Honesty is the Best Policy (Sometimes).


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,


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…


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,


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’,


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

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


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

20190726-War Talks – Sixth Season (Sep - Dec 2019)1.

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,



An Empowered Army: Smoke and Mirrors?


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.


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,





Reinforcing Defeat in a Time of Change.



Seventy-five years ago last month, the 4th Battalion, The Dorsetshire Regiment crossed the Lower Rhine at Oosterbeek in Holland to reinforce the remnants of the 1st British Airborne Division. The Division itself had been reduced to little more than a brigade in strength and was surrounded on three sides by two German SS Panzer Divisions. The attempted reinforcement, like the attempt to ferry across the 1st (Polish) Independent Parachute Brigade a day or so before, was an exercise in futility. The aphorism, ‘Never Reinforce Defeat’, seems to have been made for those attempts at Arnhem. Equally, it might have been an observation made at DSEI in London; senior military figures placing their hope on advanced technology and trusting in government promises of new frigates, stealth aircraft, and armoured vehicles designed, like so much hardware before it, for the war we’d like to fight, rather than the wars we may have to fight in the future.

In mitigation, it is not that the West’s paradigm of warfare, manoeuvrism built upon precision, is either impotent or redundant, on the contrary, in many ways it is an exquisite expression of lethality and peerless in effect; but while it might be right for the modern battlefield, it is not right for right now. It is becoming increasingly apparent that politicians are unwilling to commit to the application of direct military force, particularly on land, that aversion is evidenced by a reticence to spend money on defence when faced with competing policy priorities and strategic choices.  If we take the United Kingdom as an example, it is noticeable that politicians are unmoved by the demands of their militaries for new equipment or indeed expressions of the utility of land forces at all. As a result, the British Army is facing an existential crisis in which it is constantly trying to prove its relevance to its political masters. Concepts such as using training as a proxy for warfare, surrogate warfare, and even the developing Army Operating Concept are designed to demonstrate that the Army remains an important element of defence and security.

Defence Secretary sets sights on next century of British air power as major fighter jet milestones reached

Fundamentally, however, although threatened by an militarily agnostic political class, perhaps the main threat to an effective military comes from attempts to remain relevant within the current paradigm, rather than exploring the opportunities inherent in the changing character of warfare.  Last week at the British Army’s conference on the future of NATO it was highlighted that Modernisation and Readiness are the Organisation’s priorities in facing a return to a multipolar world. On the face of it this might seem a reasonable position, to face a ‘resurgent Russia’ and the growth of China as a global force by doubling down on the West’s perceived advantages, but ‘Modernisation’ merely reinforces the current paradigm of warfare and ‘Readiness’ makes the West ready for the conventional attack it fully expects, but which recent experience teaches us is unlikely. Both positions are severely flawed: first, because as previously stated, modernisation does not involve transforming in reaction to observed change, but rather by pouring new wine into old bottles. Secondly, as Meir Finkel points out in his book, ‘On Flexibility’, recent observation of the development of warfare suggests that, increasingly, wars begin with either a technological or doctrinal shock against which no amount of intelligence-based preparation can be effective. Modernisation and Readiness, whilst seemingly logical are, for different reasons, a fool’s errand.

So if politicians are averse to military spending because they cannot see the utility of armed force and military leaders are so wedded to the current paradigm that they cannot, or will not, see the signs of the changing character of warfare, what hope is there for the future of defence, and particularly ground forces? Will they become little more than a gendarmerie as budget cuts slowly remove their lethality? Will they be forced to  concentrate on providing training and special forces to friendly states in unstable regions? Is there a way to change the way in which Western forces are configured, without losing the lethality of precision-enabled combined arms warfare? The answer is, of course, yes, but to achieve it will take money and considerable effort, both physical and intellectual. The key is a combination of the maintenance of conventional manoeuvrist forces, the introduction of an information manoeuvre capability, and a cultural concentration on adaptability. The former two will deliver a force which can provide an answer to pre-existing conventional and hybrid threats while the latter enhances the ability to identify patterns of change and find solutions. The only restraint is finance, but it is a mighty big restraint.

NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group in Estonia take part in Exercise Fruious Hawk 2019, a Combined Arms Live Fire Exercise.

While transforming the force to provide both kinetic and virtual effect is being tested and practised by the US Army with its concept of Multi-Domain Operations (MDO), and investigated by the British Army through its nascent Army Operating Concept (AOC), we are almost wholly without an effective understanding of the concept of adaptability. Adaptability is a human factor which can be both enabled and exploited. It is enabled by experience, encouragement, and empowerment and exploited by experimentation, engagement, and encouragement and is probably worthy of a blog of its own. It is important to differentiate adaptability from flexibility. Flexibility is the capacity of an organisation to change in reaction to internal and external stimuli, for those of us who work within Western militaries there can be little doubt that our organisations are hopelessly inflexible, in peacetime at least. If one considers that contracts and personnel costs account for the vast majority of defence expenditure, and are essentially fixed costs, and that the organisations and cultures they serve are often hundreds of years old and glacial in their capacity yo evolve, perhaps organisational inflexibility is inevitable. Only adaptable people will be able to react to the changing character of warfare, they are after all any military’s greatest asset.

I hope you all have a great weekend and look forward to reading your comments on this blog here and on the UK’s Defence Connect internal communications net.

All the best,



Battlefields, Interpretation, and Memories.

Hamel 1

This week, I was lucky enough to take three days away from work to take part in a battlefield recce of First World War sites around Amiens in France. Battlefield guiding has become a passion for me in recent years and has brought significant benefits. I want to use this week’s blog to both promote those benefits and the organisation with which I travelled, highlighting the benefits military organisations can gain through involvement with battlefield study and co-operation with civilian tour operators.

In 2010, the late Professor Richard Holmes described the benefits of battlefield study thus: ‘There is a merit to visiting historical battlefields that no amount of theoretical study can replace. Educationalists recognise that participation is the key to learning, and field study – with its unique and unutterably poignant mix of battlefield, cemetery, and memorial – talks to both intellect and emotion. This is not an optional extra; this, surely, is core business‘. It is easy to pay lip service to such virtuous language, but it was only this week that I truly understood what the great man meant. I have been reading and writing about the Battle of Le Hamel since 2014 and have visited the site of the battle on a handful of occasions since then. I never really understood the battle until Tuesday but now feel significantly more qualified to describe it and to interpret it for those I guide. Let me explain.

The village of Le Hamel sits on the edge of the floodplain of the River Somme, at the foot of a curve of low hills, not far from the French city of Amiens. The hills encompass the village like a question mark, with the village hard against the top curve and a spur of ground poking towards it from the high ground at the base. Famously, General Sir John Monash’s Australian infantry, supported by British and French artillery, British tanks and aeroplanes, and a detachment of American troops, captured the village and the all-important high ground in a little over 90 minutes on the 4th of July 1918.  Although the battlefield is not large, being perhaps only a couple of miles long from the Australian start line to the final objective at the top of the low hill above the village, known as the Wolfsburg, it would have been no mean feat to have taken all objectives in so little time. Only by walking the ground and thinking about the writing on the subject in combination was it possible to understand it.

The key to the position, and the answer to the collapse of German resistance, were the two entrenched redoubts at the bottom of the ‘Question Mark’. The Australians stood on the high ground looking down into Le Hamel. Unfortunately for them the slope of the spur down which they had to proceed to attack the village was so gradual that the heavily defended ‘Pear Redoubt’ could not be seen. The only other route to the village passed between two small woods and into the gap between the German’s had inserted another redoubt, ‘Kidney Trench’. These positions were mutually supporting, with ‘Pear Trench’ clearly being positioned more for the support it could give ‘Kidney’ than for the perfection of its own position. This could only be gauged by walking the ground, when observed from the highest vantage point around, the Wolfsburg neither the distance nor the full effect of topography could be appreciated.


The German position was strong, but it was clearly little developed, the ground chosen took advantage of agricultural landscaping rather than military engineering to achieve an adequate defence. The 2,500 Germans who occupied the two redoubts would not have been the elite stormtroopers of the Spring Offensive, rather they would be the remains of those units supported by fresh drafts and older soldiers. The Australians would have been far more motivated and it was easy to see how they would quickly have overcome German resistance. In fact, as I considered the position I recalled how I had witnessed Bravo Company, the 1st Bn The King’s Own Scottish Borderers with their aggression, fitness, and determination clear enemy forces from a purpose built position in short order during an exercise on Salisbury Plain in 2002. Behind the two redoubts was a wide open area of ground in front of the village, once ejected from their positions, the German defenders must have streamed back to the smashed village in absolute disarray closely followed by their assailants.


The 2,500 Germans defending the obliterated remains of the village had clearly put up little resistance, the ruins presented a considerable obstacle, and would have taken the Australians days or weeks to clear in 1916 0r 1917. In addition to infantry, of course, the Australians were supported by a fleet of British Mark V tanks to which the defenders had little answer and terrifying aircraft providing close air support harrying their routed comrades. Until I walked the ground, I would have been sceptical of the claims made for Le Hamel, but having seen it, understood the human element, and the advantages of the Australians in terms of materiel and manpower the claims made for the battle looked eminently feasible. In short, by walking the battlefield I was able to understand it and whatismore I was empowered to teach in an authoritative manner.

But what of the organisation with which I travelled? I have worked with Simon Bendry’s First World War Centenary Battlefield Tours Programme (FWWCBTP) since February 2015, and have acted both as a guide and in support as part of an embedded British Army contingent. These tours offer a unique opportunity for schools to take two children to the battlefields of the War and gain an in depth and relevant conception of the War itself, the nature of remembrance, and the effect of conflict on ordinary people. The Programme is government funded and received a grant of £5 million in 2014, it is run professionally and to an incredibly high academic standard and has taken thousands of children to the battlefields over the last 5 years. Those children have, in turn, completed community projects which have reached in excess of 15 million people across England. But perhaps the biggest winners in the programme have been the British Army; for very little cost, they have been party to this project and found engagement opportunities in communities into which the Army would have found it difficult to reach. The Army, I believe, should exploit the relationship more fully and invest in the Programme and I’d be interested to hear opinions from you all, particularly those involved in engagement.

Thank you for reading this little article, I would ask that next time you hear ‘Bottlefield Tours’ being criticised, you think back to this blog and challenge that view. Richard Holmes was right, we can understand warfare better by immersing ourselves in the shadows of its physical experience. We can also use it to our advantage in a military sense, by using it as an engagement media, using the values of those who served to educate the citizenry of the future.

Back next week with more concepts,

All the very best,


Strength in Numbers? Mass and Precision


This week we return to the subject of clouded concepts with a look at ‘Mass’ and ‘Precision’. Let me take you back to the cold winter of 1983. The scene is a Rugby pitch on a frigid Saturday afternoon, the ground is just beginning to unfreeze, but the hard mud will feel like concrete to a mis-timed tackle.  Parents in warm coats eye their progeny with pride, this is Yorkshire, and I am the ‘Pack Leader’ of the Glenhow Preparatory School First XV. The whole team is huddled by the posts, legs like corned beef in the icy chill and there is only one topic of conversation, ‘How big are they, are they bigger than us, how much will it hurt!’. Size matters, as the moments tick by, nonchalance turns to interest, turns to anxiety, turns to terror; then the changing room door opens we behold the Orc army that has been sent to teach us the meaning of pain. These ‘humans’ are huge, at 5′ 8″ I am Lilliputian in comparison, as they come closer the smell of ‘Deep Heat’ and stale sweat assails the nostrils, they are not of this Earth.

When encountering an adversary, whether on a Rugby pitch, battlefield, or in a bar-room we make an assessment of his capabilities. Let us consider meeting our opponent in the context of a bar-room, he is alone and we are with a group of friends, we might feel buoyed by this advantage and in the ensuing fight, all things being equal, we might expect to win. We have done so by employing ‘Mass’, that is defeating him using sheer weight of force. If we want to find a military example, we need look no further than Allied victory in the Second World War: In simple terms Allied advantage in manpower and materiel was so preponderant that neither Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan could match it. In the case of Nazi Germany, even superior warfighting ability in some areas and technologically advanced weaponry could not counteract Allied industrial production and populations. In that example Mass was highly effective.

Now let’s go back to the fight, this time we are alone and our opponent has a pair of friends with him, but we are armed with a knife, are trained in its effective use, and recognise that our opponent is the key protagonist.  We use the weapon to neutralise our main opponent and his support, keen to avoid further loss, picks up their friend and exits stage left. ‘Mass’ has been defeated by ‘Precision’. The weapon utilised against the opponent’s critical vulnerability has overbalanced his mass. As an military example we might use the Six Day War of 1967 in which a smaller but better equipped and educated Israeli force brushed aside its Arab opponents with precision strikes against Arab airpower and armoured formations, leading to military collapse. Clearly both examples are rather simplistic, but they are used here to give a basic understanding of the concept. The important factor to remember is that even David made an assessment of Goliath before pulling out his sling and choosing his stones.

‘Mass’ and ‘Precision’ are described as sitting at either end of a spectrum. The conceptual choice of which end of the spectrum ones force is most appropriately configured on, or whereabouts on the spectrum is most realistic for one’s force, is usually made according to the amount of materials and resources available, access to technology, and the culture of the force itself but, and this is vital, it is possible to have a large quantity of ‘Precision’ and not be a ‘Mass’ force. As an example, US military doctrine is predicated on precision, but lots of it; it does not depend on ‘Mass’. The Western way of fighting, at least since the adoption of AirLand Battle in the 1980s, heavily favours ‘Precision’ and, it is argued, this is correct given Western advantages, even in post-modern warfare. The problem for the West is that faced with a ‘Mass’ opponent, it is difficult for many soldiers to make the intellectual leap away from ‘Mass’: that being outnumbered might not be disadvantageous.  There is a comfort in numbers; emotionally and cognitively size matters. Soldiers will always crave ‘Mass’ because they equate it with safety.

The inability to make that leap is almost ingrained in soldiers. At a RUSI roundtable discussion on the future use of the Army Reserve last year, Army policy makers were confident that they could create ‘Mass’ by the mobilisation of retired soldiers, it was estimated that this number was around 40,000.  The problem is that they cannot be armed and equipped and neither can the platforms which they operate be regenerated.  The British Army, it is true, is less exposed than say the RAF or Royal Navy to ‘Precision’, but if 3rd UK Division was left burning on the Steppe, no amount of volunteers could replace it, because the platforms and equipment which enable the fighting doctrine could not be replaced. The critical vulnerability for the UK and most European countries pursuing ‘Precision’ is that they have both failed to retain sufficient war stores to re-equip, and have insufficient reserves to regenerate a force trained to use them.  It is not that ‘Precision’ is wrong, rather it is that it requires greater resource than governments are prepared to give and a good deal more cognitive room than most armies are prepared to make.  

Back to Yorkshire in 1983. You may not be surprised to know that we beat the Orcs, yes they were bigger, but far more immobile, added to that we took a decision to keep the ball away from the scrum and use our speed and agility to our own advantage.  We recognised that their scrum was their critical vulnerability, and so by denying it room to act, we essentially defeated their ‘Mass’ with our ‘Precision’. Even back in the Cold War it was possible to think asymmetrically, even in Yorkshire! Bloody cold though!!

I hope you enjoyed my boyhood memories, yes I am that old!

Speak to you soon, all the best,




Because we’re here Lad!


1Nigel Green Zulu

As the nights draw in and Summer turns to Autumn, fall for my American readers, and Spring for those in the Antipodes, it is once again time to review the last three months in the career of Barney. Now before you all stop reading, please bear with it, there are some tasty morsels hidden within the self-indulgent salad! To make it easier, the key ‘takeaways’ are in bold (can you tell I wrote this at supper time?).

It will surprise none of you that the most important event of the last three months was my final withdrawal from RUSI and the start of work in Army Communications.  Since starting at Andover, I have been largely responsible for the Army’s Twitter account (@BritishArmy) and I hope you may have noticed a change in tone and style, with an emphasis on the historical and much more active engagement (we have doubled our reach in the last two months). Indeed, next week I am building a series of tweets telling the story of the Battle of Arnhem as it happened in 1944, mirroring the one I did for DDay75. It may also surprise you to know that the Army’s Social Media team is tiny; I am continually impressed by the output of my team-mates. In addition to my ‘day job’, I have been honoured to take part in wargaming the Army’s proposed Army Operating Concept as the only non-commissioned participant, to have been the only non-commissioned member of the Army’s Intellectual Hub Working Group, and to be working with others across Army Headquarters improving access to education and conceptual understanding.

The Fifth Season of War Talks was highly successful, an all-female bill provided our audience with the very latest research on subjects as diverse as Information Warfare and Identification Discs, many of which were recorded as podcasts for The Wavell Room, the leading website for British military thought. I must thank Sarah Ashbridge, Szabina Maguire, Dr Vanda Wilcox, Alicia Kearns, and Cristina Varriale for their excellent talks, but in addition I must thank my colleague from RUSI, Magdalena Markiewicz, who spoke as the first speaker in the Royal Navy’s ‘Quarterdeck Talks‘. The ‘Quarterdeck Talks’ bring the same sort of informal PME to the Navy which ‘War Talks’ brought to the Army – gratifyingly the Ink-spots are gradually spreading. I am speaking to the British Army about filming the talks for publication on the British Army website at the moment, so watch the ‘net for the Talks going viral!

The Sixth Season of War Talks gets underway on Thursday with a talk by Doctor Pippa Malmgren, an entrepreneur and former presidential aide to President George W. Bush, entitled, ‘Drones, Data, and the Democratisation of the Airspace’.  It promises to be superb and, for those unfamiliar with Doctor Malmgren, I urge you to look at her previous speeches on You Tube and to read her excellent book,’The Leadership Lab’. In her wake, we have already promoted a stellar line-up: Vanya Eftimova Bellinger, Professor Anthony King, Natia Seskuria, Professor Patrick Porter, and Doctor Dan Whittingham. I can also announce that we will return to support our friends in Tonbridge with a Talk by Brigadier Ben Kite on 26 September 2019 and add a final Talk for this year at Aldershot on 10 December 2019, when Elisabeth Braw of RUSI will speak on Modern Deterrence and National Resilience.

Connected to the War Talks series has been the British Army Military Book of the Year Prize 2019, I am running the Prize on behalf of the Army for the second year on the trot and much has been learned from last year. The Prize has been far better advertised this year and has a much more diverse judging panel, but we have much more to do to place it where it deserves to be in 2020. The Prize will be launched earlier, with more fanfare, with its own web-page, and with even more judges; our aim is to encourage reading and learning and we must concentrate on that objective. This years books have included works by Lord Ashcroft and Isobel Oakeshott, Sir Anthony Beevor, Doctor Jonathan Boff, Sir Max Hastings, Lindsey Hilsum, David Patrikarakos, and Professor Patrick Porter. The judges’ results are slowly coming in and I hope to have all the counting done and be in a position to announce the winner of the BAMBY19 in early October.

So what next? Well in addition to the War Talks series and the BAMBY, I will be continuing work on the Army Operating Concept and the Intellectual Hub, we will be intensifying work in the area of inclusive education, and I will be carrying out some exciting work for the Director of DCDC at Shrivenham. In addition, I will start my much delayed PhD this Autumn, conduct three Battlefield Studies, speak at two conferences, and teach the practical use of social media to courses run by the General Staff Centre at RMA Sandhurst. It seems that any thoughts of a slowing down in my workload post RUSI are redundant, I am already booked for battlefield studies in Belgium, France, Croatia and Bosnia, and South Africa in 2020 as well as several conferences in the UK. Above all, I will continue to fight for greater meritocracy within the Army and better professional education across Defence, leading by example.

Finally, in case any of you were wondering about my motivations, and I’m sure some of you are, be under no illusions, I cannot be promoted, I cannot be commissioned, no-one is going to recommend me for honours, and I don’t receive any pay or financial assistance with any of my activities. Simply, I do what I do both because I love it and because it needs to be done. ‘Why us Sergeant Major?’, ‘Because we’re here Lad! Because we’re here!’

All the very best,