This post is from one of our regular commenters, Dominic Johnson.
It is my belief that there are two key issues facing the Armed forces of the United Kingdom.
The First, predictably, is funding
The level of funding for the armed forces is around 2.7% of GDP, this is the least it’s been since, well, any point in history apart from 1929-1934, the worst years of economic crisis the UK has suffered, to date, and at that time, demands on our military were virtually none existent, indeed, most nations were actively disarming themselves.
On that miserly 2.7% of GDP, we expect our armed forces to be able deploy two Divisions, each of three brigades, anywhere in the world, for high intensity combat, simultaneously, have an additional brigade strength force for an amphibious assault, a further Brigade strength force ready to be deployed on a UN peacekeeping mission, along with mundane stuff like providing air defences for the UK and air defence and garrison troops for the overseas territories, and of course, all the logistical support that requires, as per the SDR.
It’s simply not possible to provide all that with the funding received by the armed forces and meet the many international peace keeping, nation building and war fighting actions we are involved in, it’s a wonder the armed forces can rent the recruitment offices, let alone man them.
The second issue is with how the armed forces are controlled and funded by the government.
The Armed forces are not just told what to be capable of doing, for example, mounting an unsupported invasion and short term occupation of Country X which has the following military assets and topographical features, they are not even told to be capable of launching two separate invasions of indicated troop strength, they are told by central government that in the event of being ordered to mount an expeditionary campaign, what assets to use, these regiments, with this equipment, delivered to theatre by these ships, supported by this carrier, operating these aircraft and protected by these air defence destroyers, assets which the government may later decide not to deliver.
The situation is, as I’m sure most people will agree, odd.
My solution, comes in two parts, to solve the two problems, the first, is a basic agreement on the level of funding.
The Funding or the armed forces should be linked to GDP, and the tasks set by the SDR.
So, for example, an SDR requirement to maintain a brigade strength expeditionary force, along with the naval assets to transport it and the air assets to support it in a full blown war should come funding of, for example, one quarter of one percent of GDP, deploying that brigade overseas for peacekeeping should see an additional amount of spending on the military, and deploying it overseas in a military action should result in an even greater increase in spending.
Now we have set what will be spent, the contentious part arises, how it is spent and by whom.
It is my belief, that the budget, in full, should be given to a newly formed Tri Service Defence Board, made up of representatives of the three service boards currently in existence.
It would be up to them to decide the best way to meet the strategic requirements set down in the strategic defence review.
All decisions to do with spending the defence budget, from how many soldiers to employ, to how many carriers to operate, should be made by the armed forces board.
Government intervention should be limited to providing funds to the TSDB and providing them with a Strategic Defence Review every 8-10 years, with a mid term updated document, to outline what they expect the armed forces to be able to achieve.
Now of course, as a Libertarian and a Localist, I do not say this lightly, and would of course ensure the Defence Board met with the Defence Committee of the House of Commons on a regular basis, and indeed, the full House itself on a periodic basis, to ensure that the SDR is being met, and a vote of the House could over rule any decision made by the TSDB.
But, as a matter of course, the government should dictate the outcome it wants from a military action and the forces should plot the route to that outcome, and the equipment, troop numbers and training required to achieve that outcome.
Whether the armed forces achieve the aims set for them by the government using Super Carriers, Submarine Launched Missiles or Long Ranged Strategic Bombers should not be important.
The most immediate improvement would be an Urgent Operational Requirement process worthy of the name.
The current system is passable if you want to run a desert warfare exercise, discover your tanks need sand filters and then have them fitted within 18months, its less suited to subtle changes that weren’t discovered during an exercise.
A soldier in the field can quickly realise a laser guided anti tank missile that can punch through a metre of rolled steel is wasted on a mud wall, buts its quite hard to pass that up line and over to several different departments without it taking time. Eventually, in this case, the argument was accepted and a lighter missile procured, with a better warhead en route as well, but theres no reason the next bright idea will be.
The British Army currently uses the Apache Gunship as a convoy escort, a pair of which cost almost £100,000 an hour to operate in pilot time, fuel, airframe wear and maintenance costs, because that’s the Army gunship.
A PMC in Iraq used four light helicopters each with two door mounted heavy machine guns, as a convoy escort gunship, at a cost of about £8,000 an hour for the four.
If spending were authorised by The TSDB, four airframes could be purchased, weapons mounted and be deployed to theatre within a month for evaluation.
The TSDB could then make a realistic assessment, are the lower capabilities of the cheaper aircraft enough for the task we are assigning it, do we have something better to do with the higher priced aircraft, and can we afford both.
If the answer to all three is yes, the idea can be rolled out and operated in the theatre, if the light helicopters wouldn’t save enough time on the Apaches to cover their cost, it would be a military decision on whether the increased cost is worth freeing up the apaches for other duties.
In the medium term, the forces would be able to plan for the future much more accurately. What the forces are expected to be tasked with, and the resources they will have to meet those tasks will be known a decade in advance, and if the defence board decides it will need one Super Carrier, Two Carriers, or Six Light Carriers, protected by six, twelve or eighteen air defence destroyers, it can try and procure them, if it cannot afford them, it will be up to them what capability is cut.
The Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary Operate 108 Vessels with a total tonnage of almost 900,000 fully loaded
With modular construction methods, it shouldn’t be too difficult for the RN to order a certain tonnage a year, years in advance from ship yards, and because it’s guaranteed work, get a better price.
In the long term, once the Forces are used to buying their equipment based on what they need, rather than what they can convince the government they need
The early designs for the Eurofighter featured two models, a single engine, and a twin engine, since the RAF was politically limited to 250 fighter units, there was an in built bias to buying the best, regardless as to whether it was actually worth it. If you’re going to get 250 jets, you might as well get 250 twin engine jets.
The official argument was that although two thirds of the cost, the single engine jets were only half as effective. Possibly true, but even if it was, would the RAF have made the argument if they could have rolled the extra money, some £5billion in today’s costs, into another project, like a dedicated ground attack platform, or the return of infantry fighting vehicles for The RAF Regiment, or indeed, they could be adults, say that the army currently has a greater need, and The TSDB could buy MRAP’s for the next Afghan War.
Although there is a possibility we could end up with three almost entirely independent armed forces, it would be in the best interests of each of the services to work together, because a joint flying school would cut the cost of pilot training for all of those involved, and the money they saved would be kept by them to be used on other things, there would be an inbuilt bias towards cost effectiveness.
Of course, the Army might refuse to buy Lynx Wildcats, and insist on buying turbo props to act as artillery and mortar spotters, but as long as the House of Commons steps in before we have an Army submarine service, an RAF Tank Brigade or a RN space program, I cant see things being much worse than they are now.