The British Army speculates about getting rid of all the big gas-burning tank engines to attract “that next generation of recruits that increasingly make career decisions based on a prospective employer’s environmental credentials.” As for what will power the armoured vehicle of the future, no one knows. Possibly hay. Nor do we know why the Army wants recruits who would make combat effectiveness secondary to green sensibilities, unless it really doesn’t care what happens to its recruits should they actually have to face an enemy in the field.
The British military is in a crisis comparable to our own. Nearly a quarter-million strong as recently as the Thatcher years, it now aspires to a feeble 74,400 full-time personnel, for a global power with a population twice our own, and is 7,000 short of that inadequate number. But instead of selling the military on its traditional merits, like wanting to be tough and serve your country, the brass hats with which it remains amply supplied have been going after “Snow flakes” (explicitly, along with “Binge Gamers”, “Phone Zombies” and “Me me me millennials”). It makes you wonder if they even know what an army is for.
So does the fact that the Royal Navy has more admirals than ships. In fact ships aren’t even commanded by people with that exalted rank, or even in many cases by “captains” as a non-sailor might suppose. Even most “major surface combatants” in the modern Royal Navy are in the care of lowly commanders, leaving a host of captains and commodores to do some unspecified thing on land, to say nothing of the fleet of admirals. Which might seem like a digression (as might the argument whether Britain really has more generals than tanks, a claim indignantly denied by a retired general who did not explain why an army with three divisions would need even the 59 generals he conceded that it had, or why 29 brigades would justify nearly 150 brigadiers). But it’s not. People content to play make-believe about force structures are also liable to play make-believe about fuel sources.
In speculating that “Our current equipment programme is possibly the last to be dependent on fossil fuel” and that clean energy would be cheaper, more effective and put the Army “on the right side of the environmental argument”, Gen. Sir Mark Carleton-Smith failed to specify what would replace diesel and, who knows, maybe jet fuel for the Air Force. Ack. Not unicorn power again. And surely not electric tanks, or wind-powered ships and hot air balloons. Or nuclear tanks.
Now Carleton-Smith is no run-of-the-mill brigadier general green-skying here. He’s a full general, the highest rank in the British Army, and its Chief of the General Staff, the Army’s highest position. So you’d think he wouldn’t propose getting rid of what currently works unless he had some idea what to replace it with. But instead, in a manner tiresomely familiar outside the Army, he said “The challenge, and genuine commercial opportunity, is to aim high and lead the world in the development of military equipment which is not only battle-winning but also environmentally sustainable”. And, if forced to choose one or the other, bet on the latter.
His words are doubtless stirring the hearts of the shades of all those generals who, from 1914 through about 1917, dreamt of the day the infantry would break out of the trenches and Britain could sweep to victory on that environmentally-friendly, non-gas-powered career soldier’s dream that does exist in the modern world. Just saw the horn off the unicorn and you’ve got it. Yes. It’s a cavalry horse. Chaaaaaaarge.