War Talks and BAMBY20 Updated.

20191201-War Talks – Seventh Season (Jan - Mar 2020)1

Although I’d rather be writing about something more conceptual, an important part of this blog is keeping you in touch with what is going on with the ‘War Talks’ Series and the British Army Military Book of the Year 2020. Our next Talk takes place this Tuesday, 11th February 2020 when Abigail Watson of the Oxford Research Group’s Remote Warfare Programme will speak at Prince Consort’s Library, Aldershot on the subject of ‘Fusion Doctrine in Five Steps: Lessons Learned from Remote Warfare in Africa‘. After that, however, the seventh season of the Series will face significant change.

Unfortunately, due to commitments in Israel, Dr Raphael Marcus has had to bring forward his trip to the United Kingdom and hence his ‘War Talk’. Dr Marcus’ Talk will now take place on Tuesday 25th February 2020, replacing the Talk by Brigadier Ben Kite which will now take place on Tuesday 17th March 2020. Timings and titles will remain the same. A benefit of the change has been that I have been able to organise an extra Talk on Monday 24th February 2020 at Army Headquarters in Andover. This additional Talk will be on the subject of ‘The Post-Soleimani Response from Iran and Hezbollah’ and will be recorded, as usual, for the Wavell Room and the ‘War Talks’ You Tube site.

It has also been necessary to postpone the Talk by Dr Ziya Meral until early in the Eighth Season. Unfortunately, Dr Meral is busy with work in the Middle East, however, I can now announce the title of his postponed Talk will be, ‘Turkey, Russia, and the Question of NATO’s Southern Flank‘. This Talk is currently pencilled in for Tuesday 12th May 2020 and will be the second Talk in the Eighth Season. The first Talk will be given by Colonel Chris MacGregor, Assistant Head of Army Communications and will be a fascinating exposition on the strategic importance of crypto-currency and why we ignore this development at our peril. I have also booked the brilliant young academic, Victoria Taylor, a rising-star in air power history, an Assistant Editor of ‘From Balloons to Drones’, and member of the Herstory Group to speak about her research into the Luftwaffe in the Second World War. Ms Taylor will speak in early July 2020.  The remainder of the Eighth Series is undecided, but it is hoped to reflect the books shortlisted for the British Army Military Book of the Year 2020 (#BAMBY20).

As some of you may have seen, the #BAMBY20 Long-List was published last week. The Long-List Committee was inundated with suggestions, receiving twenty-six nominations from serving soldiers, publishers, and veterans. After removing those ineligible, the field was reduced to twenty-three, and an afternoon of discussion and consideration at Prince Consort’s Library produced the published Long-List. The Long-List of thirteen books will be reduced to around six this month and announced on Friday 28th February 2020. The Long-List has received almost universal praise and I hope that trend continues, there is perhaps a lack of diversity in the nominees, but this is perhaps rather more reflective of the publishing market, particularly in these days of significant anniversaries, than of talent. It is only two years since Dr Aimee Fox won the prize, I am sure she will be joined by another woman writer in the not too distant future. Keep an eye open on the British Army website for the Short-List!!

In addition to the changes above, ‘War Talks’ will be exploiting its relationship with RUSI, The Wavell Room, and the British Army to reach 65 Talks by it’s third anniversary in July 2020. In addition to our intimate audiences at Prince Consort’s Library, we have a social media presence measured in the thousands, and a growing digital audience both as podcasts and You Tube videos. Wavell Room has a new volunteer digital editor and this should lead to faster publication of podcasts, while some investment in microphones and camera mounts should guarantee better quality video for You Tube. In terms of the Talks themselves, next week we hope to see a decision to begin a separate series in the North, spreading the word about informal professional military education. This move has taken too long, I apologise for its tardiness, but would remind you, Dear Reader, that the Talks and, to a lesser degree the BAMBY are a one-man band. I will return with further, more conceptual blogs in due course.

Have a great weekend,

Barney

 

 

Specialised Infantry: A solution, or the solution?

OIP

January has been a busy month. Leave over, I embarked on trips to Northern Ireland and Czechia to deliver Talks to the First Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Scotland (1 SCOTS) and the Permanent Military Experts Panel of FINABEL, a European military interoperability organisation for whom I spoke in Malta last April. In Belfast, I spoke on the subject of adaptability and in Prague on land warfare in the ‘Grey Zone’. I have also spoken to the Salisbury Air Cadet Squadron about the First World War and battlefield tours of the Western Front, and to Headquarters Land about the Future of Warfare and the Danger of Presentism. The latter Talk needs some refinement in time for its next outing at the Land Warfare Centre in April.

In addition, the seventh series of ‘War Talks‘ was launched a fortnight ago with a marvellous Talk by Dr Klaus Schmider of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst examining the German declaration of war on the USA in December 1941 and continues this Tuesday with a Talk by Melanie Rovery of Janes Intelligence about the future of Unmanned Ground Vehicles. I’m also very close to producing a Long List for the British Army Military Book of the Year 2020  and it is my hope to publish the list on the British Army website shortly. It was, however, not my intention that this Blog should turn into my January summary and so I return to my visit to Ulster.

Last Summer, I bumped into the Commanding Officer of 1 SCOTS at the RUSI Land Warfare Conference in London. I remembered him vividly from my attachment to the First Battalion, The King’s Own Scottish Borderers from 2001-04, albeit as a subaltern not the ‘Top Jock’. In conversation, he asked if I would like to speak at a leadership and development conference he was holding in January 2020. I was keen to play a part and so in the second week in January I headed to Palace Barracks, Belfast. The return to my first Unit was deeply poignant, in many ways very little had changed; although amalgamated, the regimental history, of which I have become a very minor part, hangs in the air as well as on the walls. First impressions can be deceiving though, 1 SCOTS is no museum piece.

Along with four other Battalions, 1 SCOTS are designated as part of the Specialised Infantry Group; small, light role units with an establishment of less than 300 soldiers. In theory, they are volunteer units of highly experienced and skilled infanteers, in practice this is a little more nuanced, but what I found was a highly motivated and professional Battalion; well-led, self-disciplined, and dedicated. My talk about adaptability found a ready home. I found empowered soldiers, not in the vanilla sense that it has come to mean in the Field Army, but in its true sense, with Mission Command at it’s very heart. Highly experienced soldiers anxious to engage and experiment under the encouragement of an excellent Commanding Officer. The only element I felt was underdeveloped was education; despite the efforts of the Chain of Command, the culture seemed impervious to the entry of this vital factor. It was heartening to hear the Commander, Specialist Infantry Group make it clear that professional military education was, however, key to future progress within the Group. The group appeared to maximise the possibilities for adaptability within current Army structures, but is it new wine in old bottles?

Specialised Infantry, in its current guise as an organised concept, is a novelty. Clearly, the British Army has been using its soldiers to train proxies for hundreds of years, but this emphasis on training in different theatres is new, reflecting the trend towards ‘Remote Warfare’, as is the development of a wider capability: filling the gap between Special Forces units and All-Arms Battlegroups. The Specialised Infantry is evolving, sucking in expertise from other Corps to create a new role which seems more at home in the 6th Division, Britain’s Information Manoeuvre formation. All is not well, however, in the Kingdom of Denmark; the Specialised Infantry is under-resourced, appears lacking in a clear doctrine, and is in danger of being little more than a presentist fad.

Specialised Infantry is apparently designed, like the Army Operating Concept, to make the Army a relevant operational piece on the government’s chessboard. It allows the Army to deploy a niche capability, at very little cost, to troubled areas of the world; thus keeping the dustier aspects of warfighting, tanks, infantry fighting vehicles etc and the more theoretical information manoeuvre assets safely at home. The accent is on deployment without loss; waving the flag, but keeping the punch for a highly unlikely hot war. The palpable frustration at being permitted to train, equip, and assist but not accompany proxies is understandable, but unlikely to be assuaged. Specialised Infantry is, I fear, destined to be a curiosity of the peculiar times in which we live. Potentially another cause of its eventual demise, alongside military fashion, may be the loss of the British Army’s reputation as a reference force; the old saying goes that one is only as good as one’s last exercise, ours was Afghanistan and that was almost six years ago. In short, we need to keep our reputation fed.

The real potential of the Specialised Infantry lies not, I would argue, in conflict. Rather it lies in its ability to create motivated and adaptable soldiers acting as a cadre for the rest of the Army. Although it is quite natural for the Specialised Infantry to want to retain talent, and I saw huge amounts of it on display at 1 SCOTS, it must, like yeast, be mixed into the dough if leavened bread is the desired result. Let’s not forget, removing the talent from the wider force, leaves the remainder weakened… Stormtroopers were highly effective in the Spring Offensives of 1918, but when the offensives ground to a halt what was left was the ordinary bit! I was enormously privileged to visit 1 SCOTS, they are as I remember them, amongst the best soldiers in the British Army, they deserve to be resourced better, given clear doctrine, and access to far better military education. Is Specialised Infantry the answer, or even part of the answer. to the changing character of warfare? I think it might be, unfortunately I don’t think that was the question it was designed to answer.

Thank you all and have a great week, more writing will follow now that I’m talking less!

Barney

Service is its own Reward – for most.

honours

Eighteen months ago, I wrote a short blog about the Army’s broken reward system. It observed that Other Ranks, representing around 85% of the Army’s personnel, were receiving only around 15% of the state honours allocated to the Army. They were rather better represented in terms of coins, commendations, and other ephemera, but the Major Reforms of 1992 had been an abject failure in creating a level playing-field for state awards. In June 2018, Other Ranks were awarded around 30% of the MBEs issued, last night’s New Year’s Honours saw this fall to closer to a quarter.

On the face of it, this further fall is rather curious; in a shrinking Army where state awards should be mathematically easier to earn that proposition is true only for commissioned officers.  This suggests that either Other Ranks are failing to produce the level of effort sufficient to merit the award of the MBE, that the current crop of Captains and Majors are working at almost superhuman levels, or a mixture of both. A third option is that the system has become iniquitous.  I do not suggest that the honours graciously bestowed by Her Majesty are undeserved, that is almost certainly not the truth, my feeling is that by the time the deserving Officers are aptly rewarded, there is precious little time remaining for the common soldiery, either to be cited or awarded. The time is therefore ripe for an acceptance that the egalitarian dream of Sr John Major has failed, and that the British Empire Medal should be re-instated for Other Ranks, as it has been in civilian life. Here is what I wrote in 2018:

‘The aim of the review of the Honours system by John Major’s government in 1992 was devised to ensure that the UK honours system was based on the principle of reward based purely on merit. Over time, the system reformed by that government has proven to be no less controversial than the system it replaced, albeit the controversy usually involves the perceived misapplication of political honours. Allegations of corruption in the application of political honours are as old as time and not the concern of this Blog, rather I’m interested in the problems created by a ‘classless’ honours system for the UK military.

One of the major outcomes of the 1992 review was to ensure that the tiers of award available to Officers and Soldiers should be equalised, the review saw the abolition of awards like the Distinguished Conduct Medal, the Military Medal, and the British Empire Medal, and the extension to other ranks of the previously Officer-only equivalents like the Military Cross and MBE. Whilst theoretically fair, in practice, putting Officers and Other Ranks into the same pot has extended the number of non-operational honours available to Officers at the cost of those available to soldiers. In this week’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List, Other Ranks representing almost 85% of the Army’s manpower were awarded less than 30% of the honours to which they are eligible. Almost as if to offset this, it is noticeable that the award of the Meritorious Service Medal has been granted a level of importance far in excess of that which was originally envisioned, and there has been a proliferation of local awards such as challenge coins, commendations and the like to reward Other Ranks, particularly junior ranks. At the same time, Officers are now awarded the Long Service & Good Conduct Medal, an award which from 1830 until last year was the preserve of soldiers, operating to a somewhat different standard when it comes to ‘good conduct’. In the round, 25 years after the application of the Major reforms, reward is heavily weighted away from Other Ranks and towards Officers and Warrant Officers. The award of a certificate or coin does not make up for either the de facto loss of opportunity for a State award, or watching Officers rewarded with the award of the LS & GC under a very different disciplinary standard.

I have been the lucky recipient of coins, commendations, and medals including the LS & GC, and have a number of close friends who have been very deservedly been honoured with state awards including the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal, the Military Cross, and the MBE. Notwithstanding that, the system as currently constituted is broken. The lower level awards are useful incentives and rewards at a time when retention is perhaps the most significant existential threat Defence faces, however, the unfairness at the heart of the system must be addressed. I accept it will prove impossible to roll back the inequity of the LS & GC and that lower level non-State awards should remain, but I would encourage the MoD to re-introduce the British Empire Medal (already re-introduced in civil life) for Other Ranks only. The MBE should also remain open to all in an attempt to deliver the equality and merit-based system envisaged by John Major. Equality based on access to reward, not necessarily on the reward itself; a pragmatic solution which accepts the status quo and delivers the benefits of reward to retention.’

Lets hope that in eighteen months we’re looking at a Honours List with less MBEs reflecting a shrinking Army, but dozens of BEMs, rewarding the effort of our soldiers doing the donkey work on behalf of the lions who lead them.

I promise that is my last Blog of 2019.

All the very best,

Barney

Self-Reliance: Your Country Needs You

Kitchener

Back at the end of October, in the week of my fiftieth birthday, the debate around conscription was re-invigorated in an article by a prominent RUSI colleague, Elisabeth Braw. Elisabeth, a renowned Swedish journalist, has led RUSI’s crusade for an urgent review of Western resilience and modern deterrence for over a year. She has been an eloquent advocate for conscription, speaking to varied audiences across the globe and writing articles for some of the most prominent newspapers and magazines on both sides of the Atlantic. In this week’s blog I’ll attempt to outline the nature of the threats to the United Kingdom, why conscription is a poor solution to them, and what, I believe, would be a better course of action for a government facing Brexit and limited resources.

Some of you might, like me, have enough winters under your belt to remember the Cold War. I was born only twenty-four years after the end of the Second World War and remember vividly the privations of Britain in the 1970s: national strikes, regular power cuts, drought, and the ever present threat of the Warsaw Pact. Perhaps it was the proximity to Hitler’s War that allowed society to cope with the problems of the three-day week? Certainly I think that the memory and mythology of the ‘Dunkirk Spirit’ was useful, as was the widespread experience of National Service, but the key advantage enjoyed by 1970s Britain when comparing then and now was the degree of strategic redundancy within the system. Obviously, I’m not advocating the superiority of an economy based on nationalisation, coal, and high taxation, but it was significantly more resilient than contemporary society, built as it is on just-in-time logistics, the internet, and consumer credit.

The threats to British resilience fall into two camps. First, and I would argue far more likely, and damaging, are the natural threats with which human society has lived, sometimes unwittingly, for millennia. Second, from man-made factors such as competition and what Presentists often frame as ‘hybrid’ or ‘sub-threshold’ warfare. In addition to the very real effects of climate change, such as flooding, we need to be alive to the threat from Space. In 1859 a solar coronal mass ejection hit the Earth inducing the largest geomagnetic storm on record. Known as the Carrington Event it was little more than an atmospheric curiosity to our Victorian forebears, but should a similar event occur in our post-modern world, the electromagnetic pulse created would fry the orbiting satellites upon which our World depends for global positioning, precision timing, and communications and the surface based circuitry and wiring on which we depend for the generation of electricity and its transit. Imagine our World without electricity and everything driven and controlled by it for weeks or months on end!

While climate change and space weather are the most likely threats we are facing, they are not the only threats. In the last fifteen years or so, Europe has been troubled by the perceived threat of a resurgent Russia and the more distant challenge of China, the more pressing of the two has been framed as Putin’s Russia. That Russia has attempted to regain its great power status is undeniable, that it has done so through illegal and often military means is also without argument, but its behaviour is neither novel nor is it something of which the West is entirely blameless. The ‘Grey Zone’, which allows Russian sabotage, espionage, and influence to flourish, is encouraged by both Western political timidity and a failure to address the changing character of war. That is, however, somewhat tangential, Russia’s use of cyber weaponry, military force, political manipulation, and direct action in pursuit of its foreign policy does represent a real danger to countries like the United Kingdom. Arguably, the threat of cyber is somewhat overstated; cyber activity is only effective at a limited, tactical level because to use it at a more strategic level would invite retaliation leading to a kind of spiral reminiscent of the Mutually Assured Destruction of the Cold War. So long as the UK commands a strong offensive cyber capability, it has little to fear from a Russian first strike capability.

If we examine the likely threats to Britain and look at where we need to be more resilient, is there a space for conscription in our defensive arsenal? It is difficult to see how National Service would protect against a Carrington-level event, Russian interference in our democratic processes, or counter-espionage activity on the British mainland. Clearly, the threat of extreme weather events and the damage brought about by low-level cyber activity could benefit from additional manpower, but is a conscript with little effective training really the solution to either of those problems? The UK has little experience of conscription and what experience it does have was far from happy. Those, like Elisabeth Braw, who argue for the re-introduction of conscription in the UK, use the example of the Nordic countries, the Baltic States, and Singapore to demonstrate the utility of national service as a component of ‘Total Defence’. They do so without recognition of  the cultural, structural, and political differences between those nations and the UK and, indeed, the nature of the threat faced. The UK is much larger, less homogenous, and more libertarian than the nations which are held up as exemplars.

If the answer to the particular threats to British resilience is not conscription, then what is it? If we quickly review the most likely threats, it is notable that the Armed Forces may not be best placed to answer those problems. Certainly the Ministry of Defence is well placed to provide manpower and engineering, medical, and logistic expertise in light of a natural disaster, but wider expertise would be required in those circumstances, this is the strength of ‘Fusion Doctrine’ – a whole of government approach. Culturally, Britain has always preferred the volunteer to the pressed man or woman; is it not preferable to accept that in a time when our Armed Forces, equipped as they are for a one-shot, precision warfare paradigm, are stretched, that we not only lean on the Reserve to fight natural phenomena, but we give it to them as a raison d’etre? In addition, we should expend our energy in youth organisations and amongst the newly retired to improve national resilience, going with, not against, the flow of national culture. Education is the key to resilience in a UK context, teaching self-reliance, critical analysis, and practical skills such as first aid should be to the fore. Britain needs to become more resilient, but conscription is not the answer to that question.

Thank you for reading all my blogs in 2019, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and I’ll be back blogging in 2020.

All the best,

Barney

 

Honesty is the Best Policy (Sometimes).

hms-queen-elizabeth-getting-her-home

From the outset I’d like to say that this Blog is highly polemical and is designed to encourage debate, nothing of what I have written is the policy or opinion of the Ministry of Defence, RUSI, or any other organisation with which I am affiliated, have fun.

Although perhaps difficult to believe now, especially for those who know me away from the Web, in my youth I was quite a sportsman. Well, I say that; I played some representative Rugby and was the Victor Ludorum in my final year at Prep School, but you get the picture. Like many people, I stopped playing almost all competitive sport when I left school, but a career in the Army ensured that I would be called upon to perform legendary comebacks from time to time. It was in one such rare appearance that I discovered a unique talent, nay a gift, for Five-A-Side Football. I had always avoided the spherical ball game, The Beautiful Game, preferring Rugby Union, but on this occasion I was chosen for an inter-company game.  It was clear, most of all to me, that I was appalling, the niche skill of which I am last proud was exhibited in front of goal, where, often with no opposition, my feet could be counted upon to blast the ball at right angles to the goal mouth. I am, Ladies and Gentlemen, possessed of tangential feet!

Now this story might seem to be going nowhere, but please bear with me. My experience in the gym in Gloucestershire had taught me two things: first, that I had absolutely no right to ever play football (soccer) again, and second, that due to the small number of soldiers in Station I would almost certainly have to! I knew that I would have to improve fast – no this is not the start of a training montage – but I also knew that age, physical build, and agility were against me. I did have a couple of talents (that is, I know, not the right word): size, speed, and dogged determination. I set about examining my abilities, making an honest assessment, discovering that I should stay as far away from the opposing goal as possible, concentrating on hassling and harassing the opposition players – preferably, though not exclusively, when they were in possession of the ball. My trademark manoeuvre was to pin them into a small space, enveloping them like a greased glove, and using those unwieldy feet like a windmill. In short, I ruined their game, a guerrilla war where the hunter became the hunted.

This then is the essence of asymmetry and it begins with an honest assessment of one’s own capabilities and where one has gone wrong in the past. The key word here is honest, I was to football what Fred West was to home improvement, I needed to understand that and adapt to the game using what little ability I had. Too often organisations, especially old ones like those in the public sector are not honest with themselves and that lack of honesty leads to further failure. This week has seen a Conservative landslide in the United Kingdom’s fourth General Election in nine years, almost as soon as the exit polls were in last Thursday, those of us watching were treated to the spectacle of a Labour Party expressing the need for a root and branch review, a review which would inevitably find that the cause of the defeat, particularly in its Northern heartlands was an ambiguous Brexit policy. At the same time, there were numerous voices highlighting the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, anti-Semitism, and radical policies as being more important causes of defeat. What is the truth? I’m not a politician and I have no idea, but what I do know is that honesty was, and remains, in short supply. If recovery is the desired state, telling oneself lies about ones capabilities, particularly because it is less painful and most palatable, will lead to only one, inevitable, outcome.

So what for Defence? 2020 will see yet another SDSR, we have had so many of these since the Credit Crunch that I have lost count. What I do know is that we are still trying to bring the first one to fruition and have not been honest about ourselves and our abilities in almost any of them. I woke to Lucy Fisher’s excellent article in today’s ‘Times’ reporting that the Prime Minister’s strategy guru, Dominic Cummings, was to be given the task of sorting-out Defence Procurement, the Department has been around the buoy on this subject since before I was born, perhaps an outsider is the answer? Certainly we are not good at articulating what we need or being honest about what is important for UK Defence. In some ways is this not inherent in a publicly-owned entity? They indisputably serve the nation, but unless strictly policed they resort to becoming a welfare organisation for the employees, a drain on the coffers of state, and a rather third-rate enterprise. Bloated organisations like the NHS, reputed to employ more staff than the People’s Liberation Army of China are a case in point; the cold, grey light of day might be just what the doctor ordered.

So where have we got to with Defence? What has our salami-slicing and can-do attitude brought us to?  The Royal Navy has a pair of immensely capable aircraft carriers, but insufficient escort ships and personnel to operate them simultaneously, they also operate a Continuous At Sea Deterrent which has prevented an unlikely nuclear war, but which can’t stop a couple of clowns from Russian ‘intelligence’ from poisoning our own citizens in Salisbury. The Army stands by the Division as the primary formation, despite its aging equipment, insufficient re-equipment programmes, and lack of manpower, in an attempt to remain relevant to our politicians and credible to our US ally. We also talk about reform, a lot, and gaze into the future, when as we know from the work of Colin S. Grey and Meir Finkel, we can never know the character of future war until it arrives. Meanwhile the RAF continues to develop Tempest, a manned and futuristic fighter aircraft, whose most likely role will be ground support, continuing the strong tradition of the procurement of multi-million pound aircraft being used out of role to drop hundred thousand pound guided munitions on a Ten-Dollar Talib planting an IED.

The problem is that we have not been honest by asking what is Defence for? There is talk of ‘constant competition’, multi-domain warfare, hybrid warfare, sub-threshold warfare etc etc etc, but most of this is just an expression of the fallacy of presentism by desperate men designed to make a good case for budget enhancement. Ladies and gentlemen, none of this is new, it is the same old, same old of great power competition enhanced by the computer chip, the difference is that there is more space to play games in because we are too timid to adequately confront our opponents in battle, what would be a casus belli with a nuclear armed opponent today? Simply put, Defence is for defending: First of all the territorial integrity of the UK, then our supply lines and areas of economic interest, then to support the international structures of which we are a part. Defence, however, is not just about the Navy, Army, and Air Force, it is about using all the levers of power of which warfare is only one. Defence must thus concentrate on the kinetic and leave the soft to those better placed and better resourced.

My plea, my wish to Santa if you will, is for those putting together SDSR 2020 to be honest about what we need to do, to take that to government with humility, and to ask for what is needed to provide this country with the Defence it deserves. At the same time, truly embrace reform, remove the blockers, and make the money go further. Oh and stop with the futurology, business-speak, and politically-correct language. Defence is a fighting organisation, destruction, disruption, and degradation of the Queen’s enemies is the business; social mobility, social engineering and a good brand are just fortunate side effects. We must stop treating those imposters as the main effort. Be honest and concentrate on the job in hand, because tomorrow is closer than you think.

All the best, I hope you’re all having a grand Leave,

Barney

British troops train to fight in Norway's forests

Soldiers from the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment conducting FIWAF (fighting in woods and forests) training in Norway as part of Exercise Trident Juncture. Ahead of a week-long live exercise, the soldiers adapted to the harsh climate of Norway by training to overcome the extreme low temperatures. These light role infantry troops formed part of the UK-led multinational brigade as part of NATO’s biggest collective defence exercise in over a decade. Exercise Trident Juncture sees NATO and partner nations training and operating together in an Article 5 scenario, ‘an attack on one is an attack on all’. For almost 70 years, the principle of collective defence has been at the very heart of NATO. It remains a unique and enduring principle that binds its members together, committing them to protect each other and setting a spirit of solidarity within the alliance.

 

Another year older…

combat

As those of you who have been following this blog know, in December each year I do a round-up of the previous twelve months and attempt to look forward into the New Year. This year has been one of the busiest I can remember, I have moved to a new assignment, moved house, and moved into a whole new type of work. In writing this Blog, I have used a thematic approach, covering work, academic developments, War Talks, and BAMBY separately as much to remind me of the events as to organise them logically for the reader.

I began 2019 as the Army Visiting Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI) in Whitehall, my six-month full-time External Placement at RUSI was extended on a part-time basis from March until September 2019 and during that time I began working at Army Communications in Andover spreading myself very thinly, covering the Army Twitter account amongst other things. While at RUSI, I continued to produce articles and take a full role in the life of the Institute and was privileged to work with some brilliant minds, making friendships which have endured. In Andover, I found the transition from academia to the Army somewhat difficult but soon got into my stride, working as Project Officer for the British Army Challenge Book and running the Twitter account. I was fortunate to be awarded prizes for both these activities at the Defence Communications Awards in November and am even more lucky to work for and with some brilliant Officers and Civil Servants.

At the end of November I was offered the position of member of the RUSI Military Science Advisory Board and was pleased to accept, I was also offered permanent employment at the Institute which, virtually coinciding with my failure on the Warrant Officer promotion Board, made leaving the Army after 26 years a tempting decision. I am already resettling, thanks to the excellent Resettlement Service provided by the Army Education and Training Services, and am hoping to formalise qualifications in battlefield guiding. I hope to be ready to be a civilian when the time comes.

Alongside work I was fortunate to be asked to teach at the Defence Academy of the Republic of Georgia. I soon found that, when it came to Sub-Threshold Warfare, my students were far more accustomed to the practical application of the theory at the hands of the Russians than me. I can recommend Tbilisi in the Spring, it is a fascinating city and the old town is quite beautiful. In addition to teaching, I was asked to speak to the Chiefs of Staff of the European armies at the annual conference of FINABEL in Malta. I spoke on the subject of Adaptability and was pleased that it caused considerable debate amongst the delegates, particularly pleasing for any military historian was the praise received from the German Chief of Staff, General Jorg Vollmer. In addition to these two milestones, I have spoken at King’s College London, the AGC Warrant Officer’s Convention, and the Tonbridge War Talks to name but a few. I am pleased to announce that I will be speaking at the 1 SCOTS Development Day in January and at the next FINABEL Conference in Prague a week later. I also hope to do some work for Paul Ellis in teaching the use of social media to military audiences.

In addition to the day job and the academic study and presenting, I have also conducted a number of battlefield studies, primarily in support of Simon Bendry’s University College of London First World War Centenary Battlefield Tour Programme, but also the AGC Normandy 75 Battlefield Study in May. I am booked to deliver a couple more First World War tours in the Spring of 2020 as well as three other tours in Croatia, Crete, and South Africa prior to discharge. I hope that once fully-qualified I will be able to find further work in this area.

Every man has to have a hobby and mine comes in two parts. Since 2018, I have been running the British Army Military Book of the Year (BAMBY), this year I put in much more effort to publicise the event and this paid dividends earlier this week when the winner, Dr Jonathan Boff, was presented with the prize by the Commander Field Army, Lt Gen Ivan Jones CB. The second part of the equation is the War Talks initiative which I founded in July 2017. It has been pleasing to watch the Royal Navy start their own equivalent of the War Talks, the Quarterdeck Talks, this year and I was happy to provide a brilliant first speaker for them in the Spring. I am now working with the RAF to provide the same service and look forward to all three Talk series working side by side to provide excellent informal professional military education for the armed forces. The War Talks continue to develop and are podcasted by the Wavell Room and videoed for the War Talks You Tube Site. This year we have reached a grand total of 50 Talks, reaching a physical audience of over 2000, but more importantly exceeding over 10000 podcast hits and a Twitter following of almost 3000.

I will continue to write both for my the warrantofficer.org blog and for other war studies websites. The blog site has been enormously successful and has grown by almost 50% this year, with every post drawing an audience of around 750 readers. I have recently been granted membership of the Military Writers Guild and I intend to both increase the amount I write and promote the writing of others. Finally, I will start a PhD this year if it kills me!! I hope to achieve more in 2020, have a fabulous Christmas!

All the very best,

Barney

P.S I’ll be back to Blogging about War next week!

20191201-War Talks – Seventh Season (Jan - Mar 2020)

War Talks Series VII – Spring 2020

War Talks Series 7

It has been several weeks since my last blog; I apologise for my absence, but there has been a real benefit to this hiatus. In my absence, I took time to organise the prize-giving for the British Army Military Book of the Year 2019, with the winner, Dr Jonathan Boff, being awarded the Prize by the Commander Field Army, Lieutenant General Ivan Jones at Prince Consort’s Library last night. Dr Boff’s Talk will be both podcasted by ‘The Wavell Room’ and made available in video format on our new You Tube channel shortly.  While War Talks and BAMBY are moving into the digital age; I hope the Talks continue to bring informal professional military education #PME to those with an interest and joy to military geeks like me! I have also been able to finalise the programme for the next series of War Talks which will commence in mid-January 2020, this blog is dedicated to publicising the new, Seventh Series.

The Seventh Season commences on Thursday, 16th January 2020 when Dr Klaus Schmider of the Department of War Studies at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, will deliver a Talk entitled, ‘Turning Point: Reassessing Hitler’s Declaration of War on the United States’. Dr Schmider’s Talk takes its content from his forthcoming book on the subject published by Cambridge University Press and promises to provide a fascinating revision of current thinking on Germany’s enigmatic decision in December 1941. Our second Talk in January will take place on Tuesday 28th and will be given by Mrs Melanie Rovery, the Editor of IHS Jane’s Unmanned Ground Vehicles, Mrs Rovery will speak on the subject of, ‘A Revolution in Warfare: The Future of Unmanned Ground Vehicles’. This should be a highly accessible Talk and I would encourage commanders to use this as an easy entry to informal professional military education for their soldiers.

February opens with a Talk by Ms. Abigail Watson, Director of the Remote Warfare Programme of the Oxford Research Group who will speak at the Library on 11th February 2020. Ms. Watson will speak about her research into Remote Warfare in Africa in a Talk entitled, ‘Fusion Doctrine in Five Steps: Lessons Learned from Remote Warfare in Africa‘. We move away from international relations for our second Talk in February, with an old friend of the ‘War Talks’, Brigadier Ben Kite, speaking about his newly released book, ‘The British and Commonwealth War in the Air 1939-45‘, on Tuesday 25th February 2020; get along to your local bookshop now to ensure you have a copy for signature!

March sees us move away from history and firmly into the domain of war studies with a Talk to which I have been personally been looking forward for over a year. On Tuesday 10th March 2020, we expect to hear from an Israeli academic, Dr Raphael Marcus, on the subject of his superb work, ‘Israel’s Long War with Hezbollah: Military Innovation and Adaptation Under Fire‘. Dr Marcus’ Talk may be subject to a change of date due to shifting commitments, but he will be speaking in early March. Our second Talk in March 2020 will be given by Dr Ziya Meral of the British Army’s Centre for Historical Analysis and Conflict Research at RMAS. It is expected that Dr Meral will speak on the subject of Turkey’s role in NATO, although this will be subject to confirmation in the next few days.

Our final Talk in the season will be given by Dr Patrick Bury of the University of Bath who will deliver a talk on the subject of his most recent book, ‘Mission Improbable: The Transformation of the British Army Reserve‘ rounding off a short, but finely balanced season in which we examine military history, international relations, defence industrial policy, and war studies. The full programme is at the foot of this page. The Eighth Season will commence at the end of April 2020 and run until August that year. I will also be releasing details of the British Army Military Book of the Year 2020 in the next few days, my third year as organiser of this event. To conclude this part, I would like to offer my sincere thanks to those who have assisted with the BAMBY and War Talks over the past year, both are run at no extra cost to the Army and provide incredible levels of engagement and value for money. In short, I am very proud of both my little programmes.

Before I go, I’d like to thank my colleagues at RUSI for appointing me to the Military Sciences Advisory Board and to the membership of the Military Writers Guild in America for asking me to become a member. It is becoming increasingly apparent that my future lies outside the Army, an unrequited love is always the hardest, and it is becoming clear that the Army is far more ambivalent towards me than I am to it. Tomorrow morning will see some very fine soldiers promoted to WO1, I will not be among them, my time of trying to be among them is also coming to a close. They truly are the best, I know that I will never be amongst them. Onward to pastures new.

All the very best, hope you enjoy your ‘Silly Season’,

Barney

20191201-War Talks – Seventh Season (Jan - Mar 2020)

‘Bring back National Service’: A solution to the British Army’s manning woes?

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The British Army appears to be in the midst of a manning crisis; it cannot meet or sustain its personnel requirements and is increasingly turning to women and Commonwealth citizens to fill its gaps, rather than traditional sources. There are many causes, but could conscription be a more sustainable answer?

Recently, the trend away from conscription and towards professional armies across Europe has seen a degree of retreat; militarily, a perceived threat from Russia has driven countries like Ukraine to re-introduce conscription, while countries like France, Sweden, and Lithuania are turning to limited conscription to either reach out to disengaged communities and demographics, or to fill gaps. The United Kingdom’s most recent experience of conscription ended in 1960, but given the Regular Army’s increasing manning deficit and State disengagement in under-represented communities, a form of limited conscription, involving around 10,000 people per annum, may appear to be an attractive solution.

The main problem with conscription in a British context is that it was, and remains, unpopular with the electorate; historically and culturally, it is something the UK has turned to only in extremis, it would be an almost impossible sell (outside of a general war) for any political party, especially as many of those to whom it would apply would be eligible to vote! There is another major objection to conscription: militarily it is expensive, inefficient, and conceptually at odds with Britain’s concept of precision warfare; it is difficult, although not inconceivable, to imagine conscripts grasping the intricacies of modern equipment and the nuances of post-modern warfare after only a few short weeks of training. If conscription, for all its attraction as an instant fix to a temporary manning problem and as a delivery system for improved social cohesion, is politically impossible, is the solution immigrant soldiers?

In the hullabaloo following the release of the Public Accounts Committee’s report into skill shortages in the Ministry of Defence, the ongoing furore over the shortcomings in the Capita recruiting contract, and the Chief of the Defence Staff’s recent assertion that young British people no longer understand the nature of service, two simple truths have been overlooked: first, to a very large extent the current manning problem is inextricably linked to the United Kingdom’s economic success and will improve as the economy slows. Secondly, retention, not just recruiting, is key to sustainable manning.

There is a direct inverse correlation between Army recruitment and national economic success. Currently, unemployment is running at only 4%, and has been falling consistently since September 2011, wages are rising above the rate of inflation, and at the same time GDP, although sluggish, has been positive for almost nine years, the longest period of sustained growth since the end of the Second World War. In these circumstances, it is perhaps remarkable that Army manning has held up so robustly. The inevitable economic downturn will more than adequately fill the gaps in the Army’s establishment, so why look overseas to solve a temporary problem which will disappear in a shorter time than we have lived with it?

The current trade-trained strength of the Regular Army is 76,800 against a requirement of 82,480 personnel, an almost 7% under-manning. In the year to July 2018, around 4,500 personnel left early of their own volition (almost 60% of the total outflow from the Army); had those individuals stayed, the Regular Army would have seen a manning deficit of only around 1,180 personnel, less than 1.5%. This is, of course, rather simplistic, however, the general point remains: it is self-evidently cheaper and more effective to retain than recruit. Retention is a complex problem because there are as many reasons for leaving as there are leavers; the 2018 Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey (AFCAS) points to some common themes: dissatisfaction with pay and pensions, perceived poor management, particularly career management, and decreasing levels of morale all conspire to undermine Army manning, however, given that job security is the strongest retaining factor, it is difficult to understand how some of the initiatives which purport to support recruiting and retention, for example the changes contained in the New Employment Model, could be seen as in any way retention positive.

The decision to revert to the recruitment of foreign and commonwealth citizens from their home countries is difficult to understand given that the recruitment ‘crisis’ is demonstrably temporary. It is also clear that any system of conscription would be unnecessary, unpopular, and inefficient. The answer to the problem of under-manning is to be patient and improve retention, unfortunately it is easier to blame contracted recruitment than to tackle either the Army’s own part in the failure of the contract, or the causes of the failure to retain. If we want to fill the gaps, it is the question of retention which must be answered.

Autumn Update: War Talks and BAMBY

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Those of you familiar with this blog will know that from time-to-time I like to give an update on both the War Talks series and the British Army Military Book of the Year Competition. I also tend to give some further details of talks, presentations, and other activities with which I am associated. This will be one such blog. It would be a real pleasure to meet any and all of you; to that end, I hope you can make some of these events this Autumn.

War Talks Autumn Season 2019 and Beyond. Sometimes it seems unbelievable that the ‘War Talks’ talk series that I founded in the Summer of 2017 has already been running for six seasons and that we have already delivered 45 talks from academics and international relations experts. Professors, Generals, Doctors, and students have all graced the Talks on subjects as wide ranging as child soldiers, weapon development, and drone technology to name but a few.

Our 46th Talk by Ms. Natia Seskuria of the National Security Council of the Republic of Georgia and an Associate Fellow at RUSI, takes place on Tuesday 22nd October 2019 at the Prince Consort’s Library, Aldershot. Natia will speak on the subject of Russia’s information war against Georgia since the invasion of 2008. The remainder of the season is at published above, but I would remind readers that Professor Tony King‘s Talk has moved to Wednesday 13th November 2019. I am deeply indebted to both RUSI for providing its incredible speakers at no cost and to the Wavell Room for podcasting the vast majority of the Talks since mid-2019.

The Talks continue to go from strength to strength, indeed I am already organising the seventh season which will run from January to April 2020. I hope to have a line-up of another seven talks ready for announcement in December 2019 taking us up to 57 in total. If you have any suggestions on subjects or speakers, please drop me a line.

British Army Military Book of the Year 2020. The British Army Military Book of the Year 2019 (#BAMBY19) was won earlier this month by Dr. Jonathan Boff. Jonathan’s incredible book, his second shortlisted book for the Prize, is ‘Haig’s Enemy: Crown Prince Rupprecht and Germany’s War on the Western Front’ and we hope he will be able to both collect his prize and be presented with a new trophy provided by the AGC(ETS)on Tuesday, 3rd December 2019. We will start the hunt for the 2020 Prize (#BAMBY20) at the end of November 2019 with an events page on the British Army website which will give details of the competition rules, how to become a judge, and how to nominate books for the long list. The Longlist will be announced at the end of January 2020 and the Judges and Shortlist will be announced at the beginning of March 2020. Judging will be complete by September 2020 and the winner announced in October 2020. I will aim to have the Prize presented in the first week in December 2020.

Other Activities. As you all may know, I like to keep busy. The following is not exhaustive but I’m hoping these might give me the best opportunity to meet you all. At the end of this month on Wednesday 30th October 2019, I will be delivering a talk at Leuchars in Fife for the Scottish PME Network on the subject of Adaptability. It is always an incredible honour to be asked to speak by any organisation, but I’d highlight here the Tonbridge War Talks initiative, at which I will speak on Thursday 14th November 2019 on the subject of the reputation of the British Army in North West Europe in 1944-45, ‘The Voice of Veteran as Researcher Conference organised by the Defence Research Network and King’s College, London on 19th November 2019, the Military Social Media Conference in London on 20th and 21st of November, and the Modern Conflict Research Symposium at Manchester in January 2020.

When I’m not speaking or writing, I enjoy Battlefield Studies and I’m hoping to be guiding tours to the Western Front of the First World War in November 2019 and March 2020, and Croatia, South Africa, France and Israel in 2020. In terms of writing, I’m hoping to submit a number of articles to websites and journals in the US, UK, and Australia, but the priority must be with the PhD which still remains temptingly out of reach. Before I go I’d like to let you know I’ve also got projects developing all over the Army and wider Defence, I’ll let you have further details as the proposals firm up. Its a busy life but I like it that way.

Please come along to one of my War Talks or volunteer to help with #BAMBY20 its all part of building the professional military education network. I am particularly keen to get younger and more junior personnel involved because, after all, the future is theirs is it not?

I hope you have a great weekend, back to doctrine, concepts and controversy next week!

All the very best,

Barney

 

An Empowered Army: Smoke and Mirrors?

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Many of you will be familiar with the ‘War Talks’ series which I founded a little over two years ago. On Thursday night, our 45th speaker, Professor Patrick Porter of the University of Birmingham, spoke on the subject of the British campaign in Iraq 2003-11. The Talks are always insightful, but Pat’s was packed with pithy observations about the nature of British government, strategy, and democracy. An unreformed realist, it was Pat’s observation on the nature of democracy which resonated most with me. There was, at the commencement of the Millennium, a belief on both sides of the Atlantic that democracy was an inherently pacific force, the mere application of which could transform even the most undeveloped nations into paragons of liberal virtue. The truth, proven by the failure of military adventures in the Middle East, Central Asia, and North Africa, was that the creation of ‘Switzerland in the Sand’ was a dangerous fallacy.

Democracy is not a peaceful force, we need look no further than Eugene Delacroix’s painting, ‘Liberty Leading the People’, to realise that Marianne, the bare-breasted symbol of French political freedom, is a violent, populist fighter of a nature far removed from modern, mature democracy. When tyranny is removed, the resultant effect is unlikely to be benign selfies with dogs at a peaceful polling stations, rather history has shown that the flowering of democracy is often accompanied by violence, anarchy, and confusion. Whilst this observation is in no way a criticism of democracy, it is a warning that the forces released by liberalisation are powerful, destructive and potentially revolutionary. Populism and the transfer of power, whether in classical Greece, eighteenth century France, or in an organisation like the modern British Army, can unleash forces which cannot be easily predicted or controlled.

Recently, a trend has developed in the British Army devolving power to the shop floor. Ordinarily such liberalisation would be seen as a positive development, particularly when devolution allows for greater operational adaptability, but the latest incarnation has witnessed the growth of ’empowerment’, a somewhat naïve experiment releasing populist forces into military decision-making and allowing the inexperienced and the ignorant to turn raw opinion into putative ‘truth’. In a post-truth world, even the Army, it seems, has become allergic to expertise. Of course, expertise does not give a monopoly on good ideas, but opinion must be, at the very least, informed. Failure to understand that an organisation is made up of a complex interconnected network of processes and culture, risks swapping the tyranny of the ‘ancien regime’ for the tyranny of populism.

Of course, the recent liberalisation has the backing of those in High Command and has as much to do with the Army’s recruiting and retention woes as a taste for enlightened management. It is notable, for example, that many of the solutions identified in empowerment exercises are answers to relatively simple questions, which have been understood and in the gift of the chain of command for many years. It is also notable that the solutions have been widely advertised both internally and externally. The message is clear: the Army is both listening and enlightened, a great place to work. While that is of course true, unleashing the power of democracy is a dangerous game, once the box is open it will prove difficult to replace the lid. The Army may have been successful in diverting, concentrating, and corralling the restless intellectual power of soldiers in the relatively safe pseudo-science of leadership, but this latest endeavour is powered by forces beyond control.

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Empowerment is not the problem, it is, as already mentioned both here and in earlier blogs, an important part of adaptability, but it must be preceded by education, experience, and understanding if it is to be effective. Von Seeckt’s Reichswehr is a good example in this respect: a long period of non-commissioned service was required before commissioning, but once this was achieved debate, conceptual diversity and disagreement was encouraged. This should be the basis of our empowerment: an educated and experienced professional organisation, experimenting and engaging with the support of those in command in military matters. Affecting internal and domestic change is a matter for those in command, not for the commanded. We should empower for military success, not to create an illusion of accountability and democracy.

In short, there is a role for ’empowerment’ and we should perhaps suspend the cynicism built-up over many years of service in its support; but it would perhaps be better expressed through a fresh flowering of ‘auftragstaktik’ leading to conceptual development, than in the pursuit of improved retention and external optics. We need an empowered army; one that is adaptable, agile, and flexible, not one which spends its time in introspection and faux debate.

Thank you for listening, please join the debate, this article has been deliberately polemical to encourage discussion.

All the best,

Barney

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