Forget Ukraine, forget Gaza, the only defence story in town this past few days has been the relaxation of regulations governing beards in the British army.

King Charles III has signed off on a new policy that allows them to be sported by soldiers after having been banned for over 100 years.

Why the change of heart? Well, it comes after lobbying that the ban was old-fashioned and might be dissuading those who might otherwise be tempted to join up. With roughly 52% of the British male population sporting facial hair of some sort or other it has been deemed time that the army caught up with the other two services and allowed soldiers to grow beards.


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Whether the relaxation will have any real effect on recruiting remains to be seen. I have my doubts. It is much more likely that the sclerotic approach to garnering new recruits is more to blame, not helped by the outsourced firm responsible’s seeming inability to deliver on contract. Waiting over a year in some cases to complete the transition into the army from civilian life is hardly good enough.

Anyway, the only sound reason that I can think of for having the ban on beards in the first place was that it might interfere with the seal of your gas mask. Presumably the risk of chemical attack is now deemed to be extremely low, or is it just that soldiers will just be expected to have off their beards before going to war?

Historically speaking, having whiskers has never precluded a decent performance in combat. Just look at images of British troops in the Napoleonic and Crimean wars of the 19th century. Or the Long Range Desert Group in North Africal in 1942, or the Chindits in Burma in 1944.

And let’s not forget that the self-proclaimed elite of today’s British army, the SAS, have long eschewed the razor blade. Perhaps they will now have to adopt the clean-shaven look just to preserve their “otherness”?

The main criticism of the change in policy is, of course, that it’s hardly the major problem facing the British army. Beards or otherwise, there are sufficient potential recruits coming forward, they’re just not getting through the system.

Elsewhere matters are somewhat dire. We don’t have sufficient tanks. We don’t have sufficient artillery. We don’t have sufficient anti-air missiles. We have spend over £4 billion of a £5.6 billion procurement for the infamous Ajax series of armoured cavalry vehicles and they are ten years late with none in service.

The MoD expects the would-be recipients of Ajax to go to war in vehicles that are 70 years old while they try to get their act together. And still nobody, repeat nobody, has been held responsible. This failure to give our boys and girls the right equipment is a plain dereliction of duty. I hope the government is prepared for the law suits which are sure to follow if push comes to shove.

But, most egregious of all, we don’t have enough personnel. The British army should be able to put a division, of say roughly 15,000 men and women and their equipment, in the field in fairly short order. The sad reality is that currently we’d be hard pressed to field a single brigade (3,500 or so troops).

And that’s the basic problem. Decades of mismanagement by senior officers and civil servants alike have reduced our army to a mere shadow of what it should be. Our staunchest allies, the Americans, have even been heard to say that the UK is no longer a “Tier 1” military power.

How the once mighty have fallen. There’s no use crying over spilt milk though; looking back is for the birds. The question is what can we do to sort it out and make it better going forward.

I don’t think allowing beards is going to crack it if I’m honest. What I would say to the incoming Labour government (c’mon, we all know it’s going to happen) is that radical action is required of they want to make a proper fist of defence.

It’s not just that spending on defence needs to go up to 3% of GDP straight away, which it does (and beyond), it’s that the £55 billion or so which currently constitutes Britain’s defence budget needs to be spend better and more wisely. Continuing to spaff taxpayers’ money on poorly conceived and managed projects and policies is just not good enough any more, if indeed it ever was.

What I would really like to see is a giant of British industry – a Dyson, a Sugar or even, Heaven forfend, a Branson – appointed to take defence by the scruff of the neck and drag it into the 21st century. A bit like Churchill did with Lord Beaverbrook with aircraft production in 1940.

That would go some way to sorting the whole farrago out. We can’t continue as we are for if we do we will be lost. Time is of the essence. Over to you shortly, Sir Keir Starmer and the Labour party. Will you be up to the job?

Lt Col Stuart Crawford is a defence analyst and former army officer. Sign up for his podcasts and newsletters at www.DefenceReview.uk

 

 

 

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Stuart Crawford was a regular officer in the Royal Tank Regiment for twenty years, retiring in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1999. Crawford attended both the British and US staff colleges and undertook a Defence Fellowship at Glasgow University. He now works as a political, defence and security consultant and is a regular commentator on military and defence topics in print, broadcast and online media.
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harryb
harryb (@guest_807761)
1 month ago

Forget equipment, troops, cap badges and all the flashy stuff. At the moment it is all useless. Its been almost a decade since the British Army took part in any major ground campaign, and yet are Soldiers and their Families are suffering life threatening injurie’s and illnesses from their own accommodation. Unfortunately in some cases that is not even a slight exaggeration. Before we have anymore talk about more equipment and more numbers the very first thing we must provide for our people is safe, warm and dry accommodation which doesn’t literally violate their basic human rights.

Last edited 1 month ago by harryb
Tommo
Tommo (@guest_807838)
1 month ago
Reply to  harryb

Our MQ was flooded along with 3 others when the sea breached a temp wall at Eastney 6 High tides lost everything the Navy MQ officer and staff were only concerned about their Carpets and Cooker had too kick up a right fuss to get temp accomadation whilst the house dried out

farouk
farouk (@guest_807864)
1 month ago
Reply to  Tommo

There was a story in the paper the other week about how a Matlow living in a MQ in North London, had the ceiling fall in due to a water leak caused by shoddy workmanship in which to try and rectify the same issue a few years before. It cost the couple around 10 grand in which to replace everything that had been ruined and the MOD refused to compensate them . Says it all.

Story was reported in forces news feb 2024:
Royal Navy couple say they were plunged into debt after ceiling collapsed at their military home

Tommo
Tommo (@guest_807905)
1 month ago
Reply to  farouk

Things like this are not isolated incidents leaks ,damp electrica faults Farouk

Dragonwight
Dragonwight (@guest_807776)
1 month ago

Labour are not going to increase defence spending to 3%. That would require a large tax increase. I suspect Starmer is going to be a one term PM, if he wins, anyway. It might be nice, if they could get to a genuine 2%, without including Trident and its replacement.

Last edited 1 month ago by Dragonwight
Nick Cole
Nick Cole (@guest_807777)
1 month ago

Absolutely well said. As a cynic I think aside from the gas mask issue it is more about looking clean and tidy on the parade ground which seems to take precedence. I am pleased also to note that even Sky News is getting on the inadequacies of defence bandwagon over the last 14 to 20 years too. Defence is far more important than tax cuts which seems to be lost on our current crop of poliitical incumbents.

John Clark
John Clark (@guest_807787)
1 month ago
Reply to  Nick Cole

“Defence is far more important than tax cuts which seems to be lost on our current crop of political incumbents” Only to the 10% of voters like us who give a rats arse about it Nick. Most people want ever more tipped into the vast twin black holes of NHS and Social spending in general. You could dump the entirety of the defence budget into both black holes and I would guarantee you would see absolutely no difference in either… The government literally borrows to splurge vast sums of cash we haven’t got, as we run ever deeper in the… Read more »

Nick Cole
Nick Cole (@guest_807796)
1 month ago
Reply to  John Clark

Both of those black holes become part of and support defence especially the NHS! The money is found when it benefits party donors and vested interests, even if it adds to the future repayment burden met through taxation. The government works on the basis of borrow money to give to their chums for tax payers to pay back. Doubling what we pay for defence is in today’s world money well spent and is an insurance for the future.

John Clark
John Clark (@guest_807802)
1 month ago
Reply to  Nick Cole

I agree with you Nick, unfortunately most don’t, the public simply have zero or clue regarding defence and probably regard it as a total waste of money. Sadly today we have a benefits culture, we’ve huge numbers of People who absolutely think the safety net has been folded up and put away to be replaced by government spoon feeding benefits and feeding their kids breakfast at school!! The latest and saddest new ‘low’ being some 5 year olds that aren’t toilet trained ( somehow Covids fault)??? It’s hard to find the words quite frankly. A sizable and growing portion of… Read more »

Wasp snorter
Wasp snorter (@guest_807923)
1 month ago
Reply to  John Clark

Since when was it the responsibility of the state to provide breakfast to kids at school, but that’s the reality of politics. Most parents will engage with that policy and not have a clue as to how many Frigates are needed etc, and you can see why that is. I remember the free mini milk bottles given to us at school, I had lived in Belgium for years as a kid and never had milk given and didn’t need it, to coming here and had it passed to me in class via a crate being handed around, hardly anyone drank… Read more »

John Clark
John Clark (@guest_807927)
1 month ago
Reply to  Wasp snorter

Yep, milk at school, remember it well….. Millions of people are utterly connected to the states umbilical cord and totally dependent on it. The woke nanny state is utterly out of control now. 40 years ago, if kids turned up at school regularly without having their breakfast it would be a visit from Social services and child protection. These days they give them breakfast and probably just divvy out more benefits for the poor struggling parents…. Food banks and poverty, don’take me laugh, handouts have never been more generous and we are the fattest people in Europe… For god’s sake… Read more »

Jonathan
Jonathan (@guest_807998)
1 month ago
Reply to  John Clark

Hi John…I would not listen around the whole not potty trained by 5 thing that’s going around at preset…one of my degrees is around child development ( I do broken children as well as adults) and some children simply will not potty train within the expected curve of child development ( most will be but some will not) and you can find it occurring in families that have happily potty trained other kids…we get a bit obsessed with normal curves of global development in the modern world…but those curves are based around percentiles ( so 90% of children will achieve…but… Read more »

John Clark
John Clark (@guest_808013)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonathan

Morning Jonathan, as ever I defer to your knowledge on such matters. However, I would ask is this really a total non story, or is it on the rise though poor parenting? People allegedly using Covid as an excuse for this (that would have been toddlers at the time with zero recollection of the events) is just ridiculous. It’s a little like the tired old blaming Brexit for everything, when we all know the main reason we have serious debt issues is because of our piss poor weak governance, out of control spending, no leadership and zero reform of poorly… Read more »

Jonathan
Jonathan (@guest_808034)
1 month ago
Reply to  John Clark

Hi John, there is always something about poor parenting. But as I said there will always be a number of children outside the normal centile curves ( there has to be for them to be centile curves) which has little to do with parenting. I think what we may be seeing is that people complain about these things more when they perceive their own services having to take on a role…historically the health visiting and school nursing services would have taken and supported theses children that are outside the centile curves…as they have now all moved out of healthcare and… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Jonathan
John Clark
John Clark (@guest_808040)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonathan

Thanks Jonathan, your knowledge and reasoning in these matters is always appreciated mate👍

Wasp snorter
Wasp snorter (@guest_807919)
1 month ago
Reply to  John Clark

Yes and don’t forget the pension payments either, triple locked and inflation proof with a rapidly ageing population. Our capacity to raise tax is diminishing and is hastened with debt repayments increasing. This government never resolved (in all their time in office) the deficit. So to increase spending in one area like defence means an instant unplanned cut elsewhere, as there is no slack or surplus in the finances and unplanned cut will not occur. So talk of 3% on defence or any immediate increase is fantasy, because what will they cut? The NHS is a sacred cow, it needs… Read more »

John Clark
John Clark (@guest_807924)
1 month ago
Reply to  Wasp snorter

Yep, totally agree….

Re the deficit, to be fair, they had started to get control of Labours enormous debt pre 2010 bill, then COVID struck and the deficit blew ‘wildly’ out of control, leaving us with biblical levels of debt …

Spending is totally out of control now, with no reform programmes in place and no one capable of grabbing the wheel and steering the ship.

Current mob, utterly useless, government in waiting, more of the same.

John Hartley
John Hartley (@guest_807783)
1 month ago

About 30 years ago there was an experiment in the USA. Their cops carry guns & have to go to the range to stay qualified. There were 2 villain paper targets. A bearded man with a knife or a clean shaven man with a sub machine gun. Clearly the SMG was more dangerous, but the cops always shot the bearded man with a knife first. That is a good reason to use a shaver.
I think the post is right, that the MoD/HMG is resorting to gimmicks rather than fund the forces properly.

John Clark
John Clark (@guest_807830)
1 month ago
Reply to  John Hartley

Love the ‘well no one will use chemical weapons anyway’

Well apart from the Russians who use them as a go to assassins tool, here, there and everywhere they fancy.

Let’s hope they give everyone notice to shave off their beards before they start lobbing chemical munitions in our direction!

Did I mention they don’t particularly like us and the new cold war is getting rather warm?

George
George (@guest_807856)
1 month ago
Reply to  John Clark

Which is cute, except if you’ve ever tested someone with a beard wearing a GSR, you’ll find the seal perfectly functional.

The whole “beards compromise your CBRN kit” is utter *utter* bullshit.

There are waaaaaaaaay bigger issues with how Defence would handle a chemical attack than the lads having beards.

John Clark
John Clark (@guest_807900)
1 month ago
Reply to  George

Interesting, in a previous life I was a refinisher and air fed masks certainly don’t fit properly if you have a beard and didn’t have a perfect gas check.

You could catch a whiff of the materials, the reason I shaved my beard off and that’s with positive pressure equipment too.

I suppose the mask fits over the NBC suit with a gas check to that?

Dern
Dern (@guest_807946)
1 month ago
Reply to  George

Well that and nobody carries a respirator kit 24/7. The *only* time I’ve worn it in the last 8 years had been for CBRN ITR’s and a few shoots that where done with the respirator on. Other than that it sits in the bottom of a cage, taking up space.

Greg Smith
Greg Smith (@guest_807884)
1 month ago
Reply to  John Clark

It’s ok, paper masks were adequate protection for Cv19 the experts said…….

John Clark
John Clark (@guest_807903)
1 month ago
Reply to  Greg Smith

I think the thing about paper masks is they were actually relatively effective in containing the virus if you had it, purely because it limited the transmissibility (to a degree) in public.

dazzler
dazzler (@guest_807786)
1 month ago

No punches pulled there. Although if he thinks Labour is going to hand the Army over to private industry to improve it he is barking up the wrong tree.

Marcus FARRINGTON
Marcus FARRINGTON (@guest_807789)
1 month ago

Well said ColonelCrawford!!A non political defence TSAR to cut through all the red tape,acting outside political parties.Policy fixed until 2050?Funding guaranteed?Off shelf purchases of the best kit available?A plan of who are current and future enemies are and whether or not we are in a position to face them in the future?Huge job if recruited.Recruitment, retention,procurement cost and speed,size of forces,shipbuilding,next generation assets.Probably needs a trouble maker(Dom Cummings anyone?),not frightened to bang heads together,change mindsets,bin group think…Ah well, we can dream….

John
John (@guest_807805)
1 month ago

“Gas, gas, gas”…..”Tell them to hold off a bit I need a shave” 😂

Tommo
Tommo (@guest_807828)
1 month ago
Reply to  John

👍had this debate a few weeks ago on that very same issue and also if there is now equality in the Army will female Soldiers insist on grounds of that state if the men can have beards then so can we

John
John (@guest_807846)
1 month ago
Reply to  Tommo

Some already do 😂

Dave Wolfy
Dave Wolfy (@guest_807859)
1 month ago
Reply to  Tommo

Women will deny men beards because they cannot grow one.

Dern
Dern (@guest_807947)
1 month ago
Reply to  Tommo

Honestly, why not have one dress standard for all?

Tommo
Tommo (@guest_807949)
1 month ago
Reply to  Dern

Indeed ,Dern there will probably be those in uniform who will try too tinker with the full set such as a Van Duke or dribbler unless KARRs state how and what a full Beard with tash should look like including length

Dern
Dern (@guest_807950)
1 month ago
Reply to  Tommo

Tbf the regulations actually do state exactly what kinds of beards are allowed and what the maximum length is.

Tommo
Tommo (@guest_807958)
1 month ago
Reply to  Dern

There will probably be new amendments too that knowing interference from those retired Generals who hold sway with the military you have too include things such as Faith as well Watched a programme the other on the QE that had a Steward who identified as a Rastophirian and was allow dreadlocks that didn’t require cutting

Dern
Dern (@guest_807959)
1 month ago
Reply to  Tommo

People of faith have long been able to grow beards in the service, so I doubt we’ll see any change in regulations to reflect them. Sikh’s have been allowed long hair in service since the 1850’s so it’s not exactly a shocker that we make hair allowances based on faith.

Tommo
Tommo (@guest_807962)
1 month ago
Reply to  Dern

Agree I was Navy in training you could have a skinhead haircut but on board that cut was frowned upon the story goes if your in the water it’s harder too grab you and dunk then pull you up by your hair then grab you under the armpits

George
George (@guest_807857)
1 month ago
Reply to  John

GSRs seal even with a beard.

Try it next time you’re in an ARTS.

John
John (@guest_809661)
25 days ago
Reply to  George

Any system that creates negative pressure with inhalation, ie below 14.7 psi will, without a 100% seal to skin, will lead to leakage. Respirators are inherently safe only when a 100% seal is in place. That is why all CABA has been positive pressure for decades.

Mark B
Mark B (@guest_807819)
1 month ago

Stuart has reached an all time low with this article. Will it be putting off young recruits – probably once they realise the Army was so stup*d to ban them in the first place.

As for the rest of the article which is simply playing to the audience. More moaning about an issue that those with half a brain cell will realise no Government will want to make major instant changes to unless war breaks out. Any ridiculous jump in expenditure will crash the economy.

farouk
farouk (@guest_807825)
1 month ago

“”The MoD expects the would-be recipients of Ajax to go to war in vehicles that are 70 years old”” 70 years old? The only recce vehicle the British used in the recce role which was born in the 1950s was the Ferret, we stopped using it after the first Gulf war in 1991 Funny enough it outlasted its replacement (The Fox) which was top heavy and prone to overturning The CVR (T) class vehicle Scimitar  (Fox was CVR (W) which did most of the recce for the army and the vehicle the Ajax is meant to replace was taken out… Read more »

Ian M
Ian M (@guest_807915)
1 month ago
Reply to  farouk

Well said Farouk, Crawford is not a neutral.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli (@guest_807964)
1 month ago
Reply to  farouk

Bravo.

Tommo
Tommo (@guest_807829)
1 month ago

Not fair on Female Squaddies where’s the equality

pete
pete (@guest_807847)
1 month ago
Reply to  Tommo

There is a genetic flaw that enables some women to grow beards ( Hirsutism) if they have an excess of male hormones . Testosterone pills could be dished out for those wanting to become hairy’s and to males who have struggle !

farouk
farouk (@guest_807848)
1 month ago
Reply to  pete

Didn’t get the joke Pete

Dern
Dern (@guest_807954)
1 month ago
Reply to  farouk

True, but he does still kind of have a point. Not a huge hill I’d die on since the Armed Forces have some decent trans inclusive policies at the moment, but as a thought experiment if we removed “Males: Hair, Beard, etc” and “Females: Hair, make up, etc” regs and just had one set of regulations that covered everything, would the world end?

Outside of the Royal Marines I can’t imagine a lot of blokes showing up with foundation on to parade?

MrSatyre
MrSatyre (@guest_807855)
1 month ago

King Charles signed off on this? Isn’t that just for show? If he hadn’t signed off on it, would it have mattered?

Grizzler
Grizzler (@guest_807868)
1 month ago
Reply to  MrSatyre

Well yes obviously – or he wouldn’t have had to sign off on it in the first place.

MrSatyre
MrSatyre (@guest_807870)
1 month ago
Reply to  Grizzler

Well, no, not obviously. Next, you’ll be telling me that the military reports to the King, not to the MoD and the Prime Minister.

Last edited 1 month ago by MrSatyre
Grizzler
Grizzler (@guest_807933)
1 month ago
Reply to  MrSatyre

If he hadn’t signed it off would it be in place…yes or no.

Ian
Ian (@guest_807892)
1 month ago

The delays to Ajax owed a lot to senior decision-makers repeatedly changing the requirements while the project was underway. I suspect Treasury parsimony had something to do with it. Beyond that, blame for the mechanical issues clearly lies with GDUK. Whether they can actually be held to account or not depends on how well the contract was written. Decent contract negotiators are worth their weight in gold, but public bodies generally don’t like to pay the market rate for such people because the tabloids will find out and have a tantrum about it.

Expat
Expat (@guest_807894)
1 month ago

Diversity perhaps, there’s a couple of religions that state in there texts a male must grow a beard so changing this makes it more inclusive. Others its choice and they can choose if their career choice is more or less important than their look or style, not something entirely alien to a lot of people.

Simon
Simon (@guest_807935)
1 month ago
Reply to  Expat

If it encourages people to join up and doesn’t effect there ability to do there job go with it. We are not exactly over run with people wanting to join up

Expat
Expat (@guest_807942)
1 month ago
Reply to  Simon

I guess the benefits of having someone serving who puts religion above their country could be debated. Not by me though, I don’t want to be cancelled.

Dern
Dern (@guest_807948)
1 month ago
Reply to  Expat

Religions that state that you must grow a beard already had exceptions (I’ve served with Muslims, Sikhs and Pagan’s who all had beards). Ditto anyone with skin problems, or Pioneer Sergeants. In practice large portions of the army where already completely within regs to wear a beard, so the objections to simply letting anyone who can grow the same beard seem frankly a bit silly to me.

pete
pete (@guest_807967)
1 month ago
Reply to  Dern

Knew a soldier in the 1980’s who used to rub brasso in his face to get an exempt shaving chit just to piss off the TSM .

Expat
Expat (@guest_808028)
1 month ago
Reply to  Dern

But I’m not sure there’s a huge degree of awareness in some religious communities so dropping the rule completely will help diversity.

Dern
Dern (@guest_807945)
1 month ago

I always find it telling when people say things like “Presumably shaving war…bla bla.” Just goes to show how long they’ve been out of the service.

Bringer of facts
Bringer of facts (@guest_808775)
28 days ago

Good to see we are taking swift action on the really important things

dp
dp (@guest_809770)
25 days ago

It’s all just military fashions. There’s a decent argument that if everyone has a uniform look, it promotes unit cohesion and pride, and hair length and facial hair are the one thing that’s visible when everyone’s in a uniform. Of course, so is hair color, but I don’t know any military that mandates everyone dye it the same! But everyone generally has a “must be neat except where field conditions don’t allow” so units with neat beards, neat mustaches, and clean shaven plus hair within a general parameter is reasonable enough. Traditionally women serving have been allowed somewhat greater variation… Read more »

Last edited 25 days ago by dp
Dern
Dern (@guest_810024)
24 days ago
Reply to  dp

The problem with your last point is that there is no shortage of evidence that the Greeks, even the Spartiates, where often clean shaven, or even had long hair! Meanwhile, if Roman Emperors are anything to go by, the “Campaign Beard” was a fairly regular feature of Roman Milites, at least in the Imperial Period. Also textual evidence suggest that clean shaving really only became a thing in Rome some time around the Samnite or Punic Wars. Point being, modern Pop-cultural portrayals would make a really bad basis for noting combat preformances and the bleed over between even theoretically “clean… Read more »

Martin
Martin (@guest_812366)
15 days ago

‘Decades of mismanagement by senior officers and civil servants alike have reduced our army to a mere shadow of what it should be’ i have been saying this in most of my posts. Those in charge have over 30 years done nothing, said nothing, tried to pass the blame. They are the ones who ruined the Army by doing NOTHING and putting getting in to house Lords above duty. Stop just saying its all the MODs fault, it is the then and now top brasses fault, they are just unable to man up and admit it. It happened on their… Read more »