This is rather a big change

Radakin has also ordered an end to the job for life culture among middle ranking officers, with new employment rules for more than 200 captain-ranked officers — equivalent to army colonels and RAF group captains — being brought in.

Previously they could serve automatically until the age of 55. In future they will have to retire if they are not selected for a new job after completing two three-year postings.

Up or out has long been true for above captain ranks.

Bringing it down a step is a pretty big change though. And, OK this is from memory, but I thought it also applied to Commanders – Majors in the Army.

If you don’t make Major then you’re out – don’t make Commander then off you go. But if you do then OK to 55. And if the rules only change for Captains then you’ve an absurdity, that Commanders can stay in and Captains not.

And there is a certain problem here too. Someone who is good enough to make Captain RN is pretty good. And the career certainty is to last only until they are perhaps 45, 46? That’s going to have a knock on effect back down to recruitment into Dartmouth…..

This is also something easy to get wrong:

….the new defence secretary, Ben Wallace, has lambasted navy chiefs for the number of ships and submarines stuck in harbour awaiting repairs or lacking crews.

This is something that has played out many times over the centuries for the RN. The entire point of having the thing is that you can go fight when you need to. Which implies a certain amount of redundancy when you’re not fighting. And so complaining about redundant capacity when you’re not fighting is to rather miss part of the point…..

33 thoughts on “This is rather a big change”

  1. Much history shows you cannot predict in peacetime which officers would be any good in a real war. The forces in fact select for peacetime skills. When there is a war a different selection system takes effect, one partly outside the control of War Office or Admiralty.

    Captain F J Walker was on his way to early retirement when WW2 broke out. He was sidelined in a non-favoured specialty, anti-submarine work. When the war came the importance of A_S changed, and he was the best anti-sub commander. There are numerous other examples. And no reason to suppose that advancement in the forces is about anything than climbing the greasy pole, same as the police, the council, politics or industry.

  2. Bloke in North Dorset

    Up or out in the Army isn’t (wasn’t) restricted to senior officers. We lost a very good Cpl technician because he turned down promotion to Sgt. It was made clear to him what would happen but he still went. My brother was SNLR from the RCT because he hadn’t made Cpl at his 9 year point. The policy fluctuated depending on how easy recruitment was.

    And there is a certain problem here too. Someone who is good enough to make Captain RN is pretty good. And the career certainty is to last only until they are perhaps 45, 46? That’s going to have a knock on effect back down to recruitment into Dartmouth…..

    That’s the point, you need the vacancies so you can recruit the talent of the latest generation and you keep a steady flow in to training establishments and through the ranks. You don’t want the most talented being blocked by the talented of previous generations hanging on in sinecures when there’s real pressure on personnel budgets.

    Its also about creating a reserve, not just of bodies like the infantry who have a large turn over at Pte level, but also skills that take a lot of training and experience. Whether forced to leave at some point or choosing to leave, you remain on the reserve list for some time, in my case until I was 45, having left when I was 34.

  3. This is also something easy to get wrong:

    ….the new defence secretary, Ben Wallace, has lambasted navy chiefs for the number of ships and submarines stuck in harbour awaiting repairs or lacking crews.

    I would hope the lambasting is for “stuck in harbour awaiting” rather than “being repaired and resupplied”

  4. I think the new policy is good: we don’t need that many blockers in place, even assuming a need for a “wartime reserve”. That being said, the main reason we have a readiness problem is that politicians are not thinking long term and assuming they can turn CAPEX off and on when they feel like it. Military equipment is a specialist manufacturing skill that’s easily lost, and the reason half the RN’s ships are laid up in port is that we put off starting new frigate programs for a decade: old ships with limited lifetimes then have to be expensively refitted, which by definition has a poor ROE.

  5. A few points.

    Firstly, were the subs at the Times really intending to use a 1970s photograph of the last-but-one Ark Royal to illustrate the story? It’s not as if there aren’t good shots of newer ships around…

    Secondly, there’s an important balance to be struck on “up or out”. The US Navy uses it extensively, all the way down to lieutenant-commander (Army major) level – and it drives some viciously toxic behaviours, where Nothing Must Be Seen To Be Your Fault and sycophancy to reporting officers is rampant. A big advantage of the RN’s cadre of “passed over two-and-a-halves” – the Lt Cdrs who didn’t get their third stripe and are now out of the promotion window – is that the good ones, of which there are a fair few, provide valuable experience coupled to a degree of security: they’re able to tell the Boss “bad plan, and this is why” without worrying that disagreeing with the latest CORGI (Commanding Officer’s Really Good Idea) will abruptly end their Navy career.

    I’m often sceptical of the “thin out the management” handwavery, but I’m also aware that it grows and is very hard to cut back without radical surgery and sometimes “get rid of a swathe, then see where it hurts” is a way to do it. Radakin’s been pushing change since he was appointed, so this is in character, and it makes sense for the Navy to be seen to be jumping before they’re pushed.

    The issue of ships laid up for repair is more complex: Tim’s absolutely right that thrashing your assets in peacetime is not a good idea, but there’s more to it than that. One point is that the Navy is short of people, particularly in some key skills: there’s not enough experienced marine engineers, so ships take longer to maintain and fix because the ones the Navy’s got have to be rushed from one job to the next back-to-back; which makes their lives miserable, so they take the “seven clicks to freedom”, so there are even fewer MEs, so more ships are alongside…

    The 2015 SDSR was meant to provide the Navy with an uplift of three thousand personnel, the first wave of which would be coming through at the junior lieutenant / leading hand rank point now if it had been followed through. Unfortunately Cameron decided to put those numbers in the Army instead, creating three thousand more vacancies in under-recruited regiments to pacify the retired majors who fulminate to the Telegraph and enlist Max Hastings for support every time the second battalion of the 13th Loamshires is threatened with amalgamation or cuts (despite it being only 50% manned, mostly by Fijians…) So, frontline manpower is a major issue that isn’t amenable to quick redistribution or recruitment.

    Similarly, funding for ops in Iraq and Afghanistan were partly funded by taking “maintenance holidays” and “capability holidays” on stuff not being used directly. Sadly, as any engineer will know, if you try to delay your scheduled maintenance enough, it has a habit of expensively rescheduling itself. Deferring maintenance, de-scoping parts purchases (meaning, buying ships but not the spares to support them), and parking entire capability areas to be regenerated later all saved money at the time, but racked up bills to be paid later – which of course were not costed or considered.

    Finally, there’s the political angle. One saga well-reported is the way the Type 45 destroyers “can’t operate in hot weather” – it’s more complex than that but the core issue was that, back in 1999-2000, the Navy and the Type 45 design team were going to use the LM2500 gas turbine (powerful, reliable, cheap, huge user base, worldwide success story) to power the ships, and were told they had to use the innovative WR21 design from Rolls-Royce instead: this would buy votes in marginal constituencies – I mean, preserve valuable skills in deprived areas – and open the door to huge export sales. In fact, the only WR21s in the world are the twelve on the Darings and one shoreside reference set, so they’re unicorns with very expensive spare parts. The “innovative” intercooler design was built for land-based power generation and causes problems at sea, especially in hot conditions: but the Darings weren’t allowed to include Persian Gulf-like conditions in their environmental specifications because it might increase costs and “the Gulf is not a routine theatre of operations” (we’d only been patrolling there for twenty years at that point…) as the Treasury dictated and the then-Secretary of State agreed. Finally, the same SoS decided to cut the testing programme that was intended to identify and fix any operating issues, since surely Rolls-Royce would have done all that already?

    I describe the problem at length because I was on the fringes of some of it, and there’s a long paper trail of naval officers and defence civil servants pointing out “bad plan, this is going to cause problems downstream” being ignored for short-term political and financial advantage: one of Dom Cummings’ points is that nobody is held accountable for any of this crap, everyone has moved on and been forgotten by the time the “savings” have been spent and the costs – which weren’t in the budget and hadn’t been allowed for – come due.

    I’ll be very interested to see if the introspection goes beyond the Services to the wider decision making that caused some of these issues – for the Air Force, their hot button that’s being hit is aircrew training, which again is a PFI imposed on them that had plenty of Cassandras warning of the risk, cost and inflexibility.

    If this is merely a means to beat the Services around the head before imposing cuts, I’ll be disappointed: if it’s an effort to get more efficient use of the money they’re given, which will need a change of culture both within and above (and there’s willingness within, folk are sick of money-wasting stop-go-cancel stupidity)

    For the political optics, it’s very interesting that Chris Parry is the “expert” brought in to comment favourably. While he’s ex-RN (so inevitably has a bias) he’s also a very sharp guy who’s making a good living as a strategy consultant – worked with him myself recently – based on brains not old-boy-network. If I were going to indulge in Kremlinology I’d suggest that having a former head of the Maritime Warfare Centre, then the Defence Doctrine and Concepts Centre, speak approvingly of the plans is a hint that this is meant to be the right sort of change.

  6. I’ve had to manufacture a few parts for military vehicles and ships before. They are an order of magnitude more expensive than ordinary automotive parts, mainly because of the tighter specification and bespoke nature. It also used to be because everything had to be traceable back to the raw materials and had to have documentation for every process step that was undertaken in its production. But that is pretty much standard nowadays for every part produced.
    The increased cost for military vehicles and weapon systems is also because many of these are in service for decades with the required support and maintenance involved.
    I’ve often wondered if it would not be better to utilise a lot more off the shelf parts in the design of military equipment.
    A lot of military procurement is subcontracted out to the private sector, but I have to say that long term the design and manufacturing are inseparable sides of the same coin. Designers need to be aware of the latest manufacturing and materials technology and what is practical & cost effective. That means long term collaboration between end users / designers / manufactures and the maintenance people.
    That expertise ought to be maintained even if it means keeping shipyards and the like ticking over with work that may not be strictly necessary. Whether that excuses BAE and MOD procurement and their like for their woeful and eye wateringly expensive performance I leave as an exercise for the reader.

  7. Gamecock was in an office at Little Rock AFB in 1972. There was a problem; we called for an electrician. I was SHOCKED to see pilot wings on the sergeant’s shirt. After he left, I asked WTF?

    After 15 years, he hadn’t been promoted above major. He was RIFed. Reduction In Force the AF called it. As he was 5 years from fully vested retirement, he managed to get an enlisted man’s job and stay in. Big pay cut, but made sense overall.

  8. “I was SHOCKED to see pilot wings on the sergeant’s shirt.”

    There’s a wonderful memoire by the US military chap in the US embassy in London early in The War. He strongly favoured some British customs over the American equivalents. One was the British preparedness to have NCOs as pilots. Another was the British propensity to encourage junior officers to speak up in meetings and for senior officers genuinely to listen and discuss. The US forces favoured the You Stay Silent Because Big Chief Says approach.

  9. Jason lynch is spot on, especially about Chris Parry

    It is all very well for Me Wallace to berate the RN for poor readiness but it is HIS government that has made the support and manpower decisions that the current naval leadership is trying to mitigate

  10. dierieme, I can concur. In the U.S. military, EVERYTHING at the general officer level is political.

    And I noticed same in U.S. industry. Few directors knew a damn thing about the business. They had risen to the top via politics, not acumen.

  11. Referring to Jason’s comment I would add that I was on the T45 team at the time the main engine selection competition was run

    GE did not wat to particpate as they could see the Rolls Royce selection was inevitable

    Some arm twisting was required – note that GE had never provided GT to the RN

    An engineer colleague told me that GE won the competition in nearly every area – readiness, support costs (ameliorated by 100s in service around the globe in various navies), risk and availability supported by hard empirical data. The only area it didn’t win was in endurance/fuel consumption due to some heroic predictions from RR that were based on modelling and have subsequently proven to be vastly overstated and unachieveable

    On the team the competition was derided as the RollsRoyce down-select competition

    Still, GE didn’t build those engines in Labour marginals did they – that was their mistake

    On the manpower issues some areas of the military are up to 60% understrength with the gaps being partially filled by reservists and contractors. Everyonr else just has to work harder. This is hitting some niche areas hard – as Jason mentions in the RN marine engineers in particular but also other engineering areas. This is when there is a national skills shortage and junior NCOs/officers can double their salaries working half the hours and seeing their families every night instead of being away up tp 9 months at a time. Some of those reservists are being employed on effectively full time regular terms of service

    When I was at Navy HQ I would estimate 20-30% of staff effort was devoted to areas not connected to miliary capability, force generation etc

    Most of this is compliance with political directives/legal requirements on equality and diversity, health and safety, audit etc

    Any chance of those being binned in the new Boris era?

  12. Much useful and informed opinion here. In contrast to the shirt-lifter brown hatter turd-burglar story above. Or the tranny one.

  13. Some time ago, a Royal Navy Chief Petty Office told me about his amazement that RN ships were then going to sea without a single person on board who could splice a wire rope.

    Ah! But instead, now we have women on ships. That will put the fear of death into the … Ugandans? Chileans? Someone?

    There is a fascinating Chinese video celebrating their 2018 Army Day. Unfortunately, the version below is not subtitled in English — Basically, it says: Who am I? I am the hand my mother cannot hold. I am the phone call my wife hopes will never end. I am the father whose son does not know him. I am my family’s hope and pride. … I go to fight on the field of war like a man should. … I am a soldier of China. I am the defender of a beautiful life.

    Notice the lack of women in front line units. China’s military is serious. What about ours?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=du92tJPpAHE

  14. “Someone who is good enough to make Captain RN is pretty good. And the career certainty is to last only until they are perhaps 45, 46? That’s going to have a knock on effect back down to recruitment into Dartmouth…..”

    We’ve had this in the US since the early 90’s at all ranks, enlisted and officer. If you can’t make E-4 withing 4 years you’re out, E-5 within 8, E-6 within 12. If you’re not picking up O-3 in your 4thish year (which its almost impossible not to do) then its transferred to the inactive reserves.

    The idea being that you might be good enough for that rank but if you’re not good enough for the next one then you’re blocking a subordinate’s promotion (since there are only so many at each rank allowed) *and* that there are plenty of others who are both good at that rank and will be suitable for the next.

  15. This will intensify backstabbing, ass kissing, politicking, and wire-pulling, as it will make the competition for the few slots required to remain in the service more fierce. “Influence costs” will increase, as will the ability of those who make the decisions on promotion to indulge their personal preferences.

    Peacetime militaries always have a strong tendency to favor careerists over war fighters, with disastrous consequences when war does break out. This will make that tendency even stronger in the Royal Navy.

  16. Rhoda’s first post had me thinking.
    There was a chap called Major General Sir George Aston. He was in the Royal Marines and in the period around 1908 he became the expert on amphibious assault and proved his theories by invading Clacton.
    Only problem was, it was assumed that the beaches themselves would be undefended and that the fighting would be inland.
    Aston was appointed commander responsible for defending Dunkirk in Oct 1914. He completely went to pieces and legend has it that Churchill (on his way to Antwerp) took over until Archibald Paris was appointed. Aston was invalided out. There seems to have been a lot of this LMF amongst the British generalcy.

    I am just watching The Battle of the Bulge film. How does the US Army ever get anything done with so much insubordination?

  17. Bloke in North Dorset

    Ah! But instead, now we have women on ships. That will put the fear of death into the … Ugandans? Chileans? Someone?

    The daughter of a very good friend, ex Group Captain, joined the RN and became the youngest officer to graduate from Dartmouth. She has had a command, albeit a small ship, and will hold her own against any man. As I’ve known her all her life I’m not surprised. She’s an accomplished skier, did the sledging on a tray at the Olympics and, because she’s a fluent German speaker, was selected to serve in the German Navy on exchange. She would be mortified if she thought standards had been lowered for her.

    And while on the subject of women in the forces … this guy did the 3 hardest courses in the Army, SAS, army diver (which he reckoned was the toughest) and TM Commando Course. He served in the SBS and was/is the holder of the record for cycling from the length of South America. He was an instructor at Lymptone and reckoned that standards were not reduced for the first woman to pass the Commando course. Although TBF he did say he though that word would have come down to reduce the standards until one passed if she had failed.

  18. Bloke in ND — There is no question that some women can hold their own against any man. The bigger issue is Unit Cohesion and Unit Performance, not individual performance. Putting men & women on the same submarine is going to lead to certain problems, even under the best of circumstances.

    And the circumstances are seldom best, because the standards are indeed lowered for Politically Correct reasons since most women don’t have the strength of a fit young man. Once a military starts lowering standards in the name of providing opportunities for women, we end up with the US Navy problem — pilots who can’t land their plane on a carrier, deck officers who can’t avoid running into a massive cargo ship.

    China has lots of women in its military. YouTube has videos of Chinese female soldiers dancing, or exercising in sports bras and short shorts. But those women are not in front-line units where cohesion is a necessary element of success.

    Most of the West runs its military as if it expects never to face a real enemy again. Germany as always is the poster child for this kind of foolish posturing. Maybe we will be lucky and find that war has been abolished. Then again, maybe we won’t.

  19. Bloke in North Dorset

    Gavin,

    Do you have any evidence about unit cohesion? That was said about blacks and gays as well. There have been a few problems but they’ve been blown out of proportion and there’s little evidence its endemic.

    From what I’ve read and heard the military is just getting on with it and adapting as required. There appears to be little evidence that standards have dropped beyond old sweats saying it was better in my day, but old sweats have said that since time started.

  20. Full Article and some discussion:

    For the benefit of those stuck behind the pay wall. A lot of the proposals have been advocated on here over the years, especially, down ranking jobs and culling the bloated middle.

    Admirals thrown to sharks as ‘top-heavy’ navy seeks to cut costs

    @Jason Lynch December 22, 2019 at 11:29 am

    +1 Very informative, thanks. Linked on arrse

    Times really intending to use a 1970s photograph of the last-but-one Ark Royal to illustrate the story? It’s not as if there aren’t good shots of newer ships around

    Using that photo is in someways good, it was a proper small carrier unlike it’s successors which are floating pads, not floating runways

    Great White Shark beside a Killer Whale
    HMS Ark Royal (1970s proper cross deck cat n trap) parked up next to an American “Nimitz” carrier in Norfolk Naval Base

    Info: http://wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Ark_Royal_%28R09%29

    @Starfish – thanks

    @’BiND

    First link missing

  21. Full Article and some discussion:

    For the benefit of those stuck behind the pay wall. A lot of the proposals have been advocated on here over the years, especially, down ranking jobs and culling the bloated middle.

    Admirals thrown to sharks as ‘top-heavy’ navy seeks to cut costs

    @Jason Lynch December 22, 2019 at 11:29 am

    +1 Very informative, thanks. Linked on arrse

    Times really intending to use a 1970s photograph of the last-but-one Ark Royal to illustrate the story? It’s not as if there aren’t good shots of newer ships around

    Using that photo is in someways good, it was a proper small carrier unlike it’s successors which are floating pads, not floating runways

    Great White Shark beside a Killer Whale
    HMS Ark Royal (1970s proper cross deck cat n trap) parked up next to an American “Nimitz” carrier in Norfolk Naval Base

    Info: wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Ark_Royal_%28R09%29

    @Starfish – thanks

    @BiND

    First link missing

  22. BIND,

    We haven’t put it to the test in a knock down drag out bare knuckle world war between even opponents…… So we have yet to find out.

  23. Bloke in ND — No-one wants to talk about Unit Cohesion, since that would be a career-limiting move for any active military personnel in the West. One of the incidents that did spill into more general awareness was the bombing of the USS Cole in Aden in 2000 — 56 sailors killed & injured when Yemenis exploded an inflatable boat beside the ship. It has been reported that some sailors focused on finding their girlfriends/boyfriends instead of doing their duty while under attack.

    Human beings have been fighting for thousands of years. Our ancestors tried all sorts of different approaches — the Amazon female archers who cut off their right breasts so they could use their bows more effectively; the elite Greek homosexual troops. But single-sex heterosexual male units have historically done best.

    It is also worth remembering that most of the pressure for ‘women in combat units’ is driven by the need for ticket-punching by females being fast-tracked to flag ranks for reasons of Political Correctness. Western militaries are engaged in a big experiment whose result will not be known until the rubber meets the road.

  24. Bloke in North Dorset

    Whilst I’m happy to defend female soldiers and don’t buy the unit cohesion argument, this is bat shit crazy:

    At least 250 soldiers are expected to join the UN peacekeeping force helping France to contain the deadly jihadi threat in the Sahel region of Africa.

    Drawn from the Light Dragoons and 2nd Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment, the contingent currently includes six female soldiers, attached to medical, logistical and military police sections.

    But a new UN directive for peacekeeping operations lays down quotas for the number of female soldiers deployed.

    But last night senior planners involved with preparing for the mission expressed their fury.

    “The British Army embraces gender equality. We feel it’s the right thing, and a good thing,” said one senior officer.

    “But equality cuts both ways. This is about our ability, as planners, to choose the most appropriate soldiers for the task at hand, be they men or women.

  25. ““The British Army embraces gender equality. We feel it’s the right thing, and a good thing,” said one senior officer.”

    And are they selected and promoted on the grounds of being able to say that with a straight face?

  26. Ah! But instead, now we have women on ships. That will put the fear of death into the … Ugandans? Chileans? Someone?

    I was the token Regular on an RNR deployment to Chile, some time ago. Although they had lots of women working alongside their military, they were fascinated that we actually had them in uniform.

  27. From the Express article; “15 per cent of military observers and staff officers must be women by next year, while the figure for female “boots on the ground” is 7.5 per cent.”

    So it needs 2 female officers for each female grunt. And people are complaining about an excessive number of Admirals in the Royal Navy! This is proof positive that women in the military is all about Political Correctness.

    Michael Pillsbury’s book “The Hundred Year Marathon” details lessons China’s leadership has been learning from the ‘Warring States’ period of Chinese history. Patiently undermining the future effectiveness of Western militaries through Politically Correct over-promotion of women would fit right in to that kind of strategy — if China had the connections, money, and influence to push the UN and Western countries in that direction. Just saying!

  28. I have to laugh at the idea that the commando course was not watered down so a woman could pass it. Most men in their prime can’t pass it. And a woman with typically half to a third the strength of a man did so? No, obviously not. You were lied to by someone parroting the party line. Women have no place in any military role requiring strength or endurance, there are no exceptions.

  29. Interesting that contributors like @RupertFiennes believe OF5 are blockers. As opposed to those at the start of the much vaunted second stage career. Those who have had developed careers to ensure the right professional experiences and qualifications are in place for the most challenging of jobs.

    Oddly there are none spanning about in the margins (gardening leave etc) and all are fully employed blocking no-one because the RN manning system works on a maximum number of employable years in a rank according to a calculated profile of the needs of the service. Hence exceptionally few are selected OF5 very young, but some are to give them reach for 3/4*, the majority with promote on ‘average’ and will have sufficient time to maybe compete for 1*.

    The RN has for a long time not manned for wartime reserves, which suggests an out of touch respondent me thinks. The RN mans for all known tasks as directed by Government but that’s another thread in itself

    Current readiness issues have little or nothing to do with CAPEX. With too few ships to meet tasking they’re worked hard, they’re crews are worked hard too. One affects material state, the other retention. Now we’ve ships and shore establishments with gapping and that equally affects material state. We need platform availability to meet tasking but that means less time and pressure to reduce maintenance periods. Not helped by insufficient UK dockyard capacity and ships that have faults (T45 and those engines) created by politicians.

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