Army 2020: Reserves Integration

The 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) sees the British Army delivering a scale, range and duration of military tasks which cannot be performed by a reduced regular component alone. In delivering these requirements from a future force of 82,000 regular and 30,000 trained reserve personnel and to be prepared for the challenges of an unpredictable future, the army has had to adopt a fundamentally new approach to how it is structured to meet its tasks.

From first principles, the Army 2020 project designed a fully integrated force capable of fulfilling three main roles: contingent capability (for deterrence and defence); UK engagement and homeland resilience; and overseas engagement and capacity building. Most significantly, it concluded that the reserve could no longer be organised solely to supplement the regular force for large-scale intervention. This represents a significant shift from the current configuration of the Territorial Army to a model where elements would routinely undertake delivery of military outputs, in appropriate roles and readiness, generated and maintained by force elements, including:

  • Capabilities not requiring significant or complex collective training to maintain readiness, such as sustainment roles in fuel support, transportation and the already well-established provision of medical services
  • Specialist capabilities which it is not possible, necessary or cost-effective to maintain completely in the regular force structure (for example, medical, cyber, intelligence and language specialisations)
  • Capabilities for longer-term institutional resilience, providing an essential ability to regenerate a larger army in times of need.

The British Army of 2020 will therefore have a greater structural reliance on its reserves; they will become an indispensable element of the land force. This represents a fundamental shift in the purpose of the Territorial Army, which, to better reflect this significant change in role, is proposed to be renamed the Army Reserve.

Recent operations have seen the army deploy some 23,000 reservists primarily as individual augmentees, specialist reserve capabilities (such as medics) and, on occasion, sub-units. In the future there will be a requirement to hold formed platoons, squadrons and in some cases regiments from the Territorial Army at appropriate readiness, so that the army can meet the tasks set in the SDSR. To deliver the Army 2020 proposition, therefore, the assured availability of these capabilities, sufficiently trained and at an appropriate level of readiness, is vital. This is significantly more demanding than training individuals, particularly when a reservist’s time for training is limited.

The requirement to routinely generate this level of collective capability represents a major re-orientation for the Territorial Army and for the army as a whole; delivering the integrated army will be demanding.

The integrated force will be essential to future success on operations at home and overseas. Delivering this force will be dependent on setting both the physical and conceptual conditions from the outset.

For the army to exist, it must train. This applies equally to the reserves, which can only deliver its contribution to the integrated force on an enduring basis if it is trained, equipped and prepared in a similar way to its regular counterpart.

Sustaining this contribution will require the Territorial Army to be routinely given tasks and operational deployments that have genuine merit, relevance and appeal. Many will see reservists forming an integral element of a regular unit; equally, for less complex tasks, a reserve battalion could form the basis of the deployed unit, with its regular partner providing augmentation. Such opportunities can play to some of the innate strengths of the reserves, such as homeland resilience, overseas engagement and capacity building. There is a natural tension with the standing forces; efficient and effective solutions will need to strike a balance that ensures prospects, professionalisation and opportunity across the force.

Underpinned by the army’s core values, future terms and conditions of service will ensure the recruitment and retention of high-quality personnel – based on an appropriate balance between liability for and commitment to service – for a reserve that can expect greater routine use. The range of tasks for which reservists can be mobilised will be better aligned with those of their regular counterparts. The prospect of a full career – balancing a field-focused force with broader prospects of employment across the integrated force – requires a more structured career-management model better exploiting the civilian knowledge, skills and experience of the reservist for the army. A comprehensive individual training and accredited education system will need to develop more appropriate knowledge, both to a reservist’s specific role and for wider employability. Additionally, the military education system for regulars needs to better understand the reserves as a vital part of the integrated force.

The Army 2020 future training model will also need to accommodate the requirement to train a single force with the time a reservist has, and is resourced, to train.

Physical integration between reserve and regular units on a largely geographical basis, for training and for deployment on operations as a single force, is an essential design principle and outcome of Army 2020. Formalised pairing between a regular and a reserve unit will be the important first step that sets the conditions to deliver integrated capability. It will facilitate coherent programmes of activity, deliver more efficient and effective training, and ensure better use of finite equipment, infrastructure and administration. It will forge better links to local communities, to employers of reservists and to those leaving the regulars. Establishing the pairing arrangements, along with clarity of roles and locations, provides the conditions for the right people to be recruited into the right posts in the right part of the country.

Pairing, and the revitalisation of the reserves, also offers a significant opportunity to engage differently with the society from which the military recruits and to which it must consistently demonstrate relevance, utility and value.

The army is already conducting a series of pilot schemes to test the pairing and integration concepts. These studies will help to better define the army’s doctrine for the integrated force.

While noting the significance of some of the changes required to generate this integrated force, two must be viewed as fundamental to the successful integration of the reserves into Army 2020.

If the army is to genuinely operate in the fully integrated way envisaged by Army 2020, a cultural shift is required by all parties – not only across the army, but across the defence establishment and more widely across society. This requires the interests of a number of key parties to be addressed and collectively managed and led. This needs to be done without placing undue burdens on personnel – prejudicing the army’s outputs for defence and the nation, while continuing to retain the highest reputation of the British Army. This will not be easy to achieve. There is the genuine risk that the myriad of change facing the army over the next few years – the end of combat operations in Afghanistan; redundancies of regulars; unit deletions and mergers; withdrawal from Germany; and basing changes – will disenchant and disenfranchise the very people required to deliver it.

The premium for increased reliance on the reserves is that their service needs to be enabled and enduringly supported in a way not previously done, including the provision of support to reservists’ families and employers. Society at large must be given the means to better understand, recognise and support this. While the reserves will be small as a proportion of the national workforce, employers must see greater equity in their relationship with the armed forces. Currently, many employers do not view the proposition as being balanced from their perspective. Benefits, such as accredited skills and greater predictability of training and deployments, will go much of the way to re-balancing their view of the British Army’s profiting from very tangible and cost-effective manpower gains.

The potential reward for success is very significant. Everyone in the army and wider defence establishment, whether regular or reserve, has a responsibility to make the fully integrated British Army a reality.

Brigadier Sam Evans
Assistant Chief of Staff Reserves, Army Headquarters.

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