The move delivers on the commitment outlined in the Coalition Programme for Government to maximise R&R as part of rebuilding the military covenant.
It follows the recommendation of Service Chiefs and agreement with the RAF Families Federation.
The changes aim to ensure that Service personnel on operations get the R&R they deserve while reducing the potential for delays travelling to and from theatre.
Under the new guidelines, all Service personnel serving tours in Afghanistan and Iraq of six months or longer will continue to receive two weeks mid-tour leave, but now with a guarantee that any days lost, due to delays in transit or for any other operational reason, will be made up at the end of their tour.
To help minimise delays by easing pressure on military flights, the Service Chiefs have also recommended that those Service personnel due to serve on short tours will in future be posted for less than four months, thus removing the need for them to take R&R. This will mainly affect those serving with the Royal Air Force.
The changes will significantly benefit 85 per cent of those personnel currently serving in Afghanistan, drawn from all Services, who are serving on longer tours.
Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox said:
I am delighted to announce this change which will ensure that the Service personnel who are serving on the longest tours of duty get the rest they so richly deserve while strengthening our overall operational effectiveness.
The Government is dedicated to the care and welfare of our troops and alongside the recent doubling of the Operational Allowance these steps show our commitment to rebuild the Military Covenant.
R&R gives troops the chance to recharge their batteries, improving morale and operational effectiveness. These benefits have to be balanced against operational requirements to ensure that commanders on the ground maintain the capability and flexibility they need to take the fight to the enemy.
The Chief of Joint Operations, Air Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, said:
The rest and recuperation (R&R) policy announced today makes operational sense. As the operational commander of deployed UK forces, these measures will bring additional flexibility to the commanders on the ground and we preserve the effectiveness of the force, especially in Afghanistan.
Under previous rules, compensating R&R lost through delays in transit would be at the discretion of the commanding officer of the unit. As one late returnee could have a domino effect for the whole unit, it has not always been possible to make up any shortfall by delaying the return journey. So adding any lost days R&R to the post operational tour leave ensures that everyday of R&R is taken, without affecting the effectiveness of the force.
Dawn MaCafferty, Chairman of the RAF Families Federation said:
Recognising the RAF’s need to manage personnel on operational deployments to best effect, the RAF Families Federation support the decision to maintain four-month tours where possible, albeit without R&R, as the best option for RAF families under the circumstances.
The loss of R&R will be of concern to families but many acknowledge that the disruption to family life caused by the serving partner re-appearing at the mid-way point can add additional stress, particularly where young children are concerned. In the Federation’s view, efforts to minimise the overall tour length were the priority during this debate and we accept that the withdrawal of eligibility for R&R during shorter tours was a necessary sacrifice for the greater good.
The move to ensure that any R&R days lost as a result of air bridge difficulties or the need to travel significant distances from the airhead to the family home is particularly welcomed, albeit we acknowledge that the impact will only be felt by those completing six-month tours of duty.
These policy changes will take effect at different times. The changes for those serving six-month tours will be effective immediately.
The policy to reduce short tour length to 119 days will be implemented for personnel deploying on or after 01 Jan 2011.
Troops currently in theatre or warned for duty will not be affected by the change.
The move to reduce the length of short tours, removing the requirement for an R&R package, will reduce the passenger traffic to Afghanistan by 11 per cent hereby significantly improving the resilience of the air bridge.
The benefits of providing R&R during a six-month deployment are well-documented and significantly outweigh the challenges that it presents. The same cannot always be said for four month tours where the turnover through theatre is higher and stress and fatigue do not necessarily reach the same levels, meaning that the cost in terms of administration and collective operational effectiveness are closely balanced against the benefit to our personnel and their personal operational effectiveness.