Saturday, 30 June 2012

'Our vital ground'?

The Army has long held a cherished notion: that the RN and RAF are platform-centric organisations that place people second to kit.

The Army feels very smug about this - our most senior Generals are often heard to use the phrase "our people are our vital ground" in recognition of the fact that armies need men and lots of them.  It therefore helps to look after them up to the point where they're sent off to die.  So - in the Army, our people are more important than anything else.  An Army without people cannot exist.

Fairly simple stuff.  And it also happens to be a load of tosh.

This week, our most senior Generals all gathered in London with the immensity that is General Sir Peter Wall (Chief of the General Staff or CGS) for an 'update' on various matters that were 'troubling him'.  CGS has his own Briefing Team that roams the Army on his behalf and finds out what we - his people (his 'vital ground') think about everything.  Are we happy?  Are we getting paid?  Do our boots fit and is the mail getting through?

Morale is sinking in the Army - fact.  In virtually every single area one cares to look, the situation is dire and worsening.  Pay, allowances, pensions are obvious sources of discontent and frankly most soldiers know how lucky they in that regard given what the country is going through.  But our housing stock is appalling is many areas; and the lack of housing is creating real problems.  Soldiers posted into the large Garrison areas from overseas - notably around Salisbury Plain - are having to leave their families behind.  Hundreds of families are waiting for months, thousands of miles from their husbands and fathers.  CGS tells us he is 'looking into it'.  We aren't holding our breath, General.

So, we aren't paying our people and we're about to mess about with their pensions as well.  We can't house them properly.  We can't keep family units together.  We can't feed them properly - the total disaster that is Pay As You Dine (PAYD) continues to be unrolled across the Army in spite of universal hatred.  We can't clothe them in a uniform manner - delay after delay reported with deliveries of the new kit.  It's good to hear that we are 'the vital ground'.

However, all this counts as nothing when measured against the monumental fuck up that is the Army 2020 announcement that will be made in the House by the SofS on Thursday.  The Army's project leader (another General called Parker) 'inadvertently' let the cat out of the bag when he 'let slip' that an entire Gunner regiment (39th Regiment in Newcastle) was to scrapped - surely this should have been quietly briefed through the chain of command so that soldiers and families didn't worry?  No - that would have been the right thing to do if we were 'the vital ground'.  General Parker was an arrogant fuckwit who was warned not to release that information - and he did it anyway.  Fuck you 39.

And this is the problem we have in the Army.  We can cope with anything - soldiers are only happy when they're whinging about something.  But this is different.  The tone emanating from the very top of the Army is 'shut up and suck it up'.  At every turn, critical information is being leaked by our Generals to the media.  Once again, the Army is demonstrating that it's own worst enemy is itself.

So thank you CGS and your coterie of cowards who wear the uniform and draw the very handsome salaries that Generals require.  You have all failed to even remotely do the one thing you are paid to do: PUT SOLDIERS FIRST.

Serve to lead?  I don't think so.  'Vital ground'?  The battle is lost.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Commander Land Forces speaks out!

Commander Land Forces (CLF) - a thoroughly top bloke called General Nick Parker who has a decent amount of skin in the fight in Afghanistan - has taken to using his new blog on the Defence Intranet.  Entitled with commendable pith "CLF's Blog" he posts on a variety of issues about things that he thinks the entire chain of command need to know.  So for example, through the recent shenanigans with training drivers for fuel tankers (known as Op ESCALIN) we got useful updates from COBR about who was saying what, why, when - and so on.  Stuff we never get to hear because - as you will see in a minute - there is a view in the Army in the higher HQs that the hoi-polloi in the ranks below don't deserve to be exposed to what the 'great men in town' are talking about at the grown-ups' table.

CLF's Blog is a great wheeze and entirely in-keeping with his reputation as a dangerously intuitive, capable and caring Boss.  How on earth he made it to 4-star rank without being found out is astonishing: he really should have given up and left as a Major - as many do.  It matters not - he is exactly the right man, in the right place, at the right time.

So all he has to do whilst the Army agonises about the future is simply point at problems (and one of his many, many subordinate Generals) and say "Fix that!"

Well, perhaps not.  For CLF has used his new blog to (politely and diplomatically it will seem to some) to speak out against the raft of opponents he has across and throughout the span of his command who are engaged in what the Army charmingly refers to as 'consent and evade' tactics.  Basically, you say "Yes Sir" and then do anything but and pray you don't get caught.  It happens an awful lot across the Army.

So - and with apologies to General Nick - here is that blog post:

I am getting some rumblings all the way down the Chain of Command that indicate a frustration with 'Email Culture'.  This bothers me a bit, in part because I think that the future depends on us being able to exploit our ability to achieve information dominance in peace and on ops, and in part because I sense some institutional resistance to the cultural change I am endeavouring to lead.  There is a possibility that people are adopting defensive positions rather than try to manoeuvre around the obstacles and advance.  I know that our hardware/software is not perfect, I also know that our processes are still clumsy and generate a great deal of work.  Better use of collaborative working on web based applications will stem the deluge of emails in due course but we are not there yet and we cannot wait to adapt out culture and practice.  At work there is a sense that order and hierarchical discipline can only be maintained by controlling the flow of information.  This adds layers to the process, increases duplication and will shorten already taught deadlines.  Our information systems are being blamed for this and yet they are only partly at fault – and there can be no turning back!  I sense that we are increasingly comfortable with a very different culture of planning when we are off duty, it is more last minute, it includes many more contacts, details are left later and are then sent to those who need them.  People can chip in at any time and the person with the best (most up to date) knowledge tends to be respected intuitively.  This makes our lives more flexible and responsive, and our circle of knowledge is wider – just as we would wish to be at work.  So what can we do to make our internal communications swift, efficient and all informed?
Well now!  When a 4-star uses this sort of language, it really is time to check your flanks and make sure it's not you he's aiming at.  Unfortunately for the masses below him in change-resistant HQs across the land, he's somehow aiming at all of them.  You see, the problem is - as I have alluded to elsewhere - that we at the bottom know what problems we face: we deal with the lack of money, people, kit, time, exercises and training opportunities and everything else in between on a daily basis.  CLF knows this - because he gives a shit.  However, he is being deliberately fucked over by the mass of self-serving, war-dodging, boarding school allowance seeking staff officers who thrive in the deep, deep waters that a mutually supporting 'consent and evade' policy provides.

But - and here is the kicker - that policy requires that you do 'just enough' to look like you're 'doing something'...and so we end up with endless emails chains, decision by partial consensus (aka "write me a paper") resulting in no decision made, and masses and masses of time-consuming process as each layer of control endeavours to look useful, 'add value' and generally press on with 'consent and evades' attendant policy: activity over achievement.

General Nick appears to ask a question at the end of his blog post: what are we going to do, and so on?  Well, the straight forward answer is "do what you're bloody well told".  However, CLF has to fundamentally destroy the ingrained cultures of resistance and opposition to change in any form that are completely embedded in our psyche.  The last thing these well padded Generals, who toil in pursuit of the next Honour or Award on the backs of their people, want to do is to learn a new way of working.

Well - I suggest they learn fast - or CLF's next post will be delivered belt high from his desk at them personally.  And then where will your little darlings go to boarding school, Generals?

Captain Danger says: Captain Danger worked for CLF in a previous role on warfighting operations.  I am not brown-nosing - he really is that good.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

I'm back!

Well it's been quite a ride hasn't it?  The Army's redundancy programme has resulted in gaping holes across most capability areas and we are potentially looking at an uplift to a number of promotion board vacancies this year to compensate - specifically the Pink List may see an overall uplift of some 35% as around a third of all Lt Col appointments are currently going unfilled.  Combined with the disastrous VERS, we are looking at over-worked and increasingly stressed people at every level struggling to cope with the incessant waterfall of nonsense flowing from above.

"Learn to say 'No'" said the grumpy i.e. rude 3-star General now running the Army's Force Development and Training command.  "We must understand what we cannot do - and what the impact is" he continues.  This doesn't chime with the mood flowing from Army HQ however who are pushing for the generation of the Light Armoured Battle Group "at best effort" whilst simultaneously handling Op ESCALIN (fuel tankers), Op OLYMPICS (don't even get me started on the unbelievable nonsense here) and all the usual contingency 'stuff' - which will be the subject of a separate post in due course.  Our masters at the top of the tower may well recognise that we're busy - and the people at the bottom, in the units, certainly do - but the great morass of staff officers in the middle, all thrusting for promotion and an MBE/OBE don't want to hear it.  "We're all far too busy generating work for ourselves" comes the cry.  Perhaps that's where the bulk of forced redundancy should be taken?

And finally, who could forget Future Force aka Army 2020 and it's associated white elephant, Future Reserves 2020?  Well, some may recall that the broad strokes of A2020 were 'leaked' by 'someone' to the media which prompted a spasm of indignation from the Cabinet Office and the MoD.  "It's all speculation" said a talking head.  And now the announcement has been delayed to "take the heat" out of the announcement.  Something tells me that there's going to be quite a bit of comment regardless.

In summary, morale is low and the example being set by our political masters is of a uniformly poor standard.  But increasingly, the example being set by our military masters is starting to generate comment as well.  Fat Generals chuntering on about the requirement for everyone to "go back to basics" is causing open merriment in messes across the land.  There is an open bet on whether anyone will ever actually witness some of these portly but terribly august gentlemen ever attend PT?  "They're downgraded" said a spokesperson.  Well, in that case, make them redundant too - you do it to our soldiers after all.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

The 'Military Covenant' and SDSR

In the military, we (apparently) have something called 'The Military Covenant'.  This is "an informal understanding, rather than a legally-enforceable deal, but it is nevertheless treated with great seriousness within the services" - especially when we can hold others to a higher standard and we aren't shy of using it as a virtual weapon to beat politicians and the media with it when we need to. And this is perfectly fine - we don't have a union and frankly the current wave of good feeling towards the Armed Forces will soon expire (once the cuts start to bite...) so it will become a weapon we will see being deployed more frequently.

One of the things the covenant is supposed to do is ensure that "in putting the needs of the Nation, The Army and others before their own, they forgo some of the rights enjoyed by those outside the Armed Forces. So, at the very least, British soldiers should always expect the Nation and their commanders to treat them fairly, to value and respect them as individuals, and to sustain and reward them and their families." 

So how on earth does this tally with the appalling way that SDSR outcomes are being drip-fed to the media? 

Today, various newspapers are breathlessly reporting that "all but 14 from 368 Challenger 2 tanks will be mothballed" and the current system of part-payment of boarding school fees (known as 'Continuity of Education Allowance' or CEA) will "be included in the review" (Liam Fox's own words).  These words mean an awful lot to the thousands of soldiers who actually serve in those Challenger 2 regiments.  Thousands of children are educated on the back of CEA and frankly £180m is pretty small fry when one considers the 'Value for Money' (VfM) derived from educating an entire generation balanced against the total sum spent of MPs various allowances last year (£110m) or the astonishing amount spent on hotel accommodation in London (400,000+ nights) and so on.  But if it needs to go, fair enough - we need to save money.  And bear in mind that these are just two reports - the others talk about the wholescale abandonment of Joint Force Harrier (mentioned here some days back), Nimrods, Tornados (likewise), tracked guns (AS90 - likewise) and so on - there is a human dimension to all this that those feckless wankers in town care not one jot about.

What I am annoyed about is that it appears that all these petty games of one-upmanship are being played in an environment utterly divorced from the realities of the society we live in.  Where is the sound counsel advising a broader outlook?  Where are the wise men who ought to be soothing fevered brows and generally keeping everyone calm and focussed on the important things in life?  In short - where are the Civil Service grandees who are supposed to be the leavening influence between governments, and what are they doing?

Answer: they're all hurriedly looking for jobs as it seems they've been found out.  My only fear is that they will seek to divert the cuts onto hundreds and thousands of lower band Civil Servants in order to maintain their grotesquely well-paid and well-padded jobs.

PS Brilliantly I will be away on the day that SDSR is announced (Tue 20 Oct 10) but I sense that we will need time to really understand the enormity of what is to come.  And let's face it - there are going to be plenty of people in public sector work all over the country who are going to be in exactly the same position.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Rumours, rumours and counter-rumours!

So what do we 'know' ahead of the announcement next Tuesday?  Well, very little.  There is a comprehensive media plan doing the rounds which warns for significant backlash from those troops heading off to Afghanistan in the next few days.  Read into that what you will...

So what do we 'know' already?  Well, the Royal Navy are going to get their grotesquely expensive carriers - although it's anyone's guess what will actually fly off them.  And it's a triumph for that awful man, Gordon Brown, who gets to look smug in front of his constituents.  Well played, Sir.  And the Royal Air Force are going to lose their Tornado force, lots of Harriers - but get their precious Typhoons in their place.  I have to say that this is entirely in line with their doctrine and so should be seen as essential 'house keeping' and is an opportunity, not a threat.

But what of the Army?  Well, we're going to lose about half our Challenger 2s - half of our AS90s - and possibly see a few mergers on the cards.  AGC are going to see some redundancies (aren't we all?) totalling around 10%.  But that will be swept up in the massive push to get lots of people to volunteer for redundancy anyway - with reduced termination rights.  However, the great men in Whitehall are very worried about forced redundancy - because of course the government is liable to be sued for changing TACOS 'on the fly'.  My god - are they worried.

I am struck by how much we owe General Dannatt - his legacy of sticking up for the 'great unwashed' (who actually go on ops, take risks, lose their lives, live in appalling SFA et al) is still with us.  I guess it's time to see what legacy his successors leave.  Probably not much - they are making sure they look after themselves.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Right dress?

We've all seen the diktats issuing forth about long-haired squaddies running amok in various FOBs and PBs - and the rather tenuous links to poor discipline, declining standards and - one assumes - the link to an outbreak of ribald soldiery breaking wind in the palaces of the mighty at some point in the very near future.  I'm all for it - what cuts the mustard in the field isn't really required when mooching about in camp.  We should wear the right badges, we should ensure our hair is kept neat and tidy, and sleeves should be rolled in the right manner (above the elbow - not lurking mid-forearm) and so on - we are a professional armed force, not some sort of partially uniformed outreach service.  It seems that some AS&D are taking this issue very seriously indeed - DRA recently AGAI'd a WO1 for being in contravention of RA Dress Regs - it seems he wasn't wearing a belt with his smock and it is heartening to see the rule being scrupulously applied to all.

Or is it?

I was in Tidworth Camp the other day and happened to drive past a Colonel wearing (and I kid you not) the old style tropps (the ones that go purple in the wash), desert boots, and a ridiculous red 'chip bag style' side hat.  He looked utterly stupid and most annoyingly, he was being accompanied by a group of more junior soldiers who were all dressed immaculately - all of whom must have thought he was a proper cunt.

So 'Sir' - take a good long hard look at yourself in the mirror before 'popping in' to work next week and roughing it with the Toms. 

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Requests for Information (RFIs)

It seems that someone has posted a link to this blog on ARRSE as I have received some emails asking for more clarity (or 'granularity' to steal a word from their excellent 'Buzzwords' thread) on various issues.

So if you'd like to know more about what on earth is going on, please leave a comment and I will try and address it when I can.

Interesting news today - no AGC personnel came off the Pte-LCpl board - connect this with the estimated 10% reduction in SPS manning and things look dire indeed.  Bet they keep all their SO1s though.