After reading Marine H’s compelling article on the state of Royal Marines Commando training and the ‘Unfulfilled Potential’, there appeared obvious opportunities to expand on his points. As the standard and state of Commando Training is invariably the same, it seems the problem is not with the training, but with the new requirements of the contemporary environment. Commando Training Centre Royal Marines (CTCRM) continues to produce highly capable commandos. However, with Rusi’s recent deduction that ‘actors are increasingly turning to military action, combined with other levers of power’ the Future Commando Force concept will undoubtedly demand more of commandos to operate across operating levels and domains. CTCRM doesn’t necessarily cater for this in commando training. This article will look to identify opportunities to be more employable, but also seek to remedy the growing dissatisfaction with the Direct Specialisation Scheme, which sees Royal Marines (RM) forced into a career they did not want, nor envisage when they walked into the Careers Office.
As Marine H noted, CTCRM has long stood as a ‘bench mark for elite training’. No one appears to dispute this. Some of the articles published on Puzzle Palace point towards a changing character of conflict which no longer sees the need for a basic rifleman/marine. This highlights that maybe training isn’t wrong, but the requirement is. The Corps long held maxim of a ‘Corps of specialists’ feels somewhat redundant today, with many of the skills seemingly not relatable to operations – at least the operations prospective RMs sign up too. Everyman/woman needs to offer specialist capabilities in today’s operational scenarios – War on the Rocks. So how do we (the RM) achieve that? With CTCRM providing a qualified commando status, it shows significant aptitude of its personnel. We can exploit this untapped potential through a continuation training pipeline. Once a marine passes out of CTCRM with his/her coveted Green Beret, they continue their training to be a multi skilled commando, but are still employed in an operational role- like they do currently.
Many tasks directed to the RM as ‘specialist’ by the RN are not necessarily appreciated as such by marines. Ships Force Protection Teams and Nuclear Protection tasks are perceived as boring and not “gucci”. It is not what they were sold in the Careers Office. Instead of seeing this as a negative, we can enhance it as a opportunity. Responsible for Nuclear Protection, 43 Commando has become an opportunity for marines looking to hone their skills with enhanced kit and equipment. However, the task remains unattractive and is perceived by some negatively. Moving the commitment of SFPT to 43 Commando would consolidate all the ‘unattractive’ roles into one establishment. This could be used as a continuation training facility, where all marines attend after passing commando training at CTCRM. 43 Commando would be where they earn their spurs and hone their specialist skills – closer to their forefathers at Achnacarry. Introducing four 3-month rotations (over 12-months), with 4 weeks on Operational tasks, 2 weeks Leave and 6 weeks Training would provide the opportunity to qualify newly trained commandos in extra unique skills. These can then be consolidated during the operational task periods. This would be unique to any organisation and prove RMs innovation. Figure 1.1 is an illustration of how it could look. Newly trained commandos would immediately enter an Ops period (at any point in the cycle), to start their apprenticeship and then move into Leave and Continuation Training. This way they would not miss any of the formalised training. The program could be on an annual cycle, so that personnel continue until they have completed the full continuation training cycle – some personnel may have to revise training serials. Only then can they graduate to 40, 42 or 45 Commando.
Fig1.1- Continuation Training Cycle (6 month example)
During the 24 weeks of training (Fig 1.1) a commando can expand their skills formally in specialisations such as Mortars, Heavy Weapons, SERE, Demolitions, CQB, insertion techniques and methods, driving and medical to name a few. Therefore, each commando will benefit from 6 months of specialist training, along with 4 months of operational task, to build their confidence and provide the mandated RN tasks. We can also incorporate formal training into the operational tasks, to relieve the boredoms associated with Nuclear Protection Ops. Some skills like CQB can be practised and formally trained on camp, as part of core operational requirements. While other periods can be used to learn theoretical skills: doctrine, languages, intelligence and Information Warfare. The key is that it must be formalised and recorded, so that every man/woman is trained to the same standard qualification. Noteworthy, this model allows personnel to achieve their 8 weeks leave provision. A graduated model could be exploited for SFPT, where ranks graduate from Nuclear Protection tasks onto deployed operations with SFPT, for a set period. After the continuation training pipeline, the marine will have learned more about his/herself and the roles which they may wish to pursue in the future, as a deep specialists. They would then leave 43 Commando to join a fighting unit (40, 42 or 45 Commando) with the exquisite skills required to immediately conduct operations suited to the current and future operating environment highlighted by Rusi and Defence.
Some specialisations are transitioning to RN and Army personnel who enlist to do them: Chef, Clerk, Stores Accountant etc. However, we cannot escape the need for some to remain commando trained. If we are going to truly be a Corps of specialists, every man must be a multi-skilled specialist. The above model goes some way to achieve this. However, we will still need to perform clerical duties, account for stores and communicate (plus others) to fulfil the wide remit of roles. During the 12-month continuation training, everyman should undergo the basic level of course/qualification to fulfil these roles. From this the Chain of Command can identify those with a flare or affinity for the roles, rather than indiscriminately “ping” personnel. Serious scrutiny must be applied to these courses, to ensure military propensity to shoe-horn 1 weeks tangible training into 4 weeks, does not occur. Courses must be lean and concise, to reflect the revised roles of FCF.
Fig 1.2 – Potential Specialist Skills
Figure 1.2 illustrates potential specialist skills that could be incorporated as a foundation for commandos continuation training at 43 Commando. The blue/yellow blend indicates opportunities to cover training during the operational periods (Nuclear Protection/SFPT), thereby saving time in the Training periods, to focus on practical skills off camp. Performance in these skills will offer opportunity for the individual and RM to identify where talent and affinity lies – which must be reported on and recorded. From this, when a commando arrives into a fighting unit (40, 42 and 45 Commando), the chain of command can further develop the commando, into a deep specialist – if appropriate. This may include linguists, JTAC/Air Controllers, Drone Operators, Engineering, Sniping, EW/Cyber, enhanced recce (Mountain Leader branch), Intel, Information and Coxswain etc.
The necessity for Stores Accountants and Clerks etc may still exist. However, relying on one in the Company is an unnecessary commitment. As all will be trained to a competent level, clerks and storemen per section/troop can be allocated, removing the need for company positions – who have faced the DSS system. These nominated ranks would be responsible for administrating and equipping their respective section/troop, alongside their other commando tasks. Their use at the section/troop level allows it to be managed more easily. These ranks would also be responsible for the Unit level requirements, better linking the Company activity to the Unit level and vice versa. This extra task is a positive in showing their extra capacity – a boost to their appraisal report – and should be rewarded as such. This decentralised method could also work for signallers. If FCF is to be achieved, large conventional Command Posts – which suck up manpower – will see a reduced requirement. Consequently Sections/Troops/Coys can manage their multi-skilled manpower to meet the demands of the Unit level; a symbiotic relationship supporting each other (Unit-Company-Troop-Section). Decentralised positions removes the need for a pool of qualified personnel under employed. Instead, the decentralised manner of these responsibilities emphasises collective responsibility and teamwork. All key aspects to commando spirit.
This model furnishes every commando with the specialist skills required and removes the ‘need’ for DSS. Every person will have varied aspirations or strengths, while their domestic situation may see them gravitate towards particular roles. All these factors create a decision to be made by the Chain of Command (in consultation with the individual), not someone detached in Whale Island (RN). Having all trained to the same high level broadens the pool of who can be employed, to share the burden, which reduces the impact on DSS victims. This will exploit talent and manage morale more effectively. The result is a comprehensively trained force, versatile and adaptable for all tasks, with a reputation espoused by Sun Tzu as critical: “Best of all is when your troops are held in such awe that everyone comes to surrender.” Importantly, a higher and broader level of training makes the RM more employable, whilst upholding the promise it made to its commandos when they signed-up. Whilst it does not resolve all the DSS issues, it removes the indiscriminate nature of forcing inexperienced marines into a career they didn’t want – which may be linked to decreased morale in the AFCAS. The issues could still persist at the NCO level. However, personnel will have had time to understand the roles and their strengths, which will see a better balance of talent. This makes it more likely for personnel to choose careers, without having to unwittingly force them into something they don’t want.
As ever, resourcing will be a perceived obstacle. Increasing the numbers trained in broader skills will unavoidably increase the financial and man power training cost. Incorporating it into an existing operational role offers the best value for money, as there are already great training opportunities conducted at 43 Commando. However, they are largely dependant on the imagination, resources and skills at the disposal of the team at 43 Commando. Resourcing it permanently and formalising it will be more cost effective and benefit the Corps more holistically. An enhanced training wing, with the staff to conduct the in-house training will be the first steps. Some skills may need to be outsourced to wider Defence: driving, languages, insertion methods (for platforms), SERE etc. However, this can be negotiated through a long-cast training program. The current commitment to training at 43 Commando is fantastic, but it is not free. Transferring this cost to a formalised continuation training pipeline will be of wider benefit to the RM and RN. Additionally, it will be of utmost importance to the individual marines, who joined as commandos but feel short-changed. Every commando will be trained to the same high standard to match the requirements regardless of being at the right unit, at the right time.
The consensus in response to Marine H’s article supports the fact that CTCRM produces a fine product, but the RM must be alive to the fact being super-fit and rigorously trained is no longer enough. It is just the start. On balance, CTCRM produces talent of exceptional aptitude, as evidenced through USKF RM numbers and its reputation. To pass such a long and arduous course is a clear marker of the potential they possess and is evidenced through their self-belief within the AFCAS. The RM/RN must now exploit that aptitude, to meet the demands of the current and future operating environment; it must offer a broader set of specialist skills to match the analysis laid out by Rusi. That will incur cost, however, if managed prudently, this article has identified an opportunity to limit the cost impact. 43 Commando offers real opportunity in terms of location, resources, access and a balance of training/operations. Formalised, it can train and qualify commandos in the skills needed for the future employment (potentially) envisioned in the FCF concept. It will be difficult at first, particularly with the transition affecting the flow of manpower into other units, but much of the foundations (figuratively and literally) are already there.