Published on September 25th, 2013 | by admin


Building Cooperation: Interview with UK Military Attaché to Ireland, Colonel SEÁN English

With Defence Forces personnel working alongside their British Army counterparts in EUTM Mali, the extent to which the two military organisations can cooperate on an operational level is increasingly evident. Speaking to SIGNAL, Colonel English talks about Anglo-Irish military cooperation towards common goals and also discusses the challenges and changes within the British Armed Forces.

The current British Military Attaché to Ireland, Colonel (Col) Seán English was commissioned into the British Army in 1986. He has commanded at Troop, Squadron and Regimental level.

He has seen operational service in the Gulf region, Sierra Leone, Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan. Colonel English has amassed extensive service with multinational partners, Joint Forces and within the Ministry of Defence. He has also served as a Divisional Director at Staff College and within the Army Manning Agency as a career manager. Col English’s key roles as non-resident military attaché to Ireland include supporting the British Ambassador in the normal discharge of Embassy duties. His Specific duties as a Chief of the British Defence Staff’s representative in Ireland include representing the UK military at appropriate National and Defence Forces events. Essentially the role exists to provide a linkage between the Irish and UK Defence Forces, to enable mutually authorised training and operational activities and to foster and increase cooperation between both forces.

The European financial crisis has placed military organisations under considerable financial strain. How would you categorise the level of reorganisation and transformation that the UK military has undergone in recent years?

”The UK Defence Forces are undoubtedly undergoing a period of change. The adjustments to the UK’s Defence posture are part of the normal Government activity and are reflective of the changing Defence need as the era of combat operations in Afghanistan comes to a close. The process of 5 yearly Defence Reviews being formally established through a National Security Council will ensure that structure, posture and capability are matched and remain within the planned resources available. The ‘Future Force 2020 programme is designed to return the British Army to a Global Contingency posture at the end of 13 years of Campaigning in both Iraq and Afghanistan. At its heart is an adaptive brigade structure, greater defence engagement and a closer working integration of the Reserve Forces.”

With continuing engagement in Afghanistan, in addition to other international commitments what impact in terms of resources do these missions have on the British Army?

The net additional costs of current overseas combat operations in Afghanistan are resourced nationally by the Treasury. They have little effect, financially, on the Army’s core annual financial allocation. These missions do, however, provide a focus for manning, training and equipping the Army in order to sustain our mission capabilities.

The profile of the Territorial Army (TA) has increased significantly recently. How is their contribution, particularly in terms of overseas mission, viewed by the professional ranks?

The majority of regular soldiers and officers recognise the value and contribution of their reserve colleagues; accepting that after mission specific training, reservists are as well prepared as their regular counterparts for the tasks they are mobilised and deployed to undertake. The Whole Force Concept, which is being adopted by all Services, sees a far greater integration of reservists with regular troops; for instance, TA units will train alongside those regular units they will deploy with. This will further highlight the value of the TA contribution.  Many reservists, by dint of their civilian experience, hold a wide portfolio of skills not held by regulars, and there are now areas of defence such as medical and media, that could not operate effectively without reservists.

What military education/training would a TA officer have to undergo to reach the rank of Major, for example, and how can this be organised around his/her civilian career?

Reserve forces training is modularised to ensure that even when not mobilised a reservist can undertake training either as distance learning, during weekend training or during the 2 week period of annual continuous training. Following commissioning, a TA officer will undergo ‘Special to Arm’ training which will depend on their trade or speciality. TA officers then attend weeks two and three of the four week long Junior Officers’ Tactics Course which is a course for regular officers.  The TA officer will then continue to train depending on their chosen career path.  The next mandatory course is the TA Intermediate Staff Course which lasts 2 weeks and is run at the Defence Academy. This course will qualify them for Major. Throughout their career, TA Officers will undertake the Military Knowledge (Volunteer) course, which is done via distance learning. We make every effort to allow TA officers the flexibility to manage these courses around their civilian career.

What procedures if any are in place to ensure that a TA member on active service, for example in Afghanistan, can return to his/her job after deployment?

Primary legislation, Reserve Forces (Safeguards of Employment) Act 1985 ensures that an employer must offer a reservist their previous or an equivalent appointment on their return from mobilised service. The MOD provides guidance for reservists returning to civilian employment during the mobilisation and de-mobilisation process. We have set up the SaBRE organisation – Support for Britain’s Reservists and Employers – and a helpline is provided by SaBRE Central with regional advice provided by the Chain of Command supported by the Regional SaBRE Campaign Director’s.  Reservists are encouraged to maintain communications with their employer while mobilised and upon their return exercise their rights laid down in the Act by contacting their employer.

If the Reservist is not offered their job back, or not happy with the terms of the job, they can apply to a Reinstatement Committee which is an independent tribunal with the powers to instruct the former employer to re-employ the reservists or award financial compensation.  In addition an employer can claim a training award under the secondary legislation, Statutory Instrument 859, The Reserve Forces (Call-out and Recall) (Financial Assistance) Regulations 2005, to retrain the reservist if that is deemed necessary.

What are the challenges facing junior officers in the Army today, in terms of promotional opportunities and available opportunities?

Promotion opportunities remain as vibrant as ever in the Armed Forces. Force reductions have been delivered structurally to ensure that manning and career progression have not been disrupted. A full range of opportunities for officers will appear in the Post-Campaigning era.

What is your perception of the Defence Forces to date and their contribution to International Peace Support Operations?

The Irish Defence Forces (DF) contribution to Peace Support Operations (PSO) has been considerable. The DF is considered by many as a world leader in this sphere. I am keen to exploit all opportunities that exist for both the UK and Irish military organisations, to learn from one another given our mutual PSO experiences.

Although both forces have deployed alongside each other on Peace Support Missions in the past (UNFICYP, EUFOR BiH, and in Kosovo with KFOR) the Mali mission is the first time that they have deployed as a single unit. Accepting the modest scale of the Mission, how would you categorise the significance of this joint deployment to Mali and would you see similar deployments in the future?

The Mali Mission is viewed as being substantially significant in the continuing normalisation of UK and Irish Defence cooperation. Whilst the two Defence Forces have worked together in the past as part of a wider coalition force, this deployment, with Irish Defence Force personnel, working alongside and within the Royal Irish Regiment of the British Army, is exceptionally notable. In terms of future deployments, it is of course difficult to predict with accuracy, but I see no reason why similar deployments could not be undertaken in the future. Our shared language, culture and values all play into an enhanced level of interoperability and we’re already seen that demonstrated within the Joint Training Team in Mali. It would therefore certainly seem logical to take advantage of the ease in which our forces operate alongside each other in future Peace Support Operations.

The Defence Forces, in the past, were generally equipped with British made equipments e.g. Vehicles, Light Artillery, rifles and light support weapons. This has change over the last 20-30 years and now very little of the Defence Forces equipment is British sourced. If additional joint deployments in the Peace Support area were to be undertaken would it be mutually beneficial if equipments and procedures could be standardised?

Defence Force equipment procurement sits very much within national and industrial policy. International standardisation of ammunition, fuel and operating procedures creates an environment which surpasses the need for Defence Equipment to be procured to deliver bilateral Irish / UK Defence standardisation. As recent experiences in Afghanistan and Mali have demonstrated, the Irish Defence Force and UK forces operate together in a constructive and effective manner.

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