New defence chief warns cuts leave Forces 'cynical and detac Aug 22, 2013 5:46:43 GMT
Post by Focus on Aug 22, 2013 5:46:43 GMT
Cuts and redundancies have left Armed Forces personnel feeling “cynical and detached”, Britain’s new defence chief has said.
General Sir Nick Houghton, the Chief of the Defence Staff, said that the Government’s plans to shrink and transform the Armed Forces have left some military personnel feeling unhappy and alienated.
General Sir Nick Houghton, the Chief of the Defence Staff
Gen Houghton also warned that defence cuts will mean that Britain must lower its “expectation” of the military power the Armed Forces will be able to deploy in future conflicts.
The general took up his post last month and will be responsible for seeing through the final cuts made by the Coalition’s controversial defence review.
He will also oversee the winding down of the British mission in Afghanistan.
Defence cuts are reducing the Army by 20,000 posts, while the Royal Navy are each losing another 5,000.
The new CDS has made few public comments since taking office, but spoke to a Ministry of Defence in-house magazine about his priorities for the job.
In the interview, Gen Houghton said that one of his main concerns is that the “transformation” of the Armed Forces has been poorly communicated to personnel, leaving many feeling left out and let down.
Defence chiefs have not done enough to explain the changes now underway, changes that are have hit many personnel hard.
The general said: “We do not spend enough time talking to our internal community. They need to understand the context and relevance of what they’re doing in circumstances and times that are quite difficult for many of them.”
He added: “I think we’ve risked people becoming cynical and detached from what defence is trying to do.”
Gen Houghton said he would be “honest, straight-talking and supportive,” and do more to listen to the concerns and worries of Armed Forces personnel.
“With transformation for example, this should be more than just communicating a message, we should be doing it in a way that makes everyone feel on side with what is going on, believes in it and can see the part they need to play,” he said.
The MoD’s survey of personnel has shown sharp falls in Armed Forces morale in the three years since cuts were announced following the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review.
Figures released last month showed the proportion of personnel rating overall morale as “low” has risen from 24 per cent in 2010 to 55 per cent this year.
The number of soldiers saying they are satisfied with service life has fallen from 62 per cent in 2010 to 48 per cent this year. The fall is steeper in the Army than in the Navy or RAF.
The largest military graduation parade in Europe took place at the Army Foundation College, in Harrogate
Some observers questioned whether better communication would influence military morale.
Col Richard Kemp, a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, said: “I don’t think it’s really been a question of not explaining the situation.
It’s more that people are well aware of what the situation is, but the situation is dire.
“People have seen their jobs go and seen their friends slung out on their ear, which with the level of comradeship you get in the Armed Forces, has an impact on the people who remain.”
He said low morale would not affect fighting spirit, but it would make troops more likely to leave.
Britain’s combat mission in Afghanistan is due to end next December, and the CDS signalled that once the operation, Britain will have to alter its mindset for future military operations.
Smaller Armed Forces will be able to project less power than they did at the peak of the Afghan mission, he said, suggesting that future operations will be on a smaller scale.
“It is in many ways easier to focus on a single operation than having to plan for a whole range of contingencies.
You can never have the same degree of sophistication in capability terms when you adopt a more generic contingency posture,” Gen Houghton said.
“We have to recalibrate our expectation of the level of capabilities we can field on new operations from a standing start.
We’ve got to get back into an ‘expeditionary mindset’ where we will not have perfect capability for every scenario.”
Gen Houghton’s words about future military capability come two months after General Sir Peter Wall, the head of the Army, said that forcing more spending cuts on the military would be dangerous, disruptive and would damage the country’s ability to win future wars.
The Ministry of Defence said it was working to mitigate the impact of cuts on morale.
A spokesman said: "With any period of change there is bound to be uncertainty surrounding the future of personnel and their families which will inevitably have an impact on morale.
We are clear that the resilience of personnel should not be underestimated and we remain committed to ensuring that we take the necessary action to address the areas of discontent such as pension benefits, morale, integration with Reserves and welfare support."
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