Minutes of the All Party Group for Reserve Forces and Cadets Meeting on 22nd March 2011
David McGinnis – Principal Deputy Assistant, Secretary of Defence for Reserve Affairs
Julian Brazier MP - Chairman
Madeleine Moon MP - Vice Chairman
David Davis MP
Andrew Selous MP
Bernard Jenkin MP
Richard Drax MP
Col (Retd) Hugh Purcell - Honorary Clerk
Assistant Chief of Defence Staff Reserves & Cadets UK MoD
Brigadier Reserves Australian Armed Forces
Brigadier Reserves UK Land Forces
Chairman’s Opening Remarks.
The Chairman opened the meeting by welcoming his good friend Dave McGinnis who would talk about the US Reserves in Afghanistan and offer some lessons for the UK. He introduced him as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserves, whom he had first met when he was the brains behind the National Guard lobby that challenged the Pentagon and changed US thinking on the issue of Reserves. In addition to accomplishing many things, he had been a Green Beret in Vietnam and, unusually, had been decorated for valour by both the US Army and Navy. An active Democrat, he had been brought out of retirement to assist in Obama’s election campaign and was now part of the Administration and close to the President’s inner circle.
The Deputy Assistant Secretary thanked the Chairman and said it was always a huge pleasure to be in the UK; that they had known each other for some time and corresponded regularly. The UK had a warm place in his heart because as a student of American history he had retired to Williamsburg, Virginia, the original colonial capital, where he supported the Williamsburg Foundation that worked hard to educate America on its heritage and the original connections with England. So when the Chairman had invited him he thought he would fit in because of the strong ties with the greatest Virginian, George Washington, who had been a first cousin of the Queen. Another fact was that the Reserves concept evolved from Colonial Governor Robert Dinwiddie’s creation of the first Virginia Regiment in the 1750s. This was the first militia organised around ‘continental lines’ and two regiments were created, both of which fought in the Seven Years War. Virginia and Massachusetts, along with a few other States, had a deep militia heritage.
He thought the US and UK had been ‘on the same page’ since Iraq and Afghanistan and now in Libya. While flying over he guessed that the White House and 10 Downing Street had still been negotiating and discussing and that not all had been cordial. So when the Chairman handed him over to MoD, he was still getting updates on what was happening and on hearing that his old friend Susan Rice had pushed through a UN resolution, he had said to a young man, “I guess we are allies again”. He believed that despite the warm relationship, disagreements would always play a part, as some things had to be done together and could not be done apart.
The modern US National Guard emerged after WWI when Congress wanted to preserve the experience of some 1.7m veterans returning from France. A Congressional Act of 1920 restructured the Guard and created the Reserves as they are known today. However, lack of funding prevented the perfect solution and although many continued to train and perform, in 1920 out of the 1.7m, only about 320,000 Guardsmen were activated and 280,000 accepted by the Army. Some 250,000 of these went on to fill leadership positions in the Army during WWII with something similar happening in the Reserves; in 20 years it had become an effective system. The aftermath of 9/11 then created operational pressures that forced the Regular, National Guard and the Reserve components to work together more than they had at the end of the Cold War and after it entered Iraq the US came to rely even more on the Guard and the Reserve. By the third rotation they accounted for some 51% of the overall force and about 35% of the combat force on the ground; they have always contributed about a third of the combat air forces and a large proportion of the tactical airlift in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Tactical airlift has an established structure, manned on a rotational basis by all three components of the Air Force so that at any one time the Regulars, the Guard, or the Reserve are in command; aircrews and support personnel come and go in the same way. This is an on-going effort and about 30% of fighter aircraft and most of the heavy bombers currently supporting troops out of Diego Garcia are Air Force Reserve. To enable this a Governors’ Council was established about a year ago to help overcome Service obstacles by increasing contact between the States and the DoD and providing direct access for all to the Secretary. For example, at a recent meeting Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, had said that he had wanted to discuss educational standards where it was affecting military children as they moved back and forth across the country. However, beforehand he had said that in his judgement, the US could not have done what it had since 9/11, or would be able to do what it needed to do in the future without regular access to the Guard.
They had attempted to come up with a rotation system for Iraq and Afghanistan based on three years for the active component and five for the Guard and Reserves, with each rotation limited to one year and at least 180 days’ notification of mobilisation, by decree of the Secretary of Defence. This had happened as a result of recognition earlier in the decade of the needs of both Reservists and employers to plan and adjust and this included family. The DoD now recognises that both elements are key to a successful Reserve component.
Another thing learned over this period was that there are active duty folks, reserve folks and civilians and there is now a civilian expeditionary force of contractors and hundreds of thousands of volunteers that include the families and employers of Guardsmen and Reservists as well as people who work diligently in each State to operate employer support. It is in this context that brigades and battalions work side by side with the active component and do great work. Right now a Californian National Guard brigade and aviation brigade are replacing an active brigade in Afghanistan. One benefit of calling up a Reservist or Guardsman is that you get a professional soldier, a citizen, an entrepreneur and whatever the individual or group of people are trained to do in civilian life. Inevitably those serving in the Reserve or Guard are at, or above, the democratic centre in terms of their economic contribution outside of the military. For example an Adjutant General of the Oklahoma National Guard Association and an old fighter pilot had shown him declassified pictures of a tower in Iraq taken during Southern Watch and before 9/11. The Iraqis had been using a signal off the tower to track US aircraft and the active air force had bombed it repeatedly, but to no effect. Then a Guard squadron arrived from Oklahoma with a unique ‘lightning sensor system’ bought from the Israelis and two structural engineers among its fighter pilots. Combining their civilian expertise with the lightning system, they took out two of the tower’s four anchors and let the wind do the rest. There are many stories like this that demonstrate the value of the Guard and Reserves.
One thing the National Guard does in Afghanistan is to engage non-kinetically with the Afghans and there are 15 agricultural development teams working hard alongside former Soviet bloc countries under State/NATO partnership agreements. They also provide liaison teams to these countries to help them to send forces and police training teams and the Guard is now looking to engage at Afghan provincial level. He was discussing setting up such relationships between Afghan provinces and some US states to take advantage of the partnership programme and had had a call that morning from an advisor to the NATO Ambassador about how to persuade ‘the powers that be’ to pursue this avenue.
They had also set up crisis business rules relating to Libya, as it had become apparent when responding to the Haiti earthquake that Reservists and Guardsmen, primarily Guardsmen, had entered the fray without the approval or authorisation of Secretary Gates. Having explained to the Secretary that the precedent that Guardsmen and Reserves would do such things on a regular basis had been established during situations over the preceding two decades, he (Gates) wanted to understand it better and to establish a set of rules. Basically, he agreed to the provision of small numbers for any future crisis as the Reserve components had the capacity as well as capabilities, such as special operations, to deal with the media. In short, while crisis response belongs to the active component, that is why the US has Regulars, after about 60 days they start planning to bring in Reservists and Guardsmen. Hence the need for a set of business rules, which he thought were now an instrument of value to the Reserves’ contribution.
It was not just about the Reserves being cheaper, although one could make arguments either way that they save a large amount of money and he would share the facts contained in a study he had just finished directing, with the MoD and, through the Chairman, with Parliament, once the Secretary had given his approval. One thing the study had realised was the need for a value equation as well as simple cost analysis, because when they focussed on output, one of the things the Army expected was the ability to keep a unit on the ground on a rotational basis. So they had gone back and calculated the cost of this for a nine month period and found that over the course of their defence planning the Reserves could do it cheaper by about 10%. However, the real value added to the process was that on a five year rotation they found they could increase the strategic staff by two battalions and two brigades depending on what was provided. So they decided to look at value or cost benefit rather than straight cost analysis, as the latter, once you take the Reserve components out of the strategic role, did not have much relevance.
Another thing about the process he had been through over the past two years was the need to understand what they had never envisioned, hence the force they ended up with was not the force they had planned; it had changed dramatically. It also led him to believe that the general lack of strategic thought and acumen in recent times found them in the situation they were in today and he hoped they could now move in a positive direction; he knew the President and his key advisors were working very hard on this. However, beyond these few people, Marshall was the only one they had had. He did not know if this had been the case over generations, but from his study and experience he blamed the lack of broader strategic understanding today on this fact.
The Chairman referred to the recent RUSI conference when a senior RAF reservist highlighted a comment from an ex RAF regular who had served in the Middle East as a reservist. He had said that only after the American and Canadian reservists discovered that he too was a reservist, did they agreed to include him in conversations on how to find out of the box solutions to problems.
Question 1 – David Davis MP thanked the Assistant Secretary for a fascinating talk and stated that since the banking crisis The Treasury was making the decisions. He asked if he had done any hard study of the costs and effectiveness of reserves versus regular forces because it was this argument that would win at the end of the day. He remembered reading two decades ago about the speed the National Guard had got up to regular standards and wanted to know if the study had identified comparative costs and comparative effectiveness.
The Assistant Secretary replied that there had been difficulty getting the Services to comment even though Secretary Gates had asked the same question. However, they had succeeded and there was work in Annex 2 of the study that looked at this. Because he was unable to get the Services to concur, they had documented all the processes and given the Secretary a road to follow. J8 had produced a wonderful product that provided the base line for all deployment costs, so if the Secretary approved the study there would be an agreed process to come up with the numbers. The first thing to look at was how often one expected to deploy – if one did not expect commitments like the US, then it was a simple rule of thumb that reserves on the army side, non flying reserves, would cost somewhere between 12 and 15% of an active unit, most of the savings coming from payroll. If you equipped units with the same kit, there was no saving. As regards training, they found that reserve units conducted about 60% of the training that active units did collectively even though they only trained one weekend a month and at summer camp. The real savings were in payroll for a ground unit, as a flying unit cost about 30% more, but if one flew an equipped flying unit off a civilian airfield and not a military base, one could share the support and infrastructure costs with the community or the operator for that 30%. They had worked with this rule of thumb for years. For quicker access, they were looking on the groundside at a standard organisation for active and reserve units with modular plugs in both that would create savings and still maintain a level of proficiency where one could mobilise them quickly. One did this by establishing the standard to achieve and a readiness-testing programme for both the active and reserve components to use. Another way to leverage ones investment was to partner active with reserve units. They had done this during the Cold War, when one of the three brigades in every division was National Guard. It trained with the division who established the training standards and evaluated it. Interestingly, an air force friend who was rushed to Kuwait in 1990, became the number two in the host nations support contract process because of his extensive experience and attended all of General Schwarzkop’s briefings. After the war the General briefed the Armed Services Committee ‘on the record’ that from everything he had learned and regardless of what some might say, one could keep Guard and Reserve brigades in a state of readiness where one could get them to anywhere from between 30 to 60 days, for a reasonable price. However, as the Air Force say, one has to train to objective standards of readiness and be assessed, to make it work, but if you have both it will happen.
The Chairman observed that the idea of a universal standard to test against had happened in the UK, but was derailed by TA units using shooting, the main activity available, and persuading the Regulars to have standardised tests for them both, but in direct competition. Regarding whether a brigade should be at 30 days or 90 days’ notice, an Army 3 star general had recently produced a paper that said it would take up to 29 months to get a TA battalion up to scratch for Afghanistan.
Question 2 – Bernard Jenkin MP was interested in the lack of strategic thinking in Washington and the strategic disconnect between what Government thinks is strategic thinking and what they do, which is often something completely different and disconnected. This became apparent during the recent emergency in Libya, when the UK could not find pilots to fly aircraft to evacuate people, which was all to do with insurance for civilian personnel. If there had been a list of reservist pilots, who could for example pilot a chartered aircraft into a warzone, there would not have been a problem. Therefore, what sort of engine room did the US have to think through these problems, who was in it and how did one make them think outside the box.
The Assistant Secretary replied that it became apparent with the decision to go into Iraq, when he and General Anthony Zinni, a fellow Virginian, had firmly believed it was the wrong place, wrong time and for the wrong reason and had worked hard to try to change President Bush’ mind. Once Saddam’s statue had been pulled down, the end of formal military resistance, the military had decided it was time to go home. However, he knew from studying WWII and WWII that wars did not conclude at that point or in that way. WW2 did not end until they had gone a long way to implementing the Marshall Plan and had a firm grip on the new constitution for Japan. Wars do not end until there is a social, political and economic structure for the defeated people. Failure to understand this was a common criticism at the end of WWI, which nobody in the US had grasped. When Susan Rice called him out of retirement to assist with the America Primaries, there had been a debate about the surge and he had said to Senator Obama that colonels and generals talked about surges, presidents did not. Presidents should deal with strategic power and put out objectives to guide people on how to manage their resources. He then answered Obama’s question about whether economics was the number one element of National Power with a question – was the British Empire built in Fleet Street or Whitehall, to which Obama told his now deputy security advisor Dennis McDonald – ‘make sure this gets into my economics speech for next week’. The reality was the US still did not have collective grasp of this within their systems, key people in key positions did, but the systems did not produce people who thought that way and this was a concern. This would take time and he had not got a grasp of strategy until asked to criticize defence papers submitted to the Economics Association some 15 years ago, which although not an economist, was the start of his understanding of strategy.
Question 3 - Richard Drax MP asked that bearing in mind it all came down to money, was there a financial level below which the military and its advisors would say they could not go. When he was serving in the 1980s, 5% of GDP was spent on Defence but it was now just over 2% and going down. The UK could no longer afford its regulars or its commitments. Would he, if advising Mr Cameron, say that this was the case and that the UK could no longer do all the things it thinks it should do.
The Assistant Secretary thought the UK would need to look at this, as three sets of resource needed to be brought together to create military power; capital investment which is primarily equipment and partially installations, human capital and then the money that one invests in the operations of the humans. Together these created units. The US was looking at how to make the wisest capital investment in equipment and bases over time. Currently they had heavy and light brigades, but he thought they needed less of the former and more of the latter. There was also the information age, which had become apparent to him when Vice Chairman Bill Owens had come up with the concept of the ‘Revolution of Military Affairs’. Until the 1990s they were still building units based on the age of musketry, when sensors, smart weapons, the speed and size of the battlefield, changed matters dramatically, driving the importance of combat platforms. Ground and air platforms declined dramatically, as much because of smart bullets and sensors and their linking and one did not necessarily need an aeroplane that was better performing than the other guy’s if one can get close enough with an extremely good missile. This evolution was also being seen in ground vehicles and he thought two things would happen: units would get smaller and more lethal, that is the history of warfare and every time one created a smart system requiring less people to operate, or more force from less people, money would be saved. However, what really happens is that one needs equipment that is more complicated, more maintenance and more technicians in support. In future, one will need to be able to engage other forces using less personnel and equipment by focussing on sensors and tutors rather than on platforms and volumes of people. For maritime security on a ship you could probably reduce from 500 to 150 men, similar reductions were possible in airplanes flying from home stations because they are semi autonomous unmanned vehicles, or small combat arms battalions that can generate tremendous force using smart weapons and lasers brought in from the sky. However, for population control you still needed masses of people. Therefore, he would suggest retuning a reaction force in line with the information age, leveraging the efficiencies that it provides and keeping the mass in the reserve components. Traditional investment may not be the best way to go and he would ask many questions about the need to continue making these same investments. For example, one of the most inefficient airplanes ever built was the C5; the 747 is about the most efficient, so why continue to fly C5s. They could create more combat power out of an A10 than they could out of a battalion of tanks with smart bullets. It was simple and he could prove it in a war game. This was the new dynamic and the reality is war has changed.
The Chairman responded saying all of this was fascinating and exactly what Richard Williams had said a couple of months ago and written in his paper – yet he had never introduced them.
Madeleine Moon MP liked what the assistant secretary had said about flexibility and adaptability and agreed that there were critical obstacles in the UK that needed to be removed. The Taliban had taught us about flexibility, adaptability and that low tech could be devastating and she was particularly interested in the use of reservists and the National Guard to provide mass. The UK did not have that history and reserve forces as regards most of the population lay beneath the radar. They knew reserve forces existed, but they were mostly still seen as home guard. The challenge was to find a new role for reservists, integrating them with the traditional reserve forces, such as civil defence, police, police reserves, coastguards, all the ‘blue light’ services, without causing anxiety and alienation. She wondered if the US Governor’s Council was the type of model to adopt, as it involved the local government leadership in the wider discussion of all reserve forces. Currently, there was no ‘buy in’ by the UK civil powers into any aspect of defence other than flag raising and civic occasions.
The Assistant Secretary said he had a discussed this with the MoD and his question to them was what was the next level below the PM responsible for defence. The answer was the Cabinet, a good place to start and it was essential to involve them in this process. The National Guard was the first responder to the first responders and the only way was to build a relationship on that as well as horizontal relationships with the other agencies that provide a wide range of services. Jointly exercising plans develops that relationship, which is not only essential for the reservists, but for all of the military services. He said there were three thousand communities in America that had national guard army and air bases and probably 5 or 6 senior officers in each of those units who could answer as the local military expert in that town. This is the relationship they had and that is what he would strive for in building a relationship.
The Chairman thought these were two very interesting points to end with, as the Reserves Study was looking at the need to respond to local emergencies because the processes were unbelievably bureaucratic and unless there was a direct threat to life, it required the Secretary of States’ approval to release a person with a Land Rover. Regarding the wider point of connecting with communities, Madeleine’s Moon had been spot on. Despite this meeting competing with Robin Ashby’s show and Julian Lewis’s book launch, nine Parliamentarians had attended, which was a good turnout for an All Party Group. He closed the meeting by thanking the Assistant Secretary for giving such an interesting talk, a perspective from America, and for being a very good friend to this country as well to himself.
Col (Retd.) Hugh Purcell OBE DL, Honorary Clerk to the APGRF&C.