Marching with forces of change

The services are looking to a new role - and a new type of recruit - following yesterday's Bett report, writes Christopher Bellamy

British society is changing. And as it changes, its institutions inevitably change with it, though often with a time lag. Even those considered most conservative must eventually respond to new values, new tasks and new expectations.

The Church has recently been the centre of attention over women and gay priests. Yesterday it was the turn of the armed forces. Although the services are well behind the times on women's rights and homosexuality, the report published yesterday - led by Michael Bett, a former chairman of British Telecom - displays an impressive willingness to think about what kind of armed forces are appropriate for early next century.

Since the Industrial Revolution, the military has always been obliged to think ahead because it is so technology-driven. The Bett team has been more ambitious than many other organisations and sought to predict the way society and the world in which the forces operate will look 15 years hence, and beyond.

The main problem for the armed forces in 2010 - numbering 210,000 compared with 326,000 in 1984 - will be recruiting and keeping better qualified people. These, they believe, will be needed not only to run more complex equipment, but also to operate under their own initiative in complicated situations, such as peace-keeping and support of humanitarian aid.

The prestige of the services remains extraordinarily high - above sports personalities, industrialists, judges, pop stars and politicians. But it may begin to slip unless the forces find a new role along the lines of the present humanitarian and disaster relief operations in Bosnia.

Similarly, the forces may find a growing problem of recruitment. Service life is still conformist, hierarchical and spartan, not to mention uncomfortable, physically demanding and dangerous. The forces' image as macho and homophobic is increasingly likely to turn off many of the more intelligent and sensitive, although the much wider employment of women has had, and will continue to have, a more civilising influence.

The armed forces could compete with other areas of employment by providing two different options: a structured career to those who still want this in a world where "jobs for life" are becoming fewer, or, alternatively, short-term modules of employment, which provide readily transferable skills for civilian life.

Many traditional service values will have to be modified. Well-qualified people will expect to own their own homes, and the old distinctions between wives and husbands, whom the forces provide for, and unmarried partners, for whom they do not, will have to be swept away.

In future, British forces will mainly be based in Britain - for the first time since Cromwell. For more than three centuries, Britain had relatively large concentrations of troops posted abroad for long periods - and many never returned. Long postings to India meant that British Army families spent years abroad, their children remaining in the care of relatives until they were old enough for boarding school. From 1945 until recently, British military families in Germany led a not dissimilar lifestyle.

The new world order, with more frequent, shorter tours of duty, means that service personnel will go away on brief tours, typically six months, without their families, and return to bases in Britain - a lifestyle previously only enjoyed by the navy, whose personnel were encouraged to buy houses in naval towns and go to sea for short periods.

Some aspects of military organisation still reflect society as it was several generations ago. The division between officers and other ranks originated from that between landowners and their tenants. In industrial society, this officer/soldier cleavage came to reflect the division between white- and blue-collar workers. Officers were selected, initially, on educational grounds - it was possible to gain a commission with as few as five O-levels.

In recent years, many non-commissioned specialists have been completing Open University degrees. Increasingly, officers will will almost all be graduates, and this suggests the entry ranks, through which graduates pass rapidly, should be merged. However, the Bett report makes no fundamental assault on this sacred divide, which still has has a particularly British class flavour. In eastern Europe, the division rested on commitment - officers were the career professionals, the other ranks mostly not.

The armed forces have so far been resistant to suggestions that their involvement in humanitarian aid work and disaster relief requires a different type of person. A well-disciplined service person, it is argued, will do whatever he or she is ordered, whether it is the cold application of maximum violence or helping refugees and victims of disaster. In practice, however, it is unlikely to be possible to switch service personnel on and off like lightbulbs. The emphasis of military training, which has traditionally aimed at brutalising recruits, is bound to change.

In the world of the next 15 years, the task of the armed forces is likely to resemble more closely that of the police. The distinction between a soldier acting under superior orders and one responsible for his or her own actions - once the difference between a soldier and a police officer - broke down in Northern Ireland. The increase in individual responsibility in a wide variety of situations suggests the services may, in time, need to move towards a structure more akin to the police.

The General, 1995

Lieutenant General Sebastian Price DSO OBE

Born: June 6th, 1944

Education:

1957 - 1962, Charterhouse School. Member First XV, First XI, Head Boy. 2 "A" Levels, Latin and Chemistry. 1962: Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.

Army Career:

1965: joined the Parachute Regiment as a Second Lieutenant. Ten years served in Belize, Borneo and Ireland, and with a Military Advisory and Training Team in Africa. Commanded a battalion of the Parachute Regiment as a Lieutenant-Colonel from 1983 - 87. He was promoted to Colonel in 1986, to Brigadier in 1987 and to Major General in 1991. He became a Lieutenant General in 1995.

Family:

Married his childhood sweetheart and only wife, Caroline (a Surrey JP), in 1974. They live in a renovated parsonage near Godalming. Two children: Jonathan and Rupert; who both attend Charterhouse School. Three dogs (two golden retrievers and Maggy, a lurcher).

High point so far:

Commanded an armoured brigade in the 1991 Gulf War, awarded the DSO, and established a reputation for courage on the battlefield. Awarded an OBE. Knighthood "just a matter of time".

Present appointment:

Lieutenant General Commander of UN forces in a UN peacekeeping and humanitarian aid operation.

Interests:

Golf, field sports. Rides with the Cobham Hounds. Long-standing member of the Carlton Club. Non party-political, but has never voted other than Conservative. Music: Elgar, Purcell and Nanci Griffiths ("in the car"). Plays the piano competently.

The General, 2010

Lieutenant General

Louise Moore DSO

National ID: LOND 04832827

Born: 1970, star-sign Capricorn.

Background: father Keith, foreman at Nissan, mother Maureen, midwife.

Education: King Edward VI Comprehensive, Morpeth, and Salford University. Degree in Engineering and Management, 2.1. Active member of the University Officers' Training Corps. Lead singer "the Partons" rock band.

Army Career:

1993 : made redundant from first job at a Manchester engineering firm. As a TA Officer took 6-month engagement with the regular Army in Bosnia, rebuilding villages. 1994: joined the Army full time.

Work outside the Army:

2000: after 5 years in the Royal Engineers, selected as one of the first candidates for "Project Harman" attachment programme to major civil engineering firm.

Family:

2008: met partner Tim, while on voluntary disaster work in the Maldives. 2010: 9 months maternity leave. Daughter, Petra, born 5.5.10. Enrolled in Army mobile creche programme.

High point so far:

2011: in charge of logistic support for aid operation in Southern Iraq. Water shortages due to dam closures and global warming led to communal fighting, following death of Uday Hussein. Awarded DSO for command responsibility under fire.

Present appointment:

Head of Services Personnel Board, advising Secretary of State on personnel matters affecting all 3 services. Current salary 125,000 Euromarks.

Lifestyle and interests: Green issues, vegetarianism, spiritual growth, childcare and squash. Lead singer with the "Steel Bras", the all women officer band. School governor and member of New Labour advisory council (approved by Secretary of Defence, order 7.8.14.).

The armed forces, 1995

l Long postings abroad accompanied by spouse and family, boarding school allowance practically universal.

l Twelve officer ranks and six or seven other ranks. With few exceptions, necessary to pass through all of them. Not possible to leave the forces for any period of time and then rejoin.

l The pay band within each rank is limited, but supplemented by many allowances for specific skills. The only rewards for performance are promotion or medals.

l Servicemen join on engagements as short as three years. There is enormous wastage in the early stages of training, and a high turnover of service personnel throughout the career structure.

l Training concentrates on preparation for battle through physical and mental hardening, although retraining for peace-keeping and humanitarian roles takes place as well.

The armed forces, 2010

l Service families mostly based in Britain. Short tours of duty, unaccompanied by families. Family stability enhanced, with a target of five years in one home. Reduced allowance for cost of boarding school, but still be paid to those who have a substantial chance of family mobility during the next stage of a child's education.

l Eight officer ranks, four others. Within each rank, pay varies widely according to the "weight" of the job, with bonuses for better performance.

l Service personnel are encouraged to remain throughout each of three stages. The first concentrates on training and front-line postings, the second on higher-level operational command, and the third on management skills. On completing each stage a substantial bonus is paid.

l People can leave the service and rejoin. Female personnel may take maternity leave: people may also leave to undertake relevant civilian jobs for significant periods.

l Selection and training focuses less on preparation for battle and more on other tasks. Certain specialised units may be needed for jobs requiring a high degree of aggression.

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