As the British Army reveals the newly updated PCS (Personal Camouflage System), Dr Liam Fox laid out the framework to allow greater integration of the UK reserve soldiers into the regular armed forces. The proposal is to cut the size of the current regular capability from 101,000 to 84,000 in the next ten years, as well as ensuring that the TA (Territorial Army) shares the active role in future operations. The benefits will be twofold; enabling the utilisation of skilled reservists to shoulder the responsibility of conduction operations alongside regular soldiers, as well as delivering an increased value of return to the taxpayer.
Before the turn of the century, there was a clear split seen between the two largest parts of the British Army. There were the regular soldiers who were seen to risk life and limb whilst serving nine months tours in Iraq, Bosnia and Sierra Leone. Then there were the reservists who rarely went outside the country, had lower standards of entry and were generally scorned by their regular counterparts. The Ministry of Defence, eager to rectify this situation, coined the phrase “One Army. Regular and Territorial”. This soon appeared on all recruiting material, and is still used today. Yet, although this issue has evolved beyond the simple “real soldiers” and “fake-army” ideas, there still remains a sizeable gap between the capabilities of the still-separate factions.
There is no doubt that the T.A’s supporting role in the last 10 years has increased 100% in responsibility, with the Middle East conflicts demanding that the links between the fighting and logistics elements of the Army are strengthened. The Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) are one of the closest incorporations of regular and territorial soldiers, and require that all soldiers have the same level of skills in order to maintain the effectiveness of the Army’s capabilities to conduct operations. Again, T.A regiments have been increasingly sending their soldiers to support operations in the Middle East; Op Herrick 14 being the latest in Afghanistan to require soldiers from a wide range of army regiments (including 160 Transport Reg RLC, the regiment to which I belong).
Almost as a pre-empted reply to Dr Fox’s plans, the Army has issued the first uniforms bearing the new camouflage system that enables soldiers to conduct operations in hostile environments. As well as responding to the increased need to wear body armour on patrols in Afghanistan, the new PCS takes elements from the familiar Greens and Deserts combat uniforms to create a compound of both, whilst retaining the DPM (Disruptive Pattern Material) design. The result echoes the desire of the M.O.D to create an adaptable, skilled and powerful army whilst applying the budget constraints set out by the current government. The TA is set to benefit with a 1.5bn injection, aimed at improving the training and skills required to fight and maintain operational ability alongside their regular counterparts.
This will sit well with the new generation of technological advances to vehicles and personal defence systems taking centre stage in operations. With the furore over the dubious safety of the ‘Snatch’ Land Rovers, which provided little protection from the deadly IED’s, the MOD have released the ‘Mastiff 3’ and ‘Warthog’, which offer improved protection from insurgent attacks and have increased the available firepower to deter these attacks. As the environments in Afghanistan and Iraq showed, there was a noticeable lack of a ‘front line’, necessitating all-round security. As the Taliban learnt to utilise remote devices, intended to cause large and damaging explosions, so too have the MOD moved to develop the technology surrounding Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s), reducing the pressure on reconnaissance patrols and manned aircraft providing strategic area information for ground forces. In turn, this is seen as eventually having an impact on the troop numbers needed in such war zones. With the UK’s complete withdrawal from Afghanistan planned to be executed by 2014, there will still be a need for prototypes to be developed and deployed, in order that the Armed Forces keep modernising the weaponry and equipment to combat whatever threat is faced.
The concerns that have been raised cast aspersions on the viability of such an amalgamation. It is questionable how long it will take for the reserve forces to be trained up sufficiently to make up the proposed 30% of the British Army. Whilst the case of the US can be raised, where their reserve and regular forces are split equally 50:50, this state of affairs has existed for some time, and with the size of their reserve forces at 480,000 it is not practical to apply the same format to a much smaller force.The amount of time spent training is also a factor, as currently the minimum requirement for TA soldiers is 27 days, suitable maybe for part time personnel but considerably shorter than the full time reservists employed in the US army. Col Tootal, former CO of 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, is a cautious critic of placing reservists in regular roles, warning against leaning towards ‘defence on the cheap’ . The money available is limited, and with the government’s commitments to NATO and ISAAF troop numbers, as well as engaging in the ongoing Libya conflict, the cost is expected to stretch the budget to its limit.
Steps to bring the TA up to the Regular Army standard have already started to be applied, with the notable example of fitness. The Royal Army Physical Training Corps, which direct all physical exercise for the army, have ordered that TA standards be bought up to Regular expectations, so that serving soldiers are not affected by unfit reserve personnel. One of these aspects, recently re-introduced to combat the health and safety-affected methods of training, is Battle P.T which does not simply require a soldier to pass a time run and simple press ups/sit ups standards, but which imposes a fitness required by a soldier serving nine months in a harsh environment. It is these changes which will aid the transition of the Territorial Army from a primary reserve force with units providing sparse support, to possessing the capability to deploy at short notice. The recent guidance issued to RLC soldiers is that within two years, personnel will be expected to be at a level of fitness which enables deployment on operations.
The TA is toughening up and raising its standards; a much needed overhaul to a force that can offer much more towards UK homeland and foreign security. Those who argue that ground forces will become defunct in future currently have little or no basis to their statements. Although Libya has not yet utilised ground force support, instead relying on air and sea capabilities, the vast majority of conflicts require ‘boots on the ground’ to maintain stability. Iran and North Korea, both emerging players in the nuclear arena, are likely to require military intervention should diplomatic efforts not succeed in bringing about nuclear regulation or disarmament. With the Middle East and Africa still very much at the forefront of the developing nations, the need to maintain a technologically advanced and skilled armed forces capability will remain a priority for UK defence. The Army must adapt, and it will remain to be seen whether Dr Fox’s recommendations improve the state of the British Army in a time where austerity and cost are major factors in Britain.
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