According to the newly appointed head of our armed forces, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, the British military has a problem. Luckily, he knows exactly what it is.
I thought I did too, but evidently I was wrong. As a rank amateur in matters martial, I focused on incidentals at the expense of the crux of the matter. For example, I noticed that HMG was treating the defence budget as a salami, to be sliced until nothing is left.
As a result, the numerical strength of our army currently stands at 75,000, compared to 250,000 in 1813. Yes, I know Britain was at war at the time, but then the country’s population was less than 30 per cent of what it is today.
Embarrassingly, the tests of our new battle tank had to be discontinued. Turns out it can’t travel safely at more than 20 mph, reverse over obstacles higher than eight inches or fire its cannon when moving. It also vibrates like a pneumatic drill, making it impossible for the crew to stay in for more than 90 minutes. Other than that, it’s just perfect.
In 2018, the army got the present of a new assault rifle, the SA80. Rather than being grateful, soldiers describe it as the worst rifle ever. The SA80 is like a weaponised civil servant, they say: “it doesn’t work, and it can’t be fired.”
Sir Tony’s previous bailiwick, the Royal Navy, can no longer fulfil its brief of ruling the waves. When it did, the rule of thumb was that it should outnumber the combined force of any two potential adversaries. Today it’s outnumbered even by the French navy, for the first time since Trafalgar, or Mers-el-Kébir if you’d rather.
After much hand-wringing we finally managed to commission our second aircraft carrier (the US has 11), only to find that, having failed to replace the Harrier, we had no planes to put on it. That rather defeats the purpose, this amateur would suggest.
So on and so forth, this story of woe can continue. Indeed, Sir Tony agrees that the state of our armed forces is “woeful”. But, being a high-ranking professional, my fellow Russian can put his finger right on the most salient issue. (Frankly, I don’t know if he is of Russian origin. His surname certainly is.)
In his first post-appointment speech, Sir Tony stated that the British military runs the “risk of looking ridiculous”. Why? Because of anything I’ve mentioned? No, don’t be silly.
Our military, explains Sir Tony, suffers from “the woefulness of too few women” – it doesn’t reflect “the diversity of our nation”. Actually this type of diversity, a more or less even split between men and women, isn’t unique to our nation, but no fighting force in the world reflects it faithfully. Still, “this [imbalance] affects our culture, our fighting power, our prowess.”
Anticipating likely sneers by the likes of me, Sir Tony denied he is woke. It’s not about “wokefulness” but “woefulness”, he explained. Or, put another way, the woefulness of wokefulness.
Now, an amateur in such matters I may be, but I have studied a small library of books on the theory and practice of warfare. And not a single one has ever suggested that a low number of female soldiers makes an army less powerful. In fact, many argued exactly the opposite.
This isn’t a debate I’m really qualified to join, although on general principle I can see how women can prove a distraction in the armed forces. They certainly distract me even in much less stressful situations and, unlike our soldiers, I’m not in the first, nor indeed second, flush of youth.
Studies have shown that male soldiers are more likely to slow their advance to help a wounded woman than a man. That’s partly because, if taken prisoner, a woman is practically guaranteed to suffer a fate worse than just the squalor of a POW camp.
Also, over a lifetime of intensive hands-on study, I’ve discovered that women are physiologically different from men, even though these findings now seem downright reactionary. Penelope, for example, needs my help to remove screw tops from bottles. She may be an exception, but surely women are much weaker than men on average.
Are they up to the rigours of service in modern armed forces? Israel, which arguably has the best army in the world, does conscript women, but then she is outnumbered more than 10 to one by those who publicly define their goal as “driving Israel into the sea”.
Yet even in that army, strapped for personnel though it is, 96 per cent of the women only serve in ‘combat-support’, not as frontline troops. But then I’m sure Sir Tony knows something about women’s hidden strengths that the Israeli generals don’t.
Sir Tony has correctly identified Russia as a “threat to our values and interests”. Yet to deter that threat Britain has so far been able to post fewer than 1,000 soldiers in Poland and the Baltics. They are supposed to act as a tripwire, except that it’s unclear what sort of action their certain death would trigger.
I don’t know how many of them are women, but in case of a Russian offensive their future looks gruesome. If you wonder how gruesome, read any book on the Soviet occupation of Germany, such as Antony Beevor’s Berlin: The Downfall 1945.
P.S. The Meteo Office believes the current storm may subside by Christmas. “So perhaps there is hope for a calmer end to the year.” Perhaps? Hope? One detects some uncertainty there. But then we know how hard it is to forecast weather a fortnight ahead. Centuries ahead is much easier.