Forces combine in bunker HQ

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The Independent Online

Defence Correspondent

Michael Portillo, the Secretary of State for Defence, yesterday inaugurated the new military command which from this summer will run operations by all three armed services.

Operations like those in Bosnia, the Gulf War and the Falklands - and planning for other possible crises - will be controlled from a refurbished bunker, deep underground alongside the Navy's headquarters at Northwood, in Middlesex.

The creation of the Permanent Joint Headquarters (PJHQ), a single command to plan and execute operations in peacetime is a first in British military history. Until now, combined operations by the Navy the Army, and, later, the RAF, have been cobbled together in crises, often with disastrous results, like Gallipoli in 1915 and Dieppe in 1942. Even after the creation of a unified Ministry of Defence, the services' operational commands remained separate.

The Naval headquarters at Northwood directed the Falklands War in 1982. The RAF's headquarters at High Wycombe directed the Gulf War in 1991 and the Land Command headquarters at Wilton, near Salisbury, has been controlling British operations in Bosnia. The new joint command will monitor potential crises and plan to meet them, and take charge if British military intervention is thought necessary.

The idea is not only to improve response time - which could forestall a tragedy like Rwanda - but also to increase the efficiency of running a complex campaign.

The PJHQ's first commander is a soldier, Lieutenant General Christopher Wallace, but his 350 staff include people from all three services, civil servants and foreign officers. Commands at Northwood, Wilton and High Wycombe will remain in charge of providing combat-ready forces, but putting the package together will be a job for the PJHQ. For the first time it will combine planning in "peacetime" with the execution of military operations - a recognition that "peace" and "war" functions are being increasingly merged.

The joint headquarters will take charge of operations in Bosnia on 1 August, after a period of preparation.