Monday, January 29, 2018

DMP: even though funding does not match ambitions, a global stance is still needed



The current “review that is not a review”, now called Defence Modernisation Programme, is an abomination and an abject failure. There is no other honest way to describe the current farcical situation, with a government in denial scrambling for new cuts scarcely two years into a 5-years strategic plan crafted with the last SDSR, dated November 2015. The handling of the whole “National Security Strategy” is farcical, and the months spent denying the problem now look like nothing but concentrated dishonesty. Michael Fallon’s late change of heart is the coronation of the whole disaster: now that he is no longer in charge he is not just admitting that there is a serious cash problem, but pontificating on areas where to seek further “efficiencies”.
We are now officially into a new review, but the government is still trying to tell us that it is not a purely financial exercise. They insist on turning “cuts” into “modernisation”. 

The effective gravity of the problem is hard to gauge. The MOD is now saying that they have “line of sight” on about 90% of the efficiency target set by the SDSR 2015 (more than 7.4 billions) and they also say that the earlier target set by the SDSR 2010 is more or less achieved. A variety of other initiatives requiring other efficiencies added up to an official target of some 20 billion. In theory, if the MOD statements are to be trusted, most of that money has been found, but press reports continue to suggest that a minimum of 15 and a maximum of 30 billions are missing over the next ten years timeframe. This is nothing short of astonishing because, in the worst case, it pretty much means that the MOD is missing a whole financial year of budget. It is hard to even imagine how this can be, especially since the Equipment Budget, one of the biggest expenditure voices, is entering into years in which most of the expenditure is planned but not contractually committed. According to the Equipment Programme 2016, 48% of the Equipment Budget is not yet tied to contracts as of financial year 2017/18, which in theory means that there is a lot that could simply shift to the right or be cancelled before cuts to existing assets and manpower numbers need to be considered. Of course, a large proportion of money not yet contractually locked is nonetheless tied to programmes which the MOD absolutely does not want to drop, but even then there should be (and there is) a degree of flexibility that is hardly reconciled with stories of imminent collapse.
Not to mention that all Army programmes are late on start, so the MOD has been spending less than originally planned, and all three services are undermanned compared to requirement, which also should mean personnel costs are lower than expected. Unless the MOD is completely unable to calculate a budget, it is extremely hard, if not impossible, to reconcile the MOD’s affirmations on Efficiencies and on the state of the EP and the financial crisis as reported by the press: either said crisis is far smaller than the media estimate, or the MOD must be lying about having found the efficiencies requested. Alternatively, the Treasury has not respected its promise to let the MOD carry forward its underspend and has taken back the money or is trying to take it back now. 
For sure the MOD is very distant from meeting its civilian headcount reduction target; this is known. 

The terrifying cut options that Fallon was about to approve, according to the Times. Option 2 would seem to be the most "acceptable", but it still makes for horrifying reading. The new secretary reportedly refused to seriously consider any of these. 

Meanwhile, Fallon has written in the Telegraph to say that efficiencies can still be found by removing “duplication” in medical services, helicopters and other functions.
While medical services could perhaps be an area where to look for savings, finding genuine “efficiencies” in helicopters will be very complicated: there no longer are “duplicate fleets”. Puma is no duplication of Merlin. Puma is smaller, can quickly deploy via C-17. Merlin is for shipboard ops and ASW. Chinook has no duplicate. Wildcat neither. Apache neither. That leaves the Gazelle fleet, still used in a number of supporting roles at home and in BATUS. Gazelle could be replaced with H-135 or 145 to achieve commonality with the new training fleet, but this is a typical “spend now to save later” solution. Similarly, the armed forces could perhaps put under contract a more coherent and logistically common solution for training support and Brunei (currently done with a handful of Bell 212) and for Cyprus (4 Griffin helicopters for SAR and training support). But, again, it would take cash to do so.

Reducing the number of Army Air Corps bases is also something that is being looked at, long and hard. A specific strand of Defence Estate review dealing with this topic has been in the works for months and is (very) late on publishing. There is some appetite for closing down Wattisham, moving the Apache south to Middle Wallop or Boscombe Down. This might generate significant savings in the long run, but the upfront cost is massive. Efficiencies, when they aren’t just cuts under a different name, often require upfront expenditure, and that makes them hard to pursue when lack of cash in-year is the problem.


The “serious debate on defence” dream

I remain convinced that the current handling of Defence policy in the UK is simply indefensible and needs to be dramatically reformed. British defence plans are largely unaccountable. The lack of details and the endless contradictions make it impossible to keep track of the department’s work. The EP document is a manifestation of this extreme vagueness: the graphics show us, more or less accurately, the consistence of the budgets for each equipment area but there is next to nothing in terms of detail about what programmes are included. We get told how much money is expended, but we only ever get extremely limited detail about what it buys.
The NAO Major Projects report is no longer produced, so even that source of information is gone, leaving behind only the Excel spreadsheets that the MOD publishes in July, showing the expenditure connected to the largest ongoing programmes. Some of the figures remain undisclosed; smaller but important programmes get no mention at all; acquisition profiles are not included and the entire spreadsheet only gives a vision of the financial year that has ended. In other words: in July this year (assuming there are no delays or changes) we’ll get a picture that will be current only to September 2017. What little we get to know is always a picture of a far gone past.

Written Answers are just as vague: MOD ministers regularly refuse to disclose dates and numbers. The latest written answers about WCSP and MRV-P, for example, deliberately do not include any indication of a target date for contract award. The Warrior CSP production contract; a Challenger 2 LEP candidate downselection; the order for JLTV for the Multi Role Vehicle Protected Group 1 and a choice between Eagle 6x6 and Bushmaster for the Group 2 requirement are (were?) all expected this year, but uncertainty rules supreme. Speaking at RUSI, Carter mentioned that the Army will have WCSP and CR2 LEP “sometimes in the next five years”. Is he talking of contract award? Delivery of first vehicle? IOC? FOC? He could have hardly been any more confusing. There is no way to keep track of the MOD’s actions.

The Defence Committee is powerless and the Defence chiefs are subject to such limitations when they speak to it that they are effectively forbidden from voicing any discomfort with government policy. This effectively means that the hearings are almost completely pointless.
There have been complaints recently about leaks to the newspapers being “damaging to morale”, and that is certainly true. But the sad truth is that leaks are currently the only instrument in the hands of the MOD to initiate a public debate. Chiefs aren’t allowed to voice their concerns openly in front of the committee and Parliament doesn’t get a vote on the defence plan. In France, in the US, and even in Italy Parliament does get a say and each financial year sees the publication of detailed documents that show how much money will be allocated to each programme and what said money will buy. France publishes a list of everything it plans to order in year, and another of everything it receives.
In the UK there is absolutely nothing remotely comparable.
It is my opinion that this absolutely needs to change. It is impossible to have a “serious debate” on Defence when no information is ever allowed to circulate. The Chief General Staff ended his much hyped RUSI speech urging experts to debate about defence. This is a very welcome call to arms, but the debate cannot be restricted to “give defence more money because Russia is a threat”. The debate cannot be restricted only to extremely general concepts: how can anyone comment on the validity of STRIKE, for example, when the Army tells us nothing about the concept? How do we make a case for “Information Manoeuvre” when we have been barely told that it will involve “77 Brigade, 1st ISR Brigade and the two signal brigades” working together. Back in June last year, Fallon spoke to RUSI and said that Royal Signals and Intelligence Corps would “merge” as part of the Information Manoeuvre Strategy and that a second EW regiment (who knows with what kind of capability remit) would be formed. We were never given a further word about it.
One only needs to compare the british army SOLDIER magazine with Corps or Army-wide publications in the US or Australian or French armies. SOLDIER is gossip (no offence intended to those who produce the magazine, just stating facts), while journals elsewhere include very interesting discussions about tactics, force structure, proposals, critiques coming from inside the army. 

If the armed forces want a proper debate, they must start it themselves and provide us with some degrees of information. Security concerns are always and rightfully prominent, but it is just not credible to say that the British forces can never discuss anything in the open while other allied armies feel free to share their thinking. Surely there is something that is both releasable and meaningful. In absence of any relevant information, any debate ends up being a fantasy fleet exercise. Personally, I find it frustrating enough that I’ve largely ceased trying, because every discourse ultimately feels pointless and I’m finding it harder  and harder to take any statement or plan with any degree of confidence. There are only so many defence reviews that can be torn to bits within a year or two before all confidence in their worth is lost.


“Tough choices”

As cuts draw nearer, the usual rhetoric about tough choices and sacred cows resurfaces. From my somewhat privileged observation point outside of the UK I can say that:

1) The UK is extremely “good” at making tough choices when it comes to cutting defence. They are often extremely tough and they have dramatic and long-lasting effects. They tend to only make some kind of sense from a short-term perspective, however. Few other countries are able to demolish entire capabilities and spit in the face of years of efforts and investment as the UK does, and arguably none in the whole world ends up doing it so frequently.

2) The sacred cows rhetoric is too often used in the context of inter-service rivalry rather than in a rational assessment of capability. “Amphibious capability” and “airborne capability” are not sacred cows. The fetish for a disproportionate number of tiny infantry battalions is.

Ahead of this new review several commentators are calling for tough choices matching the severity of those contained in the infamous 1981 review chaired by John Nott. The Guardian in particular seems to have jumped on this train of thought advocating, for the most part in extremely vague and weak ways, for a UK that “focuses on Europe” and that “cannot afford to rule the waves anymore”.

There was some outrage when the new secretary of state for defence listed his priorities for defence and put developing a global strike capability based on the new aircraft carriers right behind Continuous At Sea Deterrence and ahead of the “capability to defend Europe”. I found that quite ridiculous, first of all because I'm not sure the order in which he told them has any real meaning. Also, they are concepts so vaguely defined that they can mean pretty much anything and its contrary, save for CASD which is (or should be, at least) unambiguous. The very fact that amphibious capability and LPDs are very much in danger of being cut means that "global carrier strike" means little. The two components are closely connected and removing one damages the whole irreparably.
Moreover, "Defence of Europe" can take several different directions.

There is a dangerous narrative doing the rounds about the navy being responsible for the Budget problem and for the army’s woes. The carriers are regularly described as the problem, regardless of how patently and demonstrably false this affirmation is.
First of all, before examining the strategic implications, let’s take note of this fact: the carriers by now are paid for. Soon enough the second ship will be delivered, and the 6 billions are gone at this point. If you want a programme costing over six billions and with most of the expenditure yet to take place you have to look at the voice “Armoured Cavalry 2025 - Ajax”.
The 6 billions for the carriers have been expended between 2008 and today, and there never was a year in which they were the biggest voice of expenditure in the budget. The acquisition of the 48 F-35B planned will cost some 9.1 billion spread on the financial years 2001 to 2026. Simple math confirms that no, the carriers did not break the budget, even if the ships cost and the F-35 costs are summed together. Note that the F-35 would still be there regardless of the carriers, as the RAF would have wanted it all the same to replace its older attack aircraft.
The carriers have contributed to forcing the Navy to accept a number of cuts to its escorts, that is definite, but the simple truth is that a navy of sole escorts is very different from a navy complete of carriers. The carriers fundamentally shape the role and capability of the Royal Navy. Having a few frigates more would not have the same effect.

It is also false that the Army is not getting money because of the Navy and of the F-35. The Land Equipment budget for 2016 – 2026 is 19.1 billion, versus 19 for Ships and 18 for Combat Air. It is true that the Air Force also gets money under “Air Support” and “Helicopters” budget, but that is valid for the Army as well (Apache and Wildcat for the Army Air Corps). Arguably, the Army is the primary user for many of the air support platforms as well (C-130, A400, C-17, Voyager). When it is said that the army is suffering the consequences of inflated Navy and Air Force programmes, fundamentally a lie is uttered.
The real elephant in the room is clearly the nuclear deterrent, which enormously inflates the “Submarines” budget, but as long as CASD remains the primary national defence tool there is little that can be done about its cost. The Navy has little to no actual control on it, and said control will become even more loose as the Top Budget Areas are restructured and  divided up differently. Effective from 1 april 2016 the MOD has established the Director General Nuclear Organisation. The effect of this further division of responsibility should become visible in the soon to be published Equipment Programme document (which details the financial year 16/17). DG Nuclear is a Front Line Command (FLC) equivalent post. Since April 2013 the equipment budget management has been delegated to the FLCs: RN, Army, RAF, Joint Forces Command, Strategic Programmes Directorate and now DG Nuclear. 


Strategic considerations; Europe and the unpleasant truth

The UK cannot and should not "defend Europe" from Russia. It can contribute to the defence of Europe, and the difference between the two affirmations is enormous.
Whether the “defend Europe” priority truly needs to be a major force structure driver is actually debatable. If we seriously expect major, non-geographically limited russian action, arguably we should not be contemplating cuts at all.
If the Russian threat is geographically limited, presumably to the Baltic countries, the UK cannot afford to have its defence policy dragged too much towards an overland posture by something it might still not be able to prevent and that, sorry if it sounds cynical, is of little actual impact to the UK. We need to ask what is the actual danger to the UK from Russia's actions in Ukraine and, potentially, the Baltics? Cynical as it sounds, UK committment must be commensurate to threat and returns. What is the UK's substantial committment to the Baltics buying? What would an even greater focus gain?
The direct impact on the UK from Russian actions in either area is actually minimal. Obviously, the one enormous difference is that the Baltic countries are part of NATO, so an aggression against them would trigger Article 5 and require NATO action. If NATO failed to react appropriately, the credibility of Article 5 would be shattered forever. This indirect impact is the real concern, as it would put the whole of NATO, and all the defence assumptions it underpins, into question.

The collapse of Article 5 is to be avoided by preventing the start of hostilities. I think that, if we are realistic, we will all admit that if Russia ever attacked for real, rushing into war would be very, very complicated. Would the NATO countries  be willing and able to declare war on Russia over the Baltics? Especially if Russia managed to make the invasion start off as a “local uprising” as in Crimea and Ukraine? I very much struggle to imagine much enthusiasm in the public opinion, including a UK in which an alarmingly large share of the population seem to share Corbyn’s feeling that even the Falklands and Gibraltar should be given up. If they have so little care for fellow Britons, do we expect them to support a far more dangerous war in the Baltics? We are “lucky” that Georgia and Ukraine are not part of NATO. And we cannot be surprised that Russia attacked them before they could join. As much as US and NATO protested and deprecated Russia’s actions and regardless of how good and deep the relations with either country are, nobody was willing to enter an actual war for them. Within Europe there are those who think the EU is responsible for the Ukraine disaster because it “intruded into Russia’s backyard”. There was and is political opposition even to the economic sanctions against Russia, with some parties valuing trade with Russia more than Ukraine. As Italian, unfortunately, I know this all too well, as we have had some loud voices speaking exactly in these terms. If push came to shove there would be some serious thinking about how to react to a Baltic scenario as well. Realism hurts, but is desperately necessary.



The NATO forward presence in the Baltics is intended to prevent such a scenario by hopefully making it impossible for Russia to build up an “uprising scenario” or any other form of modern maskirovka while also putting NATO troops directly on the frontline. Any invasion would put British, American, German, French and other troops immediately at risk, and public opinion in the respective countries would find it much harder not to react. In the most brutal and direct terms possible: if the Russians advance, NATO soldiers will die and that will provide motivation for the fight to continue. And in turn, this awareness discourages Russia from trying in the first place.
It is a game of deterrence, and I hope no one believes that the forward-deployed battlegroups, with their handful of mix and match armored vehicles from multiple countries, could actually defend the Baltics through combat. They are nowhere near large and capable enough to do that. Their presence is meant to dissuade Russia from opening fire in the first place, not to provide effective defence against a serious attack. They are there to ensure that others would come after them.

Should NATO’s forward presence be reinforced? Should a much greater permanent presence of troops be a priority? No. An excessively cumbersome NATO presence would risk alienating local support in the long run, while worsening relations with Russia even further. It would also be difficult, if not impossible, to accumulate enough forces to make the Baltics “unassailable”. Russia is advantaged by geography and by good internal communications that would allow it to rapidly concentrate overwhelming force in the area, while the small Baltics states physically do not have territory to give up to gain time. 
“Defending Europe” does not require the UK switching its focus back to continental warfare. It would be extremely unwise to do so. Skewering any further the whole UK's defence posture towards a new British Army of the Rhine, or even of Poland or of the Baltics would be nothing short of stupid.
Half-tracked STRIKE brigades, even if their vehicles were stored in Germany, where the army intends to maintain its Controlled Humidity Storage facility, would not change the equation. Even assuming they could truly drive all the way to the Baltics along European roads, they still wouldn’t shift the balance. 
I'd rather invest further in the ability to move heavy armour by road and train. The British Army's fleet of Heavy Equipment Transporters is a precious asset, but with just 89 transporters and 3 recovery vehicles there are obvious limits to what can be moved around. British HETs have been transporting allied armoured vehicles and loads as well. Notably, some 30 HETs have been loaned to the US Army as the american HET does not comply with european regulations. 

The supporters of the mythical “tough decision”, however, seem to advocate for a repeat of the retreat from East of Suez to preserve the army and focus on the European theatre. Supposedly this is not just the wise choice but also the cheap one.
The actual harsh truth is that it is neither wise nor cheap.

The British Army is not in good shape. It is very small; it is short of supports; it is incredibly weak in terms of air defence and most of its brigades are not deployable but are mere bags containing a variable number of small, light role, non-mechanized infantry battalions plus three small cavalry regiments mounted on Jackal. The British Army is nowhere near ready for an actual fight with Russia and, size-wise especially, it will never truly be. The Guardian can happily subscribe to the Russia-produced story that what the heavily mechanized, artillery rich Russian army is very afraid of the tiny light role infantry battalions on foot that make up most of the british army, but I hope that most people can recognize deliberate trolling for what it is.

Fortunately, the British Army does not need to take on Russian forces on its own.
Obsolescence of major equipment, weakness in Fires, ground based air defence in need of rebuilding and a dog’s breakfast mix of countless small vehicle fleets procured under UOR all add up to a gigantic capability gap that it would take many billions to close. The 19 billion ten-year equipment budget would merely begin to improve the outlook, even assuming everything (finally) worked out. And keep in mind that it is, de-facto, not known exactly what is included in those 19 billions, what is partially included and what is left for later. Even before new programmes begin to appear (new artillery, land precision strike, long range rockets for GMLRS, air and missile defence, new ground based sensors, a Desert Hawk III replacement etcetera) we don’t know when WCSP will deliver, or when CR2 LEP will go ahead and whether it will be enough to make Challenger 2 competitive again.

The UK is not equipped to be a continental power. The British Army in many ways compares horribly poorly to Poland’s army. And this is, to a degree, normal. It is not the UK’s task to be a continental power and the guardian of East Europe. It should continue to contribute, certainly, but trying to buy influence in Europe with the land forces the UK has is, if not impossible, a job that will take many years and many more billion pounds than the UK can expend.
Cutting back capabilities such as the (existing and paid for) amphibious force with its shipping; or the carriers; or the F-35 purchase, would merely mean turning billions of pounds and years of efforts and investment into nothing but waste. New weaknesses will be created where there are not, for little to no effective gain at all.

What the UK has always added to Europe's military capability and to the “European side of NATO” is the willingness and ability to intervene far from home. An Europe-centric garrison, even if it was to revolve around a new "british army of the Baltic" would not be in the UK nor EU's interest if it came at the expense of other capabilities.
The UK was never primarily defined in Europe by its MBTs apart perhaps when Chieftain's 120mm appeared in a 105mm NATO. BAOR was of course a valued contribution, and there was a period in which it made sense to focus on it and GIUK gap above all else, but those times are over.
Today’s unique UK strengths include strategic air mobility; air breathing ISTAR which is second only to the US’s; the Royal Fleet Auxiliary which has more capability on its own than the support vessels of the other major European navies put together; SSNs and their expert and excellently trained crews; Tomahawk which only has a European paragon in France’s Scalp Navale; amphibious capability which in Europe few players have; a vast Chinook fleet; Apache; and combat engineering. P-8 Poseidon and Carrier Strike will soon enough be part of this list. In good part, the strength’s of today’s UK have come out of the never realized review of 1998, but this does not make them any less relevant. Whether by design or by incident, many of those capabilities remain unique in Europe or make up a huge percentage of Europe’s entire potential capability in the sector.
It would be absurd to throw away existing strengths to try and become a continental power on the cheap. Also because, quite simply, the budget would never suffice anyway.

Years ago, before starting this blog; before Russia invaded Georgia, I was a commentator on blogs owned by others. More than once I warned that the Cold War had never ended from a russian prospective but only from a western one. Back then, any remark of this kind was invariably met with the typical 90s and early 00s story that Soviet equipment was never good anyway and Russia would never be a threat again.
Even after the events in Georgia the situation did not change. It took Ukraine to truly generate a reaction.
Now I see a real risk that the UK will go from one extreme to the other. Russia must not become an hysteria that bends the UK’s defences and foreign policy entirely out of shape.  
Russia's threat, while absolutely significant, does not require nor suggest the UK should be throwing away every bit of effort expended since at least 1998 to become a country engaged globally in a globalized world in favor of garrisoning an hostile Europe seeking gains from Brexit.

The UK has chosen to leave the European Union. It will not leave Europe, for obvious reasons. But Global Britain needs to be a concept which is actively pursued, not an empty slogan. With the capabilities it possesses, the UK is better positioned to be an expeditionary player than a garrison entrenched in East Europe. This does not make the UK’s forces any less valuable to NATO or the EU. If the UK sacrifices its expeditionary capabilities to revert to an “European garrison” ala review of 1981, France’s military weight within the EU will massively increase as they will be the only major player with worldwide reach. There is no guarantee that the UK would even be able to conserve its current “rank” (let alone improve it) if it cut back on expeditionary capabilities to keep the army at 82k personnel. Sending a squadron of open-topped Jackals in the frozen north-east Europe so the crews can get frostbite is hardly going to impress anyone. I say this with the utmost respect for the crews out there riding Jackals and Coyotes, let me make this clear. I just can’t take the idea seriously, though.

Remainers should not be under the illusion that cutting back on the navy in favor of the army will gain the UK any advantage in Brexit negotiations. The government, moreover, should not be under the impression that they can cut defence at will and still expect Europe to be awed by the british armed forces and overtly attach to them a great value. General Camporini had tough comments to offer about the UK’s armed forces and their role in Europe pre and post Brexit and he is unlikely to be the only one thinking in those terms. In fact, the the last thing the UK should do is to offer even further unilateral promises and reassurances and commitments before securing any kind of return. Unilaterally and unconditionally committing to “manning trenches” in the East Europa is the perfect way to enable the EU to snub the british armed forces value and still get them to pay the cost of defending the union. 

Ultimately, in this day and age, the UK cannot and should not pretend that the world begins at Gibraltar and ends near Kaliningrad. The UK spent a good twenty years rebuilding its forces to an expeditionary model and is now on the verge of having the second most powerful naval task force in the world.
The “tough choice” it needs to make is arguably to stop salami-slicing capability from all three services and accept that its efforts have to be prioritized on some sectors rather than others. The strengths are at sea and in the air? Build on them. They are paid for. They are valuable.
Middle East commitments build security, buy the UK a market (including for its defence industry) and play into Europe’s security no less than a battlegroup in the Baltic. The “defence of Europe” does not encompass only the continent: it stretches out to Africa and Middle East.

The UK also needs to continue its return East of Suez, not because it can more realistically take on China than it can on Russia, but because it needs to be seen as a player in the Indian Ocean and beyond. France and even Italy, which is basing its new defence strategy on the concept of “enlarged Mediterranean” and on the acquisition of expeditionary capabilities such as AEW and new, larger ships, have understood that they need to buy relevance beyond Suez. The UK’s powerful naval group and its air force cannot defeat China, obviously, but are more than valuable enough to contribute to build security and can buy the UK influence in the area.

The UK’s natural role in Europe is as guardian of the GIUK gap and ASW expert. The new NATO command for the Atlantic should see the UK in very first line for obvious reasons of geography, direct interest (nobody else has as much to lose from a potential Russian break out into the Atlantic as the UK), expertise and equipment (P-8 incoming, Merlin, SSNs, Type 23 and, in the future, Type 26). The Type 31 frigate is the odd one out: the ship would be much more useful if it was ASW capable. “GP frigates”, as I’ve said more than once, are a terribly poor investment as far as I’m concerned.


The Arctic?

MOD officials recently went on record saying that the next fight will be in the frozen north, but does the UK have any sort of strategy, or even clear ambitions in the arctic?
China has now published a programmatic document outlining its approach to the Arctic, including the stated intention of beginning to exploit the natural resources to be found in the area, as well as the new navigable routes that are increasingly becoming viable with the retreat of the ice.

The Arctic Shipping Routes, if they became truly viable, would significantly shorten the travel times to China, Korea and Japan, reducing shipping costs. The UK is in a good position to benefit from such a development. 

The UK needs to think about what it wants to get in the Arctic and how it might get it. What is the position of the UK on the exploitation of the untapped natural resources to be found in the frozen north? There are well known concerns about the preservation of the natural environment, but does the UK think said concerns should entirely prevent future exploitation? China clearly expects to tap into those natural resources and so does Russia, which has been working for years on turning its arctic coast into a massive military base and defensive bastion. Obviously they are not doing that to protect polar bears from hunters. What is the UK's position on the matter? 

The UK has no direct way to directly claim territory in the Arctic, and whatever it wants to obtain from the frozen north must reflect this. Clearly any UK access to the area and its resources depends on cooperation with allies which have a legitimate claim to arctic territory. Norway, which is a historic and natural partner, including for GIUK gap defense, is an obvious candidate.
Bilateral agreements and common strategies and goals are needed. 



China’s plan for a “polar silk road” is potentially enormously significant for the UK’s economy. The arctic routes to Asia are much shorter, and quicker, cheaper navigations could, in the future, encourage a massive growth in traffic. The UK is excellently positioned to benefit from such a development .
Russia, advantaged by geography, is already putting up a true Anti Access Area Denial bubble extending over much of the Arctic, to ensure it starts from a dominant position.

The UK needs to engage with its allies, beginning with Norway and Canada, to shape a common policy for the Arctic, to ensure that it can benefit from future developments in the area and avoid strategic shocks.


Where does that leave the Army?

The UK should continue to aim for Division-sized effects, because that is the ambition level appropriate for a regional power with worldwide reach. It should be well within the UK’s possibilities. The Division should be the ambition, but not at all costs. If it can’t be done because the government is not prepared to fund defence in line with ambitions, then strong brigades must be the alternative.
The Army should not try at all costs to be a continental power that can take on Russia. What the UK needs from its army is a capable land element that can deploy effectively within a larger allied force and complement other tools of british policy and power projection. It is more important to field a flexible, capable force, than a larger but obsolescent force tormented by the current plethora of capability gaps and vulnerabilities.
Like in the Air and Sea domains, the UK should strive to field an enablers-rich land force that can act as leader and take aboard the contributions of other countries.

In order to modernize, the Army needs to become a lot more rational in its approaches. In twenty years of constant rethinks, cancellations, delays and mistakes it has gone around in circles, returning to the starting point again and again, losing something along the way with each lap. With the exception of Royal Engineers vehicles, the British Army’s last “combat” vehicle purchase that didn’t happen through UOR was the Panther. And after purchasing it, it tried to use it as a patrol vehicle, which was not what it had been procured for, and ended up hating it.
Then, only partially excused by the urgency imposed by ongoing combat operations, it only ever managed to procure vehicles through UORs. Now it has a multitude of small fleets requiring multiple different logistic lines.
Its main acquisition programmes have literally gone in circles: again Boxer (or at least a heavy 8x8) is on the list of wishes, as it was in the 90s (in the Boxer case we are literally talking of the same vehicle). The Warrior capability sustainment programme is years late. Challenger 2 CSP, eventually downgraded to a simpler Life Extension Programme, has long been in the same limbo. Artillery modernization programmes are more or less motionless by as much as a decade plus.

Still, the Army continues to start more programmes than it can manage and fund. In the SDSR 2010 the focus was put on modernizing the armoured brigades: a noble target that was the one bit of common sense in the whole of Army 2020. WCSP finally began; the huge Ajax contract was signed in September 2014.
In November 2015 the priorities were turned on their heads and wheels returned to the front of the queue, with MIV being the new must-have. Results so far: WCSP downsized by two battalions; one armoured brigade to be converted to Strike; ABSV removed from the programme in 2016; CR2 numbers slashed once more. 3 years later, WCSP production contract is still not coming, the FV432 replacement remains a question mark, CR2 LEP does not truly satisfy anyone and marches to an unknown timeframes and Ajax is being tentatively squeezed into a new role for which many, beginning with me, do not think it is adequate.

Is it too much to ask the Army to at least focus on one thing at once? Can it start one modernization process and, just this once, bring it to conclusion? The armoured brigades were the focus. Serious money was assigned to the projects needed to modernize them. Bring the job to conclusion.
If STRIKE is unaffordable; if MIV cannot be procured at the moment, then it should be shelved. In the meanwhile perhaps the Army can explain what it wants to do, for real, and we can have that “serious debate” about it. Because as of now STRIKE seems just a solution in search of a problem

Through stubbornness of its own and political meddling the army has also never properly restructured its regiments and when faced with cuts to the budget has ended up disproportionately damaging the supporting elements, so much that now it is heading for just 4 “complete” brigades out of 11. 16 Air Assault is a two-battlegroups force; two armoured and two strike brigades will be the only other units for which there will be Signals, Artillery, Engineer and Logistic units. And even then, the armoured brigades will miss an important piece: a cavalry formation for reconnaissance and screening.
The army needs to modernize and re-balance its structure even more than it needs to modernize its equipment.
Real elephant in the room for me remains 1st Division and its load of "fake brigades" without CS and CSS. As useful as it still can be in a variety of roles (infantry is never useless), in its current form it cannot possibly be considered a wise and rational use of manpower and resources.

Rationalizing structures and inventory also brings efficiencies. Some big, some small, some neutral. CBRN mission, currently split between FALCON Sqn RTR and 27 Sqn RAF Regiment after the complete disaster that was the disbandment of the Joint CBRN regiment in the SDSR 2010 needs sorting out with a new joint solution.
Medical services across the three services and field hospitals should be reconsidered in a joint way: most of the field hospitals are reserve ones and jointery is already noticeable, so there probably aren’t big savings to be found, but with how much everything else has sized down there still seems to be a disproportion. The field hospitals do a sterling job, but if I was the one looking for efficiencies I would want to look into the medical services. On this one, I side with Fallon.
DFID might want to make greater use of them, and should help pay for them to help pull defence out of trouble.
I also suggest looking into a unified, single Police service. Again, jointery is already well developed in the police domain already but it still seems absurd to me that there is a RAF Police, Royal Navy Police, RMP, MOD Police. Again, probably small savings to be found, but then again RFA Largs Bay was sold to Australia to save a paltry 12 million per year and Albion could be lost to save 20 million or so per year, regardless of the completely disproportionate consequences. Any small saving that can be obtained in less damaging ways is a saving that must be harvested first.

A big "spend-to-save" measure could be pursued in the Army if the large JLTV purchase was made in one go rather than parcelled over uncountable years. The FMS request calls for over 2700 vehicles but the expectation is that the army would initially order 750 at best. I’d recommend going with the big order from the start instead, with the aim of replacing Panther and Husky right away, as well as replacing out-of-the-wire unprotected Land Rovers as currently planned. I’d also withdraw from service the RWMIK, replacing them with Jackals which would cease to play “cavalry” in favor of working as fire support and mobility platforms in the infantry, until they can be replaced as well.

JLTV assessment is ongoing, as are track trials for MRV-P Group 2 with Eagle and Bushmaster 

The fragmented multitude of fleets the army has to support. MRV-P must bring about a massive inventory rationalisation if it has to be a success. 

Instead of suggesting improbable and unwise mergers of PARAs and Marines the MOD could take note of the fact that they possess a precious C-17 fleet plus Puma, plus 50 Apache plus the largest Chinook fleet outside of the US. Seriously, if the British Army doesn’t invest on its air assault force while having all these paid-for resources, who else should?
What if STRIKE, at least initially, was delivered, accepting the limitations of the case, of course, with a combination of Mastiff-mounted infantry plus Marines, with the capability to go in from the sea, and of Mastiff-mounted infantry and PARAs on Chinooks and aircraft? Mastiff has defects and limitations, but is it really so indispensable to replace it with MIV? I think there are far more pressing urgencies. And instead of pushing the rhetoric of the “sacred cows” for Marines and PARAs, I think every effort should be made to beef up both 16 AA and 3 Cdo to expand their capabilities.


The really radical thing to do in this review is squeezing the maximum value out of what is already available. If you can’t afford to be a hero in every sector, do at least try to be one where you can.



21 comments:

  1. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.

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  2. If there is one obvious thing the Army can do to save money in the Medical field it is this: Fire all the civilians (well not all but most). There is enough military staff to run virtually every medical centre in the Army, yet for some reason the Army insists on paying civilian staff to do sick calls and remove opportunities for Combat Medics to get experience treating patients.

    -MR

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  3. Hi Gabriele,
    I read this on ARRSE,
    "So, apparently the SoS has "won" and got defence out of the NSCR. We're now getting a new Defence Review. Some confident predictions:
    We will avoid the hard questions or decisions. Defence will continue to do everything, everywhere. Despite this, we will salami slice multiple capabilities.
    We'll get a bit more "new money", but it'll turn out to be sleight of hand.
    Multiple projects will delayed to "reprofile" the equipment plan."
    In my humble opinion, that jus about sum's it up.
    Phil (The cynical ex pongo)

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  4. Hi, really enjoyed the read as per usual. I think in a nutshell you're talking consolidation and focus on the real (and actually, traditional) strengths of the UK: maritime and expeditionary projection.

    I think the Army per se only has one realistic remaining role: homeland defence, armour and air assault. Maybe some form of specialisation for urban warfare and wide-ranging motorised campaigns (though the Air Assault Brigade with a few additional motorised infantry battalions could fulfil this role). The army should aim for 3 battlegroups based on your suggestion of 2 tank squadrons with integrated armoured infantry, but with a full spectrum of kick-ass fires and combat support (signals, EW, ISTAR, Engineering and Logistics), one Battlegroup in Eastern Europe, 1 in the UK for training and replenishment, 1 on high readiness to move on Navy or contracted RoRo). I read an article by an American Marine officer in RCDefence, Defence One or War on the Rocks talking about the need to better use USMC reserves and offer more realistic training to regulars: use the reserves as a "red" team to generate realistic training for regulars and reserves alike. At any rate, I think transferring some army resources to the Marines.

    Its times to make the Royal Marine Corps a little more like an corps: build 3 marine brigades around the existing maneuver battalions, with 2-3 new battalions, throw in a little armour (a squadron a piece, like the USMC) and lots of artillery, conventional and missile, and all the other supports they need, and some Apaches for CAS. A hardcore forcible entry tool with major follow-on echelon capabilities into which an Army armoured battlegroup can seemlessly integrate when its time to step on the enemy's throat, and with whom Air Assault can work to disrupt the enemy's rear areas and secure key areas.

    A Royal Marine Corps of 15-20000, an Army of 60-700000 plus 300000 (actually useful) reserves. Remove all tactical/logistics roles from the Airforce (all F35s to the Navy).

    The Airforce should concentrate on UK airspace, space, ISTAR and Cyber. Typhoons not needed to defend UK airspace go to AAC and FAA for expeditionary use.

    For the navy: like you say, Type 31 should have a greater ASW role, build enough to cover GIUK gap and other functions, build 12-14 Type 26 to have a truly global combat capability, buy a new Ocean-type vessel but with a well deck, and maybe 10 Astute would be a prudent and offensive investment. It should also ensure its incredible MCM and research capabilities are maintained and nurtured.

    Base 1 Marines Brigade permanently in Brunei (the Gurkas could provide the additional maneuvre element (God knows they're able), base the other in the UK in the North (winter and mountain) and a third in the Southwest.

    There you go, its radical, unrealistic, but heck, given the present parlous situation, anything goes.

    Thanks again for a great read.

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  5. Gabriele

    Fantastic article, agree with nearly all of it, except the focus on Air Assault. This is a defunct concept, modern man portable SAM's render the Chinook as vulnerable as a 10 tonne truck is as a troop transport. That does not mean that Chinook, Puma and Merlin do not have a role, but without further massive involvement in longer range rockets, or tube artillery, Apaches (being reduced) etc for defence suppression and prep of LZ's and escort, then the concept is untenable. Just look at US helo losses to small arms and RPG's in Afghanistan. Oh, and Air Assault also requires us to have full air dominance..... by I think you are absolutely right about everything else.

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  6. US helo losses in Afghan and Iraq are pale in comparison to IED destruction of ground convoy. Airborne early entry force is one of the very few rapid response options, it's a strategic asset. You don't get rid off it because vulnerability. Otherwise you can argue against having aircraft carrier too.

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    1. No your right, you don't get rid of it because of vulnerability you work around them. You provide your Chinooks with lots of Apaches or Wildcat as escorts, you provide specialist helo and fixed wing EW assets, potentially long range missiles such as ATACMS to target air defence radars etc etc none of which we can afford to do. "Airborne early entry force" meaning what ? SAS in specially equipped C130 and Chinook? Air landing assault on an airfield
      With A400, or flying in a infantry battalion in civvy airliners ? Do you want to use it parachute in our
      Company sized para cable "battle group" to rescue U.K. Nationals from terrorists ? That could work, but that is one limited scenario. As I understand Gabby's comments about beefing up16 AA, then I respectfully disagree as to the worth of heliborne foces against a peer (or greater than peer IRT air defence?) adversary.

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  7. Good article. In my opinion you need one more paragraph about the contingencies light infantry could be used in. Perhaps the many light infantry battalions are kept around for less warfighting-oriented missions like UN peacekeeping and Northern Ireland crisis duties? Of course, this is an example of your broader point about where the failure to communicate in the media leaves one to speculate about the underlying purpose of an otherwise odd manpower investment.

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  8. All good points. I really can't the point of the "strike" Brigades - which with tracked vehicles won't be any faster than the Armoured Brigades, apart from the fact they will deploy without any supporting arms like Air Defense, Artillery.....

    For the Army I'd suggest 2 x Large Armoured Brigades (rather like the French) each of 1 x Cavalry Regiment, 2 x Armoured Regiments, 3 x Armoured Infantry Battalions and 2 x 24 gun Artillery Regiments. Make the "Strike Brigade" out of the Paras, Commandos and Special Forces - that at least would give them enough man-power and ability to actually project some power. Reduce UK Brigades to three large (proper) Infantry Brigades with say 1 x Recce Regiment, 4 x Battalions Infantry, 1 x proper Artillery Regiment (24 tubes) plus supporting arms. 1st UK Div manages these brigades and the national resilience role, 3rd UK Div manages the 2 x Armoured Brigades and the Multi-Role Strike Brigade.

    Navy

    Scrap the Type 31 - 5 x hulls, plus all the costs will come to more than just getting another 4 x Type 26 which will reduce the overall cost and actually give us a capable platform. Increase the number of Astute boats to 10 or 12 by scrapping Trident. All we need is few accurate and small nuclear warheads, deliverable by cruise missile, which can target any rogue states Governments or Nuclear facilities if anybody tries nuclear terrorism on the UK. Trident is stupidly overpowered for what we need.

    Air Force - increase the delivery and numbers of F-35B, and get some additional Typhoons, and have them all of the same Tranche to stop wasting money on maintenance.

    Continue to invest in airmobility, consider replacing Ocean with 2 x "through-deck" assault cruisers that could carry the littoral manoeuvre Helicopter Group plus be armed with ABM SAM capable suite and Cruise Missiles. One such paired with a Carrier and an LPD would be a potent force.

    If we "do" need extra hulls to "show the flag" - then get something armoured, with guns, that can hammer pirates, don't lumber it with a helicopter, use drones. Something like a 5" gun, 1 x CIWS, maybe a few light SSMs - there would be a market for these - there won't be for a Type 31 that can't decide whether it's a patrol boat or a war-fighter.

    Just a few thoughts anyway.

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  9. From MikeW:

    Gaby,

    Tremendous article once again. The superlatives from Daniele seem quite justified. These are just one or two initial comments. I hope to write some more later.

    “The handling of the whole “National Security Strategy” is farcical, and the months spent denying the problem now look like nothing but concentrated dishonesty.” Agree absolutely!

    “We are now officially into a new review, but the government is still trying to tell us that it is not a purely financial exercise. They insist on turning “cuts” into “modernization.” All part of the slippery language used by the MOD nowadays. Pure sophistry.

    You are right to state that there is no “duplication” in the helicopter fleets, therefore there is no way of finding efficiencies there.

    The situation with regard to the modernization of the British Army‘s armoured vehicles fleet is atrocious and inexcusable. How long ago is it since programmes such as Challenger LEP, Warrior CSP and ABSV programmes were announced? And still the drift goes on. No dates, no detail on numbers, no nothing. Are we in for another FRES fiasco? I’m beginning to wonder whether Phil’s phrase “sleight of hand” will not be applicable to the next Review too! Your point, Gaby, about how “it is impossible to have a “serious debate” on Defence when no information is ever allowed to circulate” is an extremely apposite one.

    Well, that will have to do for now. Have little time at the moment. I really wanted to press Jed Cawthorne more closely on why he thinks that Air Assault is a defunct concept but Anonymous’s reply seems to have done my job for me. I particularly like his comment “You don't get rid of it because vulnerability. Otherwise you can argue against having aircraft carriers too.”

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    1. MikeW

      I have answered above - it depends on your exact definition of "Air Assault" and I don't think we can afford to build up 16 AA to the point where it is tactically useable against peer (or even near peer?) enemy. Put all 3 Para battalions back into "5 Airborne" and basically use them as "Army Commando" - elite light infantry to be used in the niche scenarios where elite light infantry really bring something to the game, along side 3 full RM Commandos. 1 in 3 rotation giving 1 RM and 1 Para with supporting arms available as immediate reaction force.

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    2. From MikeW:

      @ Jed Cawthorne

      Jed, I think we might be arguing/discussing at cross purposes here. It does depend on your exact definition of "Air Assault" I certainly do not agree with beefing up 16 AA Bde to the point where they might be considered as a valid force against a peer adversary such as heavily armoured Russian formations, or something similar. When 16 AA Bde was first formed, there were many within the British Army who believed that, coming up against large numbers of tanks, APC and SP artillery , lightly armed helicopter borne forces would get slaughtered. As far as I am concerned, that reservation still stands today. Even if the Brigade were equipped with the very latest ATGWs and AA weapons, they would not be a match.


      No, I think that they could possibly (armed with large numbers of ATGWs etc.) act as a necessary “speed bump” to slow down the advance of enemy heavy armour but of course would soon need heavy reinforcements. This might not be their main purpose, though. The Brigade, with its combination of helicopters, air assault and parachute troops, together with supporting arms, constitutes an extremely flexible and employable formation. Over recent years it has performed impressively in Sierra Leone, Macedonia, Iraq and Afghanistan. It has shown its effectiveness in different kinds of warfare, including being successful in COIN operations. When I talk about “beefing-up”, I have in mind that the Brigade has over recent years seen an erosion of its original formation, losing important units and capabilities: e.g. the loss of a it light armour support (D Squadron Household Cavalry), an infantry regiment, and elements of artillery, air defence, engineers, etc. The restoration of those, together with the introduction of some new vehicles and weaponry, is vital to maintaining its effectiveness.


      @ Gaby

      I think that two of the most telling paragraphs in your whole article are the following:

      “Is it too much to ask the Army to at least focus on one thing at once? Can it start one modernization process and, just this once, bring it to conclusion? The armoured brigades were the focus. Serious money was assigned to the projects needed to modernize them. Bring the job to conclusion.

      If STRIKE is unaffordable; if MIV cannot be procured at the moment, then it should be shelved. In the meanwhile perhaps the Army can explain what it wants to do, for real, and we can have that “serious debate” about it. Because as of now STRIKE seems just a solution in search of a problem.”


      Some recent reports suggest that the Army will buy no fewer than 800 MIV 8 x 8 vehicles! Thos will come at tremendous cost. Would it not be infinitely preferable to at least get heavy armour right first of all? Not shelve STRIKE completely but postpone it for four or five years? Otherwise, as you point out, it will suffer from having an ungainly mix of tracked and wheeled formations and both types of formation (Heavy Armour and Strike) will suffer from being not properly formed and equipped.

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    3. Hi Mike W

      OK matey, we are in fact aggressively agreeing then! I would like to see all 3 Para bttln's in 16 Air Assault, with full up supporting units as you suggest. Plus the 3 CDO's of 3 Brigade before the recent re-org. Plus of the Light Role Infantry brigades, using the extra BVS10 if we could afford. 3 brigades of 3 main infantry units - so with a 1 in 3 rotation you should have a brigade HQ, a Commando, a Para Battalion and Light Protected Mobility Battalion, with appropriate supports, available for strategic move by sea or air, as our immediate response force.

      Then as Gabby stated, you have the great debate. Do we, as the CoS recently commented, want to keep an Armoured Brigade in Germany (or move it to Poland) as our main contribution to European collective defence via NATO. Or do we want to ditch heavy (tracked) armour, in favour of a MIV (8x8) Mechanised force, our contribution being the ability to deliver it to reinforce NATO flanks OR for our own "global security" use cases. Either way I do not think we can any longer afford 2 properly fitted armoured brigades on upgraded Chally and Warrior plus 550+ Ajax, plus 800-ish MIV, plus MRV-P, etc etc etc....

      The debate needs to be had, and the cloth needs to be cut to suite the contents of the wallet.

      And just to be contentious.... Ditch the F35 and the CASD if need be to pay for it..... :-)

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  10. This is by far the best thing written on the current defence review. I hope the Defence Select Committee and Main Building give serious consideration to the arguments here. This is really the direction the UK should be taking.

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  11. Gab, completely agree on your view of why bother with a poor mans BEF that wouldn’t even be a minor bump in the road for an advancing Russian attack.

    For NATO, my view is that we should see the UK as a permanent Atlantic “carrier battle group”, acting as the launch pad for counter air / missile strikes, amphibious/air assaults and Sea Control / Denial of the North Sea and Atlantic. That would be of real value.

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  12. Great article, sense at last. Definitely wrong for UK to get mainstream involved in eastern European land war the lines of communication don't work for us. Can you imagine?

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  13. I`m fallowing your blog with great interest for more then two years now. Very well writen and with great insights how overal defence policy works. As one evolves as you are in thinking and writing on subjects of your interest, you are becoming more "politics based" than at least I am enthusiastic about (and JUST maybe some of blog fallowers). It become less millitary and more politicly oriented thinking. No more beautifly proposed and greatly explained structures, but sinisterly and pesimisticly explaining things in policital decision making on defence topics.
    You`re doing great job. A lot of hard time thinking with spot-on analacy and extrapolation of current defence affairs. It`s just become to "heavy" reading for guys like me. I couldnt wait enough your next articles about various proposals, now I have hard time to grip my mind about things you write. However, I`m still faithfull fallower of yours blog.

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  14. US now building EW capability in all its forces

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  15. The UK needs to decide what it wants, that would appear to be an Divison plus sized land component capable of taking on a peer as part of a coalition as a once off, possibly a near peer independently.

    For that to work the constituent parts of that Div plus (2 x Armd Inf Bdes, 2 x Strike Bde, 3 Cdo Bde & 16 Air Aslt Bde) need to have the right numbers (& quality) of personnel and equipment.

    Mastiff would be incapable of acting in the APC role of the Strike Bdes (too slow, mobility challenged in all ways, not suitable). I’d argue that all the Bdes need 3 x Inf Bn's.

    They also need the right type and quantity of heavier armour (CR2, Ajax etc (Ajax isn’t suitable for the Strike Bdes, a wheeled vehicle is required)).

    It would appear that any kind of deployment that is to last over 12 months (including deployment time) will have to be at the high (combat) end a Battlegroup sized op (which obviously requires a coalition). There is nothing to rotate heavy/medium forces with above that level for over a 3 years or so. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it has to be acknowledged and things have to be got right (first time / every time).

    It would also appear the UK wants to continue (and renewed) focus on less (British) kinetic combat ops. Soft power if you will (influence, training etc). Again not a bad thing, if resourced correctly. Personally I don’t necessarily think the SIBs are a good idea. The intent yes.



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  16. The UK economy will shrink. No current large acquisition programs will complete. The MOD will 'rationalise' fragmented expensive platforms over multiple reviews.

    We will end up with,

    Light infantry that doesnt have any money to train. Good for ceremonial duties and dying on whatever hill the US sends them to.

    A demolished shipbuilding base that produces few ships and subs that emerge in a worse state than the 45 / Astute.

    An airforce that has a few embarrassing F35s that will be held in service, those that dont crash, long after the US replaces them.

    We have historically spent more than anyone else in Europe. Look what we have for our troubles. We are now going to lose our funding. That is not going to result in a more cohesive or efficient force, it will result in an even less efficient, less cohesive force.

    We need a modern Samuel Pepys or a Denis Healey. We havent got it, we arent going to get it.

    Love the cracks about not angering Russia and the choice to include Poland. Speaks volumes mate.

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  17. What about the about Armored Strike talk with heavy and medium assets mixed together in 3 or 4 brigs, focussed on European defense with light and motorised forces concentrating on Africa and Middle East?

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