People Are the Armed Forces Premier Asset – People Are the Armed Forces Biggest Challenge

People Are the Armed Forces Premier Asset – People Are the Armed Forces Biggest Challenge


‘It is easy to reduce personnel to save costs, it is a great deal more difficult to restore this professional capability to former levels once sacrificed’. Quote by a DS Founder Member    




In the early Summer of 2022, there was chaos at British airports as they began to fully reopen post Covid and the problem is ongoing. The principal cause of the debacle was a combination of Airport Authority and Airline staffing problems – too many flights being scheduled before the airports and airlines had sufficient trained personnel to handle the rapidly escalating business.


Pre-Covid staffing levels having been viewed as adequate and the trained personnel simply having been laid off – albeit for an indefinite period – how difficult could it be to regenerate this commercial capability? If the aviation authorities thought that reopening would be a simple reversal of the laying off process, they have had a massive wakeup call!


The Ministry of Defence (MOD) and Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) would never be so unprofessionally cavalier over the personnel establishment of HM Armed Forces; would they?


Since Strategic Defence and Security Review 2010 (SDSR 2010) the number of service personnel has been rapidly and steadily falling as tens of thousands of trained Army, Navy and Air Force people have been made redundant or lost through natural wastage. In the light of Russia’s declared intention to further expand her hegemony and boundaries into NATO’s western democracies, it is DS’ contention that the United Kingdom is woefully short of defence assets and fully trained personnel to man them. A regeneration and a plan to achieve it is vital.


What is MOD’s Regeneration Plan?


Recovering the lost position – Regeneration of HM Armed Forces – will require real estate for training establishments and trained and qualified people to fill the vacant role of trainers within a funded programme of induction, basic and advanced training. If such a plan exists, it would be useful to know how MOD intends to overcome the internal capability gap caused when several years of middle and higher management level experience has been jettisoned?


Defence Synergia has briefed the House of Commons Defence Committee on several occasions regarding the ‘4RC’ – Readiness, Responsiveness, Resilience, Regeneration and Capacity of HM Armed Forces. The paper written in 2015 is on the Defence Synergia web site. This short paper focuses on one aspect, that of Regeneration.




It is a sad reflection upon HMG and MOD that they seem to be reactive and not pre-emptive. They appear to live a world rapidly passing them by. It was Harold Macmillan that opined that politics was governed by ‘events dear boy events’. And so, it has been proven time after time.


The current event to catch our leaders off guard is the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent geo-political Strategic upheaval this ‘event’ is causing in NATO, the EU and UK. Therefore Defence Synergia does not think it unreasonable to consider the issue of Force Regeneration in a UK context given that the personnel ORBAT has been so severely reduced over the past decade based on arguably inaccurate assessments of the threat.


Force Regeneration to meet a general call-up in a NATIONAL EMERGENCY might require the full immediate participation of the Regular Forces, the Regular Reserves, and all volunteer reserve personnel. This scenario might entail increasing the size of the regular armed forces by some margin albeit that we must assume, for now, that conscription is not an option being contemplated by HMG. Nevertheless, would there be sufficient training places, trainers, barracks, unit weapons and personal kit to accommodate and equip such a short order increase in personnel?


For example, what useful purpose would the 31,000 Regular Army Reserve in addition to the 30,000 Army Reserve serve if the hardware, combat support (CS), combat service support (CSS), weapons platforms, enablers and suitable refresher-training were not available?


As a case study – Consider pilot aircrew for Typhoon and F35B. It can take up to 5 years for a new pilot to enter service and become Combat Ready, several months for qualified, but non-current, pilots to re-qualify. Which makes the ‘time-line’ for Regeneration of some forces impracticable unless the warning time for call-up allows for prolonged training and the release of qualified instructors and platforms from an already diminished cadre of combat ready personnel and assets. The paradox to be negotiated is that to fill the need for extra pilots to fly operationally, the pool of already trained pilots and combat ready aircraft will have to be depleted to train the new intake.


This scenario in one guise or another will be repeated across the many skill sets of HM Armed Forces. Whether it is a nuclear engineer qualified to operate a PWR on an SSN/SSBN or a tradesman operating or repairing complex sea, land or air based equipment or weapon systems there is no fast track to gain experience. This regeneration of the senior supervisory staff, without whom no ship can sail, vehicle move or aircraft fly, will take at least ten years. Whilst a process of induction (hopefully far more capable and professional than the current contracted out version) can be put in place using various advertising media the process of physically inducting and providing initial/basic training requires professional trainers from the cadre of already qualified and experienced NCO/SNCO level. This at a time when their numbers are already cut to the bone, but their skills are in high demand to meet Operational Requirements – dare one say, defending NATO territory by actually fighting Russians!


Of some concern in this respect is the potential large cadre of qualified and experienced personnel who would never be called upon simply because their age precludes it. A DS colleague wrote on this issue recently asking the question ‘why do RN careers have to end at age 55?’ DS would argue why do any service careers have to end at age 55, or why a war training role should not be considered for and assigned to former Navy, Army, and Air Force personnel from a middle to high-ranking background?




It can be cogently argued that successive UK Governments have allowed the complex issue of Force Regeneration in Defence to be neglected deciding to take the risk of being unprepared on the basis that intelligence-based warning time would allow for action. In the past that has been up to 10 years. The Ukrainian Russia war demonstrates that is a poor assumption. So poorly scrutinised is the subject that few ever discuss the topic and requests for action from DS are simply ignored by the Armed Forces Chiefs despite knowing that HM Armed Forces must fight without the slightest chance of substantial reinforcement or regeneration or having in-place a mechanism to correct the disparity.


HM Armed Forces and the public they serve deserve better.


DS is therefore calling for an open Defence debate to establish the status of UK defence reinforcement and regeneration. The gag must be removed from senior Armed Forces personnel so that they can be as accountable as any Chief Constable, Doctor, or Head Teacher.


In the meantime, HMG and MOD might do worse than look at what happened to the airline travel industry following an enforced lay-off and reduction of a trained and experienced workforce. An honest appraisal could prove quite illuminating.