Mission Improbable

The Transformation of the British Army Reserve


Patrick Bury

Howgate Publishing Limited, UK   2019 

Paperback    226 pp    RRP $81.25


Reviewer: Jim Barry, September 2019


I found this book a difficult ‘read’ in that it was more like a text than a readable book! The author by his own description was a later-in-life academic specialising in ‘military and counter-terrorism organisational transformation and cohesion’.

Based on Bury’s PhD at the University of Exeter, it is a wide-ranging review of a major ‘experiment’ in the structure of the ‘whole’ British Army; to deal with cost efficiencies and to overcome post-cold-war threat contingencies and to further deal with a serious limited strength issue. This resulted in a plan for ‘The Transformation of the British Army Reserve’ leading to a Defence Policy entitled ’Reserves in the Future Force 2020 – Valuable and Valued’; or labelled ‘FR20 Policy’.

A statement in the House of Commons by the Defence Secretary of the day on 3 July 2013 stated: ‘to arrest the decline of the Reserves and better integrate them with the Regular armed forces the government will make an investment over the next ten years in equipment, training and remuneration --- we will use our Reserve forces to provide military capability as a matter of routine, mobilising them, when appropriate.’                                      

FR20’s major emphasis was on outsourcing military logistics capability, previously held in the regular army, to an expanded and more deployable reserve logistic component. This meant centralisation of reserve units and incorporating them into ‘Army 2020’ new four-tiered readiness structure. This change was aimed at the Territorial Army (TA) which was traditionally a part-time militia of citizen soldiers. This ‘attempt’ at change was to transform this new reserve army from a ‘strategic’ reserve to an ‘operational’ reserve.

The analysis of Reserves in the Future Force 2020; especially from its genesis, through its trials and tribulations and finally modifications over time, is very thorough and worth the read by anyone with an interest in, or a military background, as it also provides an interesting insight into British society as it involves the public perception of its military forces, the traditional base of the TA, the politicisation of decisions and Army Headquarters attitude to same.

In typical academic fashion Bury examines the historical ‘tenets’  of military transformation compared to civilian change management, military professionalism and general group cohesion; all from an emerging civilian logistics point of view with its supply chain management of ‘just in time’ versus ‘just in case’ approach.

What struck me most was how small the British Regular Army had been downsized to, some 100,000 personnel and how this initiative was going to increase its efficiency by re-roling Reserve units to provide partial deployable integration to support Regular combat units.

In summary, Bury demonstrates ‘how low level organisational resistance can curtail top-down politically enforced innovation’ and further, how a plan that was ‘revised by stakeholder resistance and organisational friction’, was changed from its original initiative. However, from its initial origins in 2010 and announced in Parliament in 2013, FR20’s transformation, phased and amended has come a long way to bring regulars and reservists together.

I can thoroughly recommend this work especially to military scholars, military history ‘buffs’ and more especially politicians to understand the citizen soldier psyche.


The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for the opportunity to review this book.

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