Simon Akam, 10 March 2022
It’s hard for a civilian observer really to understand what rank means in the army. It’s an aura; you feel it in every interaction between officer and soldier. There is a lot of rank about in the British army. An institution that is heading towards a full-time strength of 73,000 still has no fewer than eighteen ranks, eleven commissioned and seven non-commissioned. In April last year there were 213 officers at brigadier level or higher, even though there were fewer than ten deployable brigades. A clear and rigid hierarchy has advantages in combat, where the system has to function reliably under pressure. But in almost any other situation a surfeit of rank is a problem. The challenge when filling a particular role is to find someone of the appropriate rank who also has the appropriate expertise. When these requirements are in conflict, the former often prevails.