It follows reports of plans to bring all three services more closely together in a cost-cutting exercise ahead of the impending Integrated Security, Defence and Foreign Policy review. According to senior sources, moves under consideration could see a joint budget, more centralised control and the culling of top brass carrying out duplicate roles across headquarters of all three branches. Though the plans takes inspiration from Canada, which fused its services into a single defence force in 1968, all three branches would maintain their separate identities.
Instead, they would build on moves already begun, such as amalgamation of regiments into super battalions, the unified defence medical service and joint helicopter command.
Under current rules, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace works with Permanent Under Secretary of Defence Sir Stephen Lovegrove to calculate how much money each service chief should have from the Ministry of Defence’s annual £41.3bn budget.
If the proposals are accepted, a centralised needs-based budget would spell the end of “budget envy” between the services and hastening inter-branch cooperation because, sources say, services would no longer have to weight up the cost to their individual budgets.
Savings would come from greater efficiencies and the culling of generals, admirals and air commodores based at Andover, Portsmouth and High Wycombe with a long-saving of hundreds of millions of pounds in gold-plated pension pots.
But last night retired Maj Gen David Fraser who, during the Afghanistan conflict became the first Canadian to lead US troops since the Second World War, argued Britain must embrace a fully unified approach if it hoped to tackle daily security challenges as well as “once in every 30 year events”.
Defence chief Ben Wallace is developing a centralised ‘work-kitty’
“We’ve spent the last 40 years unwinding our merger – it did not work,” he said.
“The problem is that we didn’t embrace the cultural changes and take them to their logical conclusion, which would have a United States Marine Corpse model.
“We tried to have a single, green uniform, but it did not last long.
“By adopting half measures, we did not save money and did not achieve the strategic objectives of providing a smaller, agile force which was what the politicians wanted. It has meant a gradual rollback and we have ended up where we started, with an essentially separate army and Air Force and a very complicated procurement system.“
He said Britain should adopt the model used by the 190,000-strong US Marine Corps.
Britain is being encouraged to follow the US marine model
“In the Marine Culture, you’re a Marine first, and an aviator or tanker second. Had we adopted that culture we would have succeeded,” he said.
“But Britain has already begun the process. What the UK has done with force amalgamation in the Scottish regiments and the Rifles has maintained heritage while creating a new chapter in amalgamation. It’s culturally sophisticated and effective and Canada has never tried that.”
He said such a move would not only save money, but also enhance efficiency.
He added: “The force structures in the UK and Canada still very much resemble those that you need once in every three decades. We still have a lot of artillery and tank regiments and infantry battalions, but not enough cyber units, and not enough soft skill units.
“Essentially there will be two types of US Marine: the one who goes outside the wire and the one which stays inside the wire. One carries a rucksack and one works in a black room, but they’re equally important in providing the capability to support the nation at home and abroad.”
The idea of more amalgamation was also backed by Gen Sir Richard Barrons, Britain’s Joint Forces Commander until 2016.
“The US Marine Corps approach is dangerous nonsense,” he said.
“The proven truth is that the services have different cultures and histories because they work in different environments and that makes them effective. The trick is not to neuter them and end up with a vanilla outcome, but to make them complimentary and subordinate to an overarching defence design rather than an old fashioned competition for resources and influence.”
He added: “We are already in a transition from a state where three services choose to turn up and combine, to a joint-by-design model.
Calls for the RAF, pictured, British Army and Royal Navy to create a unified force
“But we must go further. Why have three intelligence services when you should have one? Why have three fundamentally separate logistic systems where we should have one?“
One way would be to empower the Chief of the Defence Staff, Gen Sir Nick Carter.
“We must remove the duplication by the service headquarters, which are, in my view, big, flabby and hugely old fashioned. There is room for greater economies of scale.
“Joint forces command, which I led, was a step forwards, but the services still guard their own budgets jealously and are locked in an arrangement which is both competitive and cooperative.
“The money should be allocated not to the service chiefs but to the Chief of the Defence Staff, whose role has been deliberately diluted.”