Future Army 2020 - Defence Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations


1.  At the beginning of our Report, we wish to pay tribute to Army personnel, including those who have left the Services, for their bravery, dedication to duty and their contribution to the nation's security. This has been an uncertain and worrying time for the Armed Forces as they undergo major changes to their structure and role while continuing to undertake operations in Afghanistan and other parts of the world. We also recognise the valuable role that their families play in supporting them as they carry out their duties. (Paragraph 6)

The Army 2020 plan

2.  We are surprised that such a radical change to the Army's structure, reflecting a reduction of 12,000 personnel from that announced in SDSR 2010, was not discussed at the National Security Council (NSC). Even if the overall strategic vision had not changed, as the Government claims, the military ways and means of that strategy were considerably altered under Army 2020. We are firmly of the view that the NSC should have considered the Army 2020 plan. We recommend that the NSC should be involved in the evolution and development of Future Force 2020 in the run-up to the next SDSR in 2015. (Paragraph 15)

3.  We have received no definitive evidence of an active experimentation programme in the development and implementation of Army 2020. Furthermore we note with concern that the Chief of the General Staff's update on the implementation of Army 2020, published in July 2013, provided no detail on experimentation. The MoD should set out in more detail, with specific examples, how the plans for Army 2020 were, and are, being tested and challenged. (Paragraph 26)

4.  We note that the Secretary of State for Defence accepts that Army 2020 was designed to fit a financial envelope. We are concerned that this consideration took primacy over the country's abilities to respond to the threats, risks and uncertainties contained in the National Security Strategy. We were also concerned to hear that it was the Ministry of Defence's Permanent Secretary who told the Chief of the General Staff the future size of the Army under the Army 2020 plan. We call on the MoD to explain the apparent lack of consultation and involvement of the Chief of the General Staff in the decision-making process that has affected his Service so fundamentally. (Paragraph 32)

5.  In its response to this Report, we recommend that the MoD provide us with an assessment of how the Army 2020 plans will affect the "Fighting Power" of the Army providing comparable assessments of both current fighting power and projected fighting power following the completion of the Army 2020 plans. (Paragraph 34)

6.  We agree with the Chief of the General Staff's assessment that the security threats that the UK will face in future are uncertain. We remain to be convinced that the Army 2020 plan represents a fully thought-through and tested concept which will allow the Army to counter emerging and uncertain threats and develop a contingent capability to deal with unforeseen circumstances. The MoD needs to justify how the conclusion was reached that the Army 2020 plan of 82,000 Regulars and 30,000 Reserves represented the best way of countering these threats. We ask the MoD to clarify if the proposals were fully considered by the Defence Board before the decision was made. (Paragraph 41)

7.  We repeat our previous recommendation that the Government should further develop a concept of "critical mass" for the Armed Forces. We note that this is a concept not only used by the Army General Staff, but also one that the new Chief of the Defence Staff used in a recent speech. The development of a concept of "critical mass" for the Armed Forces, coupled with an assessment of the Army 2020 plan against the MoD's "Fighting Power" doctrine, would enable a much better informed understanding of whether Army 2020 will enable the Army to fulfil its obligations and how it will contribute to Future Force 2020. (Paragraph 42)

8.  We note the acknowledgement by senior Army officers that the continuing operation in Afghanistan and the current high level of change in the Army will compromise its ability to respond to unexpected events to some degree. We also note that one of the drivers for the Army 2020 plan was the recognition that the Army could not match in resource-terms the five Multi-Role Brigade enduring operation envisaged in the Defence Planning Assumptions. In an ever changing world, with uncertain and ever changing threats, and continuing uncertainty about the resources available, we are concerned that the Defence Planning Assumptions are adequate to ensure the UK's national security. In its response to our Report, the MoD should explain what account was taken of the possibility of changes to the Defence Planning Assumptions during the development of Army 2020 and how it has ensured that there is sufficient flexibility in the plan and resources available to meet any such changes. The MoD must ensure that this is taken into account as part of the work on the 2015 SDSR and that contingency plans are in place to deal urgently with this eventuality. (Paragraph 48)

9.  Despite the current lack of public appetite, we consider it to be a question of when, not if, UK Armed Forces will have to undertake an expeditionary operation in the future. In this context, it is essential that the Army maintains its ability to undertake such operations at short notice. Any loss of such capability would have serious implications for the UK's national security. Given that, on most occasions, these operations will be carried out in cooperation with the UK's Allies, in its response to this Report we call on the Government to set out the current status of the UK-France Combined Joint Expeditionary Force. We also call on the MoD to provide us with an update on progress on the development of the new UK Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF), including how it will train and operate and the extent to which appropriate multi-national partners have proved willing to participate in JEF planning and activity. (Paragraph 52)

10.  The smaller Army envisaged under Army 2020 needs to be innovative in the ways it works with the other Services. We call on the MoD to set out in its response to our Report how Army 2020 will improve this joint working and how it has tested, or intends to test, the proposals. We also note Lieutenant General Bradshaw's evidence regarding the Army's greater integrated activity with other Government Departments and call on the Government to set out details of this in its response to our Report. (Paragraph 54)

Implementation of Army 2020

11.  It is disappointing that there was a year's gap between the announcements of the Army 2020 plan and the outcome of the Reserves consultation and the Reserves basing plan. This raised the potential for a lack of coordination and hampered communications regarding the plans for the Regular and Reserve Forces. Even though the generation of Reserve Forces is complex, the number of Reservists required for Army 2020 and the challenge to recruit them was well known. We consider that the intervening time between announcements could have been utilised in making progress in recruiting the required number of Reservists. (Paragraph 59)

12.  We note, but remain to be convinced by, the Secretary of State's explanation as to why the reduction in the Regular Army should not be dependent on the recruitment of the necessary number of Reservists. The financially driven reduction in the number of Regulars has the potential to leave the Army short of personnel in key supporting capabilities until sufficient Reserves are recruited and trained. In its response to this Report, we call on the MoD to set out in detail its planning assumptions for the transition, over the next five years, to a new Army structure including specific examples of the different types of capability which will fall within the domain of the Reserves and Regulars in future. This would assist with gaining support for the Army 2020 plan among the Regular Army, the wider Armed Forces, Parliament and the public. The Government must also set out its contingency plans for the rapid recruitment of Regular Army personnel should there be a need for the rapid expansion of UK Armed Forces. (Paragraph 63)

13.  While a level of 30,000 trained Reservists in the Army might not appear a large number based on historic levels, the current recruitment drive takes place against a backdrop of falling recruitment levels over several years. We note the scepticism of some of our witnesses that it will be possible to recruit the required number of Reservists in the timescale envisaged. The urgent challenge for the MoD is to ensure that it now employs effective measures and sufficient incentives to recruit and maintain 30,000 trained Reservists by 2018. Otherwise there is a danger of a gap emerging in the Army's required capabilities and real fighting power. In its response to this Report, we also call on the MoD to outline the different approaches it envisages if the data shows that the plan is not on course to be delivered. (Paragraph 69)

14.  We welcome the Secretary of State for Defence's commitment to publish, through the Defence Analytical Services Agency, data on the trained strength and recruitment levels of Reservists. We also welcome the recruitment targets that the Secretary of State has published. We look forward to seeing the additional data that the National Statistician has agreed to publish. This information is vital to reassure all interested parties, the Army itself, Parliament and the public, that the plan is on schedule. We hope that each of these data sets will develop over time to include performance against targets and such information as gender, age and place of recruitment. We will continue to monitor this data to assess whether it provides sufficient information. It is important that Parliament is provided with regular updates on progress towards recruitment targets. (Paragraph 72)

15.  Despite the assurances we received from the Army commanders and Capita executives responsible for the Army recruitment process, we remain concerned that the targets for recruiting both Regular and Reserve soldiers may not be met. We are not convinced that the MoD's contract with Capita was properly and thoroughly considered before its implementation. For example, we were given no evidence that any trialling of it had taken place. There would appear to have been a serious break-down in the supervision of the contract process, for which no one has been held accountable. (Paragraph 78)

16.  We are concerned at the IT problems encountered at this early stage in the recruitment campaign. We call on the MoD and Capita to take urgent steps to rectify these problems and the MoD should give a detailed account of the measures taken, including detailing the number of servicemen and women diverted from their normal duties in order to sustain the recruiting effort, in its response to our Report. (Paragraph 79)

17.  We note the difficulties encountered by the Army in obtaining the medical data of potential Reservists due to their failure to comply with data protection regulations. Although this difficulty has at last been resolved, the Army and the MoD should have foreseen this problem and must learn lessons for the future. (Paragraph 80)

18.  We commend the MoD for employing a range of media to attract and recruit both Regulars and Reserves but it is no help when the technology does not work or applications are lost in the system. Lessons need to be learned from the initial failure of the contract with Capita, and the respective accountabilities and responsibilities of both the contractor and the Army clearly established. (Paragraph 81)

19.  We welcome the measures in the Reserves White Paper and the related clauses in the Defence Reform Bill. We particularly welcome the Secretary of State for Defence's agreement during the passage of the Bill to the principle of making it a statutory requirement for the Reserve Forces and Cadet Association to report annually on the state of the Reserves. We will continue to pay close attention to progress on this and look forward to receiving more details on how this will be implemented and what the report will cover. (Paragraph 94)

20.  We recognise the support many employers have given to the Reserve Forces over many years. We commend the Government's intention to give greater recognition, building on the current SaBRE scheme and the new Corporate Covenant, to leading supportive employers of Reservists and look forward to receiving more information on this proposal. We recommend that as part of the recognition scheme the Government should publish additional information about supportive employers, building on the information already published by SaBRE on its website, highlighting good practice, and providing examples of the ways individual employers support Reservists. (Paragraph 95)

21.  It is too early to say whether the measures in the White Paper and the Defence Reform Bill will prove sufficient and be effective in encouraging the recruitment of Reservists and ensuring the support of businesses of all sizes to achieve Army 2020. We welcome the Secretary of State for Defence's commitment to review these measures if recruitment falls behind target. In response to this Report, the MoD should set out how it will assess the effectiveness of the measures and the timescale for making a decision on whether further action and incentives are necessary. (Paragraph 96)

22.  We welcome the Government's intention that in future Reservists, where appropriate, will be able to undertake the same tasks as Regulars. However we note the concerns expressed by some employers regarding the potential for negative effects on their businesses arising from the increased use of Reservists. The MoD should continue to engage with the business community to address employers' concerns as failure to do so will impact on the Army's ability to generate and sustain the necessary capabilities. The MoD should include in its reports to Parliament on Reserves recruitment details of how many are employed by SMEs (small and medium enterprises employing under 250 employees) and any difficulties encountered in recruiting from this sector. (Paragraph 103)

23.  We note the Army's intention to deploy formed units and sub-units of Reserves. We ask the MoD to provide greater detail on how this will be implemented, particularly given the differing timescales for the reduction in Regular strength and the increase in the size of the Reserves, and how it will ensure that these changes deliver the required level of capability. (Paragraph 108)

24.  We welcome the increase in the number of training days for Reservists as this is vital to their greater integration with Regulars. In its response to this Report, we call on the MoD to set out what further practical measures will be implemented to enable Regulars and Reservists to train together. We are concerned that this should not involve closing well-recruited units, or those with a large number of potential new recruits to the Reserves, to match Regular basing and welcome the Secretary of State's commitment in the House of Commons on 14 January 2014 to be flexible on the closure of such units. (Paragraph 109)

25.  The role of specialist Reserves is invaluable to the Army and the UK's Armed Forces as a whole: we welcome the commitment to them in the Reserves White Paper. We welcome the establishment of the Joint Cyber Reserve which is of particular interest to us given our previous inquiry work on Defence and cyber-security. The potential recruits, with the required skills, may not be those who would usually consider a career in the Armed Forces. This represents both a challenge and an opportunity for the MoD which will require a flexible approach if they are to be integrated effectively. We ask the MoD to report to the Committee in six months on progress on the establishment and the recruitment of the Joint Cyber Reserve. (Paragraph 112)

26.  We support the Government's intention to recruit more ex-Regulars into the volunteer Army Reserve as part of the recruitment of 30,000 trained Reservists under the Army 2020 plan. We note the £5,000 commitment bonus, payable over four years, offered by the Army to Service leavers and ex-Regulars to incentivise their transfer to the volunteer Army Reserve. We call on the Government to review effectiveness of its efforts and the measures introduced to attract more ex-Regulars into the volunteer Army Reserve in six months and to share its findings with us. We also note the Army's work on the Regular Reserve and call for an update on this work in the Government's response to our Report. (Paragraph 116)

27.  We support the Army 2020 plan for an enhanced role for the Army in civil engagement. Although there is great admiration and respect for UK Armed Forces, we recognise that there is currently a disconnect between the Armed Forces and public understanding of the operations they have been asked to undertake. This must be addressed. We call on the Government to take steps to ensure that the Armed Forces, particularly Reservists, play a more active role in public engagement. In response to our Report, we recommend that the Government outline the communication strategy and practical steps it will implement to take forward its plans for public engagement. (Paragraph 119)

28.  We welcome the £1.8bn additional investment in the Reserves, but call upon the Government to provide us with a breakdown of how it plans to spend this money. We note the concerns expressed as to whether this funding will be sufficient to achieve the desired outcomes for the Reserves Forces. We note that Reservists are cheaper to employ so long as they are not called up. This will only prove to be a cost saving so long as future governments are not required to undertake operations. This will need to be closely monitored. It would be unacceptable if the UK decided not to take part in any action because of the cost of deploying Reservists. We recommend that the Government set out in detail how it will assess and report on the cost effectiveness of, and the value for money achieved by, its plans and how these outcomes will be independently examined and verified. We would welcome the involvement of the National Audit Office in this evaluation. (Paragraph 125)

29.  We note the evidence we have received on the recruitment age for the Armed Forces. We commented on this in our Report on the education of Armed Forces personnel and in response the Government agreed that the Armed Forces would undertake a cost benefit analysis of the recruitment of under-18s. We note that the Army is undertaking this analysis on a tri-service basis and that the work is continuing. However, we are disappointed by the lack of clarity regarding the study's terms of reference and the slow progress with the study. We call on the Government to provide us with the terms of reference for the study and an estimation of when it will be completed. We expect the Army and MoD's cost benefit analysis to be thorough and robust and call on the Government to set out how it might be independently scrutinised and verified. This would ensure confidence in the outcomes of the analysis. We also call on the Government to respond in detail to the argument that the Army could phase out the recruitment of minors without detriment to the Army 2020 plans. (Paragraph 130)

30.  The plans resulting from the basing review and the return from Germany are intricate and interdependent and affect all three Services. The MoD must ensure this process is managed appropriately so that it does not unravel. We call on the MoD to keep us informed on its negotiations regarding training opportunities in Germany, Canada and Kenya, and how the historically close working relations with the German authorities are going to be maintained during the drawdown period. (Paragraph 137)

31.  We are concerned that the Army 2020 plan would unravel in the face of any further MoD budget reductions or further reductions in Army personnel. It is essential that the MoD's budget settlement allows for the delivery of Army 2020. If this is not the case, it must be accepted that the Army will be capable of doing less than envisaged under Army 2020 and the UK's vision of its place in the world and the Defence Planning Assumptions will have to be revised accordingly. We are also concerned about the Army's capability to expand its numbers rapidly, both Regulars and Reserves, should a national emergency require it to do so. Any plans for the structure of the Armed Forces must be flexible enough to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. For the reasons already set out in this Report we have little confidence in the Government's capacity to rapidly expand Army numbers should the need arise. The Government must set out its contingency plan for doing so. (Paragraph 142)


32.  Army 2020 represents a radical vision for the future role and structure of the British Army. It departs significantly from the announcements made in SDSR 2010 and we have considerable doubts about how the plan was developed and tested, and whether it will meet the needs of the UK's national security. The evidence presented to date has been far from convincing. Our principal concerns are twofold:

·  First, the MoD has failed to communicate the rationale and strategy behind the plan to the Army, the wider Armed Forces, Parliament or the public.

·  Second, we remain concerned that the financially driven reduction in the numbers of Regulars has the potential to leave the Army short of personnel particularly in key supporting capabilities until sufficient additional Reserves are recruited and trained. (Paragraph 143)

33.  The Government has said Army 2020 has to work and that there is no Plan B. The Government owe it to the Army to ensure it does work, but, crucially, if the situation changes, then the Government must be prepared to respond decisively by providing additional resources in order to guarantee the nation's security. Although we have concerns about the Army 2020 plan, we recognise that it also provides opportunities, for example in addressing the role of Reservists and developing the public defence engagement role of UK Armed Forces which will help to resolve the current disconnect between the Armed Forces and the public. (Paragraph 144)

34.  While we welcome the Government's commitment to publish more data on the Reserves and to put into statute a requirement on the Reserves Forces and Cadets Association to produce an annual report on the state of the Reserve Forces, we believe the Government should go further and give a commitment to provide regular updates to Parliament on progress on all aspects of the Army 2020 plan. Oral and written statements while helpful are not sufficient; a detailed annual report on the Army's Fighting Power should be laid before Parliament setting out progress and setbacks in implementing the Army 2020 plan. The first of these reports should be laid before Parliament in January 2015 to allow consideration and debate before the 2015 General Election and to inform the 2015 SDSR. (Paragraph 145)

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