To kick off this mini series a piece from Defence Synergia…
Defence Synergia (DS) is determined to try and identify the incumbent government’s strategy and deduce from that national defence and security operational requirements.
Before Strategic Defence and Security Review 2010 (SDSR), we recognised that the Ministry of Defence was woefully underfunded for the programmes of all three services which were, in any case, operating in a strategic vacuum; Afghanistan was mesmerising everyone. With a fresh government, the establishment of the National Security Council (NSC), the generation of a National Security Strategy (NSS), the reports commissioned by Dr Fox to improve, radically, Ministry of Defence (MOD) procedures and the imminent SDSR promised much in spite of the severe economic situation. There was a chance that a clear set of intentions might emerge.
Admittedly, the timescale for SDSR production was extremely truncated but the inputs to it still smacked of short term partisanship so, the review seemed to focus on immediate operations (things already well known that should have been planned for some years since) and, otherwise, took a panglossian view of the medium and short term. These errors became exposed very swiftly with our involvement in the Libyan conflict when the risks and rewards of providing the required air superiority, most cost effectively, were called into question. Since SDSR, DS has written or sponsored a number of papers which either support particular aspects of the SDSR or highlight the incoherence within it. We agree, for example, that to go ahead with the Trident replacement system is a statement that we stand “inter pares” with western democracies prepared to deter rogue states but we decry the confused thinking that has led to an ill advised decision that means the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force will not meet their full operational requirements for “state of the art” fast jets.
We believe that Defence is the action arm of Foreign Policy (FP) and that the government is doing FP on the hoof according to prevailing circumstances.
That’s a plan not a strategy.
We need a strategy that allows all departments of State to discern, easily, their own plans. We call this a Grand Strategy (GS). Because there isn’t a GS we don’t have joined up and properly scoped FP, which in turn means we don’t have a well thought out Defence Policy (DefPol). Without a meaningful DefPol, MOD doesn’t know what military power is required or how to equip for national risks. Hence, the Services guess the best they can with Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) not knowing what to buy and industry not being told, accurately, what to deliver.
We deduce from all that has been written and said by the government that the emphasis has got to lie within a “Maritime Strategy” rather than a “Continental Strategy” which, incidentally, the United Kingdom has never been very good at nor truly aspired to and does not chime with present declared intentions for defending the nation. In military terms this means moving away from what might generally be called “standing armies” to flexible, rapidly deployable troops well able to operate autonomously in many and, quite often, distant parts of the world. For this, autonomous air-cover and maritime and air logistical support are vital. More generally, cyber warfare protection, policing and other emergency services need a strategy from which to derive their plans too.
In a very real sense the current situation is a metaphor for the incoherence that stems from a lack of Grand Strategy to steer almost all aspects of government policy and to establish clear directives for security and defence of the realm. This brings us on to the central feature of our argument which is, that a lack of Grand Strategy is clearly demonstrated in the case of the RN and RAF in the reversal of the aircraft carrier fit from Catapults and Arrester Gear to Short Take Off and Vertical Landing?
This one change, seeming so trivial yet applauded in cost saving terms by many, undermines FP, severely reduces our ability to operate effectively with allies at the strategic level and leaves the nation vulnerable because we will be very limited in acting alone whilst retaining little leverage when reliant on others - most importantly the United States of America and key allies in NATO and the European Union.
THE NATIONAL SECURITY STRATEGY – FLAWS IN THE MACHINE
It is probably true to say that modern warfare doctrine is less concerned with traditional designations such as, Fleet, Corps, Division, Squadron – terms that may be misleading so much as with overmatching
the enemy’s professional and technical capability in any given strategic or tactical environment. This is not to say that superior numbers are now unnecessary – when facing a peer competitor a combination of superior numbers and capability can be crucial – only that in actual engagements against second tier opponents superior training, utility and capability have been shown to be war winning factors.
However, the National Security Strategy (NSS) has tended towards the view that reducing personnel numbers in HM Armed Forces is justified by 21st century circumstances and this is worrying, not least because, at the same time, platforms, capability and technological advantages are being relegated or lost. It is true that Global Strategic Trends (GST) analyses indicate that the danger of major state on state warfare is receding but it also postulates that threats to resources along the Littoral and sea lines of communication (SLOC) risk domestic security whilst counter insurgency (COIN) operations and asymmetric warfare leading to long term peace-keeping commitments overseas are more likely.
Because COIN operations are often conducted in the face of a belligerent local population inhabiting urban sprawl over a geographically large area a lack of ‘boots on the ground’ (especially special forces SF) and supporting technology can be a ‘show stopper’. So, it can be argued, that personnel numbers (mainly ground) prove the greatest challenge in COIN operations and that a small personnel base may restrict the ability of SF to select suitable candidates. Hence, the army order of battle (ORBAT) should not only provide suitably sized forces for COIN operations but also be balanced to aid regeneration of infantry, artillery and armoured forces (within reasonable warning time frames) to meet state-on-state general war conditions – albeit this is not as clear cut for the RN/RAF that often require years of warning time to procure weapons platforms and to train some personnel to combat ready status.
Therefore, contrary to NSS plans for Future Force 2020 (FF20), the size, balance and capabilities of HM Armed Forces may require revisiting. For example, future combat operations for all 3 services will be heavily dependent upon tactical information systems and open systems architecture that is able to interlink with (and permit) data and control transfer between national and allied forces.
However, systems upgrades such as Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) that offer force multiplier effects as well as improved defence and survivability for the fleet and upgrades to RAF E3D communications suites for international interoperability are being cancelled or delayed by MOD.
FUTURE FORCE 2020 AND THE NSS – A MARITIME CENTRIC STRATEGY IGNORED
The analysis by HM Government – articulated in the NSS – points towards an internationalised foreign policy that calls for a ‘maritime centric’ leaning defence strategy. To that end expeditionary capable ground forces, aircraft carriers, fixed-wing-air-power and highly capable surface and sub-surface vessels to support an indigenous amphibious capability are a central focus of the NSS. However, the NSS offers little by way of explanation as to what naval and air elements should be dedicated to this implied ‘maritime centric’ strategy. Indeed, counter intuitively, the Defence Planning Assumptions (DPA) appear to have been weighted towards scenarios for the use of land forces with the naval and air requirements being referred to in rather nebulous terms such as :“…with air and maritime support”.
Nevertheless, the SDSR 2010 advised on reductions in the size of HM Forces – RN to 30,000 (including 8000 RM); RAF to 33,000; British Army to 82,000 (with 30,000 TA). These NSS assumptions, which are arguably very limiting, were broadly as follows:
1. The British Forces should be configured to conduct 2 concurrent battle group and one brigade size operation/s (the latter based on a single Multi-Role Brigade (MRB) of up to 6500 troops) – one of which could be long term with little or no war fighting but with increased exposure to humanitarian intervention and aid – with ‘appropriate maritime and air support’.
2. Or, HM Armed Forces to be capable of conducting a divisional size one-off operation of up to 30,000 personnel inclusive of ‘supporting sea and air power’ but limited to 6 months of active operations probably in concert with allies.
MARITIME CENTRIC STRATEGY AND CAPABILTY GAPS
Put simply a ‘maritime centric’ strategy (based on the emerging air/sea battle concept) requires integrated naval, air and ground forces. These must be capable of providing effective support for the nuclear deterrent; Littoral, SLOC and Blue Water maritime operations [the latter to ensure anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) can be countered]; expeditionary defence for UK dependent territories and allies and defence of the UK homeland.
The nuclear deterrent task continues but is at risk because of the lack of LRMPA and the potential overtasking of naval escort assets. Beyond the deterrent, other tasks are at risk where concurrency is required because one carrier, one landing platform, 7 submarines, 13 frigates, 6 destroyers and 15 MCMV cannot be in several places at one time (some will be laid-up for maintenance) and the RAF cannot make-up the shortfall because of the total lack of LRMPA and limited Airborne Early Warning and Control Systems (AWACS), air transport (AT) and air to air refuelling (AAR) capacity and Access, Basing and Overflight (ABO) uncertainties. To make things worse, all tasks are at risk if UK forces cannot operate in an Intelligence, Surveillance, Targeting and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) environment enabled by integrated joint and multinational open system architecture with interoperable tactical information systems which provide our principle strategic capital assets (the aircraft carriers) with the ability to operate and survive in a high threat environment.
Although FF20 ‘Ground Forces’ will operate with 40% fewer tanks (Challenger), 35% fewer long range guns (AS90) and reduced regular Combat Service Support (CSS) these can be augmented through the use of reserve forces. Therefore, unlike the RN and RAF, the army, with a proposed strength of 82,000 regulars, 30,000 reserves and a revised equipment plan may be able to meet its DPA obligations – with one possible major exception. The Army’s principal problem is not so much its own ORBAT (provided it does not reduce further) but the RN and RAF FF20 capability, which, in operational enabler terms, may not be able to guarantee safe delivery or combat support in accordance with joint expeditionary warfare or emerging air/sea battle doctrine.
As there are known capability gaps (risks in MOD parlance) in current carrier, fixed-wing-carrier-air, LRMPA, air and sea transport, AAR and AWACS the expeditionary nature of the NSS assumptions are at major risk – in some circumstance possibly unworkable. Whilst some of these deficiencies are being addressed in the medium term through the new build QE Class carrier programme and its air component there are no current plans to implement ‘Project Eagle’ to upgrade the RAF E3D to US/NATO standard open system architecture; no plans to replace LRMPA ; no plans beyond those already announced in the A330-200 PFI contract to provide more AAR capability (only 12 of the 14 aircraft will be AAR) and no plans to increase the number of RN escorts.
Yet, counter intuitively, despite opting for the arguably less capable short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the F35, the MOD has cancelled CEC for the RN escort fleet and has not proceeded with open system architecture upgrade (Project Eagle) for the RAF E3D AWACS fleet. The army in particular will lose a useful and successful tactical asset when the Sentinel R1 airborne-stand-off-radar (ASTOR) is retired post 2014.
Therefore, if it is a possibility that the RN and RAF, within current limited capability, would be unable to guarantee protected transit or effective combat support for an expeditionary force, then parliament must surely ask why?
Indeed, parliament may wish to know from MOD the logic of having an implied ’maritime centric’ expeditionary posture, if command of the global commons through effective air and sea combat support, transport and IT enabled force protection is being neglected?
In such circumstances is it not right to ask Her Majesty’s Government if the the overarching strategy, including the NSS assumptions, may be fatally flawed?
To go back to the introduction: Without a UK Grand Strategy foreign policy cannot be coherently formed. Without a coherent foreign policy defence policy is rudderless and British diplomacy, industry and the MOD are largely hamstrung – the whole machinery of national government tending towards reaction rather than proactive planning.
Which is why DefenceSynergia has been pushing for a public debate on UK Grand Strategy – what in the USA is being referred to by Admiral Mullen as a ‘Global Strategic Narrative’ – to unlock the minds within our own government.