Monthly Archives: August 2018

Of the commissioned divide and a plea for more civilians.

WHEN the ‘arf-made recruity goes out to the East
‘E acts like a babe an’ ‘e drinks like a beast,
An’ ‘e wonders because ‘e is frequent deceased
Ere ‘e’s fit for to serve as a soldier.
Serve, serve, serve as a soldier,
Serve, serve, serve as a soldier,
Serve, serve, serve as a soldier,
So-oldier of the Queen!

The Young British Soldier

Rudyard Kipling

A recent conversation on twitter over rank and status got me thinking.  The debate had been sparked by the post on the Wavell Room by Nicholas Drummond (@nicholadrummond) about flattening rank structures.

The actual question that I was posed by @AlanIvinghoe was “perhaps  the commissioned/non-commissioned officer divide has had its day?” This lead me to think about status, form and function.  Why do we do what we do the way we do it? What sets us apart in what we do?

Much of the form of the military, derives from our function.  The function of the military differs from all other civilian professions, in that the military have unlimited liability.  As soldiers we accept that we put our lives on the line as part of our routine operational duties; we expect to take casualties on operations.

If your officer’s dead and the sergeants look white,
Remember it’s ruin to run from a fight:
So take open order, lie down, and sit tight,
And wait for supports like a soldier.
Wait, wait, wait like a soldier . . .

In order to carry out our duties effectively we fall under military discipline, reflected in the Army Act (or Service equivalents).  Within this legislation responsibilities of and to the chain of command are stated and this is reflected in the Commissioning Scroll that most officers receive.

“And we do hereby Command them to Obey you as their superior Officer, and you to observe and follow such Orders and Directions as from time to time you shall receive from Us, or any your superior Officer, according to the Rules and Discipline of War” 

The difference between commissioned and non-commissioned ranks therefore, lies in the duties and responsibilities, it reflects their function in war and is reflected in legislation. Could this change? It is conceivable that officers in command receive letters of appointment (or commissions) specific to that command which would then afford them the same rights and responsibilities but I do not see how this would improve matters.  A broader issue for more fruitful consideration is how within the armed forces (and the Army in particular) we can de-segregate rank and status from appointment and recognised expertise.  If we managed this, then it would be much more the case that rank would not be seen as equaling expertise and I think we would be a more agile organisation as a result; it would also empower our non-commissioned expertise to a far broader extent than is currently the case.

There is a perception that our current personnel structures are not optimal.  This was the genesis of the Wavell Room articles and has also been reflected by Sir Humphrey on his 6th August blog post.  Much ink and angst has been expended on how we need to change structures and standards, in order to bring more expertise and agility into the military.  Do we really have to? Why don’t we keep this expertise in the civilian realm?  Do we expect or need these specialists to pick up a rifle and engage in close combat? Do we expect them to hold unlimited liability?  The US Army has the Army Civilian Corps. These are civilians who are in many cases deployable under orders. They take the oath, they have a creed.  I have deployed alongside them in every theatre I have operated alongside my US colleagues. Some have volunteered to go (the same system our MOD civil servants operate under), but some were ordered too.

“I am an Army civilian – a member of the Army team.
I am dedicated to our Army, our Soldiers and civilians.
I will always support the mission.
I provide stability and continuity during war and peace.
I support and defend the Constitution of the United States and consider it an honor to serve our nation and our Army.
I live the Army values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage.
I am an Army civilian.”

It seems to me that rather than focusing on how to bend the boundaries of what it means to be military, we could productively look at developing a status of personnel for operating in the gray zone. Neither all soldier nor quite all civilian, but hybrid, under orders but not expected to hold unlimited liability. If we are not employing these people against the contingency of picking up a rifle and engaging in ‘dash, down, crawl, observe, sights, Fire!’ then why we should we treat them as though we are? This category would also usefully enable us to easier fill the SO2 and SO1 pinchpoints that Sir Humphrey highlighted.

Perhaps the future isn’t green, but pinstriped…

 

 

Postscript:

When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
So-oldier of the Queen!

Shortlink http://q.gs/EOSom

Who Fights the Fires?

Copyright: Mark Rightmire Orange County Register/Getty Images

I have been watching the wildfires in Europe and in the USA with interest. The resources devoted to these firefighting efforts are impressive and in both Europe and the USA the efforts have been multinational. Here in the UK the military has also been involved relatively recently in firefighting at Saddleworth; it may be a harbinger.

It is likely that climate change will continue to challenge national governments in dealing with natural catastrophes.  The UK now maintains a surface vessel, currently the RFA’s Mounts Bay, in the Caribbean during hurricane season just for any such Humanitarian Relief and Disaster Relief (HADR) contingencies.

Copyright: Noah Berger AP

Could and should the UK military do more?

The UK military could certainly so more. The assets involved in the wildfire efforts in California involve trained and organised manpower (and the National Guard routinely activates, trains and deploys for firefighting tasks) and the use of air assets to provide both direct support to firefighting and logistical support (the US Forest Service has an agreement with Alsaka for seven military C-130s) . All of these types of assets the UK military could provide, and air assets in particular can respond quickly.

The UK military are at the moment the only organisation the UK possesses that has the capacity to deploy at reach and conduct these sort of tasks. Although specialist expertise is limited within the military, the UK does not possess deployable civil defence (Fire and Ambulance) capacity at mass, unless risk is accepted against the UK base. In other words, Chief Fire and Ambulance officers are not mandated or resourced to provide capacity for overseas contingencies (much as it is for policing). The UK does not possess any equivalent to the German Technische Hilfswerk (THW).

Should the UK military do more?

Climate change is likely to create instability and instability will in turn create national security issues for the UK.  I am unconvinced that this task is a core military task, but it is unavoidable that the military is already heavily involved in efforts and is likely to see further commitment to this type of operation.  Few may know that NATO already maintains the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC). This is NATO’s principal civil emergency response mechanism in the Euro-Atlantic area. It is active all year round, operational on a 24/7 basis, and involves NATO’s 29 Allies and all partner countries.  Although for the recent fires in Sweden the following assets were mobilised through the European Civil Protection Mechanism the EADRCC was approached for assistance.

  • Norway: nine helicopters and ground forest fighting units deployed on bilateral basis;
  • Denmark: two ground forest firefighting units;
  • France: two water scooping airplanes, a reconnaissance aircraft and one ground firefighting unit;
  • Italy: two water scooping airplanes;
  • Germany: one ground firefighting unit and five helicopters;
  • Lithuania: one helicopter;
  • Poland: two ground forest firefighting units;
  • Portugal: two water-scooping airplanes;

These are highly illustrative of the type of response likely to be requested in the future.  The UK does not possess either water-scooping planes or helicopters fitted for firefighting operations, but the latter is not insurmountable as it can be conducted with underslung equipment.

The question remains as to whether it should be a core UK military task? Currently the UK Military Task is to support civil emergency organisations in times of crisis.  In the absence of a deployable capability at scale should the UK military become that civil emergency organisation?  I remain unconvinced, but I am convinced that there is a requirement, that it is likely to grow, and that UK defence planners should be more cognisant of the implications, not least in training and equipping appropriately. From a strategic perspective the UK’s ability to deploy such capability in mass and at distance, and with a willingness to do so, is likely to pay dividends.