A report from leading think-tank the Royal United Services Institute has again called into question the effectiveness Britain’s armed forces reforms, calling the lack of planning within government “unacceptable”.
The report criticises Britain’s military elite for failing to properly capitalise upon new concepts of defence, including the ‘Whole Force’. The new strategy, laid out in the Coalition’s Strategic Defence Spending Review (SDSR) of 2010 dictated a greater reliance on reserve forces, and came after a period of shift where dedicated technical and support units within the armed forces were wound down and replaced with civilian contractors.
The report details the remarkable growth of importance civilian contractors are now assigned, calling them a whole now branch of the armed forces. To illustrate the growth, it quotes the remarks of one senior officer who told RUSI “British contractors supporting operations in the First Gulf War could fill two mini-buses”. What was an insignificant number of contractors in 1991 had grown to thousands deployed in the war-zone during Iraq and Afghanistan this century.
Whole Force, says the report, is entirely driven by a need to cut costs and has been so badly communicated it isn’t fully understood anywhere outside a small core of defence practitioners, and even by them the actual concept is hotly debated.
One of the report authors, Professor John Louth told the Daily Telegraph this uncertainty “makes us very vulnerable. Potentially it makes us vulnerable for the threats and issues that we have already identified, but perhaps more importantly, it makes us pretty vulnerable to the things that haven’t crossed our minds yet.
“If we are not managing the enterprise effectively, then in logic our national security is potentially compromised. If that’s right then it’s an important question to ask, ‘Well what are we going to do about it?'”
One visible area where private contracting has been introduced, but has negatively impacted on the operations of the military is recruitment. Outsourcing company Capita was contracted to take over the function at a cost of £50 million last year, but a combination of “teething problems” and bad morale in the army reserves meant this year very nearly as many men left as joined.