They say social media provides more instant up-to-date news and that this more of information better suits today’s world or at least the current, perhaps Millennial Generation. Yet, websites, a source of information that arose in the 1990s, are still a vital source. Most advanced militaries in open, democratic countries wish to get accurate information out and to connect with the civilian/political community. Yet, the UK’s three services websites lag behind in this area.
I suppose I shall start with the most incomplete and hardly updated website: The British Army or https://www.army.mod.uk/ . This service was the last the update its website to a more modern, tech-savvy kind of website in around 2017/2018. With this update, it finally released the new structure of the Army, seen under the ‘Who We Are’ Structure’ here (I won’t put up the full picture for fear of copyright violation). The picture, however, has long had some errors. First, it sorts of incorrectly suggests that the Deputy Chief of the General Staff (DCGS) is a four star when only his boss is. Ok, that is a small error. Second, it says that there’s a command called ‘Army Recruiting Training Division’ under Home Command. This training command has been, since 2018, been re-named as ‘Army Recruiting and Initial Training Command’ since 2108. It is also jointly held by the Commandant of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. The Sandhurst Group, indicated in the in the chart, is actually under a Brigadier/One-Star command. You can google around and find this fact such as here or check the good Colin Mackie, http://www.gulabin.com.
Second, there are errors in the ‘Equipment’ section. Under ‘Small Arms and Support Weapons’ they still list the Light Support Weapon and Light Machine Gun, even though these weapons were phased out by at least in April 2019. They also have not listed anti-materiel rifles like the L135A1 LRPAS or ‘other weapons’, though these other weapons are used by UK Special Forces. Under ‘Vehicles’, the TpZ Fuchs, is not listed although it and the numbers of such vehicle are supposedly top secret, though easily found. There are also a couple of minor vehicles such as Pinzgauer (though now mainly used by the Royal Marines) which aren’t listed. Correctly, the ‘aircraft’ sub-section does not list fixed-wing aircraft like the Islander and Defender; the squadron they are under are transferred to RAF command and control.
The biggest incomplete section that has not been updated for at least a year is the ‘Who we are’ section. Under ‘Our people’, there is only sections of ‘ranks’ which is so commonly known, and ‘a soldier’s standards’. There is absolutely, as of 16 June 2019, no biographies of senior officers, not even of the CGS, who has been in position for just over a year. This in sharp contrast to the Royal Navy (RN) and Royal Air Force (RAF) websites. The RN has biographies of its top three senior leaders–First Sea Lord, Second Sea Lord and Fleet Commander. The RAF goes even further, listing all, or maybe almost all the senior commanders, including members of the Air Board. The British Army’s website is most likely still under development, but the lack of any simple information like senior commanders is explicitly damaging in terms of image. How long does it take to take a picture of top leaders and write their biographies?
Other missing or incomplete information rest in the ‘Corps, Regiments and Units’ section. Initially, only units from the Infantry and Royal Armour Corps were linked when the website was updated to its more modern look, and not all of them were listed. It took ages before various combat units, combat service support and other units were added. It also took ages before they created another section called ‘Formations and Divisions’ but initially erroneously added sub-units like the 77th Brigade there. Many battalions and units under ‘Corps, Regiments and Units’ are still without pages/websites. These are:
Army Air Corps: One of the last sections to be added since website was re-designed. No sub-units added.
Royal Artillery: It took them weeks before 5 RA, 7 RHA, and other regiments were added. 106 RA is still missing. 32 RA still listed but supposedly will go in 2021. Supposedly.
Royal Signals: As with AAC, one of the last corps added and no-sub units added at all.
Corps of Royal Engineers: Very incomplete, missing the new 28 RE, 32 RE, 35 (EOD) RE, reserve units like 71, 75, 101 (EOD) RE and Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers (Militia).
Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers: Listed only 6 Close Support Battalion REME recently. The rest from 1 to 7 Aviation Support and the reserve battalions, all missing.
Royal Logistic Corps: All complete and was the fast to be completed. Some units like training units may still be missing though.
Intelligence Corps: 1 Military Intelligence Battalion is missing or will it disband under Army 2020 Refine?
Infantry: Regiments are fully listed but not individual battalions. Exceptions are Royal Regiment of Scotland–just a general list, The Rifles and the Yorkshire Regiment. Even the Royal Gurkha Rifles don’t have separate pages for their two battalions, but that’s a minor squabble.
Adjutant General’s Corps: All complete and completed in a short time. The Royal Military Police page however gives you information not many know of–that the 1st Military Brigade is under the operational control of 3rd UK Division. More about this below.
Army Medical Services: All complete, even including unit(s) that will disband under Army 2020 Refine.
All the other regiments/corps/units are minor units. In summary, there is a whole list of uncompleted units, and to a normal, non-military observer, he/she would believe the British Army has shrunk. Overall, listing 230 units (as of 15/6/2019) doesn’t give a very positive image to the wider public.
Under Formations, Divisions and Brigades: The information again took long to complete and there was a misleading idea that HQ 1st Artillery Brigade was under Force Troops Command, as it was stated in the original Army 2020 Plan. Then, the website shifted it under 3rd UK Division, as your truly noted. Was there a change of operational command? Yes, but no official announcement was made. I only found proof of this via a FOIA and made the British Army webmaster change the wording. The biographies under Home Command also may need updating.
Another area I’m critical about is the news section. The British Army. along with the RAF (as I’ll detail below), hardly post news events, as compared to the senior service. British army news articles come like once every few days, sometimes one or two articles after a week or worse, a fortnight. The best source of news then comes from not even the monthly Soldier Magazine (which isn’t always updated immediately), but from individual corps or regimental websites or charities or association. These are sadly, harder to fine.
Enough rating about the Army. The senior and junior websites are better in terms of style but still lack in accurate content. In the Royal Navy, under ‘Equipment’ and under ‘Ships’ they still list Landing Platform Helicopter although HMS Ocean has been decommissioned and sold to Brazil. Under ‘Submarines’, the style for the ‘Astute Class’ isn’t presented in the main page; you have to scroll down to find it. Ok, that’s a very minor squabble. Under “Commando’ and ‘Troop’ weapons, they still the L110A2 5.56MM LMG although as with the British Army, this weapon has been phased out of service. They also don’t list all the vehicles used by the Royal Marines, just the Viking All-Terrain Armoured Vehicle. More significantly, in recent weeks, the webmasters have removed the profiles of commanding officers of ships, submarines, FAA squadrons, bases you name it. They also temporarily removed the senior 2* posts–COMUKMARFOR, RADM FAA, CGRM and Commander, RFA–and only just replaced them. The search function in the website, as well as the British Army’s, also isn’t very user friendly.
Other than this, the Royal Navy website is top notch. As stated, it is the leading service website that updates its news section like around at least three or up to five articles a day or nearly more than ten articles across the working week. The style of all sections of the website is appealing to users of generations. Perhaps they could, as with the British Army, merge the news and Navy News much closer and get the former to publish the monthly edition online much earlier.
The RAF’s website, with a dark blue (I doubt it is trolling the Royal Navy) background, has quite up to date information. Previously, the old, 1990s-style RAF website had more detailed information on RAF weapons from guns to bombs to missiles. In this website, that information is mostly removed but in place, the images of all, or almost all RAF aircraft are of higher quality and some have individual 3D images or videos. Squadrons and groups are neatly detailed there are biographies of the commanding officers, and as noted, of the senior officers who mostly make up the Air Force board. What is lacking is updates–the current or recently new officers like Air Marshal Gerry Mayhew and Air-Vice Marshal Ian Gale did not have their biographies published until very recently. Under RAF Police and Regiment, the information about 26 RAF Regiment was only just removed, giving an incorrect impression that there’s two RAF Regiment still conducting CBRN ops.
There are more minor mistakes but the point is very clear: UK Armed Forces just don’t have up-to-date websites. Don’t get me started on the MOD’s gov.uk site; that is just as terrible. But is this worthy criticism or just ranting? For sure, many say website work isn’t a core function for officers, ORs, or civil servants. The whole of defence and the armed forces have better issues to worry about but having incomplete or worse, stagnant websites adversely affects the whole force. Having up-to-date websites with accurate contents has several benefits:
1) As I harp on above, it helps inform the public about the armed services. Not everyone is social media-savvy and social media has more often than not, created disinformation or as Donald Trump has supported, created fake news. By having properly updated websites, any of the three services could rightly counter, yes, we are conducting ABC, no, we have unit XYZ, it has not disbanded, and so on. Those without social media, and even those who don’t go to the library (!!!) can look up the website and check what’s happening to this regiment or what is being procured. This would be more for veterans of past decades. Say you served in the Royal Engineers. Hey, why isn’t there a page on 32 RE? Did they disband the unit under Army 2020/Army 2020 Refine? I’m angry! This response would not be so if there was a unit webpage/website. Or say you are interested in joining up, especially to a regiment/corps you father/grandfather was part of. Would you like it if you check and not find the webpage/website on army.mod.uk?
2) The image of a proper updated website brings value, or even soft power to the service and the UK as a whole. Allies may not be always so privy to the any of three services and may often check their websites rather than tweet or Facebook them. What sort of image would it bring if an ally of the UK finds an Army website lack unit information or new updates? Or cannot find the biography or a senior Royal Navy officer? In sharp contrast, the US has quite informative and quickly updated military sites for its four main armed services, the DOD and other defense-related agencies. Alright, it’s the world’s superpower and each service has a regiment-size media and webpage team. The British aren’t that far behind; for the army, there’s a Major-General holding the appointment of Director Engagement and Communications (D E&C) and a Colonel as Assistant Head, Army Media & Communications. Surely, they have a team working on webpage development. What’s taking them so long from fixing the British Army’s website.
3) The image it provides adversaries. Ok, perhaps the army’s incomplete website, the minor missing content in the Royal Navy and RAF’s website is part of a larger disinformation campaign against UK adversaries such as Russia, China, Daesh, you name it. I do not buy this at all. Even at the height of Op HERRICK, the government still published which units would deploy for that operation and publicise new equipment like Mastiff and Foxhound vehicles. A complete, up-to-date website would add more to the soft power element, informing or perhaps scaring the enemy of the lethality the British Armed Forces. Alright, there’s nothing scary really since most outsiders know the army isn’t even close to the 82,000 figure, the Royal Navy is still small in terms of surface warships and the RAF isn’t that huge in size or firepower either. But websites that don’t contain the simple information of units or weapons further degrade the whole picture.
It’s up to the three services if they want fix up their websites or plod on with not even a half full glass.