Christmas is over and most UK armed forces are heading back from a well-earned break, writes Robert Shaw, but what’s the outlook for 2019 and what issues will they face?
One of the biggest issues for the British Army in 2019 is defence spending and the money allocated for procurement and daily running costs. The government simply don’t have enough money for all of society’s expectations meaning the Army is competing with the health service, the police, education and other sectors that many perceive to be more important than an Army not in current conflict but providing 5,000 personnel in mostly small overseas training teams in fragile states to train foreign forces.
Although the Army has finally given its personnel a pay raise after years of wage freezes, the charges imposed on the troops such as rent for accommodation also rise so they are never really much better off. The lack of funding also means that some training has had to be cancelled which will impact on the effectiveness of troops if conflict should occur and it should also not be forgotten that training abroad is often one of the motivations for joining the Army which means this issue will also affect manning.
There are currently manning shortages in 100 critical trades – including pilots, intelligence analysts and engineers – which means the Army has had to relax its tolerance of drug users caught by compulsory drug testing and to allow repeat offenders more chances; the numbers of soldiers caught taking drugs has risen over the last three years. The Army is also seeking to employ more people from abroad and relaxing the residency rules for applicants, which some feel might cause security vetting issues. As facial hair is considered fashionable in society today, some potential recruits are also put off by not being allowed beards (unless you are Special Forces or in a specific role).
With the number deployed on operations and another 25,000 in readiness to deploy, the Army can be busy in a good way (i.e. doing what people enlist for) but due to rising obesity levels and a smaller pool of deployable troops to draw from, this business increases the pressures on those that are fit enough; this pressure is exacerbated by an increase in troops claiming welfare issues and therefore leaving more deployments to those who put the Army first. New PT tests have also been introduced for those in combat roles and those not constantly training for this will fail and will have to be deployed ‘at risk’.
The issues are considerable given the increased ambiguous threat from Russia, especially in the fields of digital skills and in the Arctic and Baltic regions. There will be an increase in Arctic warfare training, but British Army troops will still deploy to the Baltic States in winter without effective snow camouflage clothing or camouflage nets (or even the best in cold and wet weather clothing, Ed.).
There are positive points however in that, although much Army accommodation is known to be in poor condition, armoured vehicles have reliability and spares issues, and the standard of food gets lower all the time, the gyms and medical facilities and are considered first class and there are also substantial payments to troops wishing to complete a university degree.
A happy, prosperous and peaceful New Year to all.
¤ Robert Shaw of Longbow Solutions is a former British Army ATO and IEDD/WIS Operator who is now a security and intelligence trainer and consultant; he has just returned from a deployment in the Sahel and sub-Saharan Africa.