It’s Life, Jim, but not as we know it.

Star Trek

Regular readers of this Blog will know that each Quarter I write a retrospective article covering my activities beyond my work in the Headquarters of the British Army. This blog post, the latest in that vein, will cover the period since the return from Christmas Leave. While I don’t intend for this post to be dominated by Covid-19, it would be crass in any review of the first three months of 2020 to ignore its effects. Indeed, as a result of the global pandemic, this year is likely to become one of those few of us will ever forget. Our language and behaviour have been overwhelmed by the phenomenon, a plethora of new words and phrases – Covidiot, self-isolation, and social distancing – have spread like the virus with which they are connected and may, perhaps, disappear just as precipitously. In closing this blog, I will add some words, perhaps controversially, on the positives and false positives which may flow from the current crisis.

January began with a series of talking engagements in the United Kingdom and Europe. The first trip took me to Palace Barracks in Belfast and a leadership development day at the First Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland. I spoke, amidst some really excellent presentations from others, on the subject of Adaptability. It was very pleasing to be the recipient of some very kind words by the Commander of the Specialised Infantry Group, a meeting which has borne fruit subsequently, with an invitation to speak to the Group in May 2020. After a weekend at home, I headed to Prague to the annual FINABEL Conference. There, in that splendid Bohemian capital, I spoke to the Council of Permanent Military Experts on the Fallacy of Presentism, a subject I would revisit at my next Talk at Army Headquarters. That Talk, part of Army Education’s Learning Lunches initiative, led to several further invitations to speak including to Land Warfare Centre, the Infantry Training Centre, Catterick and Leeds University Officer Training Corps in April 2020. Next, I was pleased to speak to Salisbury Air Cadets on the subject of the Western Front in the First World War and finally, at the end of January, I travelled to Catterick Garrison to speak to the Headquarters of 4th Infantry Brigade once again on the subject of Adaptability, all this before the end of January.

The first three months of 2020 also saw an increasing number of invitations to attend and guide Battlefield Studies for units from across the Army. I was due to guide studies in such varied places as France, Belgium, Holland, Croatia, Crete, Israel, and South Africa, but coronavirus has unfortunately put paid to those. I was, however, fortunate to guide one of the last trips in the University College of London’s Schoolchildren’s Centenary Battlefield Tours programme run by the inspirational Mr Simon Bendry. This scheme has delivered a battlefield experience for over 8,500 students and staff and, in the guise of Project110, a public history initiative, more than fifteen million people have benefited from the knowledge gained on those trips. The Programme, for which I have been a vocal advocate for the last six years, was terminated prematurely, and understandably, by Covid-19, but perhaps less so by the Department for Education by whom it was felt to have achieved it’s aim. I was due to have attended a final tour in March which would have been a satisfying final fling only to have it cancelled 24 hours in advance, a deeply saddening end to a wonderful project.

It is important to note that the temporary lockdowns are not forever and I hope that in good time the battlefield studies to which I was previously invited may run again in the future. Battlefield studies, staff rides, historical concentrations or whatever else with which one wishes to label them are vital to improving soldiers’ understanding of their profession. It makes knowledge three dimensional and is the only way in which the boundless experience of war can be translated without intellectual boundary. In the absence of these invaluable trips and resultant from greater free time, I have been able to write a little more. I was over the moon to have my article, Tempus Fugit: Using Time for Cognitive Advantage, published by Grounded Curiosity the prestigious Australian think-tank.  Watch out for further articles in the coming months! Additionally, and thankfully, not all the battlefield studies have been postponed, and I am pleased to have been asked to take part in the British Army’s Exercise Urban Bear II in Berlin in the Autumn. This exercise will examine the Battle of Berlin in 1945 and begin to think about  the development of future warfare in the middle of the 21st century and what that will mean for cities and mega-cities.

Many of you will know that I run the War Talks initiative, the Seventh Season of which has also been significantly disrupted. Although I managed to organise and deliver four Talks on such diverse topics as the use of Unmanned Ground Vehicles and the German declaration of war against the United States in the Second World War, sadly it has proved impossible to deliver the final two talks in the Season. I have already organised the Eighth Season of Talks, but will wait until the current situation is a little clearer to announce dates and times, and indeed the means of communication through which they will be promulgated. The Talks are a labour of love and a valuable source of informal professional military education and I am determined to have them delivered by whatever means possible, even if that is virtually by podcast and You Tube video recorded without an audience. In addition to the Talks, I have also been pleased to organise the British Army Military Book of the YearPrize for a third year, the shortlisted books are exceptional; I do not envy the judges, drawn from across the Army who will have to choose an excellent and deserving winner!

In all the sadness surrounding Covid-19, there are already those who, quite rightly from my perspective, are prepared to look forward to what comes next. The Wavell Room has begun a Call for papers on this very subject and I would encourage everyone to submit their thoughts, I certainly intend so to do. My thoughts are still forming but are essentially threefold: first, we must realise that mostly things will return to normal, even with the economic and social damage which will have been caused. In terms of the Army, the adaptability being displayed currently will atrophy rapidly as the conservative culture claws back that which has been lost to elastic ideas and processes. Secondly, benefits which we are imagining are not wholly beneficial. We may believe that remote- working and lower economic and industrial production are beneficial to the environment, and indeed they are, but social isolation and dependence on vulnerable networks also present problems for society. Connected to that is my third thought; the country has, in the main, displayed incredible discipline during the Pandemic, but we are neither robust or resilient at the societal and strategic levels, questions over the sustainability of just in time logistics, globalism (particularly our relationship with China), and our ability to absorb strategic shocks must be addressed urgently. Life will return to a normality, but will it be life as we knew it before 2020?

Stay at home, protect the NHS, and save lives,

All the very best, speak soon,

Barney

 

 

Tempus Fugit: Using Time for Cognitive Advantage

Time Waits For No Man…

Today my latest article has been published by the leading Australian website Grounded Curiosity. It examines how the perception of time can be manipulated and exploited to give cognitive advantage, a key factor on the contemporary battlefield.

At a time when we are all hunkered down for endless hours, this article examines the tricks the mind plays and how that can be of advantage to us or indeed our opponents. #article #machinelearning #army #military #armedforces #defenceindustry

Please give it a read here: https://groundedcuriosity.com/tempus-fugit-using-time-for-cognitive-advantage/#.Xnw-USWnwlQ

Covid-19, #BAMBY20 and the War Talks.

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Last night I had to take the regrettable decision to postpone our 55th War Talk as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Following the change in British government advice, and after a conversation with our speaker, Brigadier Ben Kite, it became clear that continuing with the Talk was untenable. As a result, the Talk has been postponed until Tuesday, 8th September 2020. At this stage, I believe that the British Army Military Book of the Year 2020 (#BAMBY20) will be untouched by the ongoing outbreak.

Those of you who follow the War Talks will no doubt note that we have one final Talk scheduled this season on Tuesday, 7th April 2020. At this stage I do not intend to postpone the final Talk entirely; instead, I am planning to video the Talk for the War Talks You Tube Site  and record it as a podcast for The Wavell Room without an audience. Of course, this is highly dependent on the cooperation of the Speaker, the Army Libraries Information Service, and Her Majesty’s Government but it does present itself as an attractive compromise, keeping our hungry audience sated with informal professional military education, while working within public health restrictions at this difficult time.

A further complication is that we have all but completed our programme for the Eighth Series of War Talks. Whilst the speakers have not yet been consulted, if they are able I hope to publish the Talks digitally, albeit without an audience. The remainder of this blog is given over to details of our forthcoming potential speakers and, in some cases, the subject areas they have previously offered to discuss. After Easter, our first speaker is planned to be Colonel Chris MacGregor, my boss and the Assistant Head of British Army Communications. A true polymath, Colonel MacGregor’s interests are diverse it is likely that he will talk either about the developing strategic importance of cryptocurrencies or about the role of social media in future warfare. Whatever he chooses to speak about, his talk on Tuesday, 28th April 2020 will be hugely informative and engaging.

We plan to deliver two Talks in May, the first by Dr Ziya Meral, Senior Resident Fellow at the Army’s Centre for Historical Analysis and Conflict Research and Senior Associate Fellow at RUSI, will be held on Tuesday, 12th May 2020 with the working title of ‘Turkey, Russia and the Question of NATO’s Southern Flank’. This Talk on a dynamic and evolving series of relationships, will be sure to answer many questions while, I suspect, opening up many, many more. Later in the month on Tuesday 19th May 2020 we are fortunate to have Dr Alison Hawks, Executive Director of the Common Mission Project and the Director of European Operations for BMNT, an American defense company using innovative methods to solve technical problems for the United States’ Department of Defense and the British MoD.  She will introduce the techniques used to find those solutions and discuss how militaries benefit in her Talk entitled, ‘Harnessing Young Talent to Solve the UK’s Toughest National Security Problems’.

June sees no change in the diverse nature of our speakers with Dr Anicée Van Engeland, Senior Lecturer in International Security at Cranfield University talking about her research into Islamist radicalism on Tuesday, 9th of June 2020. Dr Van Engeland recently published a superb and very readable article on the Soleimani assassination and its effects on Iran in the Wavell Room. We are also hoping to have the eminent and sartorially splendid Dr, Peter Caddick-Adams as a speaker in June, advocating for his book, ‘Sand and Steel: A New History of D-Day‘, as a potential winner in the #BAMBY20. A date has yet to be finalised for this event, but another of this year’s BAMBY finalists, Dr Jonathan Fennell of King’s College, London , has agreed to speak on the subject of his book, ‘Fighting the People’s War: The British and Commonwealth Armies in the Second World War‘ on Tuesday, 30th June 2020. Dr Fennell’s book has been shortlisted for a number of military history literary prizes in addition to the BAMBY and we look forward to hearing about it in mid-Summer 2020.

The variety doesn’t stop there! In July our first speaker is Ms. Victoria Taylor, Twitter’s @SpitfireFilly, television historian, and a PhD student at Hull University. Her chosen subject area is the German Luftwaffe of the Nazi period and further details of her air power Talk can be found in my previous Blog. Miss Taylor will deliver her Talk on Tuesday, 7th July 2020 and is followed on Tuesday, 28th July 2020 by the last Talk in our Eighth Season. Our final Talk will be delivered by Dr Heather Montgomery, Assistant Excavation Director at Queen’s University, Belfast, on the subject of her doctorate, ‘Training Kitchener’s New Army 1914-18: An Archaeological perspective on the Irish Experience’, taking an inter-disciplinary approach to the experience of soldiers of the Great War. Dr Montgomery also worked on the excavations in Thiepval Wood and is a fascinating speaker.

The Eighth Season will, if it is allowed to go ahead, offer something for everyone with an interest in military studies broadly defined. From the wars of the past, through current affairs, to the wars of tomorrow, I believe War Talks offers a degree of width not achieved by any other Series. It should also be noted that by the start of the Ninth Season in September 2020, the Series will have delivered 63 Talks in three years, a truly  prodigious number. The Talks are, as always, to take place at Prince Consort’s Library, Aldershot with a start time of 1900 hrs prompt and will be released on You Tube within 24 hours of that timing. We continue to try to move the Talks out into the wider UK, any help in achieving that will be very gratefully received.

Your support, especially at this difficult time, is very much appreciated, stay safe and well and speak to you soon.

Barney

 

 

Integrated Review – A View from the Beaches.

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Last Sunday, incarcerated by the rain, I was pleased to have my boredom relieved by the 1958 classic British war film ‘Dunkirk‘. Leslie Norman’s masterpiece tells the human story of the Allied defeat in the Battle of France and the astonishing effort which evacuated over a third of a million men from the beaches of Flanders in May 1940. The story is not exclusively military – yes, it tells the story of a section of infantry retreating before the rapid German advance, but more importantly it articulates the awakening of civil and military integration; a fusion which would, five years later, result in the defeat of the Nazis. Britain in the Spring of 1940 was not the unified and universally determined place of popular mythology, Dunkirk and the subsequent Battle of Britain forged that mould over the next six months or so. My point? Fusion Doctrine, the latest fad in Whitehall, is not all that original but it is essential.

In the film, Charles Foreman, a journalist played by Bernard Lee, takes his motor yacht across to France to play his part in Operation Dynamo. Stranded by the tide and in general conversation, he is asked how an Army which had shattered the Germans in 1918 could have been so humiliated by its vanquished enemy a little over twenty years later. His reply is that it was a matter of ‘Guns and Butter’, in the seven years leading to the outbreak of the War, the British and chosen butter while the Germans had chosen guns. While this summary is not wholly accurate, it does offer a warning from history: to neglect one’s defence and security is to make oneself a hostage to fortune. These two lessons – the critical importance of the Clausewitzian trinity (military, people, and government) and the need to prioritise defence over other governmental responsibilities – should be at the heart of the recently announced Integrated Review.

As always, things are not that simple: First, defence has been steadily de-prioritised since the end of the Second World War and is no longer seen by government as being worthy of its own pillar of national strategy, rather it has become a subordinate part of wider security. Secondly, while ‘Fusion Doctrine’ rightly recognises the need for a whole of government approach to national strategy, it misses the need to enhance national resilience, by which I mean the British people’s ability to cope with crises, both natural and man-made. Finally, and perhaps of most concern, is the presentism which afflicts public policy. At a recent business launch, the former Secretary of State for Defence, Penny Mordaunt, stated that if Defence believed that the forthcoming ‘Integrated Review’ was just a matter of re-balancing tanks, planes, and ships, it was sorely wrong. While her comments can be interpreted as a rallying cry for Defence to think in a more creative way, they also betray a neophile fascination with aspects of defence which are more influenced by science fiction than empirical design. Together, these factors give considerable cause for concern.

We in Defence do not help ourselves. The current Chief of the Defence Staff has repeatedly displayed his presentist credentials and the Army is locked into projects like Specialised Infantry, Strike, and the Army Operating Concept which are designed to prove its relevance as an arm of national security to a cynical Downing Street. This combination of a failure to correctly contextualise the changing character of warfare and government’s myopic insistence that investment must see an immediate return endanger national security, as does a fixation with five-year reviews driven by the electoral cycle. In short, in pursuit of budget share, all three Services are locked into a pursuit of novelty at the cost of effectiveness – well-trained people and precision combined arms battle are still our best defence, they may need to be blended with elements that enhance that effect (space, cyber, information), but to prioritise the enablers over the effect is to critically endanger UK defence in the future.

So what should the result of the ‘Integrated Review’ look like? It should be whole of government with every department of state pulling in the same direction towards a single strategic objective. It should make societal resilience a central priority with education and healthcare being as important to national defence as our armed forces – if we are to deter our opponents, we must improve both the sustainability of our societal model and the robustness of our people. In terms of the armed forces, the Royal Navy must be given the central role; post-Brexit Britain depends on secure global trading links and only the Navy can do this, does this mean more big ships? Probably not, but it means greater investment in capabilities which support Britain’s future. In light of that, and with a low likelihood of an increased Defence budget, both the Army and Royal Air Force will have to cut their cloth frugally. The Regular Army should concentrate on fighting on land, using information manoeuvre to enhance effect and an expanded Specialised Infantry to learn lessons for the rest of the Army and improve professionalism. The Army Reserve should be re-roled as a homeland defence and national resilience force – to pretend that a Reserve can be effectively equipped and trained on the cheap as a kind of follow-on force is yet another fallacy. Finally, the Royal Air Force needs to reconsider whether it needs a sixth-generation fighter when its strategic role is lift and its tactical role is ground support. Pointy jets may be sexy, but when your enemy is two blokes on a moped planting IEDs, a billion pound aircraft and similarly expensive guided munition is hardly economic.

This blog has been a rapid canter through the problems facing UK Defence as it embarks on yet another politically driven defence review. In an ideal world, a patient government would lay down a national grand strategy and provide adequate finance for all departments of government to serve it, it would ask Defence to match its capabilities to that strategy and understand that it is an insurance policy not a utility bill. Unfortunately, this will probably not be the outcome; ideas of Total Defence, an effective Operating Concept, and conceptual realism will, it is predicted, be subsumed by a wave of presentist nonsense and cost savings which will leave Defence as far less relevant than it was before. On that depressing note I will leave you, I’ll be back in March.

All the very best,

Barney

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.

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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…

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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)