From the initial post and in line with my preferred option I think we should still retain a full spectrum capability but at a reduced scale, in this context, the Single Task Group. Surrounding this nucleus will be a number of capability areas in which we should expand into.
The selection of the expanded areas or ‘capability plus’ is rooted in the RUSI contributory concept, achieving specific UK centric security advantage or influence in coalition operations
The Forward Presence Squadron concept can be seen as a ‘Capability Plus’ concept and I have broken this out as a separate post but the additional areas we should swing resources to are
- Securing and Operating in the Littoral
- Mines Countermeasures
- Humanitarian support/disaster relief
What characterises the chosen Capability Plus areas is that the UK already has something to build upon, an existing capability at an advanced stage of maturity.
Equipment and organisation will be described in subsequent posts but for now, the capability plus areas are described below.
Operating in the Littoral
Defining the littoral is as difficult as creating a force structure with terms such as brown and green water characterising the discussion but the range of environments is very large. It could be a coastal region in a high sea state or an inland waterway with dense cover with everything in between.
But one thing is certain, it is an area that continues to create challenges and an area that is likely to see an increasing operational frequency. The Forward Presence Squadrons will also most likely operate in the littoral environment.
The UK already possesses a reasonable littoral capability, 539 Assault Squadron Royal Marines, a number of hover and assault craft and a number of amphibious vessels that can conduct operations in complex riverine, estuarial and coastal environments but it is at a relatively small scale.
Operations in Southern Iraq showed clearly the benefits of having an effective littoral capability with joint RN/RM/RAF and Army operations conducted at various points in the campaign and at varying intensities.
We should expand both the scope and scale of this capability, learning from others as necessary and developing doctrine and equipment in line with best practice.
Operations to clear the waterways of the port of Umm Qasr and its surrounding area in the Iraq conflict of 2003 demonstrated just how effective cheap and simple mines can be at delaying major operations, denying port facilities and approaches. There is very little capability in NATO for over the beach logistics and what is there simply cannot match the offload rate of a proper port facility.
Mine clearance in port areas is made infinitely worse by sea beds cluttered with the detritus of a busy shipping industry and there are no shortcuts, the area simply has to be cleared or the level of risk reduced to such an extent that military, civilian and military chartered civilian vessels can operate.
The sea mine is the equivalent of the IED, cheap, easy to make, easy to deploy, tremendously effective and difficult to counter. In addition to port facilities, mines can completely disrupt operations around offshore energy facilities, whether than is traditional oil and gas or in the future, renewable.
The Iraqis deployed a number of different types but the two most common were the indigenous LUGM-145 and the Italian Manta. The LUGM can trace its roots back to the Soviet M-08 design of WWII vintage which in turn goes back to WWI, the traditional moored or floating mine with chemical horn initiators. The LUGM-145 was responsible for damaging the M/V Rover Star in 1984 and USS Tripoli in 1991. The Manta is a seabed placed mine that can be deployed by ships, helicopters or submarines and is initiated by acoustic or magnetic influence or command detonated.
Even with a step change in over the beach logistics capabilities the vulnerability of many kinds of operation to cheap sea mines will remain and likely increasingly exploited.
Humanitarian Support and Disaster Relief
Humanitarian support and disaster relief is a component mission of some of the presence squadrons but we should also consider maintaining a small capability in addition.
There is no doubt the good will generated by disaster relief operations can be enduring, this can be translated to national advantage in a number of ways. In addition to disaster relief, similar good will can be generated by enduring development operations in the maritime domain.
In a post natural disaster period, the naval response will usually be second to respond, search teams for example usually deploy by air, so the capabilities must be tailored and applicable. Maritime response can find it difficult to make a difference if port facilities have been damaged. Helicopters can of course assist here but for weight and volume, nothing beats delivery by sea. Rapid port augmentation is an important capability that also has dual use.
The capabilities described here have a valuable war role as well.
This isn’t about being fluffy but generating real soft power
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