At the start of the Think Defence Future Defence Review series of posts I asked the question, what do we want the armed forces to do?
As we have progressed through the FDR series and as a result of the excellent discussion/comments on this site and others such as Jedi Beeftrix and Warships 1 there still doesn’t seem to be an absolute consensus on which direction people think the UK should be travelling in.
How about a recap.
The excellent paper by Michael Codner from the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies set out a series of options.
Global Guardian, continuation of ground operations for robust stabilisation.
Strategic Raiding, limited ground operations but with an emphasis on early presence and sea basing.
Contributory, concentration on specific capabilities at the expense of others that would be provided by allies in a coalition context.
Gendarmerie, contribution to stabilisation operations.
Little Britain, self defence only
I think we can all agree that the last two options are a non starter, we are not Belgium!
The paper seems to be an advocate of the second option, strategic raiding and many think this is the best option, it certainly allows us to retain some of the high end expeditionary capabilities and is strongly supported by those who favour a strong Royal Navy, in essence it is a maritime expeditionary approach.
But what happens after the early entry, who will be there to continue stabilisation operations after we have kicked the front doors in, this position assumes they will be available.
The whole Force for Honour proposal seems to present the options as distinct strategies with no room for compromise. In fact the paper specifically warns against fudging the issue but conflict is a messy business, full of unintended consequences and the reality is that no one can predict the future. In the last 30 years we have been involved in the full spectrum of conflict that the armies of academics at RUSI, Shrivenham and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office failed to predict in any meaningful manner.
We went to war with what we had, not what we wanted to have (Sorry for quoting Donald there by the way!)
I also can’t help thinking that supporters of a strong navy and by definition a navy with CVF, tend to decide on the outcome and then set to work making a strategic justification for the option that secures it.
There are many advantages to picking one or the other options and maybe RUSI are right when they think that we have to make a decision, any decision, but if history teaches us anything it is that a balanced force, as far as is practicable, is able to flex to meet contingent need.
Maybe a bit of messy compromise is actually possible.
So the position I have tried to take with FDR is this.
1. We need as far as possible to maintain a balanced force, if there is any sensible option then this is it.
2. However, we have to be realistic that fully capable ‘mini USA’ force may not be affordable so we have to try and create a flexible force that can still pack enough of a punch to conduct independent small scale operations yet contribute in a meaningful manner to coalition based larger scale operations.
The much vaunted SDR98 actually makes reference to this , small scale independent and medium to large scale as contributory.
Using the language of the RUSI paper and taking the view of comments from JediBeeftrix it is a mix of Global Guardian and Contributory, I would also add a small scale element of strategic raiding as an insurance against the unknown.
Hows that for a fudge?