Operational Effectiveness of the Armed Forces – update
January 2023 Update
State of Play As 2023 Begins
As we enter a new year, we must not lose sight of the horrors of the Ukraine conflict and commend the support and contribution of the Secretary of State for Defence and the UK Armed Forces for the brave Ukrainian Armed Forces and Ukrainian people. We can only hope that the conflict will be brought to a swift conclusion, on Ukrainian terms. We also recognise the support of the Armed Forces to help maintain vital public services and across their holiday break. The demands placed on our Armed Forces personnel and the worsening state of their accommodation in the UK is likely to feed into a retention issue in the next 12 months.
Looking ahead in 2023, the IDA will continue to work to provide a voice for those silenced by current Defence rules – and to act as the watchdog for Defence in the UK (in the absence of any formal system).
Failure to provide independent and timely inquiries into sexual misconduct.
Over the past six months, reflecting a combination of increased media exposure and a small, but, increasing, number of victims feeling more confident to go public, there has been a steady stream of alarming stories involving poor treatment of women in the RAF Red Arrows and the Royal Navy Submarine service. Investigations have remained in house, slow, and the victims have not been kept informed of any progress. The Royal Navy has gone silent on the inquiry into submariner rape threats. The sackings of Red Arrow pilots was discovered by the victims through media coverage – this inquiry has run for over 12 months and not reported back. More recently, there has been a disturbing story of ‘gaslighting’ of women and men who have reported rapes and finding the blame placed on them.
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11637329/Hundreds-female-members-Armed-Forces-raped-misdiagnosed-personality-disorder.html What does this show about the system? That the higher echelons, both civilian and military, despite some carefully choreographed soundbites about zero tolerance of inappropriate behaviours and largely repackaged policies, have neither the moral courage nor vision to see that only wholesale reform, with the creation of an IDA and amendments to the Armed Forces Bill, will really result in meaningful change. Cherry-picking only the Parliamentary Women in Defence Review recommendations that align with their limited ambitions cannot be allowed to persist. In essence, it is not the Secretary of State for Defence and his Ministerial team, nor the Defence People team nor
the Office of Veterans Affairs people who properly represent the voice of the serving and veteran military. These groups are representing the Government and MoD leadership – there is no advocate for those who serve – their only option is to leave – and they are doing so in alarming numbers.
Air Chief Marshall Sir Mike Wigston has said the investigation into the Red Arrows scandal is complete and issues resolved. The IDA understands differently and has a continuing number of cases associated to the Red Arrows and other element of the RAF, as well as cases in the RN, Army and coming to the fore, the Special Forces. How many more of these does Defence want to be debated in the court of public opinion in the press and how many does it want to resolve effectively, quietly and supporting victims before they feel their only option is to go public?
As one ex-military and defence commentator, Dr Andrew Curtis OBE, wrote recently, “For many, the beginning of a New Year is the time for resolutions, for rethinking the ‘To Do’ list, and for committing to tackle those tasks that seem to have been forever consigned to the back burner… But what should Defence’s highest priority be for 2023?The list of potential candidates is long: securing sufficient funding to protect the Defence budget from inflation; providing a strong Defence input to the refresh of the Integrated Review; continuing to provide military support for Ukraine; or even getting to grips with the Equipment Plan. All these issues are extremely pressing and could be considered worthy contenders. In the opinion of onUKDefence, however, Defence’s highest priority in 2023 sits head and shoulders above them all. It’s the need to tackle, once and for all, the issue of sexual discrimination and misogyny in the armed forces.
The charity, Salute Her, would agree – it supports female veterans struggling after experiencing poor treatment during service – it now has over 3,000 women on its books, up from 250 only two years ago. The Charity receives 10 referrals a week from women who were historically or recently raped. The treatment of veterans, especially those suffering with physical and medical issues caused through their service, continues to be sub-optimal, making them double victims, and most alarmingly, reflected in an above national level rate of suicide.
IDA meets Rt Hon Andrew Murrison MP – Minister for Defence People and Veterans Just before Christmas 2022, the Minister for Defence People and Veterans met with the IDA by way of introducing the organisations and highlighting issues across the Defence People and Veterans areas. He remained receptive and thanked the team for their inputs. Of note he was aware CAS had said the issues in the Red Arrows were sorted, but the IDA pointed to a new issue that would hit the headlines highlighting that his briefing was not accurate.
Opportunity for new Chief of Defence People to make a difference:
With a low bar set by his predecessor in rooting out toxic behaviours, implementing the recommendations of the Parliamentary Women in Defence and overhauling system and processes to provide unbiased justice for serving personnel and veterans alike, Vice Admiral Phil Hally has a large in-tray. His recent Twitter announcement is a minor step in the right direction; “Seen something unacceptable? Not sure what you can do? All personnel can find support and different ways to call out unacceptable behaviour – together, we can prevent it from occurring. Visit the NEW Call it out hub 👉 https://t.co/YTdkUD9O9u https://t.co/VlNmcLUNxB” / Twitter
Officer Training College, Sandhurst, is condemned for toxic culture of sexual assault – what hope?:
Precipitated by a service inquiry report into the death of Olivia Perks, an officer cadet, who died at Sandhurst in 2019, it was revealed that an institutionally toxic culture of sexual assault had been allowed to persist for years. Apparently 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, have been deliberately misdiagnosed by the military Departments of Community Mental Health as having emotionally unstable personality disorders and subsequently medically discharged. This is an appalling indictment of the very organisation that is supposed to set the standards for behaviours and leadership. It is likely that some of these rapists are still serving in the Armed Forces.
Unfortunately, the words of Chief of the General Staff, Gen Sir Patrick Sanders, that; “Those whose behaviour is found to be unacceptable or is in breach of our Values and Standards, or those who wilfully ignore or tolerate such behaviour, will be held to account” sound hollow. In response to the report on Sandhurst, the Secretary of State, Ben Wallace stated military instructors who start sexual relationships with young recruits could face jail within a year.
Veterans UK – yet another survey
In early November 2022, the Government launched the first ever UK-wide survey for veterans and their families. Funded and commissioned by the Office for Veterans’ Affairs, it is heralded as the first ever exercise to collect feedback from the entire veterans’ community across the UK. The ambition is to ensure the government can adapt services to better meet the needs of veterans and their families. To the IDA, this seems like a superfluous tick box exercise as there was an in depth (and damning) Parliamentary report in early 2022, which raised all the issues plus there is also the annual Veterans Customer Survey. This current cynical ploy, of repeating surveys, rather than taking action, must be stopped. If we see the long delays in terms of service persons’ suicides, this brings the numbers alive. Delays really do cost lives – we do not need more surveys into Veterans UK – those forced to claim pensions through this obstructive and slow system need to be offered a service – not blocked and treated with suspicion at each application.
It is time to think in lives that could be saved and not timeframes. Anecdotally we lose 1.4 veterans per week – 6 per month – so how many lost lives is an acceptable number before real action is taken and discussions stop – 36? (6 Months) 72 (1 year), these lives are in every MPs constituency, do they care?