Friday, November 23, 2007

Fit For Duty?

Is our Army "underprepared and ill-equipped" as Marshal of the RAF Lord Craig of Radley said yesterday in the House of Lords?

Rumours and stories of equipment shortages have dogged the Ministry of Defence since the start of the Afghan campaign and throughout the recent Middle East crisis the newspapers have been full of lurid details of soldiers begging other Allies for everything from toilet paper to bullets.

The so-called 'peace dividend' from the end of the cold war was that a major military set-piece conflict in the foreseeable future became unthinkable. So in the early 1990's a general downscaling of the Military was begun that was intended to reshape the Armed Services into a smaller, but far better equipped and far more agile defence force ready to engage anywhere in the world at relatively short notice.

The net result is that our entire Army would now comfortably be outnumbered by the crowd at a Cup Final. The trade off to downsizing was supposed to be that our troops would become the best equipped, best paid and best trained fighting force outside of Israel; and of course that is where the bargain has been broken.

In the Blair era the budget for military spending has shrunk to it's lowest share of GDP for the last 300 years and instead of being a shining example of a technologally advanced and well prepared fighting force our boys have instead had to resort to buying their own boots.

Speaking to the BBC this week Admiral Lord Boyce has publicly said the military is chronically underfunded: "The money that defence was given for its budget is not sufficient to meet the level of activities that the armed forces are currently engaged in. If you start back, say 10 years ago, from the strategic defence review that itself was underfunded...since then the gap has not been closed."

So it would seem that the Generals do have legitimate grounds for complaint.

But what is far more damaging to Government/Military relations is the suspicion amongst senior soldiers that the leaders of our country don't care for or understand the military. Admiral Boyce said the prime minister had treated the armed services with "contempt" and "disinterest" and criticised a decision to give Des Browne the jobs of both defence secretary and Scottish secretary; while Lord Gilbert has described Mr Brown as 'showing a great insensitivity not only to the morale of the troops but to their families as well' by neglecting to thank the troops in the Queens speech this year.

Earlier this month General Dannatt, current services head, also said the military covenant - the guarantee of a duty of care between the government and the armed forces - is "clearly out of kilter".

This is one of a series of warnings by military chiefs about the demands we are making on our soldiers.

Is it just that our political leaders don't understand the problems? Is it more incompetence perhaps? Or could it be something much, much worse.

Given that Gordon Brown is easily the most political of our leaders since Wilson could it be that he is suspicious of the one 'public service' that is generally considered to be the least sympathetic to the Labour cause?


Stephen B said...

It's nothing new. Our Armed Forces have been shambling and shuffling off to war since the Crimea. Politicians have always wrapped themselves in the flag and then forgotten about the chaps who have to do the hard slog. Not even that great war leader Churchill was immune - anyone remember Gallipoli?

However, this government, thick with Scots, has successfuly Scotched our Armed forces good and proper. We're in two wars, neither of which is winnable and with a potential insurgency at home.

Why don't we increase the budget?

Anonymous said...

Could'nt agree more Stephen. Guys I know who went to the Falklands bought their own waterproofs, bergans, boots and other kit; the issue DMS boots and '58 Large Pack were useless. I know one guy who took the boots off a dead enemy.