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Select Committee on Defence Fourth Report


5  LAND

Future Army Structure

64. The proposals for the Future Army Structure have attracted more public comment and probably more controversy than any other part of the Future Capabilities package. Any restructuring of the Army and particularly of the infantry will give rise to deeply felt emotional responses. Unlike a sailor or airman, a private soldier is likely to spend most, if not all, of his or her serving career with the same unit. Creating and sustaining loyalty to the unit is seen as an essential element in developing the war-fighting ethos.

65. Additionally many regiments are deeply rooted in their local communities. Not only do they recruit from them, but they are also part of their fabric through involvement in a wide range of local activities. This relationship is important for historical and traditional reasons but it also contributes to the cohesion and morale of the regiment and thus, directly, to its operational effectiveness.

The Arms Plot

66. Arms plotting is the process by which units (and it applies in its full form only to the infantry) are periodically required to re-locate and to re-role. Future Capabilities proposes that arms plotting by infantry battalions will be phased out by April 2008. Thereafter battalions 'will be fixed by role and largely by location'.[57] Arguments in favour of periodic re-location have traditionally centred round the need to station infantry battalions overseas. Such battalions move lock, stock and barrel to where they are to be stationed. They can then expect to remain there for a minimum of two years. They are normally accompanied by their families and the disruption caused to family life by these regular moves has been given as an important reason for ending the arms plot. Currently there are four infantry battalions (excluding the Royal Irish home service battalions) stationed in Northern Ireland, five in Germany and two in Cyprus. Some of these postings have been seen as more attractive than others, and re-location through the arms plot allowed them to be shared through the whole of the infantry.

67. Often re-location gives rise to re-roling (and re-roling, say from light to armoured infantry, may require re-location, eg to provide access to training areas). The main argument for re-roling has been the need to provide variety and breadth of experience to career soldiers. In the view of General Jackson, however, the arms plot 'does not offer a proper structured career progression'[58] and one of the 'fundamental reasons' for ending it was to improve career planning for individual army personnel.[59]

68. The process of arms plotting (ie re-roling and re-locating) takes time and during that time a battalion is not available for any other tasks. According to the MoD, 'By ceasing the Arms Plot, the Army will have most, if not all, of the thirty-six… infantry battalions at its disposal'.[60] The Secretary of State told us that he could not understand:

    why anyone should criticise a change which means that we will have 36 battalions available rather than 26 or 27 as is currently the case.[61]

General Jackson told us that currently, 'at any one time under the arms plot regime you have seven or eight [battalions] that are not available'.[62]

69. There are then at least three strong arguments for ending the arms plot: increased operational capability; greater family stability (family homes can be bought; children do not have repeatedly to change schools and it is easier for spouses to pursue careers); and improved career planning. So why has it taken so long to do? General Jackson told us:

    I know of at least three occasions in my own service—which I think is coming up to 42 years—when the Army Board has considered stopping the arms plot, knowing that it was not a very good way of bringing capability, but had come to the view that the difficulties of dealing with the aftermath of stopping the arms plot were more than they wished to take on at that time.[63]

Perhaps the most significant of those difficulties and certainly the one which has given rise to the most public debate and controversy is that the ending of the arms plot means also the ending of the single battalion regiment. The reason for this stems from the point we made at the start of this chapter: infantry soldiers stay with, or return to, their regiments through their career and they see that attachment as a key relationship in their service and one that is central to the ethos and moral component of the infantry. There are no proposals to end this regimental system. To quote General Jackson again:

    there is no question of a corps of infantry, absolutely none, that is not the way to go in my view. The regimental system has served the British Army extremely well down the hundreds of years.[64]

    The regimental system is the absolute bedrock to us, what we call part of the moral component, part of that heart side I was talking about.[65]

70. With single battalion regiments fixed by role and largely by location it would be impossible to provide the breadth of experience which is considered to be an essential part of the career development of an infantry soldier. Consequently it was necessary to restructure the whole infantry into multi-battalion or 'large' regiments.

71. Within large regiments breadth of experience will be provided by individual postings between the component battalions. As General Jackson explained:

    The important thing in a career soldier, whether he be officer, junior and senior NCO, is that over time we invest in him a breadth of experience... When you know there are four battalions of the Blankshires, one is armoured infantry, one is air assault, one is light infantry and, what shall we say, one is on public duties, there we are, there are four rather different roles, and you know, shall we say, you have got a major coming out of the staff college, you know what he has done before, made the armoured infantry, right well, he is going to command a light infantry company or he is going to command an air assault company so it is properly planned.[66]

In that example a notional four battalion regiment is used. The Royal Regiment of Scotland will have five battalions; and there will still be five battalions of Foot Guards, but otherwise the largest regiments will have three battalions and many will only have two.

72. On the face of it two battalions, each fixed in role, would not seem able to provide as wide a range of opportunities as are available through the arms plot. In broad terms the infantry have four operational roles (armoured, mechanised, light and air assault) as well as a public duties role. We have met a number of serving infantry personnel who have maintained that a regiment of two battalions is not large enough. They have argued that a regiment would need at least four battalions (as in General Jackson's example) and that, as a consequence, the present proposals will need to be revisited in the relatively near future. If this is the case, it would seriously undermine General Jackson's intention that this restructuring should serve the infantry for 'a generation or two to come'.[67]

73. He, however, did not accept this argument. Although he complimented the Scottish Division for taking 'the bold step to go directly to a large large regiment', neither he nor the Army Board had believed that it would be right to impose 'large large' regiments—all with four or five battalions—across the board:

    We took the view that this was a very major change, some would say radical, and that we should take a measured step.[68]

Now that that decision has been taken, work is being conducted on how it will be implemented in practice:

    The Director of Infantry is now well engaged on planning how individual postings will take place within the infantry in the future and it is self-evident that two battalions will give you two roles and you have got that. Where you want to develop somebody beyond that, as we do from time to time now, he will have to go to another regiment to get that particular experience, and so there is a balance to be struck there.[69]

In General Jackson's view, however, a relatively small number of people would fall into that latter category:

    it would be a very small proportion overall because you would be looking at a particular officer or senior NCO, I think, who already had, say, a tour as a company commander at armoured infantry and a tour in the light infantry, something like that, and you would say, "This guy is so good we have got to give him something else to do", and we would make appropriate arrangements, but I would not see that necessarily as the standard practice. Those would be exceptional measures.[70]

74. There are compelling arguments for ending the arms plot and we strongly endorse and welcome the decision to do so. There are, however, a number of issues relating to the practical implementation of the decision which have not yet been resolved (see paragraphs 91-95 below). It is incumbent on MoD and the Army Board to provide answers to these as soon as possible. Additionally further information is required on the means by which career soldiers in two and three battalion regiments will be given a breadth of experience comparable to that they could have expected under the arms plot.

Numbers

RECRUITMENT AND MANNING RECORD

75. Future Capabilities proposed a reduction of four infantry battalions, one from Scotland and three from England and Wales, as part of the overall package of army restructuring. The details were to be worked out by the Army and announced by the end of the year (2004). The two criteria which were used to determine specifically where the reductions in battalion numbers would be made were, as General Jackson told us, manning and demographic statistics. In essence these criteria came down to how well regiments had been able to recruit and retain personnel in the past and how well they could be expected to in the future. As General Jackson told us this meant that there would be 'an element of judgement in this as well'.[71] One of the outcomes he maintained would be a more coherent and consistent approach to recruiting across the country as a whole:

    On recruiting, I think this is very important. Up until very recently, the way we have done this has been a bit of a turf war, in some cases—who has got the recruiting rights over some small village or whatever? I do not think that has gone as well always as it should have done. May I give you an example? The new large Yorkshire regiment is one example when we are looking at names. On the same day as the Secretary of State made that announcement the three current small regiments came together at a joint press conference and launched the Yorkshire Regiment. They want to get on with it and do this as quickly as they can. They see the benefits of this, not the least of which is that recruiting will be dealt with on that large regimental basis and then soldiers allocated to battalions, partly no doubt according to precisely where they come from, that regional link will still be there, or partly where the manning requirement is—the whole system will be much more, in my view, flexible and right for the future.[72]

76. The MoD supplied us with the raw data from which the Army Board would draw its conclusions on recruiting and manning records. We are aware that these figures were turned into trend lines for individual units which in General Jackson's words would 'inform the decision-making'.[73] We asked MoD for these individual trend lines, but all they provided was a 'graphical representation of the statistics previously provided'.[74] We believe that it would have been helpful, both for our inquiry and for wider reassurance of the fairness of the decision-making process, if MoD had been prepared to publish not only the raw statistics but also its own analysis of those statistics.

77. Introducing his December 2004 statement on the future infantry structure the Secretary of State said:

    Since July, the Army has been engaged, under the leadership of the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Mike Jackson, in detailed work on how the changes should be implemented. I will now set out to the House the results of the Army's deliberations.[75]

In evidence to us he confirmed that he had accepted the recommendations of the Army Board on the future infantry structure and had made no change to them.[76] He refused however to allow us to see the minutes of the Army Board's meetings at which the various options had been discussed on the grounds that they constituted advice to Ministers.[77]

78. In his evidence in November 2004, General Jackson described the approach which the Army Board was taking:

    the Army Board… asked the divisions of infantry—you know how we split up the infantry into six divisions—and said, "We need to restructure on to regiments of at least two battalions", but that left the door open for more if that was suitable. What we want to do, if we can achieve it, is to get the Army Board's top-down direction on this meshed with the wishes of the divisions themselves coming bottom-up.[78]

On the decision on where the battalion cuts would be made, he said:

    I can assure you that no regiment was sacrosanct. The Army Board has looked at each and every one.[79]

    We have looked at the manning statistics; we have looked at the demographic statistics; can these battalions recruit, not only today but in the future? It has been, I promise you, a very thorough process.[80]

79. In his December statement, the Secretary of State set out his decisions on the future structure of the infantry. In summary these were:

  • A reduction of three battalions through amalgamations of existing single battalion regiments (one of which as previously announced was in Scotland). Additionally one of the existing three Parachute Regiment battalions would be removed from the infantry to become the core of a new tri-service unit to support Special Forces.
  • No change was made to the number or organisation of the five battalions of Foot Guards. The Gurkhas battalions were also untouched.
  • With the exception of the Foot Guards, the infantry would be organised into multi-battalion regiments. The seven existing multi-battalion regiments would continue as before. There would be a single Scottish regiment (the Royal Regiment of Scotland) of five battalions; and four new regiments: the Royal Welsh Regiment (two battalions), the Mercian Regiment (three battalions) the Yorkshire Regiment (three battalions), and the King's, Lancashire and Border Regiment (two battalions).

80. Thus the infantry was subject to two separate processes: the first to determine the details of the restructuring of the regiments and the second to decide on where the reduction of four infantry battalions would fall. In practice these two processes were conducted together. The Secretary of State announced both the proposed new structure for the infantry and the decisions on battalion reductions at the same time. Much public commentary has also combined these two processes, but they are distinct and the arguments for each are quite different.

81. In meetings with members of the Armed Forces over recent months it has been emphasised to us that the lack of transparency in the Army Board's deliberations has left a residue of suspicion that lobbying by sectional interests played a disproportionate part in the final decision. We regret that the Secretary of State has refused to publish the minutes of the Army Board's deliberations on the future Army structure. A more open approach, which might have demonstrated that the Army Board had arrived at its recommendations on the basis of sound and objective arguments, would have reaped significant benefits in terms of support from serving and retired members of the Army for the proposals overall.

SIZE OF THE INFANTRY

82. The reduction in the number of infantry battalions is equivalent to about 2,400 men, which would be rather more than ten per cent of the total infantry strength. In fact some 500 of those posts will be 'reinvested' in the infantry 'to make units more robust and less dependent on back-filling'[81] (see also paragraphs 101-102 below). So overall something under 1,900 posts will be cut from the infantry.

83. Those posts will be used to strengthen 'trade groups that have been in high demand such as engineers, logisticians and intelligence personnel'.[82] As the Secretary of State told us:

    I am not suggesting for a moment that our infantry battalions have not been under pressure, that is certainly the case, but the real challenge in recent years has been to supply the supporting elements to those battalions when they have deployed.[83]

The need for additional supporting elements derives directly from the conclusions on Scale of Effort and concurrency of operations in Delivering Security. Small deployments still need to be supported. Several concurrent deployments are each likely to require their own support chain and 'it is an enormous strain on manpower… maintaining those kinds of simultaneous chains'.[84]

84. We have no argument with the need for additional support capabilities, and indeed on our visits to the Armed Forces we have encountered at first hand examples of the unreasonable strains under which some of these specialist trades are currently working. The question is whether these resources can properly be found from within the existing establishment of the Army. Future Capabilities states that under its proposals the future Army will be around 102,000 strong, that is about 1,500 fewer than its current strength. General Jackson told us that that number was 'arrived at by a very rigorous examination of what the future army structure should look like'[85] and that it was 'just enough to man the force structure which has emerged from the defence planning assumptions'.[86]

85. Earlier we noted the conclusion in our report, Defence White Paper 2003, that the planning assumptions in the SDR had 'provided relatively little resilience to enable the services to re-orientate when called upon to do so'. We are concerned that if the size of the Army is only just enough to man the proposed force structure a similar lack of resilience may be experienced in the future.

86. If since 1998 the strains have principally been felt among the supporting elements, in the future they may be more apparent in front line units. We remain concerned that the current emphasis on expeditionary operations, on what we termed in our earlier report 'the projection of force,' risks undervaluing the continuing need to be able to deploy a presence of significant numbers of 'boots on the ground'. We have also previously expressed our concern that MoD is giving insufficient priority to the role which the Armed Forces may in the future be called upon to fulfil in respect of defence of the homeland. MoD's emphasis is on an expeditionary strategy under which the threat from international terrorism is 'dealt with at source'.[87]

HARMONY GUIDELINES

87. If overall the Army were too small for the commitments required of it one likely consequence would be reduced intervals between operational tours. Each of the Services has what are called 'Harmony Guidelines' whose purpose is to allow personnel to have sufficient time away from operations for unit and formation training, personal training and development, and to spend time at home with their families. For the Army the guidelines set 24 months between operational tours. According MoD's Annual Report and Accounts 2003-04, in that year the average across the Army was just under target at 23.3 months.[88] In December 2004, the Secretary of State told the House:

    Which part of the Army is overstretched? I emphasise that it is not the infantry—if he listened to General Jackson on the radio this morning, he will have heard him make the same point. The tour interval for the infantry, on average, approaches 22 months.[89]

88. It is not always clear how these figures are calculated and it is difficult to reconcile them with the accounts of the infantry battalions we have met in recent months. The First Battalion, The Royal Highland Fusiliers, for example, whom we met in Cyprus just as they deployed to Iraq in late January, told us that that deployment was their ninth operation in seven years. There is also a range of deployments which take soldiers away from their families for extended periods of time (weeks or months) but do not count as tours for the purpose of calculating tour intervals. The King's Own Scottish Borderers, whom we met recently mid way through a two year tour in Northern Ireland told us that, since their return from Cyprus in March 2001, they had had six months operational deployments to Northern Ireland and Iraq, as well as re-roling to be a mechanised unit and a four months training deployment to Canada.

89. And this pace is not unique to the infantry. 26 Royal Artillery Regiment, whom we met as the British component of UNFICYP, told us that they were on their seventh six-month operational tour in six years. It is worth noting, in this context, that Future Capabilities proposes a reduction of six AS90 batteries, something over 600 posts, by March 2007 and that this reduction, according to General Jackson, may involve 'a small redundancy programme'.[90] There may be units whose tour intervals have been sufficiently over the two-year target to account for the average quoted in the MoD's Annual Report, or there may be inconsistencies in different people's definitions of operational tour, but it is clear that the perception among front-line units is that their operational cycle has been intense in recent years and that they see no prospect of any relaxation of that intensity in the foreseeable future.

90. We conclude that many front line units in the Army have for some years been experiencing an operational and training cycle whose intensity is unsustainable over the longer term. We are not convinced that MoD's statement of average tour intervals is an accurate or fair reflection of the strain on particular units or on individuals. The strengthening of support elements proposed in Future Capabilities is welcome and deserved, but we are concerned that that strengthening has been achieved at the expense of the total establishment of the infantry.

The 'golden thread'

91. We referred at the start of this chapter to the importance of the local connections which regiments build up with their communities. We also noted, in the context of the restructuring proposals, that there was absolutely no intention to move away from a regimental structure for the infantry. General Jackson described it as 'the absolute bedrock to us'.[91]

92. He also recognised that the strength of the regimental system lies as much in the intangible elements of history and tradition as in the structure itself. In his words:

    One of the principles which the [Army] board has had before it in all of this, and we have used perhaps an emotive phrase, is we have said the maintenance of the golden thread, the golden thread being the heritage, the history, the sense of belonging that is very much in our minds.[92]

Many different elements contribute to this golden thread. They certainly include a regiment's sense of belonging to a particular area and an awareness of and a pride in its history even if that history has to be traced through previous amalgamations and changes of name. They also include what are called 'accoutrements,' that is various distinguishing features which are worn with the uniform. And, of course, they include the name itself.

93. We do not intend in this report to take sides in any of the individual disputes over the names of the new regiments. These disputes need to be resolved by MoD Ministers, the Army Board and the regiments themselves. We regret however that they seem to have been fomented by the perceived lack of transparency in the Army Board's deliberations and decision-making processes.

94. Each of the new regiments will have a single cap badge, but the member battalions, many of which would formerly have been single battalion regiments themselves, will be able to preserve their identity through the retention of various accoutrements:

    They also have—yes, a single cap badge, but that is a must—all the other accoutrements by which this or that battalion identifies itself.[93]

The details, however, of exactly which accoutrements will be retained and under what circumstances they may be worn (for example whether an officer from battalion A will be able to wear the accoutrements of that battalion when he is posted to battalion B) are yet to be worked out. In February 2005 MoD told us:

    The question of regimental accoutrements is currently being worked through by the Army. The Department expects this to be decided before the end of this year.[94]

95. Decisions on the retention of regimental accoutrements will be seen by many in the infantry as a touchstone by which to judge in practice the commitment made by the Secretary of State and General Jackson that the identities of former single battalion regiments will be preserved in the future infantry structure. We are surprised that these decisions are still many months away. They flow directly from the decision to end the arms plot, a decision which in our view was implicit in the proposals announced in Delivering Security in December 2003. We do not understand why the Army Board was not able to reach agreement on these matters before the announcement of the future infantry structure in December 2004. They are an important part of the golden thread referred to by General Jackson and thus can contribute directly to operational effectiveness. A prolonged period of uncertainty will, in our view, be damaging both to morale and to confidence in the restructuring proposals more broadly. We urge the Army Board to bring forward recommendations on measures to maintain the 'golden thread' of regimental heritage, as soon as possible. The identity of individual regiments is derived from more than just cap badges. It depends rather on a complex fabric of related elements. As well as the range of local links and the matter of accoutrements, these include issues such as museums, recruitment and the siting of headquarters. How these are to be preserved is still unclear, but that preservation will be central to the successful implementation of the future infantry structure.

Deployability

96. Increased deployability has been cited as one of the principal benefits of ending the arms plot. General Jackson described it as 'a remarkable improvement in getting more military capability out of the resources I have'.[95] The extent of this improvement may be measured by the number of battalions which, in the phrase of General Walker, are 'put in baulk' because of the arms plot.[96] As the Secretary of State said, 'we will have 36 battalions available rather than 26 or 27 as is currently the case'.[97]

97. 'Available,' however, is not necessarily the same as 'deployable'. The Force Structure tables in Future Capabilities show that for one medium and two small concurrent operations—the level of operations which the Armed Forces should be able to sustain 'as a norm and without creating overstretch'—just five battalions will be deployed (in addition to the 7.33 battalions committed to Standing Commitments). Even for one large and one small operation—which 'given time to prepare we should be capable of undertaking'—sixteen battalions would be deployed. Together with the 7.33 on Standing Commitments, this makes a total of 23.33 of the 36 battalions in the future infantry structure.

98. We are not clear on what the Secretary of State based his estimate of 26 or 27 battalions currently available. General Jackson told us:

    Of the 40 battalions that are currently in the order of battle, at any one time under the arms plot regime you have seven or eight that are not available.[98]

On that basis 32 or 33 of the current 40 battalions, would be, as it were, out of the arms plot baulk, and thus available, at any one time. If that is the analogous figure to the 36 battalions available under the post-arms plot structure, and using the rotation requirements set out in the Annex to Future Capabilities (ie that five army units are needed for each one deployed), it would appear that the change will mean that there will be, under normal circumstances, one more battalion available to be deployed than at present. This is a welcome increase in capability, but it is perhaps not as remarkable as our witnesses may have implied.

99. The arms plot will not, however, be completely ended. Even if there came a time when no GB battalion was required to be stationed in Northern Ireland, there are no plans to end the commitment in Cyprus. At present this requires two resident infantry battalions. When Future Capabilities was published there was speculation that that commitment might be reduced. However, during our recent visit to Cyprus we were told by Commander British Forces that his assessment was that there was an enduring need for two resident infantry battalions, and that those battalions would continue to arms plot. We were not entirely convinced by this assessment. It seemed from our visit that the very extensive military infrastructure maintained in the Sovereign Base Areas is significantly under-used. We are aware of MoD's ambition to develop the Forward Mounting Base capability, but many of the facilities (notably the runway and harbour facilities at RAF Akrotiri) require substantial investment if that ambition is to be realised. Other facilities (for example, the Princess Mary's Hospital) have benefited from considerable investment, but seem to have some difficulty in making effective use of it. And overall, as we noted in paragraph 35 above, the estate—particularly the accommodation—bears all the hallmarks of persistent under-investment in basic areas such as maintenance and refurbishment which comes from a lack of confidence in the long term future. We recommend that MoD sets out its proposals for the long term military commitment in Cyprus, including the purpose of that commitment and the force levels required to sustain it, in its response to this report.

100. Furthermore the infantry, at around 20,000, currently makes up around one fifth of the total Army strength. The net reduction in infantry strength will be about 1,900, so that, in an Army whose total strength in the future will be around 102,000, the infantry will continue to represent somewhat less than a fifth of the total. Future Capabilities also proposes reductions in the Artillery (six batteries) and in the Armoured Corps (seven Challenger 2 squadrons). These latter reductions will largely be achieved through re-roling and the Armoured Corps will remain 'much as they are in terms of manpower'.[99]As we noted above, there may be a small redundancy programme for the Artillery.

101. The reduction of four infantry battalions will release 2,476 posts. Additionally MoD plans to reinvest an additional 524 posts which are currently established in Northern Ireland when operational circumstances allow.[100] The final allocation of all 3,000 posts to be reinvested is still under consideration. The intention is that the posts themselves should all be filled by April 2008. It is not, however, a simple matter of moving individuals from the infantry to these posts. Some of them represent new capabilities. In many cases, because of the skills required, additional recruiting or transfer and training will be required.

102. At this stage the principal elements which will be strengthened by the planned reinvestment are:

  • Intelligence units will gain over 300 posts beginning from August 2005.
  • Six Brigade Signal Squadrons will gain around 25 posts, the 2 Divisional Signal Regiments will gain around 50 posts each and the Logistic Brigade Signal Squadrons will gain 10 each. Implementation of these changes is planned to begin in August 2005 with priority to those due to deploy on operations.
  • A new port and maritime squadron is planned which will enhance the military port at Marchwood and the Sea Ports of Disembarkation capacity on expeditionary operations. It will also improve tour intervals in this very specialised logistic unit. The unit will increase by nearly 100 posts, primarily in the Royal Logistic Corps posts. Implementation will be in two tranches, beginning in August 2005 and January 2008.
  • New sub-units are planned to enhance capabilities such as unmanned aerial vehicle, surveillance and target acquisition and bomb disposal capabilities, the latter in two tranches in September 2007 and March 2010.
  • An additional strategic communications unit will be created which will improve the level of signals support available for expeditionary operations. An additional 30 Royal Signals posts will be provided, in three tranches: April 2005, April 2006 and January 2008.
  • A logistic support regiment is planned for each deployable brigade to provide integral combat service support for medium scale operations. This is an internal re-roling that begins in April 2005 with 7 & 20 Armoured Brigades, with other brigades complete by April 2008. Around 60 additional Royal Logistic Corps posts will be invested in Logistic Support Regiments from August 2006 with a further 40 drivers already provided to Brigade Equipment Support Regiments from April 2005.
  • A commando engineer regiment is planned to enhance the support provided to 3 Commando Brigade. It will provide more engineering capacity, a planning cell and improved command and control capability. This enhancement will bring 3 Commando Brigade into line with all the other brigades—where each have a dedicated Engineer Regiment. This entails an increase of some 250 Royal Engineer and Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineer personnel. An implementation team will be set up in August 2006 with the intention to establish the unit fully by April 2008.[101]

103. This programme represents a significant investment in many of the key capabilities for expeditionary operations. The increase in military capability, derived from the whole package of proposals for the future army structure, will be delivered as much by the reinvestment of the lost infantry posts into more robust unit establishments and 'hard-pressed pinch point areas'[102] as by the ending of the arms plot.

Shift to medium weight forces

104. Delivering Security proposed the development of a medium weight land capability, so that future land forces would be able 'to deliver a decisive impact across the full spectrum of operations'. Medium weight forces would 'increase our flexibility in responding to crises' by providing 'a high level of deployability (including by air) together with much greater levels of mobility and protection than are currently available to light forces'.[103]

105. The Army does not currently have a medium weight capability and will not have until the proposed Future Rapid Effect System (FRES) is introduced.[104] The generally quoted date for the introduction of the first FRES vehicles has been 2009. In late May 2004, the Minister for Defence Procurement said of the 2009 date, 'We think it is achievable, otherwise we would not say it is'.[105] However that date has never represented full operational capability for a medium weight force. FRES is intended to be family of vehicles and the first introductions would be the simpler variants. In October 2004, in the reply to our Defence Procurement report, MoD drew a distinction between formally endorsed in-service dates and internal planning assumptions 'which help guide project assessment work'. Nonetheless, they went on, 'our planning assumption for FRES remains to introduce early variants around the end of the decade'.[106] In January 2005, General Jackson told us that he doubted that FRES would be available by 2010.[107]

106. The MoD, however, is pressing ahead with reducing the number of armoured brigades from three to two and creating a new light brigade. This will produce a land force of two armoured brigades, three mechanised brigades, a light brigade, an air assault brigade and a commando brigade.[108] This decision was made:

    not because we are in any way uncomfortable or unhappy with this modern very successful main battle tank [ie Challenger 2], it is because a judgment has been made, given the strategic global environment in which we have to operate, that it is important to have more medium-weight forces available, that we cannot get to a crisis with main battle tanks as quickly as we might like and that, therefore, a medium-weight capability, an enhanced medium-weight capability, will be important in the kind of conflicts that we have to deal with currently.[109]

107. Until the medium weight capability which FRES promises becomes available, the mechanised brigades will have a reconnaissance role.[110] In our report, Defence White Paper 2003, we expressed surprise that the Army was prepared to do away with then unspecified quantities of heavy armoured forces when their replacement was little more than a concept which had not even left the assessment phase.[111] In its reply the MoD stated that there was 'no operational reason' why the re-roling of a heavy armoured brigade should be 'held up pending the introduction of enhanced medium-weight capabilities, such as FRES'.[112]

108. The analyses of the international security environment and the likely challenges to be faced by British Armed Forces in both Delivering Security and in Future Capabilities do lead logically to the conclusion that future operations will draw less on heavy forces than had previously been expected. This is partly because those operations are likely to be smaller in scale than in the past, but also because they may be conducted at shorter notice and at greater distance from the UK. As the Secretary of State said, 'we cannot get to a crisis with main battle tanks as quickly as we might like'. We also accept that there are strong arguments for developing an effective medium weight capability, which extend beyond its greater deployability. Indeed we have repeatedly pressed MoD to ensure that every effort is made to avoid further delays to the introduction of FRES.

109. Challenger 2 has proved itself to be an excellent main battle tank. Recent operations, not least in Iraq, have also clearly demonstrated that, for the foreseeable future, tanks will continue to provide an irreplaceable capability. The United States recently announced that their main battle tank, the Abrams, would be in service until 2032. As General Jackson told us:

    We have no doubt whatsoever that the Challenger 2 is with us for another generation, 25 years, a similar sort of time frame. I have no doubt about that. The main battle tank is still the beast that it is, and if technology one day can produce the fire-power, mobility and protection of the main battle tank but weighs 20 tonnes and it goes in the back of a Hercules, that will be quite something; we are certainly not there yet. Until then, the main battle tank without doubt has its place on the battlefield.[113]

Despite our support for FRES, we agree with this analysis. We were therefore concerned that the MoD planned to phase out seven Challenger 2 armoured squadrons by March 2007, largely on the basis of the assessment of the future security environment set out in Delivering Security which had concluded that the future would see a similar pattern of operations to the recent past. Our view was that, given the uncertain and changeable nature of the global security environment, that conclusion was rash.[114]

110. In evidence the Secretary of State appeared to go some way towards accepting this when he told us that he was 'edging towards the idea of storage' rather than disposal in respect of those Challengers.[115] He also made clear that although the number of Challenger squadrons would be reduced from 25 to 18, only 40 of the total fleet of 385 tanks would be withdrawn from service because 'we will take less risk with the remaining squadrons'.[116] We support this approach. The combination of the unpredictability of future military operations and the proven value of the Challenger 2 would, in our view, make any decision to dispose permanently of a significant number of them, before the introduction of an effective and proven medium weight capability, foolhardy.

111. The decision to re-role the brigades over the next two years, rather than as FRES becomes available, reflects the MoD's assessment that we will not need to deploy a larger force of heavy armour than that will allow. General Walker argued that recent experience substantiated that assessment:

    We only had two armoured regiments fully employed in the Gulf in the last operation in the Gulf.[117]

The force structure tables in Future Capabilities suggest that MoD does not expect that heavy armour would ever be deployed as part of a small scale operation, and that no more than three squadrons would be deployed to an enduring medium scale operation.

112. These assessments reflect the pattern of recent operations, but they may under-estimate the flexibility and utility of the main battle task. Certainly it takes time to deploy, but once in theatre it has a presence—whether for deterrence or coercion—which no other land capability can match. There are clearly financial advantages in moving to three medium brigades ahead of the introduction of FRES. It may also be that the re-roling will itself facilitate that introduction. But even on the most optimistic estimate of FRES's delivery, there will be three years between the re-roling and the introduction of the most basic FRES vehicles. In the meantime the medium brigades will have an armoured reconnaissance role. All three force structure tables (two smalls and one medium, two mediums and one small and one large scale operation) anticipate the deployment overall of fewer armoured reconnaissance squadrons than armoured squadrons. We conclude that the decision to re-role one armoured brigade to medium (and the consequential re-roling of a medium brigade to light) is consistent with the experience of recent operations and the assessment of the future security environment in Delivering Security, but that assessment also identified the requirement for a medium weight capability. We are concerned that even the initial delivery of the equipment to provide that medium weight capability (ie FRES)will not take place for some years after the re-roling of the brigades.

113. In the meantime the mechanised brigades (including, presumably, the re-roled armoured brigade) will have to operate with existing equipment, much of which is approaching the end of its planned life. Having to maintain that equipment in service for longer than planned is likely both to be costly and to lead to a gradual deterioration in operational capability. Over time that may become an increasingly impracticable and expensive option, in which case a replacement for those equipments would have to be procured. As General Fulton told us during our Defence Procurement inquiry:

    there is a very clear choice to be made between what I might call not-FRES and FRES. Not-FRES we could go out into the market today and buy a light armoured vehicle, and there are a number on the market.[118]

    The assessment phase needs to answer for me the question can we have FRES in a timescale that is acceptable to my end customer or have we got to spend money on not-FRES in the intervening period, money that I would much rather invest in FRES?[119]

114. The Army has made the acquisition of a medium weight capability a key priority. Its delivery depends upon FRES. But FRES depends on the successful incorporation of a number of new technologies, which are largely, if not entirely, unproven in the military context. If FRES encounters significant further difficulties or delays the Army will have no choice but to acquire new, currently available, vehicles to replace the existing out-dated and increasingly unserviceable fleet.


57   HC Deb, 16 December 2004, c 1196 Back

58   Q 280 Back

59   Q 342 Back

60   Ev 156 Back

61   Q 3 Back

62   Q 246 Back

63   Q 250 Back

64   Q 324 Back

65   Q 325 Back

66   Q 338 Back

67   Q 279 Back

68   Q 690 Back

69   Q 690 Back

70   Q 694 Back

71   Q 294 Back

72   Q 637 Back

73   Q 306 Back

74   Ev 165 Back

75   HC Deb, 16 December 2004, c 1195 Back

76   Q 621-2, Q 627 Back

77   Q 631 Back

78   Q 274 Back

79   Q 285 Back

80   Q 287 Back

81   Ev 163 Back

82   Ev 162 Back

83   Q 4 Back

84   Q 11 Back

85   Q 229 Back

86   Q 363 Back

87   See HC (2003-04) 465, paras 49 and 84 Back

88   MoD Annual Report and Accounts, 2003-04, HC (2003-04) 1080, p 75 Back

89   HC Deb, 16 December 2004, c 1202-3 Back

90   Q 243 Back

91   Q 325 Back

92   Q 326 Back

93   Q 636 Back

94   Ev 173 Back

95   Q 248 Back

96   Q 6 Back

97   Q 3 Back

98   Q 246 Back

99   Q 243 Back

100   Ev 174 Back

101   Ev 174-175 Back

102   Ev 174 Back

103   Cm 6041-I, p 12 Back

104   See Cm 6041-I, p 12 Back

105   Defence Procurement, Sixth Report of Session 2003-04, HC (2003-04) 572-II, Q 311 Back

106   Cm 6338, p 11 Back

107   Q 719 Back

108   Q 57 Back

109   Q 53 Back

110   Q 44 Back

111   HC (2003-04) 465, para 116 Back

112   HC (2003-04) 1048, para 61 Back

113   Q 376 Back

114   HC (2003-04) 465-I, para 42 Back

115   Q 53 Back

116   Q 52 Back

117   Q 44 Back

118   HC (2003-04) 572-II, Q 314 Back

119   HC (2003-04) 572-II, Q 315 Back


 
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