PA Consulting Group’s General Sir Mike Jackson and Angela Owen consider the role of the UK’s Reserve Forces in the future force structure…
If the recommendations of the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) and the recent ‘Future Reserves 2020’ study are implemented, the proportion of reserve troops in the armed forces will have increased to the point that, by 2015, approximately every fifth serviceman or woman will be a reservist.1
The Reserve Forces have a long and proud tradition of service to the UK; there are numerous examples where they have served alongside their regular counterparts with distinction. Currently, over 20 per cent of Defence Medical Services are reservists,2 either individual augmentees or formed units; on Operation Herrick, reservists fill over 40 per cent of the hospital-based liability.3
However, there are a number of challenges to overcome if the Reserve Forces are to be fully utilised as part of the future force structure. During recent years when funding has been tight, the Reserves have been seen as an ‘easy target’ for savings. The proposition offered to those who volunteer is based around challenge, reward, training and support throughout their service, yet the number of annual training days has been reduced several times to help balance the books.
Together with fewer opportunities to deploy in formed sub-units (and thus to experience challenging command roles), this reduction has resulted in an imbalance, eroding the sense of fairness that forms part of any employee deal. In addition, many reservist roles, particularly within the Territorial Army (TA), have not been redefined since the Cold War. Both the proposition and the role must be addressed as a priority. The size of the Reserve Forces has decreased over recent years. The TA now has a liability of 37,000 with a trained strength of about 20,000 (although some estimates put the active force as low as 14,000) compared to a strength of about 76,000 in 1990.4, 5. As such, much needs to be done to arrest this decline and transform the Reserves into a force capable of meeting an increasingly important contribution to the UK defence mission.
Prioritise activity to achieve success
In the current budgetary environment, only limited funding is available to support the revitalisation of the Reserve Forces. Prioritising the most important activities and initiatives will be critical to success. These should include:
• Structuring reservists around a clear operational role linked to at least one of the Defence Planning Assumptions; reservists could be deployed as individual reinforcements or as formed bodies. Effective role planning should aim to make the best use of skills in short supply in the military (such as cyber, foreign language and medical skills) and perhaps look to enhance capability in homeland security. Making the Reserves a vital part of the Whole Force Concept6 will also be critical to success;
• Redefining the proposition or employee deal. In terms of career planning and policy issues, the MoD should acknowledge that reservists are different and that processes and procedures for reservists do not have to mirror those for regulars. Terms and conditions of services should be rewritten to reflect this difference. Properly funded training and a reinvigorated challenge, stemming perhaps from the deployment of more formed bodies (which would enable commanders to command their troops on operations) would repair some of the current imbalance in the proposition
• Making better use of the potential capability of the Regular Reserve (for example, the 35,000 ex-regular army personnel with a reserve liability7). This is particularly timely given the current redundancies in the regulars, and the wealth of experienced servicemen and women who will soon join the Regular Reserve.
Deliver efficiencies to balance cost and benefit
The second area of focus should be to pare down costs in order to reduce overall expenditure. For example, the volunteer estate is under-utilised due to the part-time nature of the Reserve activity which means that facilities are often left unused for much of the working week. The estate therefore offers potential opportunities for cost savings. However, the overall ‘national footprint’ of bases and their distribution between urban and rural areas must be taken into account, particularly in terms of maintaining the link with the UK’s population. This societal link is important – but needs to be weighed carefully and sensitively against the requirement to make savings.
The Reserve Forces and Cadets Association, Frontline Commands and the MoD will need to work closely with the new Defence Infrastructure Organisation to review, rationalise and plan the future reserve estate. In addition to maintaining a footprint in the local community, the location of future bases should also depend on role (for example, homeland security, disaster recovery) and training requirements. With the army returning from Germany by 2020, it is logical to make efficient use of regular bases by collocating regulars and reservists, as long as those locations are accessible to centres of population.
Strengthen the partnership with society
Some employers do not get sufficient recognition for the role they play in releasing their employees for training and operational tours, and little feedback on how military skills relate to civilian life. There is much value to be learned from other countries in this regard: in Australia, the link with employers is strengthened by providing civilianrecognised training certificates and financial assistance to help offset the cost of releasing employees. In the US, employers who go over and above the requirements of the law are recognised and rewarded. Similar approaches, or the introduction of a simple ‘kitemark’ accreditation scheme, could provide more formal recognition and improve the partnership with society. In addition, defining a homeland security/disaster recovery capability based specifically on reserve manpower, for example, would establish a nationally important and highly visible role, which would help to embed reservists in the mind of society as critical to the community and the country.
If the MoD can get the key considerations right – role, location, employee deal and link with society – the Reserves will be able to surpass their achievements of recent years and meet the increasing needs of the future. Redefining their role within the whole force structure, and, importantly, including the Reserves in planning at the outset, will be fundamental to success.
1 Figures taken from SDSR Factsheet 5, ‘Future Force 2020 – Summary of size, shape and structure’, Future Reserves 2020 and Defence Analytical Services and Advice UK Armed Forces Monthly Manning report 1st August 2011
2 Source: Future Reserves 2020, July 2011, paragraph 42
3 Source: Future Reserves 2020, July 2011, Case Study 5, p. 20
4 Source: Future Reserves 2020, July 2011, paragraph 30
5 Source: MoD UK Defence Statistics 2008 issued in December 2008
6 The Whole Force Concept seeks to ensure that defence is supported by the most sustainable, effective, integrated and affordable balance of regular military personnel, Reservists, MoD civilians and contractors
7 Source: Future Reserves 2020, July 2011, paragraph 33
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