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Green is the colour! Integration of the UK's Armed Forces

Published: 05 Jul 2011

The latest response is taken from the Daily Telegraph of 6 July 2011.

MoD’s real enemy

Sir -­ Con Coughlin is right to suggest that Liam Fox appears not to realise that the reason the Ministry of Defence is “bloated and dysfunctional” is the civil servants (“It’s time for Britain to merge its Army, Navy and Air Force”, Comment, June 30).

Anyone who has served in the MoD knows that. Civil servants spend most of their career there, and are as familiar with its Byzantine system as rats in a drainpipe.

Serving officers come and go, and most spend as little time in the MoD as they can.

Perhaps Dr Fox is too chicken to take on the officials, instead choosing the shabby option of attacking serving officers, who are much easier targets.

Dr Fox needs to understand that until a coherent defence strategy is worked out, Lord Levene can reorganise the MoD until the cows come home, but it will still be unfit for purpose because no one will know what it is supposed to deliver. The so-called Strategic Defence and Security Review is incoherent nonsense.

Major General Julian Thompson, London, SW6.

Sir John Woodward's "take" on the suggestion.

A letter to the Daily Telegraph 5th July 2011.

Merging the Armed Forces

Sir – Lieutenant L Pender, A Nash and Paul Skellorn are right (Letters, July 2) to say the defence review was done for financial savings and in too great a hurry. The strategic imperatives fell out of the savings rather than the other way round.

We should not integrate the three Services before considering our role in the world. On operations anyway they are already integrated in a cost-effective way, with the RAF supporting the Army and Navy, but the RAF is not cost-effective when operating 300 miles or more from home bases.

A less revolutionary process is advisable: a strong Central Staff would be a simpler first step, after a thorough review of our military role in the world. Having three separate Services is an uncomfortable arrangement, as Sun Tzu revealed 2,500 years ago in “The Three Kingdoms”.

The first step should be to amalgamate the RAF into the Army and Navy: the RAF has had no essential single-service fighting role since the Polaris force came into service and the need for air defence of the home base disappeared with the Warsaw Pact. There are no skills in air force management that do not exist in the two other Services. Con Coughlin (Comment, June 30) may be right to advocate a merger into a single Service, but a gradual approach is best; the retention of two Services should ensure that both sides of any argument are represented.

Admiral Sir John Woodward, Bosham, West Sussex.


It’s time for Britain to merge its Army, Navy and Air Force

The top brass are guilty of putting their own interests ahead of those of the country, writes Con Coughlin - Daily Telegraph 29 June 2011.

In years to come, when our heirs reflect on the events that led to the merger of Britain’s Armed Forces, they will identify Liam Fox’s announcement this week of wide-ranging reforms to the Ministry of Defence’s structure as the moment when the demolition of our proud military traditions began in earnest.

After decades of chronic under-funding, they will conclude, it was inevitable that a small country such as Britain could no longer afford the luxury of maintaining independent command structures for its Army, Navy and Air Force. With defence spending slashed from 5 per cent of GDP at the end of the Cold War to just 2 per cent by 2011, the individual Services had already been reduced to such a parlous state that they could barely carry out even the most basic military tasks.

The evisceration of the Royal Navy’s surface fleet meant that there were more admirals than ships for them to command. Drastic reductions to the numbers of combat aircraft had seen the Royal Air Force shrink to its smallest size since the First World War, to the point where unflattering comparisons were drawn with its equivalent in Belgium, a country not renowned for its aerial supremacy. And while the Army could claim to have retained a respectable number of combat brigades, it did not have the funds to equip them all.

Indeed, looked at from this perspective, it is easy to see why, rather than simply looking to streamline the command structure of the Armed Forces – as Dr Fox proposed this week – the next generation of politicians decided to go the whole hog and simply merge the three Services into a single establishment.

This prediction might appear far-fetched, yet given the bold proposals that Dr Fox has set out, such an arrangement seems the logical destination. More to the point, the disastrous impact that years of inter-Service squabbling has had on our defence capabilities suggests to many that the sooner such an amalgamation of our military resources takes place, the better.

It would, after all, solve a host of problems. Rather than the MoD being racked by petty in-fighting between the RAF and Royal Navy over which Service will have responsibility for flying combat missions off the new multi-billion-pound aircraft carriers currently under construction at Rosyth, pilots would simply be drawn from Britain’s unified air command. Similarly, the looming power struggle between the RAF and the Army over whether soldiers or airmen take the controls of the new generation of Apache attack helicopters would be neatly side-stepped.

The present Government would, of course, recoil from any suggestion that the aim of its proposed reforms is to follow the recent Canadian example of unifying the rival Forces under a single command, and doing away with centuries of military tradition in the process.

Announcing his reforms this week, Dr Fox said that the main aim was to undertake a wide-ranging reform of the “bloated and dysfunctional” Ministry of Defence, which, a full year after he assumed responsibility for the department, is still struggling to provide him with an accurate assessment of just how large its overspending really is.

Certainly, no one is going to quarrel with the Defence Secretary’s determination to end the ministry’s long-standing habit of indulging in “fantasy” defence projects that are both unaffordable and undeliverable. These are the primary cause of the black hole in his department’s finances, which is estimated at £36 billion, but might amount to billions more.

Yet a closer reading of the good doctor’s prescription for healing these self-inflicted wounds suggests he is clearly of the opinion that it is the top brass that are mainly to blame, rather than the civil servants who are supposed to be running the MoD. This is demonstrated not least by his plan to remove the heads of the three Services from the department’s Defence Board – a clear indication that he sees them as ultimately responsible for the appalling cost over-runs.

With hindsight, it does seem remarkable that there was no ministerial representation on this key policy-making body, and that ministers had to wait until the Service chiefs had concluded their deliberations before being informed of the outcome. Jim Murphy, the shadow defence secretary, has admitted that the previous government should have done more to bring the department into line, and that many of Dr Fox’s reforms were long overdue.

But New Labour was never at ease with men in uniform – and given its unpopular involvement in the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, was in no position to undertake such radical changes at the MoD. The fact that Dr Fox now seems determined to cut the military down to size, while bestowing greater powers on the civil servants who are equally culpable for the ministry’s profligacy, suggests that a significant shift is taking place in the balance of power within the defence establishment, one that is likely to have profound implications for the survival of the Services as individual entities.

In future, the only serving officer on the reconfigured nine-member Defence Board will be the Chief of the Defence Staff, currently General Sir David Richards. This places an enormous amount of responsibility on the CDS’s shoulders. As the representative of each of the Armed Forces, he will be expected to be fully informed on any issue relating to any of the Services, a position that could place him at a distinct disadvantage when challenged by the well-briefed civil servants who will occupy the majority of the seats on the board. As one senior officer remarked yesterday: “This is nothing short of a Civil Service takeover of the military.”

There will be those who see these changes as the Government’s way of putting the uppity top brass back in their boxes after various injudicious comments on the limitations of Government policy on Libya and Afghanistan. Nor should it be forgotten that, having made much political capital from the public indiscretions of senior officers under Labour, the Tories are determined not to suffer similar indignities.

Yet in terms of the military’s long-term future, the really ominous development for the military chiefs is the proposed change to their command structure, which will involve a sharp reduction in the “star count” – the number of expensive one-star officers and above – as well as a radical restructuring of the command chain. This will see the operational requirements of all three Services brought under the control of a new Joint Forces Command, which will have overall responsibility for directing future military campaigns.

This lays the foundations for that future merger feared by those in the military. Yet, in many respects, the Service chiefs have only themselves to blame. The bitter rivalries that erupted during last year’s defence review undoubtedly had a detrimental effect on its outcome. Merging the Armed Forces into a single entity would not only put a stop to such counter-productive squabbling, it would provide us with the lean, mean fighting machine we will undoubtedly need to protect us against the many dangers that lie ahead. Our senior officers put self-interest above the national interest – and that is a luxury this nation can no longer afford.

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