The devastating death of Jethro Watson-Pickering in a Warrior fighting vehicle on Salisbury Plain on Friday has saddened everyone in the military community, but the tragic accident should not be used by those seeking to dilute the army’s capability as an excuse to make further cuts.
Throughout my time in the army, people on the touchline tried to lower the standards of training. Sometimes this was for politically correct reasons, so that lower grade applicants could reach the graduation threshold, but often it was because behind-the-scenes accountants wished to impose a moratorium on activity to save money.
There are some very hard choices being discussed in the Ministry of Defence at this moment. Unfortunately, with a Royal Navy Chief of Defence Staff (and Chief of Joint Operations), land capabilities are behind maritime and air power. The questions doing the rounds are: should we reduce the numbers of soldiers (and commandos), walk away from the army’s premier equipment project (Ajax), or dilute the highest level of training for war (tank to tank fighting)?
When this sort of discussion was held in the past, I reminded the audience of Kofi Anan’s thoughts as the United Nations Secretary General: “In Eastern Slavonia, we deployed a force of heavily mechanised infantry and helicopter gunships. We went in with such strength that we didn’t have to use force and we successfully fulfilled the mandate.” Or, as a senior officer exclaimed in the 1980s, “Clout, Don’t Dribble!”
Effective deterrence and conflict prevention require credible land forces, not shop-window dressing, so we must resist the Machiavellian plotting against the army and save our soldiers.