Fox set to cut military top brass
Defence Secretary Liam Fox has announced a clear-out of senior military officers designed to produce more streamlined management of the "top heavy" armed forces.
The chiefs of the Army, Royal Navy and RAF are to be removed from the decision-making Defence Board chaired by Dr Fox. And the post of commander-in-chief - the second-ranking officer in each of the three services - is to be phased out, along with a number of other senior positions.
Meanwhile, a new Joint Forces Command, led by a four-star commander, will develop cross-service co-operation as part of the more integrated defence approach which ministers want to encourage for the future.
Dr Fox announced the "radical new approach" for the Ministry of Defence after accepting the recommendations of Lord Levene's report into what he said was "a department bedevilled with weak decision-making and poor accountability".
The announcement comes after a war of words between military top brass and ministers which last week saw an exasperated Prime Minister David Cameron tell service chiefs: "You do the fighting, I'll do the talking."
A string of senior officers went public with their concerns over the strains of conducting simultaneous operations in Afghanistan and Libya, with Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope questioning how long the campaign against the Gaddafi regime could be sustained and Air Chief Marshal Sir Simon Bryant warning RAF morale was "fragile".
Dr Fox was blunt in warning top brass of the dangers of loose talk: "We must be very careful, those of us who have authority in defence, in discussing the sustainability of our mission. People's lives are at stake. There can be only one message that goes out to Libya - that is we have the military capability, political resolve and legal authority to go through with what we started . We will continue our mission until our mission succeeds and Col Gaddafi must get no other signal than that."
A new "cost-conscious mentality" will drive a greater focus on affordability throughout the MoD. And a new approach to personnel will aim to ensure promotions go to the right person for the job, rather than operating on the principle of "Buggins' turn", said Dr Fox.
Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said Labour broadly welcomed the changes, but added that there had been a "fracture" in the relationship between ministers and the service chiefs, reflected in Mr Cameron's comments last week.
"For some, unfortunately, today's announcement of the removal of the three service chiefs from the defence board will be seen as a structural confirmation of that strident sentiment," said Mr Murphy. "The rushed and arbitrary decisions taken in the Government's defence review... have created a black hole in MoD finances."