerous.
From comparatively static forces, with a fairly predictable
rotation of accompanied postings and time spent away on planned
exercises, our forces have become expeditionary, travelling to
trouble spots around the world when they are needed, often at
short notice, on active, unaccompanied deployments and operations.
77. The Army has experienced the greatest quantitative
shift from the change to the expeditionary role because it is
mostly Army personnel who are deployed to such places as Bosnia,
Kosovo and Sierra Leone and who sustain the deployments over periods
of years rather than months. But personnel in all three Services
are affected (the 'culture shock' is perhaps greatest for the
RAF), and if retention is to be improved these personnel need
to believe that steps are being taken to remedy their sense of
being overburdened, and to see results. The Armed Forces' Pay
Review Body recognised in its report for 2000 the problems of
overstretch arising from 'the imbalance between the personnel
resources available to the Services and the current level of commitments'
and the continuing deterioration of quality of life arising from
'more time spent away from families and longer working hours'.
78. All three Services carry out Continuous Attitude
Surveys (CAS) which assess satisfaction with Service life. Separation
from family and its effects on relationships and the inability
to plan one's life consistently score high on the negative aspects
of Service life and predictably appear in the reasons for leaving
the Services when surveys of leavers are carried out.
The problem is of course compounded by the Services being under-strength.
If more tasks are spread amongst fewer people, and increasingly
those tasks take people away from home, it is not surprising that
Service personnel feel that too much is being asked of them, in
terms of workload and the sacrifices they and their families are
asked to make.
79. In our informal discussions personnel in all
three Services, and at all levels, have told us that they feel
they are being asked to do too much and to spend too much time
away from home. Young naval officers and ratings told us that,
despite the 60/40 sea-shore ratio which should operate, many were
asked to do back-to-back sea jobs.
The point was made at RAF Cranwell that it is often spouses who
put pressure on personnel to leave the Services because of the
disruption to home life caused by repeated operational tours.
There is also a consequential effect on personnel who remain on
home bases while others are away on tours because the same tasks
have to be shared amongst fewer people. Members of the Signals
regiment we visited commented that increased operational tempo
can have a greater effect on some individuals than others, if
they are in trades where there are particular shortages, and that
this is not necessarily reflected in the deployment statistics
for the unit as a whole. Many personal examples of this were given
to us. This is not just an issue for people with families: single
people feel that they too are entitled to have a private life
and that in fact the burden placed on them is often disproportionate
as efforts are made to decrease the burden on married personnel
80. One way of reducing the burden on the Services
would of course be to cut back on the number of operations in
which UK forces participate. The government's intention that the
UK should be 'a force for good' in the world was made clear in
the Strategic Defence Review.
Given our NATO commitments and the fact that our forces are regarded
as amongst the most capable in the world, it would always be a
very difficult policy decision not to become involved when crises
occur. Another option is, having become involved and dealt with
an immediate crisis, to reduce the level of commitment at the
earliest opportunity. The MoD has taken this approach and has
drawn back UK personnel since the peak of the Kosovo crisis in
July 1999 when 47 per cent of the Army, 45 per cent of the naval
service and 40 per cent of the RAF were committed to operations.
The levels are now down for the Army to 22 per cent committed
to operations and 15 per cent actually deployed; and for the RAF
the figure was down to 12.7 per cent by June 2000. The Navy, however,
remained heavily committed at June 2000, with 32 per cent of personnel
involved in operations.
It is unclear whether the levels represent any kind of target
maximum for the MoD but if the MoD is serious about reducing operational
tempo it needs to have a very clear idea what the maximum percentage
of personnel committed to operations at any one time should be.
At the moment the improvement in quality of life that the reduced
levels of commitment so far achieved should bring is not yet being
felt by personnel and the net result is that they are leaving
81. The Army Families Federation say that
The expeditionary nature
of current deployment has significantly altered the way of life
for Army families: separation has increased dramatically ... The
Army must establish a reasonable expectation for time families
spend together, and fulfil the expectation.
It is this 'reasonable expectation' of time available
to spend with families which the Services need to get to grips
with. There are guidelines in place set down in the MoD's new
Service Delivery Agreements. For the Navy, deployment away from
the UK should not exceed nine months and ships may be away from
their base port for up to 60 per cent of the time, averaged over
two years. Army tour lengths should be no more than six months
with an average interval between tours of 24 months. RAF personnel
should spend not more than three months on deployed duties followed
by nine months at their home base.
The actual intervals, and the deterioration in the situation last
year, are shown below.
Army intervals between operational tours
|Royal Armoured Corps
Source: AFPRB Report 2000, para 29
The Navy aims at what it describes as an 'at sea
harmony' giving personnel in sea-going ships 40 per cent of their
time in their base port but average operational time spent at
sea has increased from 42.5 per cent in 1995 to 47 per cent in
1999. In the RAF
a squadron's programme for the next two to three years is published
in advance and major deployments will be known. But, as in the
Army and the Navy, RAF personnel are subject to short notice changes
arising from operational requirements and there is an additional
problem of particular individuals being affected more severely
than overall figures for units would indicate.
82. The MoD and the individual Services are aware
of the importance of addressing these problems. The Minister for
the Armed Forces believed that personnel were more accepting of
unpredictability caused by external events than by that arising
purely from administrative decisions. Steps were being taken to
eliminate as far as possible the adverse effects of the latter
which at present can result in an individual returning to the
UK from one deployment finding themselves immediately posted away
from their home base again.
The Navy has taken a number of initiatives in this area. It is
setting up a system, beginning in April, to monitor individual
at sea harmony as which will give a much better indication of
the pressures personnel are under than simply tracking the activity
levels of ships.
The Second Sea Lord told us about a pilot scheme in HMS Scott
(the hydrographic vessel) which involves providing it with one
and a half crews so that even though the ship may be away for
long periods, personnel can have more certainty about leave and
time at home. The Navy has also taken a significant step in career
management in the appointment of drafting and career management
liaison officers whose role is to discuss with sailors at any
rank the opportunities available to them over a 3-5 year period.
83. We hope that the measures which the MoD is taking
to address the feeling of over-commitment amongst personnel will
be successful. However, it may be that a more radical approach
is needed. If a sustained pattern of high operational tempo
is to be maintained, it may be that the Services simply need more
people to do the job than was envisaged in the SDR. The Minister
told us that at present the Services believed that the SDR targets
were adequate to meet the requirements placed on them but 'when
we reach those targets then we will assess that'. The problem
is, if the Services continue to lose the retention battle they
will not hit their SDR targets and meanwhile the pressure on serving
personnel will continue. If the Services cannot substantially
reduce the burden on personnel in the short to medium term they
may have to look at rewarding personnel more generously both financially
and with other benefits to induce them to stay.