Operational Effectiveness of the Armed Forces

February/March 2023

New Chief of Defence People refuses to meet with IDA.

In what can only be interpreted as a closed mentality in the face of tumbling recruiting/retention figures, dissatisfaction being expressed on military attitude surveys and repeated bad news stories in the media, an offer by the IDA to speak to the new Chief of Defence People, Vice Admiral Phil Hally, has been rebuffed.  This is in sharp contrast to the Rt Hon Dr Andrew Murrison, Minister for Defence People, Veterans and Service Families, and the Rt Hon Johnny Mercer, Cabinet Office Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, who have met with the IDA in the past six months. This does not augur well for the willingness of the most senior military person responsible for manpower/personnel issues within the MoD and Armed Forces to really understand the issues facing their people and embrace the changes needed and recommended by multiple reviews – including the need for a truly independent defence authority. The IDA recommends that this refusal to engage is taken up by the House of Commons Defence Select Committee and  we will discuss at our next Parliamentary engagement.

Senior military officers contradict current MoD policy on rape reporting.

The MoD has ignored several high level reports (which we have covered previously) which recommend that all alleged rapes carried out by serving military against other military should be tried in civilian courts; instead the Royal Military Police (RMP) handle nearly all cases. Last year, His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) issued a damning report on the ability of the RMP to carry out investigations into rapes and sexual offences. More recently, the Centre for Military Justice also condemned the MoD for continuing to insist on retaining the current investigation and courts processes internally, despite evidence of poor performance.

In what can only be viewed as a literal ‘break with ranks’, Lt Col Rebecca Macklin, lead officer for Diversity and Inclusion at Army HQ, at the Army Servicewomen’s Network conference in March 2023, encouraged victims to report all rapes and sexual assault to the civilian police.  She also reminded all military personnel that the chain of command was not to be involved under any circumstances in the reporting of sexual offences, inferring that this is still common practice, despite policies and procedures being put in place in 2022 to remove the chain of command. Lt Col Macklin also admitted she had suffered sexual harassment on many occasions.  She was backed by comments by Commander of the Field Army, Lieutenant-General Ralph Wooddisse, who said, ‘there was a determination that he had not seen before at the senior end (of the military) to right the wrongs of the past’. The IDA is pleased to hear this change of heart within MoD, but points out these issues are not only historical, but on-going, as Lt Col Macklin has made clear.


CPS review on where sexual assault cases may be handled – a small ray of light.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and Service Prosecuting Authority (SPA) are conducting a public consultation on proposed revisions to the CPS-SPA Protocol regarding the exercise of criminal jurisdiction in England and Wales (the Protocol). This Protocol has been agreed between the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the Director of Service Prosecutions (DSP) pursuant to s.320A of the Armed Forces Act 2006 (AFA 06). In essence, this is a consultation which will examine where serious military criminal cases, including rape and sexual assaults, will be heard in the future. The consultation period is open until 20th April 2023. Sarah Atherton MP continues to raise concerns on behalf of women in defence and has now set up an All-Party Parliamentary Group to represent serving and veteran women. IDA will be contributing to the public consultation.


Logic suggests the establishment of a Defence Serious Crime Unit is fundamentally flawed.


The building blocks of the new Defence Serious Crime Unit are individuals from the Service Police. These are the same individuals who have failed culturally in their single service environments and whose professional standards have been criticised by the HMICFRS. Caseloads will never be the same as Home Officer Police forces. Consequently, experience can never be gained, so, in essence, the building blocks for the foundations of the new unit are flawed. It is never sensible to build on flawed foundations and a new sign and new unit won’t fix the underlying flaws identified in HH Judge Lyons review, Sarah Atherton Parliamentary Review of 2021 and the HMICFRS inspection. It is time for the MoD to be properly called out for continual deckchair moving by way of obfuscation and delay, because in reality they achieve nothing. It is the victims of crime that pay the price.

Two more Reviews being launched into welfare provision for veterans – and veterans try their own approach.

On 2 March 2023 the MoD and Office of Veterans Affairs (OVA) announced a major review into welfare services for veterans. The scope of this is to examine the effectiveness and efficiency of welfare services and make recommendations for improvements with an action plan and the welcome announcement of £33M funding to support veterans. The work is being conducted by an ‘independent’ civil servant and is expected to take three months.  IDA shares the view of many service personnel that another review is not needed and that evidence has already been presented multiple times, on the failings of services such as VeteransUK. For example, in January 2022, OVA published the Veterans’ Strategy Action Plan 2022-2024  – is it so flawed and out of date that just over a year later, another review has to be launched?   


On 6 March 2023, OVA announced its intention to publish a Women’s Veterans’ Strategy designed to look at the specific needs and challenges faced by women veterans. Areas set to be evaluated are mental health, physical welfare & employment. Many questions are begged here – why nothing specific previously and why only belatedly taking heed of the 2021 Parliamentary report on Women in the Armed Forces.  In a recent statement, Help for Heroes whilst welcoming this strategy, called upon the Government to ensure that it includes addressing the disproportionate rates of musculoskeletal injuries & sexual harassment experienced and how this impacts women veterans. 

The IDA hopes that these latest announcements will actually produce actionable recommendations – too many times veterans’ expectations have been falsely raised, to the point that some are now working with their MPs, to bring a Private bill to Parliament – thebill is now making its way through the House of Lords, but there is anticipation that the current Secretary of State for Defence will block it.


Short memories by some? Sandhurst is now to be ‘upheld as a paragon of virtue’ – so soon after an inquest into a death found serious failings on site.  

The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS) has publicised on its website that it is, “paving the way for culture change across the Army through its transformation programme”, which began back in September 2022 under its new Commandant Major-General Zac Stenning. This transformation, part of wider changes taking place across Defence, has seen changes to the policies on alcohol, the creation of the sexual harassment task force and a new code of conduct.” The Secretary of State, the Rt Hob Ben Wallace, after a visit on 30th March 2023 stated, “Vital work has been done to create a more diverse, inclusive, and supportive culture at Sandhurst and across our Armed Forces. “

There was no mention of the service inquiry report issued in late 2022 into the death of Olivia Perks, an officer cadet, who died at Sandhurst in 2019, that revealed an institutionally toxic culture of sexual assault that had been allowed to persist at RMAS. It reported that nearly 200 women, over 20 years, have sought help after suffering sexual abuse while training at Sandhurst. Compounding this, some of these women, and elsewhere in the military, have been deliberately misdiagnosed by military Departments of Community Mental Health as having emotionally unstable personality disorders and subsequently medically discharged.   


Royal Navy investigation into misogyny branded a whitewash by victims.

In late October, the media focused heavily on the sexual harassment, verbal abuse and bullying suffered by females on submarines at the hands of male colleagues.  The First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Ben Key, ordered an investigation into these allegations and that, “Anyone found culpable will be held accountable for their actions regardless of their rank and status”. However, the investigation underway has been condemned by victims providing evidence as a whitewash with one of the key victims, Sophie Brook, withdrawing her participation. The RAF investigation into misconduct into the Red Arrows has also been deemed a whitewash by the 43 personnel who raised the complaint – yet again, the MoD is allowed to mark its own homework internally, despite promises by senior officers that the investigations will be swift and independent. In both these high-profile cases, neither assertion has been achieved


Recruitment and Retention Figures – and the call for ‘ideas.’

Reading back the IDA reporting, over the last 12 months, it is unsurprising that we are now seeing an exodus from the military of key personnel – we have seen little will from senior leadership to take actionable measures, other than producing policy. From procurement debacles to ongoing and unresolved sexual harassment, bullying and harassment allegations – the list is long. Underpinned by poor accommodation, meals, low pay and poor equipment and procurement commitments, it is hardly surprising that the numbers willing to serve are dwindling. Given this statistic just shows overall numbers, and we also know that around 10% of serving military are sick or injured, it is past time for an independent watchdog to formally monitor defence and mandate changes, where the will of senior leaders is lacking. The IDA is pleased to see that there is now a call for ideas, to start to turn around defence operational effectiveness. We will be contributing.

Call for submissions to shape the next Defence Command Paper. https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/call-for-submissions-to-shape-the-next-defence-command-paper