Do you want to be the first Royal Navy female Rear-Admiral?

The British MOD released its latest diversity figures and the RAF leads in terms of proportion of females, regular or reserve. There was a great twitter chatter between myself and a certain Joan Roberston, Head of Research, Royal navy People Strategy about females serving in the Royal Navy. You can look that one up on my twitter feed but what also came up in another related discussion was the lack of a female OF-7 or Rear Admiral in the senior service.

At present, the RAF again leads with females with high ranks and appointments. They have: 1 x female Air Marshal (OF-8) as Director General Defence Service Authority, 2 x female Air-Vice Marshals (Air Secretary and Director Legal Services) and has and will have 6 x Air Commodores. The British Army has and will have: 3 x female Major-Generals (Director (Personnel), Director General Legal Services and in 2020, Deputy Commander, Field Army (Army Reserve)) and 6 x female Brigadiers. The Royal Navy has no females of flag rank and only 3 x female Commodores, occupying the positions of Assistant Chief of Staff (Personnel Capability), Assistant Chief of Staff (Medical) and Head, Healthcare (under Defence Medical Services or colloquially known as HQ Surgeon General).

There are a range of reasons, or rather rumours why the senior service fails to produce a two-star/OF-7 unlike the other two services, not even with the Royal Navy Reserve. The general Royal Nay promotion procedure is available for the public to view form the Royal Navy website under ‘Reference Library’ – ‘BRD3 Volume 1’ – ‘Part 7: Career Structures’ (I can’t link it as it is best view personally; use Google Chrome), Chapter 60, Section 4. Also very relevant is ‘Part 8 ‘ The two relevant chapters for officers (since we are dealing with the topic of a Rear-Admiral) are Chapters 65 and Chapter 66.

Chapter 66, Annex 66a, Section 2, paragraph B identifies that:

Selections for promotion to 1 and 2 Star rank are made by CNS/1SL and the Flag and Senior Officers Appointments Board (FSOAB) (see Para 6017) following the Flag and 1 Star Preliminary Selection Boards (PSB), which sit annually in May. The PSB, which is chaired by ACNS (Pers)/NavSec, consists of CNXO [Chief Naval Warfare Officer], CNEO [Chief Naval Engineering Officer], CNLO [Chief Naval Logistics Officer], CGRM and CNMO [Chief Naval Medical Officer]

Selection for Rear Admiral must also meet this zone requirement:

RADM Promotion Zone

Or basically, you need 2 years seniority as a Commodore as of 30 June and your promotion zone maximum age is around 52. The procedures promotion to a Flag rank are governed by the Flag and 1 star Preliminary Selection Board (PSB) which sits every May (Annex 66aA, para 2b), then passed to the First Sea Lord and the Flag and Senior Officers Appointments Board (FSOAB). The 1SL may consider exceptional candidates as seen in section 6018, Annex 66A, paragraphs c and d. Then the whole process of becoming is detailed from 6017 to 6020, with further relevant information in Annex 66A, paras 2e and f.

Alright, assume a female commodore makes it through the whole procedure but you don’t get the Rear Admiral sleeve race without an appointment. Below are the list of Navy Command and other 2-star commands across Joint Forces Command, MOD HQ and other TLBs:

Navy Command
ACNS Policy
COMUKMAR/RADM Surface Ships
ACNS (Aviation & Carriers)/Rear Admiral FAA
ACNS Submarines/RADM Submarines/Flag Officer Scotland & Northern Ireland
Commander Operations
ACNS Capability
ACNS Personnel/Naval Secretary
ACNS Support – currently held by a civilian although a RADM level appointment
ACNS Ships
ACNS Training/FOST
Chaplain of the Fleet – although officially Chaplains do not wear any Royal Navy Rank

Joint Forces Command
Chief of Staff JFC
ACDS (Logistics)
Chief of Staff British Forces Cyprus
Director Healthcare Delivery and Training
Director Medical Personnel & Training
Defence Medical Director
Director [of] Capability JFC
Director Joint Warfare
Director Service Operations ISS
Chief of Staff (Operations), PJHQ
Commander Standing Joint Force
Director Special Forces
Deputy Commander RCDS Senior Directing Staff x 2
Director, Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre

DE&S
Director Ships Support (or held by a civil servant)
Director Ships Acquisition (or held by a civil servant)
Note: There are many two-star post in DE&S but these are mostly are held by civil servants.

DIO
Director Strategic Asset Management

MOD HQ
ACDS (Operations)
ACDS (Capability and Force Design)
ACDS (Defence Engagement)
ACDS (Personnel Capability)/Defence Services Secretary
ACDS (Reserves and Cadets)
Director Carrier Strike – always a RADM
Defence Attache Head (USA)
Director Operations and Assurance Chief Operating Officer, Defence Safety Authority
Director MAA
Head, Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre

Note: I’m not including Submarine Delivery Agency or Defence Nuclear as I don’t believe there’s any female OF-5/Captain and definitely no female OF-6/Commodores in the submarine service as yet. I’ve also not included NATO appointments as they vary depending on changing burden sharing.

Anyway, from the above list of possible OF-7 posts, even if we narrow down to Navy Command posts, the majority of them are sea-duty/combat positions, which I wager there aren’t many female warfare officers. Certainly, the two medical commodores and the third female commodore mentioned above (I don’t want to reveal their names but it can be easily checked), none of them would making it to the combat-related posts in Navy Command or other joint positions. They definitely won’t be able to be CGRM (women have only since last year be allowed to join the Royal Marines) although one of them (no names but it is quite obvious who) might be able to make to Naval Secretary in a few years time. Another of them might be able to reach Surgeon Rear-Admiral in DMS/HQ SG, if her boss, Director Healthcare Delivery and Training is promoted to Surgeon General/Director General DMS of if the current Defence Medical Director and current acting Surgeon General is promoted to Air Marshal and a substantive appointment.

These are all still predictions. On a closer look, there are few two-star posts that will see supersessions. The first I can identify is ACNS (Submarines)/Rear Admiral Submarines and Rear Admiral (Scotland and Northern Ireland) and quite obviously, none of the three female Commodores are submariners so they don’t qualify for this post. The other post is that of Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Operations) although that post has already been filled by a Royal Marine Major-General. Could the current three female Commodores be appointed to other TLB posts? Maybe not, as even the post of ACDS (Reserves and Cadets) would be held by a reservist officer. There might be a slim possibility that two of the three might be posted to DE&S or DIO appointments, but this is a very slim possibility.

I think that covers the core areas. If there should be or can be a female Rear-Admiral, she will have to meet the zone requirements, pass through PSB and FSOAB and then there must be a two-star appointment that will be vacated or need to be replaced. In summary, it isn’t a easy process to gain a female Rear-Admiral, and I would say this is the same for the other two services. Again, we currently have three, and shall I say, highly-qualified female Commodores and I view that at least two of them would get a 1 row of 14mm lace above a band of 45mm lace on their sleeve race. What also should be considered is increasing the number of female Commodores in all branches, from Warfare to Medical.