Part 4 – A post about missions and requirements
I have set the scene, the world will continue to be a risk place and we need to flex our defence resources towards the most likely threats, recognising we can’t have it all.
When trying to make a ‘plan’ the activity should always start with a question, what is it you want to do but to remake a point made in one of the earlier posts; what we want to do has to be tempered with what we can afford.
It is also valuable when looking forward to look over the shoulder…
From the 50′s our most likely enemy was Russian and Warsaw Pact forces streaming into Western Europe and naval forces attempting to eliminate the flow of reinforcements from the USA.
Being vastly outnumbered, our strategy was to blunt their advance and hold out for transatlantic forces that would arrive hopefully before having to go nuclear. To achieve this goal increasingly sophisticated anti submarine, anti air and anti tank systems were developed and fielded in order to compensate for NATO’s numerical inferiority. The whole defence industry was set up not to produce quality not quantity. Although never tested in combat, this strategy of achieving qualitative superiority to offset numerical inferiority was our only option and who knows whether it would have been effective.
From each military conflict, lessons are learned.
A wide variety of lessons were drawn from the Falklands conflict, too many to cover here, but one thing that did come out loud and clear was that it was a close run thing with a combination of smart politics, luck, hard work, bravery and the most incredible military skill carrying the day.
Skipping forward to the first Gulf War, the tremendous improvements in military capability over the preceding decade by NATO nations demonstrated that even vastly numerically superior forces can be quickly and comprehensively overcome. Iconic images of laser guided bombs falling through windows and exploding inside a building sent shockwaves around the defence and political community. Military planners around the world watched on CNN the results of precision deep strike and combined arms operations and started to make their plans accordingly, deciding that there was no point trying to fight the power and sophistication of NATO on their terms. It is not just about weapons, the Iraqi’s were poorly trained and poorly led, and coalition forces the exact opposite.
The next major military event was the conflict in the Balkans, particularly Kosovo. Unfortunately Kosovo and Serbia are not in a desert and the precision guided weapons deployed in Iraq to great effect were largely ineffective in this operation. When the dust had settled and the hubris died down it became apparent to even the most ardent supporters of air power that the air campaign had been neutered by the weather and effective low technology countermeasures by Serbian forces. The length of time it took to deploy heavy ground forces to Kosovo led to calls to make armies more deployable i.e. lighter so they could be delivered by fast aircraft not by slow ships and be self deployable by ground over strategic distances.
The fact that the Russians embarrassingly beat NATO to the airport at Pristina using wheeled vehicles driven from Bosnia further reinforced the medium weight argument. It was argued that the problem was the existing tracked vehicle fleet, it being too heavy and that protection could be sacrificed to make vehicles lighter. The reduction in capability could be more than compensated for by improved situational awareness and information superiority afforded by network centric capabilities, integrated sensor platforms and other sophisticated systems.
The so called revolution in military affairs was born (or Effects Based Approach to Operations in the current vernacular.) Lighter more deployable forces, with less protection and manpower backed up by increasingly sophisticated precision strike all wrapped up in a ‘network’ would be the answer to the problems encountered in Kosovo and the predicted future conflicts.
Talk was now of effects rather than platforms or weapons.
The central proposition was that forces would not have to engage in deadly close combat because the network would see the enemy so far away that they could be engaged with ‘network fires’ or precision munitions before they got in range with their own weapons.
No one seems to have thought that the problem was not with vehicle weight or how they got from A to B (wheels or tracks) but with the logistics capability, traditionally neglected in favour of ‘teeth’ systems.
A whole new range of management speak was born, we would move away from platform based solutions and move to effects based solutions, a new paradigm. Paradigm is an over-used word in defence planning, deployability would be crucial for these expeditionary concepts and the ‘network’ would produce a step change akin to the invention of gunpowder.
It was envisaged that future missions would be characterised by lightning quick deployments of medium weight rapid reaction forces in aircraft, followed by a short sharp fight with Johnny foreigner, who, playing by our rules, would obligingly stand against us with conventional forces that we would see before leaving the barracks and destroy with precision munitions 10 minutes after. The few troops and vehicles that were delivered by air would be greeted by a welcome populace, rebuild some bridges and schools and be home in time for tea and medals.
The fashion was to call heavy forces, main battle tanks and mechanised infantry fighting vehicles, ‘legacy forces’ and relegate them to a lesser position in the pecking order. This approach has been pioneered by the United States Stryker battalions (Interim Brigade Combat Teams) and Future Combat System (FCS) and the UK trying (as usual) to catch up with our FRES concept and NEC.
PowerPoint presentations were produced (usually very badly) in their thousands, defence contractors started rubbing their hands together and the military establishment generally fell hook line and sinker for the concept.
The 9/11 terrorist attacks had a significant impact on world affairs and in turn military affairs.
Subsequent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown that there is still a need for heavy or legacy forces and crucially, that technology, whilst providing obvious advantages does not compensate for the basic needs of military forces that have been demonstrated by centuries of warfare, that being training, cohesion, logistics, leadership, strategy, numbers, mobility, discipline, protection and firepower.
The network centric ideas postulated by their proponents and the predicted revolution or paradigm shift in the way wars are fought simply have not materialised. Well trained personnel, with effective weapons, communications and logistics have greater effect than networks or information.
The certainties postulated by those behind the network enabled concepts do not exist; even supposedly low tech enemies can exploit open source technology to their advantage and our disadvantage.
Our enemies have learned to adapt and why shouldn’t they, our usual arrogance assumed they would stand still like rabbits in a car headlights whilst we rolled over them on the way to the medal ceremony.
When a $20 IED can destroy a multi-million dollar armoured vehicle and result in extra million sin medical care and welfare costs it becomes obvious who the smartest in the room is.
IED’s, suicide bombers, intelligent use of the internet and other counters to our increasingly unassailable conventional power have resulted in a requirement for a serious rethink.
Does any of this change the fundamental nature of the types of missions the armed forces will have to undertake?
For the most part, no
However, how we conduct those missions will change; strategies, tactics and equipment will continue to evolve, as they always have.
The SDR defined 8 defence missions;
Peacetime Security – To provide forces needed in peacetime to ensure the protection and security of the United Kingdom, to assist as required with the evacuation of British nationals overseas, and to afford military aid to the civil authorities in the United Kingdom, including military aid to the civil power, military aid to other government departments and military aid to the civil community.
Security of the Overseas Territories – To provide forces to meet any challenges to the external security of a British Overseas Territory (including overseas possessions and the Sovereign Base Areas) or to assist the civil authorities in meeting a challenge to internal security.
Defence Diplomacy – To provide forces to meet the varied activities undertaken by the Ministry of Defence to dispel hostility, build and maintain trust, and assist in the development of democratically accountable armed forces (thereby making a significant contribution to conflict prevention and resolution)
Support to Wider British Interests- To provide forces to conduct activities to promote British interests, influence and standing abroad.
Peace Support and Humanitarian Assistance Operations – To contribute forces to operations designed to prevent, contain and resolve conflict, in support of international order and humanitarian principles, and to contribute to efforts to deal with humanitarian crises and disasters.
Regional Conflict and Crisis – To contribute forces for a regional conflict (but not an attack on NATO or one of its members) which, if unchecked, could adversely affect European security or which could pose a serious threat to British interests elsewhere, or to international security. Operations are likely to be carried out under the auspices of the UN or relevant regional security organisations.
Regional Aggression against NATO – To provide forces needed to respond to a regional crisis or conflict involving a NATO ally which calls for assistance under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty
Strategic Attack on NATO – To provide, within the expected warning and readiness preparation times, the forces required to counter a strategic attack against NATO
These were subsequently replaced by a single defence mission and 18 military tasks under 4 generic headings.
Standing Strategic Commitments – Primarily the Nuclear deterrent and intelligence gathering
Standing Home Commitments – Protection of UK territorial sovereignty and support to the civil community
Standing Overseas Commitments – External defence and security for sovereign base areas and overseas territories, anti drugs, arms control, and supporting key alliances and partnerships through the Defence Relations Strategy
Contingent Operations Overseas – Humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, evacuation of British nationals, peacekeeping, peace enforcement, power projection, focussed intervention and deliberate intervention.
Resultant planning assumptions proposed that for these contingent operations we should be able to undertake
As a norm, and without creating overstretch, the UK should be able to mount: An enduring medium-scale peace support operation simultaneously with an enduring small-scale peace support operation and a one-off small-scale intervention operation.
The UK should be able to reconfigure its forces rapidly to carry out: an enduring medium-scale peace support operation and a small-scale peace support operation simultaneously with a limited duration medium-scale intervention operation
Given time to prepare, the UK should be capable of undertaking a demanding one-off large-scale operation while still maintaining a commitment to a simple small-scale peace support operation.
In addition, these assumptions take account of the need to meet standing commitments with permanently committed forces, including Quick Reaction Alert
Organisational and equipment changes were rolled out to cater for these assumptions but as usual it was completely underfunded.
The Gulf War (Op Telic) drove a cart and horses through these assumptions and then Afghanistan (Op Herrick) has rolled a tank over what was left.
We have been engaged in sustained and simultaneous medium scale and high intensity operations and this has had an adverse impact on people and equipment. It is to the eternal credit of the armed forces that they have coped and continue to cope as well as they do.
A number of commitments have been gapped or covered in a less than optimal manner and the long term viability of some capabilities/missions seriously compromised.
I suggest our planning assumptions should be based on the following
At short notice
Meet standing home, overseas and strategic commitments without being adversely affected by contingent operations
Undertake a short term UK only combined arms contingent operation at a small scale bringing the full spectrum of capabilities to bear
Undertake a single medium scale high intensity combined arms operation on an indefinite basis using a more limited set of capabilities
Contribute specialist or single service resources on an indefinite basis to a coalition operation dependant on availability and other contingent operations
With a reasonable period of notice
Participate decisively in a single large but short term operation within a coalition whilst maintaining standing home, overseas and strategic commitments
This reflects the prediction that medium scale enduring operations as characterised by Afghanistan will be the new norm rather than the traditional intermittent but large scale operations as characterised by the first Gulf War.
The next posts in this series will look at how we can organise and configure our capabilities to meet these proposed requirements.