22 Nov 19
By Anonymous RM Officer
TRANSFORMATION AND FCF: THE FALSE PROMISE OF REORGANISATION
The FCF process has been a long time coming with the seeds of its conception going back close to a decade. The boldness of the Royal Marines’ decision to transform is the culmination of the first stage in its transformation journey: the point at which it has officially envisaged an end state and begins to plot a course. With any journey, however, there is always the potential to be blown off course or, worse still, be fixed to a course that we cannot deviate from, even if the situation in front of us demands it. The latter is a risk that looms large as the Corps presses on with the FCF programme. It is, therefore, a good time to take stock and reflect. The author’s central argument is that transformation driven primarily by reorganisation risks creating in 3 Commando Brigade a set of structures that will be tactically inflexible, less useful for Defence and therefore perilous for the Corps’ long-term prospects. This case can be made by looking at the confluence of three key factors: first, the eagerness to transform within a short term horizon; secondly, conducting transformation exclusively along the Defence lines of development (DLODs) that the Corps are in control of; and thirdly, the decision to concentrate effort on the sub-unit level at the cost of commando group operations.
The Royal Marines have always been in the invidious position of having force development done to it. Enshrined in Lord Levene’s delegated model of capability development, each of the front-line commands (FLC) (JFC, Navy, Land and Air) have procurement responsibilities for forces in another FLC. It is for this reason that much of the Corps’ capability development is led by Army HQ. For all its drawbacks (of which there are many), this is not without some logic. Where Defence has come under year-on-year sustained budgetary pressure, the delegated model aims to achieve economies of scale (a proportionate saving in costs gained by an increased level of production) to deliver better value for money for the taxpayer. Putting aside the debate about the delegated model’s merits, it is an uncomfortable reality that highlights the limited extent to which the Corps owns its capability development decisions.
The previous CGRM made some very promising progress on the matter. The Land Littoral Strike Division (LLS (formerly LLM)) has been bolstered with manpower to manage the FCF programme giving it the staff horsepower to challenge, hold to account, and represent RM capability development views. There have also been some interesting discussions about buying into JFC projects that better fit FCF requirements or bidding for central funds from Head Office (the Ministry of Defence) that would, to a certain extent, ameliorate the lack of a RM force development budget. All very encouraging. This does not, however, remove the problem that the Corps has not yet found a ‘third way’ to the delegated model and there is still some time to go. Presumably, the aiming point would be SDSR2020 via Defence’s Joint Requirements Oversight Committee (JROC). It is the author’s hope that the Corps does achieve some form of delegated budgetary responsibility but, in the meantime, the RM will have to continue to live with the reality of controlling only a small proportion of its force development levers – this boils down to training, personnel and organisation, and doctrine.
The next factor in play is the pressure to transform and it is not difficult to see evidence of exactly this. First, the timing of the FCF programme is ominous. SDSR2020 is close and it is a safe assumption to suggest that the timings of the FCF proposals and the need to find a ‘third way’ to the delegated model are not coincidental. Secondly, the FCF proposition and concept, in its many forms, has been debated continuously over the last 2-3 years: the pages of Puzzle Palace, for example, are replete with articles about it. Finally, senior leaders in the Royal Navy have been selected on a transformational ticket (they have been called a ‘generation of innovators’). The pressure, one suspects, is on.
The context, therefore, of limited force development control and the pressure for transformation (both internally and externally) carries significant morale hazard. And this hazard lurks within those DLODs that can be directly shaped by the Corps. The temptation is that with an eagerness to transform and limited force development manoeuvre space, the FCF programme team pulls, prematurely, only the levers that they control. The most obvious outward expression of transformation is organisation and it is the major DLOD that the Royal Marines have responsibility for. As the Corps has already come to the conclusion that radical re-organisation will happen, particularly with the emphasis placed on the primacy of the sub-unit, the evidence that the organisation lever is about to get pulled is compelling. It is, in the author’s opinion, both premature and a mistake.
Reorganising the Corps’ structures – by which I mean broadly 3 Commando Brigade’s order of battle – is premature because the other DLODs will not be aligned. The author makes no apology for stating the obvious because this DLOD imbalance creates issues on a number of fronts. These problems can be divided between conceptual and doctrinal developments, the absence of meaningful equipment programmes, organisational rigidity and task specificity, and programme credibility.
The work, effort and thinking going into FCF is impressive. That said, whilst the FCF concept is maturing in comparison to its modest origins, there is a risk that the most recent manifestation of the FCF concept is an end in itself. The history of military transformation would suggest a different way of looking at transformation. For example, Arthur K Cebrowski, a former US vice-admiral and proponent of ‘network-centric warfare’, suggested that there was ‘no end-point to transformation; rather it was an ongoing process’. Viewed in these terms, there might be merit in ensuring some measure of doctrinal development and DLOD alignment before the RM begins wholesale re-organisation. This is not an argument to never re-organise but more about doing it at the right time. On some plans being muted at the moment, the timings for re-organisation are staggering (12 months potentially). This is problematic because, from a conceptual basis, the re-organisation could take place without any doctrinal foundations whatsoever. I.e. the FCF programme will expect commando units, and especially the F echelon (F Ech) and CTCRM, to train without any doctrine. Doctrine defined as “what is officially approved to be taught – whether in service school or an operational unit engaged in training – about what methods to use/carry out in a military objective”, will be an essential component of any transformational journey. Premature re-organisation will, therefore, cause confusion in commando units and CTCRM lacking the central authority and knowledge on how to ‘fight’ in the FCF. A concept of employment (CONEMP) is, of course, a step in the right direction but it cannot hope to be anything close to the authoritative detail required of doctrine. It seems the Royal Marines’ relationship with doctrine has been a long-standing problem: speaking in 1913, a Royal Marines officer remarked that:
The Army have…complete guidance for their officers in the field service regulations, it is to be wished that some authoritative pronouncement of the same nature might be issued in some form to the Navy.
In addition to a significant doctrinal deficit sits ominously the equipment DLOD. The FCF concept is, from an outsider’s perspective, a heady mix of buzzwords and catchphrases. From ‘shaping in the decisive, decisive in the shaping’; ‘5th generation commandos’; ‘disaggregated littoral strike’; to ‘tier 2 SOF capable of operating in the grey zone’, FCF is an ambitious programme. Without actually being able to cite the CONEMP itself, one can deduce a number of themes that can be drawn from the various concept papers. FCF could be boiled down to disaggregation, increased risk, greater simultaneity, and the replacement of mass with precision. The author does not intend to critique these characteristics but, in addition to doctrine, the most important DLOD enabling this entire programme is equipment. This is not an under appreciated problem in LLS but in our haste to re-organise into an FCF formation, we will be doing so without any of the critical (and expensive) pieces of equipment. No amount of small, and mostly aesthetic, changes to a marine’s uniform, individual weapon or personal protective equipment (PPE) is going to overcome shortfalls in long range surface mobility (water and land), beyond line of sight communications and the proliferation of specialist equipment down to the lowest levels. Without the combination of at least the doctrinal foundations and critical equipment to operate as the FCF, the re-organised brigade will be the FCF only in name; it may even add friction to how the brigade currently prepares for operations.
Matters could then be made worse if the RM continues down the path of over-specific organisational rigidity. Despite the ‘heady mix’ of missions and tasks that an FCF unit will be expected to undertake, the conceptual provenance for much of the brigade’s structural ideas is at the most complex end of the FCF mission set. From early concept design to recent wargames, A2AD and the sub-unit’s role in it has been a prominent force driver. The risk is that any FCF order of battle, influenced unduly by a highly unlikely and specific mission set, takes the form of a pre-task organised mission. If this is the case, then the Royal Marines will be making a significant error. Some lessons of exactly this issue can be taken from the Corps’ recent experience with Commando 21.
The Commando 21 re-organisation was a classic example of how the Royal Marines attempted to do force development without complete control of the DLODs. The only thing that changed, therefore, was the structure and the introduction of Viking (because of Army cooperation). Ever since 2001, 3 Commando Brigade’s manoeuvre units (as was 40, 42 and 45 Cdos) have had to grapple with the erroneous assumption that Commando 21 could provide a “pre-task organized force which emphasizes combined arms company teams, with the capability and philosophy to task organize….However, it is a robust and flexible task organized structure”. The evidence against the idea that a commando unit (or any unit for that matter) can be ‘pre-task organised’ lies in the subsequent two decades. The F Ech fell victim to near constant, unsettled tinkering making it harder for the unit to train most effectively. Telic 1 had the manoeuvre support group; the HERRICK era ushered in four square companies each with a fire support group; unit COs then created a weapons company (Support Company in old money); before settling on four companies with two rifle troops and one FSG. The lesson with Commando 21 is that ‘pre-task organised’ units do not work. The resulting disruption is testament to the pitfalls of organisational rigidity.
If re-organisation for FCF takes place on the basis of highly specialised mission sets, with new emphasis on the sub-unit level, then a unit will be lumbered with a structure that is too specific. It could then fail to meet the full gamut of possible near future tasks that the Royal Marines are mandated by Defence to deliver now. For all the conceptual merits of air-sea battle and A2AD, the Royal Marines is still the nation’s only VHR force (until 16 Brigade finishes its ‘capability holiday’). So, the decision to give the sub-unit level primacy over the commando group and the Corps’ haste to begin FCF re-organisation, is a perplexing decision. It is tantamount to viewing transformation as overnight revolution rather than evolution. Or to use another analogy, the Royal Marines will be putting all their chips on the A2AD ‘red’.
In his seminal work on defence planning and strategy, Colin Gray stressed that defence planning is about meeting the challenge of uncertainty. Amongst several conclusions, two tests seem apt for the Corps’ current predicament: first, that we must ‘identify and satisfy the highest priorities’ and secondly, that ‘the most important quality in defence planning is prudence’. If the Royal Marines do not have the luxury of choosing their next mission – which on the basis of Dr Paul Winter’s Puzzle Palace offering (Commando Roots) seems likely – then an over-engineered re-organisation in the name of FCF is almost certain to fail these two important defence planning tests.
The final piece of damage that the current trajectory of the FCF programme could do is to the Corps’ credibility. McKinsey and Company, the global management consultants, have five mantras for managing change in the military. In addition to the principle to ‘resist the urge to re-organise’ at the start of a project, is ‘overcoming resistance to change’. Coincidentally, this was one of the key deductions that came out of HQ 3 Commando Brigade’s initial FCF estimate. This author is sympathetic to the urge, passion and desire for change in the Royal Marines but the programme runs the risk of bringing about change without material substance. In our haste to demonstrate transformation, the Royal Marines could be in danger of lurching for the organisational lever without the other force development means to make a capability credible, flexible and “right enough”. This will only erode internal and external trust in the FCF concept.
Lest this author is seen as sniping from the fringes, it would be remiss not to offer some recommendations. First, FCF’s momentum has generated plenty of good ideas that are not exclusive to this concept. Ideas such as upskilling SQs to ‘up-gunning’ the unit’s training capacity all have merit in whichever direction FCF takes us. Secondly, unit and brigade organisations must be designed to afford commanders and planners the most amount of flexibility to task organise for missions – prescription will not survive contact. No two operations are the same and it does not matter whether the unit is light infantry, the 75th Ranger Regiment or special forces; they all need the ability to task organise. Thirdly, align the DLODs and invest in the conceptual heart of the programme, from CONEMP to doctrine. The final point to make is that transformation must be viewed as a journey not a binary transition from one state to another. The key thing to get right is to avoid being fixed onto a path that removes the flexibility to adapt in pursuit of the FCF’s ends (which could change). The palpable urge to re-structure the Corps before the time is right will not deliver transformation. Beware the false promises of re-organisation.
 DLODs provide a mechanism for co-ordinating the parallel development of different aspects of capability that need to be brought together to create a real military capability. It is sometimes referred to as capability integration.
 D Nicholls and Robert Mendrick, ‘Generation of innovators to run the military in a shake-up of the Army, Navy and RAF top ranks’, 3 Dec 2018, The Telegraph, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/12/03/generation-innovators-has-appointed-run-military-shake-up-top/ accessed on 15 Oct 19.
 M. Locicero, R. Mahoney, and S. Mitchell, eds., A Military Transformed? Adaptation and Innovation in the British Military, 1792-1945 (Helion and Company: Solihull 2014), p. 16.
 I.B. Holley, Jr., Technology and Doctrine: Essays on a challenging relationship (Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University Press, August 2004), 1.
J. Pugh, ‘Oil and water: A comparison of military and naval aviation doctrine in Britain, 1912-1914’, in M. Locicero, R. Mahoney, and S. Mitchell, eds., A Military Transformed? Adaptation and Innovation in the British Military, 1792-1945 (Helion and Company: Solihull 2014), p. 129.
 H. White, ‘Future War and Commando 21: An increase in Combat Power and Flexibility’, Unpublished thesis, Marine Corps University: 5 May 2002.
 C. Gray, Strategy and Defence Planning: Meeting the Challenge of Uncertainty, (Oxford: OUP, 2014), 201.
 P. Winter, ‘Commando Roots: An historical perspective’, Puzzle Palace, https://www.puzzle-palace.com/community-articles/commando-roots-an-historical-perspective-part-three accessed 16 Nov 19.
 Mackinsey and Company state that organisations should resist the urge to reorganise. When embarking on a transformation programme, it can be tempting to focus first on re-organisation. See Chinn and J Dowdy, 5 Principles to Manage Change in the Military’, December 2015, in https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/public-sector/our-insights/five-principles-to-manage-change-in-the-military
 Gray, Defence Planning, 202.
Chinn, D, and Dowdy J. 5 Principles to Manage Change in the Military’, December 2015, in https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/public-sector/our-insights/five-principles-to-manage-change-in-the-military.
Gray, C. Strategy and Defence Planning: Meeting the Challenge of Uncertainty, (Oxford: OUP 2014).
D Nicholls and Robert Mendrick, ‘Generation of innovators to run the military in a shake-up of the Army, Navy and RAF top ranks’, 3 Dec 2018, The Telegraph, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/12/03/generation-innovators-has-appointed-run-military-shake-up-top/ accessed on 15 Oct 19.
Locicero, M., Mahoney, R., and Mitchell, S. eds., A Military Transformed? Adaptation and Innovation in the British Military, 1792-1945 (Helion and Company: Solihull 2014).
Holley, I. B. Technology and Doctrine: Essays on a challenging relationship (Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University Press, August 2004).
White, H., ‘Future War and Commando 21: An increase in Combat Power and Flexibility’, Unpublished thesis, Marine Corps University: 5 May 2002.
Winter, P. ‘Commando Roots: An historical perspective’, Puzzle Palace, 6 Nov 19, https://www.puzzle-palace.com/community-articles/commando-roots-an-historical-perspective-part-three