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I am often asked why the MOD makes so many strange decisions and seems to care so little about the welfare of its personnel. People are surprised to read about expensive computer systems that fail to pay service members their proper salaries — or pay them late. Some are shocked by the apparent dumping of severely wounded personnel from Afghanistan and Iraq into civilian hospital wards, remote from their regiments and families, or the massive contracts for systems that are delivered late and don’t work properly, or the strange failure to publicise genuine successes and minor victories achieved “against the odds” in Afghanistan and Iraq.

None of these scandals — or many others less well known — would surprise anyone who knows the MOD and what it has become.

Most people still believe that the MOD is essentially a military organisation. It is not. It is an organisation dominated numerically, culturally and structurally by civil servants and consultants, many of whom are unsympathetic to its underlying purpose or even hostile to the military and its ethos. You just have to spend a few days at the MOD before you realise that the culture there is not just non-military, but anti-military.

That is one reason why so few of us (except for the chiefs of staff) regularly wear our uniforms to the office. Officers who desire a career in politics or the Civil Service try to seem as civilian as possible, and soon start speaking in the consultants’ jargon favoured by the “fast-track” Civil Service. (It is telling that senior officers have generally failed to champion the wearing of uniforms in public by members of the armed forces.)

I once attended a meeting of MOD civil servants about “outsourcing” parts of the military. I was out of uniform. My colleagues were keen on outsourcing as much as possible; I argued that stripping out logistics and other capacity from the armed forces is dangerous — it means no longer having cooks and technicians who can be handed a weapon and told to fight. I asked the people around the table, “Who actually loves the military in all this?” There was an awkward silence. So I repeated the question in different form: “Who is putting the military requirement first?” One of the civil servants, a woman on the “fast track”, actually giggled. I reiterated that this was a serious question and noted that I was the only service person present. There was then great embarrassment as no one in the room had realised beforehand that I was a serving military officer. I probably wouldn’t have been invited if they had known.

The contrast with the US Department of Defense could not be greater. The Pentagon is a first-rate military organisation (at least in terms of status) where the MOD is not. At the Pentagon, every military person is expected to be in uniform; and it’s the civilians who feel and recognise that they are the supporting cast. Military officers are frequently loaned to other ministries such as the State Department and they continue to wear their uniforms there. The reverse is true in the UK where the Civil Service and its “unions” not only resist the wearing of uniforms but also any systematic secondments (as opposed to hand-picked placements) from the military.

The MOD has slipped from being one of the top five ministries to one of second or even third rank. Moreover, even if our top generals wanted to oppose some aspect of defence policy, they would find the MOD’s structure is now rigged so that civil servants increasingly come between them and the government.

Back in the late 1980s things were very different. It was only two decades since the Admiralty, Air Ministry and Ministry of War had been folded into a combined HQ. In those days there was broadly a one-to-four ratio of civilian to military personnel. On any project you would have one member of each service, plus a “scientific civilian”.

After that two doctrines came into play — “jointness” and “equivalency”. Together they drove out specialised military professionalism and brought in a new managerial, non-specialist cadre of civil servants. The result was that MOD projects needed only one member of the armed forces. A pre-existing and efficient culture of interaction and debate and testing of ideas was driven out.

Now the ratio of civilians to service-members is closer to six to one — not including the ever-growing numbers of consultants and Spads (special advisers) or the parallel government structures in the cabinet office and the PM’s policy unit which may be driving the ratio towards 12 to one. Essentially the military has lost command of its own HQ.

Worse still, the civil servants who now dominate the MOD are a different breed from those who staffed it in the 1980s. In those days there were still many civil servants who had served in the Second World War or Korea, or who had at least done national service. They respected and understood the armed services; they believed an effective military was important and had usually learnt essential skills of leadership and management. They were loyal to the Queen (then the head of the Civil Service), to the Civil Service itself and to its code, and to the service arm they were working for. They have all gone.

Their successors tend to see the services as a tiresome anachronism, peopled by unsympathetic, old-fashioned social types. For many of them the MOD, with its part-time minister, is merely a stepping stone to greater things. From the perspective of such bureaucrats, the main point of the organisation, apart from furthering individual career paths, has less to do with the defence of the realm than with policy goals such as Europ­ean integration, the implementation of UN mandates and the expansion (and therefore dilution) of Nato.

Cost-cutting at the MOD comes at the expense of the uniformed services. That is partly because military officials are more expensive: the civilian equivalent of a colonel is paid less. But it is mostly because military people get in the way and ask awkward questions.

At the MOD, while there’s endless talk of “throughput” and other jargon, there is surprisingly little technical knowledge. There used to be a strong cadre of science civil servants but they went too, after the Defence Research Agency was sold off to Qinetiq, leaving behind a managerial rump known as DSTL (Defence Science and Technology Labor­atory) — soon probably also for the chop. Qinetiq, through a process of asset-stripping, has gone on to sell what were the crown jewels of British science. Our famous wind tunnels, and also the “Dark Hangar”, where some of the most important SAS techniques and weaponry were developed, have all been demolished. And where have the public millions gone? Often to the private pockets of the public servants who led on privatisation. It is a national disgrace.

The real point of most MOD contracts is industrial strategy. We buy planes or vehicles or systems not because they are the best we can afford for the task in hand but because they mean jobs in some part of the country. Or because they further European integration. This is why we buy helicopters like the Merlin that cost more than three times the price of the US Blackhawk. As a result we don’t have decent airlift capacity in Afghanistan, and our infantry in Basra were the first British troops to go into battle without dedicated “on-call” air cover since the First World War.

Though all the services suffer under the MOD regime, relations between the forces are worse than ever. The Army is angriest because it is bearing the brunt of actual operations. It used to complain about the RAF. Now that so much money is being spent on maritime projects unlikely to see action, it increasingly resents the Royal Navy. This is only deepened by the arrogance and incompetence of the Navy itself, as exemplified by the Shatt-al-Arab incident last year.

Because the services haven’t had the budget increases they need to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military is running out of everything. We’re running out of trucks, for instance. And when things break they aren’t being replaced. Increasingly one gets the impression that the civil servants don’t care if the forces are broken — their careers will not be affected. But it may also be that some civil servants and a body of politicians, from both Left and Right, would actually be happy for the military to be broken in Iraq and Afghanistan. Then they will have truly achieved the Europeanisation of Britain’s armed forces along the lines of a purely defensive “UK Defence Force”. War will somehow have been abolished — until, of course, it returns at a time of our enemies’ choosing.

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June 22nd, 2010
2:06 AM
37 years MOD service and 13 years reservist, that's me. The problem is where to start commenting. Why civilians have taken over so many military jobs? It started many years ago when budgeting became more commercial than just bean counting, at a lower level RAF Station level, Service men cost the tax payer a lot more more, not just that but the effective hours of productive work is a lot less. The real result of this is you allmost need 2 service men for one civilian to do the same job. The reason is service personnel are allowed a lot more sports and such diversions. A pilot in the RAF can be lucky if he can make 1 flying tour in his career. Considering the comments at the other end of the management chain - the MOD and the reference to zero technical skills. This I believe has occurred entirely as a result of the promotion system into the higher ranks of the civil service. Engineers like myself tend to focus on the facts/nuts and bolts of projects. Some of tend to call a spade - a spade. For quite a long time now this does not curry favour with those selecting suitable candidates for promotion. My last job in the MOD was in connection with a IT project. So often You would come across people without any real skills other than how to pass promotion boards and stay on top politically. Continuing on the pay issue and the comments about the allies the American Th American civil servant is paid more than his military counterpart. We read in the news recently the salary for ACM Jock was circa £250K and the top civil servant £150K. The wearing of uniforms, the main driver for not wearing uniforms came about because of security issues, many service personnel not working on a base have to use public transport. I worked in London during the period of the bombings. The military still advice military personnel not to wear uniform in public places. The down side of this policy is that the public find it difficult to relate to military/service personnel but also give the opportunity to service personnel show who 'they are'. I could go on and on but now it is time to stop.

Martin Owens, Jr.
June 23rd, 2009
1:06 AM
On one point at least, this American can testify that the problems of MOD are not unique: Weapons systems are often authorized or continued because they mean jobs here or there, rather than any particular war-fighting utility. Pentagon planners go out of their way to create a de facto national constituency for ships, planes, tanks, etc. by spreading the work through as many states as possible. ( What's that , Congressman? You're doing your own folk out of their jobs?) But 'twas ever thus.

September 30th, 2008
10:09 PM
How much more powerful this article would have been if the author had put his name to it. As a serving MOD civil servant since 1975 and a member of the TA for a number of those years, I can say that he is guilty of some generalisations. He also does not address quite where the extra Service manpower would come from to provide the manning ratio he believes is necessary. The Service officers who avoid the front line in such places as Abbey Wood for tour after consecutive tour are also let off the hook. In trying to make a case, and there is a case to be made, he simply goes over the top and looses credibility accordingly.

September 20th, 2008
2:09 AM
As an American with Scots/Irish/English roots, the situation at MOD distresses me. Britain and America share both a warrior class -- 40% of US service personnel come from the South with its Scots Irish "highlanders" -- and a belief in the civilian control of the military. In too many countries, the military is primarily a blunt instrument to control the populace not protect the nation. That the militaries of the African Union are ineffective outside their borders is no surprise. That isn't true of the US, UK, Canada, Australia/NZ. (And, a govt with a 2nd Amendment thinks twice about abuse of military power.) That said, there is culture creep in Britain and America. A quick view of Canada's or NZ's MOD websites show a dreary focus on things irrelevant to a robust defense. If you cannot fight and win wars you cannot keep the peace. Civilian control often means unavoidable politics of the most toxic kind -- office and ideological infighting. Its consequences can be comic but dire. Prior to the invasion of Iraq, US servicemen refered to British soldiers as "the borrowers" because of their lack of basics, such as goggles to protect from sandstorms (and recall how brutal those storms were in 2003). But our troops had great respect for the Brits (and the gurhkas -- who deserve status as British subjects, by the way; you fight and die for a country, you've earned its rights and privileges). I suppose Churchill's romantic notions about the English-speaking peoples are considered quaint now. I only note here that below the high Afghan combatant casualties, are the dead and wounded of the U.S., UK, and Canada. I admit to my own romanticism. My father was a poor son of Appalachia serving on a Navy Tin Can destroyer escorting materiel to Britain. He came to love England and passed that affection along to his son. (A Southern Baptist, after the war he even converted to the Episcopal Church! I still have his fading purple Book of Common Prayer.) I only hope and pray that Britons regain their perspective; and reacquaint themselves with the civic values and personal freedoms earned at great cost over the centuries. Office politics matter less when something of proven worth is at stake. The dividends of a true civic culture are all around us. As are the liabilities of the paleocivics from which we arose and in which so much of the world is still enmeshed. Anonymous has my gratitude. STANDPOINT remains a source of disinfecting light. Graham Royal Oak, Michigan, USA

Sr Cringeworthy Curmudgeon
August 29th, 2008
10:08 AM
Interesting all very interesting. A few observations. Dialectic materialism, which is pretty much par for the course outside of the MOD and Whitehall tells us your average civvy doesn't really give a hoot about politics, foreign policy or the MOD (inc the military), so long as his WII and DVD Player Recorder keep working. Ergo defence budgets, a non-vote loosing target, are cut year on year, as are military staff and now very deeply civilian servant numbers (both in and outside of Whitehall). Military vs Civil Service (CS) Mil major £50kpa, CS HEO £30k pa ROM figures. Why have mil staff in staff jobs, they should be out there soldiering. As an answer I give two points of view. One when the are applying good military judgement to military-diplomatic relations eg D Joint Commitments. Military staff there do a stirling job, very impressive. However when it comes to technical matters, they like the rest of us are amateurs. In fact they are not on the whole suitable for these jobs. Look at mil staff in the Equipment Capability Customr directorates. Their underspecified requirements have time and again, time an again initiated the confusion over exactly what requirements (and there are 100s in a system's specification) meant down in MOD procurement land in Bristol. Then the military user, blames the CS project manager, because the military Requirements Manager and his military seniors in London couldn't specify sufficiently well what they wanted. So who's to blame. Added to this Lord Levene's (Cons, ex MinDP) chopping of engineering grades from the the acquisition function of the CS effected the end of mitigating against poor military specification of requirements. Time, cost, performance - one of them nearly always suffers. Its time for all parties to grow up and work together. Blame is easy to generate, but where does it get us? Mil staff need to understand than CS do not know the CONOPS, TTPs, minimum performance criteria of kit and work with them to specify the necessary minimum performance criteria so that industrial firms will know what the devil the MOD wants. Yours Sr CC

Jonathan Foreman
August 1st, 2008
5:08 PM
There is more discussion of this article and the issues it raises on 'The Guardroom': Standpoint's defence and security blog.

Lex, Civ. Techy
July 22nd, 2008
9:07 PM
Being new to the MoD, I am mutual. Every millitary requires a business backbone. Otherwise it would not be sustainable. Considering us Civi's arent as technical-minded as millitary personell, we are less able or incompetant at doing our jobs? - What absolute rubbish! I feel the writer of this article has some resentment against the non-millitary personell, in all fairness, we are an economical threat (being cheaper) I can sense his anger may have stemmed from years of millitary discipline and training - which I respect, but respect is a two-way thing. "Why pay more, when you can pay less?" (no one got rich by giving money away, and their reasoning for this "increase" is unknown) And unless you are in-the-know (with the true facts), you arent in a position to comment on the decisions of others. - The media are known to be biased by the general population. Humans by nature dont adapt well to change, after settling in, but we all march on in life!

July 22nd, 2008
11:07 AM
Sunningdale, sounds like a little bitterness is creeping in here. Perhaps a failed Fast-Stream applicant? No-one ever suggested that Fast-Streamers are 'experienced' (although many of them come from highly successful private-sector backgrounds) but do you honestly think they aren't educated? 13,000 men and women a year apply to the scheme, from which 300 are selected - tells you something doesn't it? As for your comment that all the Fast-Stream provides is 'trained and certified' people, how many current MOD Fast-Streamers do you know? I'm guessing the answer to that would be sweet FA, so you speak from no experience or knowledge - way to go Sunningdale...

July 21st, 2008
3:07 PM
One must be grateful to Bob and Mike – sounds like a new comedy duo – for simultaneously (?) continuing the debate started by the MOD Unfit for Purpose article. Like any debate, as it goes on, one needs to familiarise oneself with the facts and not just the debate. We should be grateful for Bob’s figures which, if correct, suggest that for every Service-person there are 2/5th of a civil servant. If this is the case, one can only wonder if this is the highest ratio it has ever been? For example, there are almost as many civil servants as in the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force combined. Since, as Bob and Mike also observe, many of these same civil servants are in the MOD-DECs and at Abbey Wood and most of the spending goes on RN and RAF acquisitions, one must presume the majority are supporting these two Services and not the Army? Perhaps that helps explain why the Army so often gets the worst of all spending (think of the SA80 rifle saga) – and also why it can get out of the mire faster? Fast track or fast stream, who really cares – the results speak for themselves. No doubt a civil servant somewhere, along with his or her consultant buddies, came up with the appalling oxymoron ‘Value for Money’ (VfM). Perhaps Bob and Mike can explain to us where they put their value – certainly not where Mike puts his mouth. Or perhaps neither has been reading the Qinetiq debacle broken by Standpoint (and lauded in the Spectator)? As ‘Pepys’ observes in earlier comment, the MOD article actually attacks ‘the clique and the culture of the senior civil servants who “manage” Whitehall - and the other departments. It is not an attack on the brave souls who go out and support the military from the wider MOD and other government departments’. As Pepys’ also says, this is where ‘power and policy connect’. Neither does the article suggest, in Bob’s words, ‘handing management processes to uniformed officers with no background for it.’ In fairness to ‘Bob’, he does go on to suggest a new model is required. Just that – but fast streaming or fast tracking, whatever you call it, delivers trained and certified people; not educated and experienced ones. By and large, the military have emerged as the better qualified and educated in the recent past – for which the ‘Whitehall Civil Service’ gives them little or no credit. Except to place 34 year old ‘fast-dreamers (; early-ejaculators?)’ above Colonels and even Brigadiers. To cap it all, there was indication earlier this year that these same ‘Whitehall Civil Servants’, having got rid of the scientists and doers amongst their ranks, are now targeting the military along just the lines suggested by Bob. If that is the model Bob is suggesting, it will break the military even faster – perhaps that is what Bob and Mike actually want? Finally Mike, I would strongly advise that you check your ‘England’ before writing your prose – ‘ give _you_ name. You idiot’ – it does not reflect well on the Civil Service if this is indicative of their current etiquette training and writing skills. I also strongly advise that you examine the current MOD gagging order before putting ‘your name to your mouth’ – no doubt it was also drafted by some obscure Whitehall Civil Servant.

July 18th, 2008
11:07 PM
When visiting the website Armed Forces m23, ( it is immediately obvious that the 'management of defence' is to take the place of the British MoD. It is the UK arm of the European Defence Agency and makes very interesting reading. To reduce the British Nation's defence so that it cannot protect itself from attack is an act of Treason.

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