A Guest post from Martin at the Fantasy Fleets blog;
Putting Our Money Where our Mouth Is
If power points could kill the MOD would be the greatest military force since Alexander the Great. Government is constantly outlining new and interesting ways to cooperate with emerging powers while actually doing very little. This is not a way to get India to buy a few Eurofighters or Brazil a couple of frigates. We need to make substantial investments and changes to our force structure to enable us to show these new potential allies as well as our existing allies that we really are worth working with.
Lest face it, no matter what the budget is it’s never enough. America proves this point. However we cannot hope to achieve the strategy I have outlined with a budget of 2% of GDP. We really need a budget of 2.5%. The reason for this is it allows us to maintain a bigger defence budget than France. Being Europe’s prime actor is central to these ambitions and we cannot do this without the largest budget in the EU.
While we may find it a difficult pill to swallow today in the post 2015 world it will likely be easier. We could simply cut the foreign aid budget back down to 0.2% to achieve this however the knock on effect to Mercedes and the German economy may be catastrophic.
Taking away Intelligence and other considerations the total budget for our Armed Forces in today’s prices would be £32 billion roughly £4 billion higher than it is today.
Thinking Outside the Box
As a relatively small nation we must come up with new cost effective ways to generate substantial capabilities. Defence diplomacy is far more about having a capability than using it. Most major military structures we build will hopefully never be used. We need to look at ways to incorporate reservist, auxiliary and even civilian personnel so that we can build large forces when we need them without breaking the bank in the majority of time when we do not need them.
Under my proposal we would have two main military objectives
- Holding a line running from Thai border through Malaysia and Indonesia to the Philippines against Chinese ambitions and god forbid in a time of war Chinese naval forces. This would not be unlike the role we played for NATO holding the GIUK gap.
- Allowing Europe through us to act on the world stage by employing a substantial force projection capability anywhere in the world.
Our primary area to focus on is building on our ability to enable a medium sized coalition without substantial US cooperation. By medium sized I am talking about an air war compromising around 100-200 strike planes or a ground force compromising 50,000 – 75,000 personnel. Essentially an operation the size of Kosovo.
There are many things we need to be able to do this and many things we do not need. We do need to supply almost all C4ISTAR capability. We do not need to supply tens of thousands of ground troops. We do need to provide air and sea lift capability but we do not need to supply hundreds of fighter bombers. Every European NATO member has fighter bombers and well trained ground troops. What they lack is the ability to supply and control them especially when operating far from home. Libya showed some of the glaring omissions in European defence capability and it is these things we should look to principally provide through our armed forces.
We should approach every member of the EU and ask them to form small professional combined arms battle groups that can be used to supplement our forces on out of area operations. This would be far more effective than asking Germany to buy transport aircraft while we provide tankers and Poland provides air defence.
Small Expeditionary Units of around 2000 men are well within the capability of almost every European nation big or small.
Imagine if every European country provide just a single battalion sized battle group with 6 fighter bombers and 4 attack helicopters. We would have an expeditionary force equivalent to 3 reinforced divisions with an air force of 180+ strike aircraft when combined with our own.
Europe operates a similar structure today with around 18 of these battle groups however they do not go far enough in providing substantial capability and they find it almost impossible to deploy without NATO assistance.
Cap badges and Sacred Cows
To get the best out of our budget we must do everything we can to end the constant inter service rivalry and cap badge considerations. While I would stop short of combining all three services into a single defence force in name I would essentially like to see large elements of all three services combined. In addition I would transfer all existing Regimental and Battalion standards to TA units while professional Army units should simply be numbered. (I know this sounds petty but when dealing with squabbling children you sometimes have to be petty)
Guard’s regiments along with the Red Arrows would all go. If we need Guards for Buckingham Palace or anywhere else the Palace should employ people to do just that rather than using professional military forces (it would make a good job for ex-service personnel). We do not expect the SAS to stand around in funny hats all day while tourists take pictures so why should we expect any other soldiers to do this.
I have no idea about the cost of the Red Arrows but it’s ridiculous that an Air Force that can barely deploy a squadron for combat should expect to be able to send a squadron of its best pilots to airshows for displays.
With a smaller Army we also need to look at disbanding the Gurkhas. Don’t get me wrong I have great respect for the Gurkhas but they are now as expensive as any other British soldier. There are also many moral considerations in using mercenary forces for operations. They are simply too hard to justify in the modern world with a much smaller army.
Here is where things start to get controversial. We have maintained a relatively large Army since World War Two. The reason was that in the event of a Soviet Invasion of Europe the Channel meant very little if the Reds swarmed all the way up to Calais. For that reason the Army and the RAF replaced the Navy as our principal means of defence.
However in a world where not only we but the whole of Europe face almost no conventional threat can we justify such a large expenditure?
Many would point out that the Army has been massively involved in both Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 10 years and that we need a large Army to conduct COIN operations. I would argue the opposite. If an operation requires 100,000 plus troops it’s probably not worth doing. If it really is worth doing then we should look to contribute a much smaller force as part of a broad UN or NATO coalition.
Our current set up really only allows us to do one thing. Provide assistance to US lead operations. If we cannot conduct independent operations then our current force and the £40 billion a year we spend on it simply adds up to a subsidy of US foreign policy.
(Just to put it in to context, £40 billion is the cost of a high speed rail line from Glasgow to London, Four times the budget of NASA and two times the total amount spent by government and industry combined on R&D in the United Kingdom.)
Would the UK have been served any less if we had only put in 20,000 troops at the start of Iraq or if we only had 4-5000 in Afghanistan today like Germany and France. Would America be any less our friend because of it?
Even with a force of 100,000 plus soldiers we can never hope to have anything more than a minimal influence on US policies or operations. The issues our army has had in the operations we have fought in alongside the US over the past 10 years have probably done more harm than good to our relations with our cousins across the pond. The British Army should never be seen as a liability. However in many instances in both Iraq and Afghanistan that is how it has been viewed. A smaller better equipped force should allow us to hopefully negate many of these issues deploying inside US formations to assist them rather than trying to deploy our own formations that are too small to do the job.
We also really need to ask the question of Why an Army with 100,000 plus personnel with assistance from RAF and Navy ground forces finds it so difficult to maintain a force of 10,000 troops indefinitely?
I am not trying to bash the Army. I think the British Army is possibly the best force of its type anywhere in the world man for man. However even at 100,000 it’s small in comparison with most large nations. It’s expensive too, sucking up nearly £15 billion or 60% of our armed service budget.
Would India rather have a single UK Armoured Division on its borders trying to fend off 200 Chinese Divisions swarming over the Himalayas or 10 Astute Submarines sinking the Chinese Navy and holding the straights of Singapore? Probably the later and I know where I would rather be serving on that day.
We also have to look at the individual components of the Army. While 16AAB has been on near continuous deployment since it was formed, 7th Armoured has done very little in 20 years. To get the most bang for our buck we need to reorganise the Army so that all forces are deployable by land or sea anywhere in the world.
Possibly the best example of this is the US Marine Corps. Marines have been on the front line of every conflict since 1991. They have far surpassed the capability and performance of the much larger and better equipped US Army from Afghanistan to Bosnia. The key strength of the Marines is a focus not on Amphibious warfare which they have done little off but on Expeditionary Warfare. Marine Forces are by their very nature deployable combined arms groups with their own Armour, Artillery, Aviation and logistics. These forces permanently operate under a joint command, train together and fight together.
In my mind this is a far superior structure than the one we presently have with ad hoc battle groups being made up from specialised structures such as Armoured and Mechanised Brigades. Integration of RAF squadrons with Army units should hopefully serve us better in providing air support and maximum effect on operations.
I would like to see a British Army and Royal Marines of 60,000 full time personnel based around 21 British Expeditionary Units (BEU’s) with the RM removed from the Navy and fully integrated with the Army.
We would have the following two types of BEU’s.
7 Amphibious BEU’s (Call them Royal Marines if its prevents arguments)
14 Land Assault BEU’s
British Expeditionary Unit Structure
This would be a combined arms group similar to the US Marines Expeditionary Unit built around a reinforced infantry battalion with around 2000 personnel. It would have the following components.
4 Main Battle Tanks
16 Armored Fighting Vehicles (Amphibious)
16 Amphibious Assault Vehicle’s (Amphibious Units)
Land Attack Units would have 32 AFV’s total
6 field guns
4 Attack Helicopters
3 Light Utility Helicopters
12 Medium Helicopters
4 Heavy Lift Helicopters
Eventually we should look to harmonies all our helicopter fleet so it is able to deploy from sea or land. This might see us shift at some point away from the Chinook to the CH53 for example.
6 F35B (Amphibious Units)
6 Eurofighter Typhoon (Land attacks Units)
2 A400M with Air to Air Refueling Capability
Various Support Vehicles
We must also end the current situation of being top heavy in brass. If I look back in history a brigade was managed by a colonel or a brigadier. Now it’s a Major General or in some instances a Lieutenant General. The Army is not the only offender here the Navy is just as bad having as many admirals as ship’s.
1 BEU deployed under a colonel
3 BEU’s could deploy under a brigadier (light brigade)
6 BEU’s could deploy under Major General (light division)
Deploying 6 BEU’s would be our maximum capability in a force comprising some 14-16000 men. Hopefully in any deployment we would look to add European Battle Groups as well to supplement the capability of the force.
Forward Deployed Units
We would forward deploy one of these units to Brunei to replace the current Gurkhas battalion stationed there. We would also have a second amphibious unit stationed in the Far East with the Amphibious Ready Group.
Strategic Reservist Force
A strategic reserve would be created to replace the majority of the TA. Some specialist TA units would continue to serve alongside regular army units. However the majority of the TA would be re rolled into a much improved force built around an armored division.
The TA structure would be improved with pay being increased as well as training hours. TA officers would be required to attend a much longer course than the current two weeks at Sand Hurst. Any officer above Captain would be full time post as would senior NCO’s
Training hours would be doubled with improved minimum fitness requirements being enforced. Soldiers pay should be at least tripled to try and attract more people into the force.
This force would able to deploy as an autonomous armored division alongside six BEU’s from the professional Army. To demonstrate this capability we should practice a full scale deployment to the Gulf once every 5 or 6 years and even look to combine the with EU forces to form a Corps.
In addition to better pay there would be better compensation given to employers to replace people on deployment.
The Army would maintain a deployable Corps HQ under a Lieutenant General which would be capable of commanding both UK Division’s as well as additional coalition forces.
22nd SAS would be left intact as an autonomous force.
Foreign Military Training
It makes far more sense to train other people to fight their own wars than it does to send our own troops. While the British Army does a great job of this on a small scale it really needs to do more on a larger scale. Establishing a regimental sized force that will allow soldiers to concentrate on this task is probably a much better structure than our present set up which is somewhat ad hoc. This will allow soldiers to concentrate on building their career in this highly specialized area. We could also look to give soldiers the proper language and cultural training to better facilitate this. If someone is going to spend his entire career training Middle Eastern nations he can learn Arabic for instance.
Taking out the RAF elements this structure would comprise a force of around 65,000 full time personnel in the regular army with 50,000 in the TA Reserve.
The total budget would be around £9.5 billion per year.
The RAF would lose many of its elements and responsibilities. All helicopters would be transferred to Army control. In Addition the deep strike mission currently carried out by the Tornado would transfer to the Navy to be carried out by the F35C. Ground support would be conducted by a mixture of F35B and Typhoon Tranche 3. AWAC’s would be carried out by the FAA flying the 16 E2D Hawkeyes.
The RAF would be enhanced in other areas especially around C4 ISTAR and Strategic lift.
We would maintain the current Voyager fleet at 13 Aircraft
Double our purchase of A400M up to 42 and equip half for air to air refueling
Increase the C17 fleet to 10 Aircraft
Increase R1 Sentinel to 5
Increase Rivet Joint to 5 (Or consider the new P8 AGS)
Purchasing 12 P8 Poseidon’s
Typhoon fleet would be held at 160
The RAF would have an enhanced capability to launch standoff weapons with the A400M being given the ability to launch up to 12 storm shadow.
ELINT and Maritime Surveillance
Libya showed we were lacking in ELINT capability. Increasing the Rivet Joint Fleet to 5 should help this. Maritime surveillance is an area we no longer have any capability in. Purchasing a fleet of 12 P8 Poseidon’s should allow us to increase our ELINT capability as well as allowing us to once again conduct maritime surveillance. The MRA4 would have been the perfect aircraft to do this but unfortunately that program is now dead and buried and the thought of developing another maritime aircraft based on the A320 is probably too much to bear.
This is an area we have very little capability in. A purchase by the Navy of F18G Growlers should give us an enhanced capability for radar jamming and suppression of enemy air defences.
This is the type of platform we can never have enough of especially when we need them. What makes matters worse is that many of our allies have almost no capability preventing them from deploying forces without major assistance.
The US Air Force has been trying for a decade to develop a strategic reserve of these aircraft in civilian hands that can be used in times of crisis by the military. The BC 17 is a slightly modified version of the C17 where military radios are locked away and the mid-air refueling point is covered up. The aircraft can be converted back to military service in just 1 hour.
US Air force studies have concluded that each aircraft can generate around $50 million dollars per year in revenue. The C17 is particularly useful for the oil and gas industry being able to fly outsized loads into small airstrips.
America is having many political issues with this set up. There has been a general shortage of C17’s since the war on terror started. The FAA has caused problems giving exemptions for the aircraft to operate over America in civilian hands and the US senate has also caused many issues.
Setting up an RAF Auxiliary along the lines of the RN Auxiliary could allow us to operate a civilian organization that the RAF could call on when needed. Setting this up with 10 modified C17’s and possibly expanding it in future could allow us to build the second largest strategic lift capability in the world. This would give us a major capability to aid other European forces when deploying while not hampering the budget in times of peace.
In times when the professional RAF fleet is not being fully utilised we may also consider having RAF crews flying commercial cargo.(Every little penny helps)
Air to Air Refueling
Libya showed us that we and the rest of Europe are desperately short of this capability. Even the USA is massively short of tankers when it deploys a large scale force often relying on us. Equipping 21 of our A400M’s for refueling would give us a large strategic reserve for purely air operations such as Libya. Calling up all the Voyagers as well we might be able to provide 30 aircraft the total number required for Libya.
We also need to consider converting at least some of the voyagers to using the US Air force boom system. This will allows us to better help the USA in large scale deployments as well as being able to refuel our own C17’s and Rivet Joints. Any aerial refueling of UCAV’s in the future is likely to be much easier to do using this system than the current drogue system.
We should expand on the BAE Taranis program and develop our own UCAV designed for deep strike and reconnaissance roles. We should optimise the system to require minimal human input. (I don’t think we have really looked at the potential savings of UCAV’s if we do not have to maintain hundreds of trained pilots)
The primary role of this system will be SEAD on the opening night of any campaign. The extremely long range capability of these craft should facilitate our ability to fly them from home bases here in the UK.
If we do this right we might hope to have a large amount of the servicing, armouring and maintenance of these craft done by civilian staff organized into a reservist force. There are literally thousands of civilian personnel with the capability to perform these tasks just as well as full time RAF personnel. Imagine if we build 200 of these and keep 150 in storage. The 50 on active service will deploy with the RAF as usual while the 150 reserve units will stay in hermetic storage waiting for periods when needed. Any operation might see us being able to deploy 150 + of these on the first night then dropping down to a smaller amount for ongoing support of an operation with the reservist units only having to deploy for the first few nights of an operation. We may even be able to consider using civilian pilots as the USA does in a tactical reservist unit to control them. All of these civilian reservists could stay in the UK meaning they would have no risk of being in a combat situation.
Total Budget for the RAF would be around £8.5 billion
The Royal Navy would become our main force. There are a number of reasons for choosing to enhance the navy over other services. Firstly any major threat we face will come from far away. To reach us it will have to come by sea. Secondly and more importantly no one else in the world other than the US has a major Navy. Allies only want allies if they have something to offer. The main thing that we can bring to the fold in any alliance be it with Europe, the USA, India, Indonesia or Brazil is a naval element.
While all of these nations will likely build upon their naval capabilities they will always have to predominantly rely on their armies for security. Our safe regional and geographic situation allows us to concentrate our resources in ways few other nations can. Being able to provide major naval elements to either joint exercises or deployments gives us major diplomatic leverage.
The technological lead established by our navy also gives us a major advantage in a way that the other two services cannot hope to match. It’s difficult for the Army to maintain a lead when most of its kit is purchasable on the international market. China and Russia have already developed 4th generation aircraft which are nearly as good as ours and are currently developing 5th Generation capability something we have struggled to do. However our navy especially the SSN fleet maintains a technological lead on a par with even the US Navy.
In other areas such as ASW and MCM we have capabilities that not even America can match.
India has not even begun to develop its own SSN’s. Brazil has started but its first generation subs will likely not be completed until 2030 and will be two full generations behind ours. China has made great efforts in this area however they still have nothing comparable to our newest vessels.
While we have all heard the same lame arguments “we are an island you know” and the UK is a “maritime nation” we all know these to be irrelevant. When a fighter jet can cross the channel in less than a minute no nation is an island. Many Caribbean counties have bigger registered merchant fleets than we do. While the UK has more freight travelling to and from it via the sea than any other nation most of this is crossing the channel on ferries, hardly justification for Carrier Battle Groups.
However in a world were resources are the key issue and a world where scarcity and control of these resources will drive the politics of the future the navy offers dimensions and capabilities well beyond that the other services can offer.
How long would China last without the ability to import food, minerals and most importantly oil. Simply holding the Straits of Malacca for a few months would be enough to bring the entire country crashing to its knees. If we can defeat the second most powerful country in the world where does that put us on the world power scale?
To achieve these goals we would require a fleet with:
3 Queen Elizabeth Class Carriers
3 Juan Carlos style LHD’s
6 Bay Class LSD’s
12 Type 45 Destroyers
12 Type 26 ASW Frigates
12 Type 27 General Purpose Frigates
32 Multi mission minor war vessels
12 Point Class RoRo’s
Other Auxiliary Vessels such as tankers and stores ships
Naval Structure and Deployment
The Naval fleet would be split into two active duty fleets
Western Fleet Head Quartered in Portsmouth
Eastern Fleet Head Quartered in Penang, Malaysia
In addition there would be a Home Fleet for vessels in refit or waiting in reserve.
Western Fleet would be responsible for all home waters, the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Western fleet would have One Carrier Strike Group and One Amphibious Ready Group assigned to it. It would also have 4 Squadrons of minor war vessels and frigates.
Forward Deployed Squadrons
South Atlantic 2 GP Frigates, 2 Minor War Vessels (Based Falkland Islands)
North Atlantic 2 ASW Frigates, 2 Minor War Vessels (Based UK)
Mediterranean 2 GP Frigates, 2 Minor War Vessels (Based Cyprus)
Home Waters 2 GP Frigates, 2 Minor War Vessels (Based UK)
In addition there would be 4 SSN’s independently attached to the fleet as well as a fifth one assigned to the carrier strike group.
The Eastern Fleets principal responsibility would be to build the 7 Powers Defence Association into a real and credible force. This would be our main contribution to this alliance. Eastern Fleet would be responsible for all waters East of Suez. It would comprise One Carrier Strike Group and One Amphibious Ready Group based in Penang. In addition it would have three Squadrons
Western India Ocean and Gulf 2 Type 45 Destroyer, 4 Minor War Vessels (Based Oman)
Eastern Indian Ocean 2 GP Frigate 4 Minor War Vessels (Based in Penang)
In addition the Eastern fleet would have 4 SSN’s stationed at Diego Garcia. The RAF would also deploy 3 P8 Poseidon’s to the Joint Air base at Butterworth Penang.
The Choice of Penang is an important one. It’s close enough to the South China Sea to make deployment easy enough without being too close as to irritate the Chinese. It’s far enough away from India to avoid causing diplomatic tensions while being a day closer to the Gulf than say Singapore. There is also a joint air base in Penang run by Australian and Malaysian forces making it much easier to base air elements there.
Carrier Strike Group
Each Carrier Strike Group would comprise
1 Queen Elizabeth Class
2 Type 45 Destroyers
2 Type 26 Frigates
1 Fast fleet Tanker
1 Logistics and stores ship
The Air Group of the Carrier would comprise of
20 F35 C
4 F18 G Growlers
4 E2D Hawkeye
4 Merlin ASW
Amphibious Ready Group
Each Amphibious Ready Group would comprise
1 Juan Carlos Style LHD
2 Bay Class LST’s
1 Type 45 Destroyer
1 Type 26 Frigate
Each amphibious ready group would be capable of deploying a single Amphibious British Expeditionary Unit. The LHD would have an air wing of
6 F35 B’s
4 Attack Helicopters
3 light Utility Helicopters
4 Heavy Lift Helicopters
12 Medium Helicopters
By eliminating the wasteful current procedure of 7 ships to 2 on deployment we can put more of our navy to the places it is needed. If we are going to spend much more time training with foreign partners especially in the Easter Indian Ocean we need to be closer to the areas of operation. Ships sat on the dockside in Portsmouth do no one any good.
All vessels would rotate on a 2 year basis spending 2 years with one fleet, two with the other then standing down for 2 years for refit.
Forward deployed vessel will operate in pairs allowing for 1 to be either at sea or ready to go while the other is on route home or at the dockside. Most modern naval vessels can achieve 90% + readiness and having these units deployed close to area of operation allows us in times of need to have both at sea.
Crews at smaller forward bases such as Cyprus, Falklands, Diego Garcia and Oman would be rotated back by aircraft on a periodic basis. Crews stationed at Penang would stay for the duration of a two year deployment and families would be transferred alongside them.
The total budget for the Navy would rise to £14 billion per year slightly less than double the current budget.
We already have an excellent intelligence service provided by MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. It is difficult to tell if this service is underfunded due to its secretive nature however we should recognize that intelligence in the modern world is more crucial than ever and it’s a major asset we can bring to any party.
This is one area the MOD is completely lacking in. Space today is vital for any operation. Imagine how important it will be in 50 years. Three main areas of space jump out at me that we need to work on.
In the past the UK has always relied on America to provide space based reconnaissance. While this has worked out well most of the time we have had several problems in the past. These issues are normally more to do with inter service rivalry in the US military than inter country issues. Even the Pentagon finds it difficult to get imagery from the NRO.
The other issue with relying on US data is we cannot then show it to other allies such as France, Brazil or India. We are fortunate to have a fantastic private sector capability in the form of Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL). They have already worked on a 2 m resolution imaging satellite called TOPSAT for the MOD with a total cost of just £20 million. They are now working on a Radar imaging version which will cost around £40 million (Including launch costs). Developing a constellation of 5 photo and 5 radar satellite’s would give us the ability to image any part of the planet every day in all weathers. A capability that only the USA enjoys at present. It also gives us a major diplomatic tool in both sharing information with our allies and also helping countries such as Indonesia and Brazil to develop their own capability.
With the need for all forms of satellite communication increasing we should consider expanding our Sky Net system to include 5 communications satellites. Satellite Communication is a major coalition enabler and something we will likely never have enough off. UAV’s in particular will place a much greater burden on these systems in the next 10-20 years and we must be ready to handle this. Using a PFI system is likely the best route for this allowing us to give over bandwidth to other nations and even possibly civilian traffic when we do not require it.
One way or another missile defence will begin to play a large part in defence thinking in the 21st century. In a world where private individuals can build vehicles capable of intercontinental sub orbital flight for a few hundred thousand dollars simply relying on the principals of MAD will not be sufficient especially if we have to consider the possibility of a Nuclear Armed Iran able to target London.
Missile defence will be expensive. We should only develop this as part of a European or NATO structure. However this should not simply be a US system with a couple of radars and missiles in Europe but an autonomous NATO command.
Balanced vs Unbalanced
You may say this is a hideously unbalanced force. Maybe it is, however Nelson or Wellington would likely view a budget that gave 65% of money to the Army and 17% to the Navy as massively unbalanced.
Having a balanced force with a small budget only allows us to subsidies other nations capabilities principally America. While there is a moral justification for helping the USA maintain peace and security we cannot really justify spending so much money on this. Rebuilding our forces so that we are able to carry out some tasks on our own and getting other nations to supplement our forces seems to me a much better way. Trying to achieve balance will only lead to more salami slicing and a general degradation in all round capability.