It’s been 8 months (I know!) since I started the Think Defence FDR series of posts and we have covered a wide variety of topics with a number of authors across 56 posts.
Its time for a quick recap.
The stated objective of Think Defence is to simply get people talking about defence issues and if we can get 1 person to take an interest where previously they might not, then that’s job done. I certainly have no illusions that we are going to inform the debate or make people listen to our deranged ambling.
Plus of course, I enjoy it!
One of the questions I posed a short while back, as prompted by a couple of comments, was what should be the Think Defence position?
Do we carry on regardless, advocate an increase in spending, discuss ways of meeting the coming budget reductions or stand on the sidelines moaning about them when they do come?
I think the conclusion was, there is room for all views, it’s only a blog after all.
There are actually two issues in play, how to get through the current budgetary problems and how to put defence on a sustainable path for the future.
The Think Defence general position on the future of the UK armed forces can be summarised in four bullet points;
- The UK defence establishment needs not only more money but much much better spending
- We are not Belgium
- The UK needs to have the confidence to innovate in defence
- We need to once and for all get a grip on equipment costs
There seems very little chance of more money, in fact there is likely a 4 to 5 year reduction of up to 25% if the budget report is to be believed. Our 8 months of deliberations have made the assumption that spending would remain rather static, the announcement today is somewhat of a game changer.
We are not Belgium, the UK is a powerful sovereign nation with overseas obligations, a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and a wide range of political , commercial and other interests around the world. We should not retreat from the top table, even if we have to share that table, or even our seat, with others.
The UK has a proud history of military innovation and commercial military success but both these have evaded us for too long. We need to get back in the business of making things other nations actually want to buy and this means innovation.
Finally, because everything is based on money, we need to get a grip of defence costs and if this means a radical reappraisal of the link between politics, industry and the military then so be it.
The RUSI Question
In parallel with my feeble efforts those frightfully clever people at RUSI have also been running an FDR series and one of the fundamental questions they raise seems to revolve around how we configure our forces for the future. Do we go for maritime based strategic raiding, land based global guardian (COIN) or a contributory approach where we concentrate resources in a range of capabilities.
Another option might be to spread the pain equally and reduce all three services in equal quantities, this seems to be a suggestion in the latest RUSI paper.
There is also another option, the Think Defence option.
That is, actually recognise that medium and large scale operations will be carried out in conjunction with others and configure our forces based on the contributory model. This does not mean that we completely dispense with the ability to mount an all arms full spectrum sovereign operation but this will be at a small scale. Retaining these capabilities at this small scale also provides a hedge against emergent strategic threats and retains core skills that would be very difficult or impossible to rebuild within any reasonable timeframe.
So if I had to describe the Think Defence position in RUSI terms it would be a fudge.
A small but strong central core of strategic raiding surrounding by a larger contributory outer based largely on global guardian plus key niche capabilities.
Still on the ‘To Do List’ is the remainder of Land Combat (including one on close combat and weapon calibres), logistics, training, acquisition and a few other miscellaneous subjects.
I am going to summarise my thinking on actual capabilities in a future post, its quite a big job to summarise a rambling 50 odd posts plus comments.
My thinking has also changed since starting the series so perhaps it is time for a coherent reappraisal.