Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)



Mr Brazier

  20. I would like to ask some general questions on man training days and unit level training and then come back to some specific issues on the infantry. The figures the MoD has provided us with, show an absolutely massive collapse in the number of man training days conducted at unit level, whether it is quite as dramatic as your figure suggests, the fall from 1.5 million to 500,000 in a single year, I do not know, but the single greatest complaint that I get now across the combat and combat support arms is about the collapse in unit level training. Is this deliberate? Is it a problem that is being addressed?
  (Brigadier Durcan) I can give you reassurance that there has not been a massive reduction in the provision. There is inevitably sometimes confusion about the way figures are presented. The amount of money allocated for individual training and what I would describe as non-core military training centres are computed differently to those provided for collective training. That really is not the key point. The key point is that the expenditure remains at about the same level, and where we can, I believe, take note that pre-SDR the TA was quite significantly under its established strength. It was 59,000 established and I think its real strength was something nearer 56,000. It was resourced to 90 per cent of the establishment, but quite a lot of units that were in deficit in manpower nevertheless had the correct amount of MTD, so they were fully manned.

  21. Could I stop you, Brigadier, because I do not think you heard my question? I did not ask about levels of man training days, I asked about the proportion of man training days that are allocated to unit level of training. Whether the figure we have been given is right or not—and I do not believe it can be quite as large a drop as shown—the most common complaint that I get from Territorial Army officers I visit is the collapse in unit level training. The fact that people are no longer doing interesting unit level exercise is a demotivating factor. Could you answer on that point?
  (Brigadier Durcan) There has not, as far as I can calculate, been a reduction in the provision per head. What, of course, has happened is that for the first time we now have units that are fully up to strength or, indeed, in some cases, overbearing against the wider establishment, and they are fully resourced, but they have got very good attendance. So there is a perception that there is less money, but we have the same amount of money per head.

  22. Brigadier, I still do not think you heard by question. I did not ask you about the level of man training days, allocated units, nor about resourcing. The question I asked you was about the proportion of man training days today which are allocated to unit level exercises, which are what, for most members of the TA, make it worth saving. The complaint one gets when one goes round units is that it is all being done at the individual level training and some of the fringe activities and that there are far less exercises now. Could you answer that?
  (Ms Seammen) I wonder, Mr Chairman, if I can just come in there, because, as Mr Brazier has deduced, correctly, the figures that we have given you are not compatible with each other. I do apologise to the Committee for this. The 1.5 million days that we gave for 1998-99 is clearly not compatible with the 500,000 reported for 1999-2000. It looks to us as though the 1.5 is all the training, including all the man training days, collective, individual and anything else that the TA are doing, whereas the 500,000 we have given you for the most recent return looks to us like collective. I am sorry about this. We will go into this and provide a full explanation in our next return, which is due to you any day now. It may be a question of substance.

  23. Can I move on to the narrow question specifically addressed at the infantry? If I may, I would like to address this to Brigadier Holmes, despite his health warning at the beginning about being "Tri-Service". He is, after all, Honorary Colonel of a distinguished regiment. I think you are the first Territorial Brigadier ever to be Honourary Colonel of both the regular and TA regiments, are you not?
  (Brigadier Holmes) I do seem to be, yes.

  24. It just happens to be my local one. We have the figures obviously for the reduction in proportion of infantry unit from 33 to 15 within the new set up for the TA. They are still a large part of it though. The point that was made very clearly in SDR is that it is not envisaged that infantry will be used as fully formed units, they are more likely to be used as individuals or formed sub-units in the future. The question that I would like to put to you is this: Is it really practical, in your view, to train infantry officers to be infantry officers, or train officers in any part of the TA, outside the structure of a formed unit? Is it possible to develop a good Company Commander, for example, if he has not taken part in battalion level exercises?
  (Brigadier Holmes) Your assumption is correct. If you look at the infantry now and compare it with when I was a Company Commander in a battalion commanded from Canterbury or when I commanded my own battalion, at that stage in the proceedings the TA consisted of units which expected to go to war as formed units. They trained as formed units and they planned, we might say not perhaps wholly realistically, to go to war as a unit. That was actually, in many respects, very encouraging. It meant that you did do unit training, which, as far as soldiers were concerned, was exciting, it was very good for the chain of command because it stitched into that chain of command combined arms training and it whisked us off to Germany every other year, or whatever. Inevitably, things have changed and the SDR moved us over a decisive crest line into a world where infantry, by and large, do not expect to go to war as formed units, although, actually, given certain sorts of crisis and sufficient time, they might conceivably. Now, that process, it seems to me, is wholly logical, but it is not without concomitant casualties. It seems to me that your point about producing Company Commanders in the broad must be true. It will be more difficult to train Company Commanders who understand the combined arms battle, because the combined arms battle is something which infantry battalions per se are no longer training for, for perfectly good reasons.

  25. Can I ask one last question to both our Brigadiers, because it is both a TA and a Tri-Service question? At a time when we have just heard for the first time ever that the Royal Marine Reserves have appointed a reservist officer to be their next head of the Royal Marine Reserves, is it not rather sad to see a collapse in the number of TA COs from 40 per cent to 28 per cent, and in the infantry, for example, right down to one out of 15, and in the Gunners down to one out of seven? Is it really possible to keep a young captain in the TA if the message he is getting in large parts of it is that basically his chance of being allowed to command are very small?
  (Brigadier Holmes) Can I address the strategic issue, first of all? There are, indeed, fewer TA Commanding Officers now than there have been, and that is something which I regret, and I regret it because at the other end of the TA we have, I think, a much more effective TA starred set-up than we have had at any previous time. I am being succeeded by a volunteer. I make no value judgment, but I have to say that from the reservist point of view I think that is good news. We now have not simply a TA Brigadier at Head Quarters Land Command but also one at Head Quarters Adjutant General. The Army Reserves Committee now has on it three one star volunteers, both are TA Brigadiers. We are immeasurably stronger both at Army centre and at the Purple centre than we were three years ago. That is thoroughly good news. What we need to ensure is that there are aspiring Lieutenant-Colonels, jostling for these one star slots.
  (Brigadier Durcan) I would like to follow that and say that there is no change to the present policy. Where a suitably qualified and available volunteer is run for a command of a TA unit, then he will get it. We will only revert to asking the regular Army to produce if the TA cannot, but they still have first refusal. I think it is a sign of the times that the nature of the commitment that this job involves and the calibre of the person that we seek to find is also in high demand elsewhere. There is no policy to, if you like, put regulars in under the carpet here at all. It is a cause of surprise in some areas, but it is no surprise to me that this is the case. The broad system that we operate, both in Glasgow and at regional level, is very, very careful and very, very clear on this issue, and we have to be absolutely satisfied that there are no suitably qualified men available in the Territorials.

  26. How can it be possible that people like the sappers and signals manage to produce almost half and the infantry and gunners produce almost none? You really do not think it has anything to do with the slimming down of the regular infantry and the need to find regular officers command slots?
  (Brigadier Durcan) Not at all, that is not the case, and the IGTA and the Military Secretary are very clear on this and the proceedings of these boards are recorded.
  (Brigadier Holmes) It is wrong to personalise this, but I commanded a battalion spread across two counties. Fortuitously, I lived in the middle of my battalion area. Therefore, on any training night I could get to three TA centres, to two of my Company Head Quarters without much difficulty. The same battalion now covers an area which is about three times as big. So with the best will in the world it would have been much, much harder for me as a volunteer to have commanded the battalion as it now exists, by comparison with how much I then commanded. It would be wrong for me to put words in the mouth of Brigadier John Thompson, who is Brigadier TA at Head Quarters Land Command, but when at Land Command I watched like a hawk the issue of TA commanding officers. The TA is not and must not become a device which enables regular officers to get command appointment that they must not otherwise have got. I would set my face very firmly against that happening, and in all conscience I do not think it is.


  27. We have a question which is linked to the last question of formed units. How many part-time fast jet aircrew are available for service at this point in time, and how are they being used?
  (Air Vice-Marshal Sudborough) We have 64 part-time auxiliary aircrew, and in addition to that we have 67 full-time Reserve Service Aircrew. If I can deal with the latter first. They are, of course, on full contract. They serve under different terms, but they are used in such areas are as the Tornado fleet, training and transport, and they are employed for a set time, usually for five years. That is one part of our Reserve Service. The other part, of course, which I think the question is particularly aimed at, is the auxiliary side where, as I said, we have 64. All of those could be used and, indeed, some are used right now. I can tell you that on the Hercules side we have 37 and they are used actively, were used during Kosovo, and also are used for not only training but also route flying on a routine basis.

  28. How many fast jet pilots are being used, or how many do you have?
  (Air Vice-Marshal Sudborough) I cannot give you the precise number of pilots. I can get them back to you. As I said to you, the total number of Reserve auxiliary aircrew is 64. I do not have a breakdown of that between pilots and navigators. I can happily provide you with that.

  29. Please. There cannot be all that many. I was recently talking a guy who was responsible, in New York State, for Reserves, and he had a large number of commercial pilots who were perfectly competent within the Air Force and playing a very, very considerable role. It seems to me that if the US can use commercial pilots in their Reserves, I wonder what the explanation as to why we are not tapping that resource for use in our Reserves?
  (Air Vice-Marshal Sudborough) We are tapping it as much as we are able to, but, of course, you will need no reminder of the considerable difference between the Guard Force and resources that are placed within the Guard Force, which is regarded as being entirely separate to the US Air Force and is funded separately. We labour the point in the Royal Air Force that we look at a one force concept, and in that One Force concept we look at the availability of resources to focus not only on regulars, but also auxiliaries. We want to make sure that when we employ auxiliaries they are readily available, which is exactly the point that you made earlier on. Indeed, if I might add, the Air Force Board Standing Committee recently agreed that we should increase the utility of auxiliaries and Reserve aircrew. We have notionally taken 10 per cent of our establishment and we are increasing, particularly on the full-time Reserve side. We want to make sure that we employ people that are readily available, either to train to act as trainers, or, indeed, in front line service.

  30. It would be interesting to know how many. Perhaps you can give us the detail, not just the stark figures, but where they come from, what they have to do by way of commitment to keep their skills up to the requisite level, and I hope that it will not impose too much of a demand on your staff to furnish that information.
  (Air Vice-Marshal Sudborough) We will happily provide that for you. Perhaps I could add that as regards the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, at the moment they are the only people within the auxiliaries that we ask—and, of course, it is on a voluntary basis—that they are at high readiness reserve. They are at 21 days notice. They agree to that as part of their terms and conditions of service, and I think that very much fits in with our total Force concept of wanting to use them.[1] I do stress that it is within the budget that we have available and where it is appropriate to train them to make sure that they are available for use.

Mr Brazier

  31. Could they not be in a formed unit? The TA have a formed flying unit, why do you not allow your Hercules people to have a formed flying unit?
  (Air Vice-Marshal Sudborough) Thank you very much indeed for that.

  Chairman: That was my next question.

  Mr Brazier: Sorry.
  (Air Vice-Marshal Sudborough) I think the first thing is that if you have a formed unit inevitably your overhead costs are going to go up. It is because you need to make sure that that unit is constantly supervised, you need to make sure that it has a CO, an Adjutant and all of the other things that go with a squadron. It is, in our view, much better that they work within a formed squadron where they can be properly supervised. Flying, of course, I would submit to you, does require special supervision, particularly where you are using part-time aircrew, and we find that it is much better within the Total Force concept, which I will be happy to explain to you if that is necessary, that they are integrated within squadrons.

Mr Viggers

  32. In writing to the Chairman in response to his questions, would you please include the Royal Navy. I understand that the Royal Navy make rather more use of Reserves than the Royal Air Force, and Army Air Corp as well in terms of Reserve use. A second point, if Reserves are on 21 days notice this might presumably give a contractual problem to their employers, who in many cases will be airlines. Will you include a paragraph spelling out what contractual problems you have with your aircrew on 21 days notice?
  (Air Vice-Marshal Sudborough) Can I add something to that, since you have asked the question? We have not had a problem with the utility of our auxiliary aircrew as regards the relationship with the employer when we have needed to use those aircrew.


  33. Where do they come from?
  (Air Vice-Marshal Sudborough) They come from all sorts of walks of life. I cannot give you chapter and verse, but I can tell you that some are airline pilots, some are working for commercial organisations, some are out with and have stopped flying, have retired from the Air Force, but I think almost without exception, Mr Chairman, they are people who have previously served as aircrew within the Services, but the vast majority will have come from the Royal Air Force and have retired.
  (Brigadier Holmes) High Readiness Reserves require their employer's consent. So in order to take on this high readiness liability an individual would have had to have got the prior consent of his employer, which does greatly increase the chance of there not being difficulties. In the early stages of this a Reserve Aircrew working group was set up which discussed, particularly with airlines, the difficulty of getting access to people, the question of flying hours and so on. I am actually guardedly optimistic that this is moving in the right direction. You are absolutely right, we have got, in this, as in so much else, to keep employers informed and be honest with them.

Mr Viggers

  34. If we can have some information about the working party and the results that came through from that, that would be very helpful.
  (Air Vice-Marshal Sudborough) If I can confirm what Brigadier Holmes has just said, I am reminded that with all of our high readiness reserve aircrews it is a three way agreement with the employer, with the MoD and the reservist. There is no question of compulsion, this is something that is transparent and agreed.


  35. What started out as a little bit of information on three pilots has turned into a dissertation.
  (Air Vice-Marshal Sudborough) Perhaps that is my fault.

Mr Gapes

  36. These questions are about statistics again, and I hope the statistics I have are accurate. It would be helpful, because if they are not then the whole purpose of the question will be irrelevant. These are questions about permanent staffing structures. The statistics that I have seen say that in the July 1999 figures there were 1,715 as at 1 April 1999. The latest quarterly report says that the figure had fallen to 832 by 1 April 2000, rising to 838 by July, which, if those figures are correct, that would suggest that the number of personnel per Permanent Staff Instructor has risen in a twelve month period from about 30 to about 50. Are these figures accurate, first of all? If so, what is the reason for change, and can you explain why the number of Permanent Staff Instructors appears to have more than halved when the size of the TA as a whole has been reduced by about a third?
  (Ms Seammen) Mr Gapes, I hardly know how to say this.


  37. Do not say it. Would you write us a note?
  (Ms Seammen) The July 1999 figure was for Permanent Staff Instructors, both regular and non-regular. I am afraid that the May 2000 figure, which was approximately half that, was regular only. I would really appreciate not to be pressed on why we did that, because I have not got the foggiest.

  38. You have displayed a degree of honesty which hitherto we have not noticed. I wish more people would put their hands up to statistical errors.
  (Ms Seammen) We will do better.

Mr Gapes

  39. I think my next questions we can forget about. Can I ask about the actual standard of training. Has that been assessed recently, and how do you do that? Have you got any conclusions from your assessment of the standard of training?
  (Brigadier Durcan) The training requirement is set by the Arms and Services Directors, as you know, and those bodies also review the training requirement. The implementation of training remains the chain of command's responsibility. There is a process known as "the measurement of fighting power", which is a rather abstruse traffic light thing that allows the chain of command at every level to assess and evaluate the training standards produced. The TA is required to produce individuals at 55 per cent of their strength fit for role, and we watch very carefully those organisations that fail to meet that and examine why. This process is very subjective and, therefore, prone to discrepancies in interpretation of standards. We are developing an IT system called Cresta which is going to allow us to set much more accurately what training standards are to be met by individuals, what resources are required to meet those, and to record very accurately the level of expertise across cap badges and by trades. This system is being trialed now in the Royal Engineers TA and we are optimistic that it is going to be a huge breakthrough and we intend to roll it out in the TA in due course.

1   Note by witness: The capacity to train reserves is determined by our resources and that we must ensure that this training is commensurate for the needs of the front line. Back

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