Is the overarching principle of Future Reserve 2020 realistically achievable by the British Army?
As we reach the end of 2020, regardless of restrictions and delays by the COVID-19 virus and the fallout from it, the Future Reserve 2020 (FR2020) policy should lead to a fundamentally different Army Reserve. The FR2020 policy was developed in order to learn lessons from operational deployments and to create a Reserve that is fit for purpose.
Having been a reservist for nearly fifteen years, and having deployed operationally, I have been able to see the transformation of the Territorial Army (TA) into the Army Reserve (AR). The development taking place to transform the TA into a respected force that regularly supplies individual augmentees to the Field Army is being stymied by its mismanagement across the board. Many of the issues identified by FR2020 are still extant, with the cumbersome and inappropriate reporting process just one example. Indeed, FR2020 has been frustrated by rivalry and a lack of action between departments that are supposed to work together for a common goal. This was explored by Patrick Bury and Sergio Catignani in their scholarly analysis of FR2020, which criticised the intra departmental rivalries and lack of communication as being characteristic of poor management of the Reserves.
Furthermore, the quality of the soldier being promoted in the AR has diminished. This is a direct result of a lack of understanding of the role and capabilities of the Army Reserve has and resulted in unachievable demands placed on those in full-time employment trying to balance their civilian jobs with their commitment to defence. The shift towards a “One Army” method of training and attendance on Regular courses means that those able to and most likely to attend and progress are the unemployed or the unemployable. This creates other issues further down the line relating to morale, quality of training, and the perception of the Reserves. Furthermore, the misapplication of the “One Army” concept and a haphazard approach to the allocation of permanent staff has failed to develop the Reserve into an effective tool for supporting the “Whole Force”.
The desire for a fully integrated Reserve into the field army does not appear to have advanced at all since the publication of FR2020, and this is unlikely to ever be achieved unless there is fundamental change. In order to effect this change, senior elements of the Regular Army need to adjust their expectations and decide clearly on what type of a Reserve they actually want with a clearly delineated role. In conjunction, the AR needs to evolve professionally to become suitable for its role of supporting the Regular Army, with a more robust approach to Military Annual Training Tests (MATTs) a suitable starting point, especially considering physical fitness can be worked on in reservists’ spare time. Whilst FR2020 was a good start to this process, at this point it serves as a policy document not been acted upon by any stakeholder. ...