The Telegraph reported on 23 July that despite there being massive cuts to the military, there remained a glut of senior officers (e.g. 1* and above) occupying jobs. According to the DT, based on DASA (the MOD statistics team) results, since 2000 there had been no loss of 4* posts, a growth of in 3* posts and a loss of only four 2* posts in the Army. Meanwhile at lower levels, both 1* and OF5s appeared to have a small growth in relative rank terms.
On the face of it this appears to be a story designed to ignite outrage, after all when 20,000 of our brave boys are being fired, isn’t it terrible that the top brass are feathering their nest, and creating jobs for their own boys? The reality though is more subtle and reflects wider changes in the system and way that the military is managed.
The first question Humphrey would have is simple – how reliable are the statistics? If you play around with the DASA website (www.dasa.mod.uk) then you can discover all sorts of interesting stats, which help build up a picture of the manning situation. The first thing to note is the little disclaimer, cunningly omitted by the Daily Telegraph which points out that all figures are rounded to the nearest 10 – this may not sound like much, but when you consider that the figure is static for 4* officers, you realise that its misrepresenting how many 4*s are actually in the services.
According to the DT, in 2009, and 2012 there were 10 4*s in service. Humphrey has done some quick sums and worked out that the 4*s would be CDS, VCDS, 3x Service Chiefs, 3x CINC, and DSACEUR. This is actually only 9 posts – so already the DT is 10% out on its accuracy. If one looks ahead to 1 April next year, the figure will be even lower, as the CINCs will all have gone, and been replaced by 3* Officers, while rumour has it that VCDS is looking vulnerable, particularly as the 2PUS has been lost. So, potentially next year’s figure could only be six 4* officers (CDS, 3 x service chiefs, JFC, DSACEUR) but due to the methodology used, this would still show as 10 on the reporting totals.
So, the first lesson to take away is that these figures are not reliable, and that they can easily be manipulated to suit political ends.
The next thing to consider is the downgrading of posts leading to a growth in jobs. This may sound paradoxical, but as there is a pressure to downgrade roles, it could lead to a growth in numbers in lower rank levels. For instance, next year’s figures may show a small growth in the number o 3* Officers as the new Commands settle in, and deputies are stood up. Also, the new NATO command structure is working up, which may see the UK gain a new multi-starred officer at Northwood.
The Army for instance is pushing to downsize its 1* head of arms roles, such as the Royal Signals and Int Corps 1* posts, and instead downgrade them to OF5 posts. What this means then is that over time there will be a short term bulge as officers taking up these posts come into service, while other OF5 positions have not yet been eliminated from the plot. It will take a couple of years for the changes to armed forces manning to work through the system, so its likely that the statistics will give the impression of a military which is boosting its officer ranks, when the reality is that they are being cut.
These stats also don’t take into consideration issues such as temporary promotions to handle short term roles, such as the deployment of officers in acting up roles, or the assignment of personnel to overseas organisations. One reality is that many nations do not respect more junior officers, and even an experienced SO1 or OF5 may struggle to get doors open to senior national figures, or to have sufficient clout to able to do their job properly. They may get a local acting rank to ensure they can do the job properly while deployed, which will bolster statistics, but which doesn’t actually count as a permanent established post.
Changes in NATO are another good reason why numbers may vary – as the UK commitment to NATO has changed over the years, and posts occupied by UK personnel alter, the manning makeup varies. The UK has long tried to keep personnel in key posts within NATO in order to keep UK influence in certain areas. This has required the deployment of officers across a range of ranks in order to justify the hold on certain ‘plum’ posts at the most senior levels. If the UK didn’t contribute to some of the wider NATO OF5 and above roles, then it is likely that there would be less chance of us securing the DSACEUR and other posts which are seen as a vital national role. So, part of the reason for the relatively static number of senior posts is simple, until NATO significantly downsizes its HQ establishment, or until the UK changes its aspirations for NATO posts, there will be a requirement to provide a fairly substantial number of OF5 and above posts. This will continue to be an issue, and may even grow as alternate HQs such as the EU Military Staff grow in significance as the UK tries to secure its influence in these areas.
So, while it may seem that the senior officers are all in it for ‘jobs for the boys’ the reality is that over the last 15 years or so there has been a significant cull in UK senior officers posts, jobs that once had a 3 or 4* officer doing it are now shifting to the 1 or 2 * level. There seems to be a gentle downwards shift towards using 1 and 2* officers in most roles, although it will take some time for this to work through the system. As Humphrey has noted elsewhere, the RN is now shifting to having only one 1* role, when less than 20 years ago it had four, not including NATO posts.
A final thought, for all the complaints about how many senior officers posts exist in the military, the reality is that the combined total of all OF5 and above posts combined equate to less than 3% of defences manpower totals. The perception is that 1*s are everywhere, but the reality is that they are far less common than perhaps people think.