Writing in The Times this week is Allan Mallinson on the subject of the future of the armed forces in which he prescribes some simple medicine;
- Add 10,000 to the Army
- Forget balancing the forces
- Root out amateurism everywhere
For much of the article he makes sense but veers into the ridiculous when discussing the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. I generally don’t indulge in ad hominen attacks preferring to look at the argument rather than the person making it but could the author be accused of seeing the future through green (ex Army Colonel that he is) rather than purple tinted spectacles, a product of his background.
It is true that there lies in front of the UK some serious and difficult decisions, at stake is the very security of the nation and the future of the armed forces.
In the red corner we have the balanced forces argument in which it is maintained that we should maintain a balanced force able to react to any eventuality in an increasingly unpredictable world. This is undoubtedly the most sensible thing to do, who could have predicted in the last 20 years we would have been engaged in operations from peacekeeping to integrated armoured manoeuvre. The single problem with this approach is that of funding, if there was political will to maintain a credible balanced force the defence budget would not have been in constant decline since the seventies. Underfunding has resulted in a shrinking but still ‘balanced’ force that can do everything, but not much particularly well, our jam is being spread thinner and thinner. There is a very real risk of failure, Iraq and Afghanistan are illustrative of what happens when your balanced but weak force is held to account.
In the blue corner is a compromise being forced not by any strategic imperative, but a lack of cash. This suggests that the UK should recognise that we can no longer punch above our weight or maintain the full spectrum of capability but instead carefully choose capability areas in which to specialise and over resource them so we become an essential component of a more integrated coalition, partners might include NATO, the US, EU, Commonwealth or others. This approach also makes assumption and a reasonable estimation of what the future holds. It is accepted that the future cannot be predicted with complete accuracy but a reasonable approximation can be made.
The article suggests that the UK should be in the blue corner.
Allan Mallinson also makes the point that amateurism is not confined to politicians and civil servants, this is a vitally important point to make and in the current climate of armed forces = omnipotent, politicians = idiot, very rarely made. After Crimea the professional military underwent somewhat of a renaissance because failures were actually recognised, sacred cows well and truly slaughtered (the sale of commissions for example) and real progress made towards a professional fighting force that took to the field in 1914 and beyond, even though many of the reforms were led by civilians. The UK Armed Forces are in danger of believing their own press, dissent and innovative thinking seem to be discouraged. Iraq has shown that the emperor truly has no clothes but there has yet to be a professional recognition and reckoning.
Where the author destroys the credibility of the article, which is a shame because much of it provides serious food for thought, is in the treatment of the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.
Starting with the Royal Navy its obsession with capital ships is criticised, this is fair enough, I have often said that the Royal Navy needs to kill CVF in order to save itself but for the author to then lay the blame for its failings in the fight against piracy and the Iran hostage situation firmly at the door of the Royal Navy, rather than over restrictive rules of engagement, the Human Rights Act and underfunding is plain unfair and an insult to those in the Senior Service that make such a vital contribution to the security of the UK. Yes, the Royal Navy needs to change but evoking the memory of Nelson isn’t going to help.
Finally, the RAF comes under fire with the author hurling the ‘Fast Jet Flying Club’ insult into the mix with the wildly inaccurate claim that the Typhoon (in fact, he uses the provocative term Eurofighter) is solely an air superiority fighter that is being rebranded as a fighter bomber. The comment about putting a roof rack on a Ferrari is as comical as it is both factually wildly inaccurate and demonstrative of a complete lack of understanding of air power. Saying the Typhoon is ‘no way of to deliver fire support to ground troops’ flies in the face of reality, Typhoon is developing into the most effective CAS aircraft the RAF has ever had. By the end of 2010 it is likely that the RAF will only be able to field 8 fast jet squadrons anyway, that hardly seems a fast jet flying club. The RAF does perhaps need to focus more on ISR and transport, the point has been made over several posts on Think Defence but again, as with the Royal Navy, change will be painful enough without the vague insults.
To summarise, there is much to commend this article and for me the best point is about being able to recognise our failings but the ridiculous comments about the other services simply serve to discredit the piece as a whole.