Unless you have been on the moon in the last couple of days you will have not been able to move for reporting on General Sir David Richards (Chief of the Defence Staff) comments made during the Oxford Changing Character of War lecture at Oxford University’s Department of Politics and International Relations.
You can read the Telegraph reporting by clicking the image below.
A few comments on his comments;
One of my biggest concerns is the number of frigates and destroyers the Navy has.
You get to this ridiculous situation where in Operation Atalanta off the Somali coast, we have £1 billion destroyers trying to sort out pirates in a little dhow with RPGs costing $50, with an outboard motor $100. That can’t be good. We’ve got to sort it out.
Everyone in the ‘let’s have more navy with a generous helping of more Navy’ seems to take this as the General endorsing a larger Navy but does it?
We were using seventy odd million pound Typhoon’s in Libya against targets that in the UK would be worth more for the scrap metal.
Only this week we have seen reported by the MoD a new exhibition from Afghanistan at the Imperial War Museum whose centrepiece is an Taliban 250cc motorbike, no, really.
We use expensive equipment against inexpensive equipment because a) its all we have and b) it kind of works
However, commenting on the cost of equipment used in asymmetric operations, where the mismatch between us and the ‘enemy’ is huge, is fair enough, but it is the services that make the decisions and if that decision making process leads to prioritisation of high end and potentially inappropriate equipment for the vast majority of operations then it is the services that need to sort it out.
This goes to the core of the ‘this war, a war’ discussion, if we must be capable of waging war against militarily capable enemy, however rare, then the equipment must reflect this and if it ends up being used against pirates with outboards then that is the price you pay because in the real world, there is not enough cash for both.
It is about decisions on how to cut the cake and the people who make those decisions are those in uniform, over to you Sir David.
Next was his point about the ‘top brass shining their arses’ argument.
The irony is that if you want to retain influence, you actually need more officers and more [star] ranks
I made the point about the necessity of rank to support international collaboration in one of the very first posts on Think Defence.
You cannot deny his point, of course it is entirely valid but I would suggest that a sensible top to bottom ratio that is reflective of overall force size frees up funding that allows capabilities to maintained.
It is these capabilities that underpin real influence, not how many generals you have.
There is always the appointment v rank discussion to be had also.
Despite a candid admission of the failing of the military aspect of the operation which is interesting because of the amount of time, money and blood spent so far;
This is not a model of how to conduct a counter insurgency operation
He went on to wrap the blame for the failing of the Afghanistan intervention around everyone;
All the military can do is buy space and time and opportunity for a political resolution of a problem. It is a great shame that we have not understood this. This is not a matter for military, diplomats, politicians. This is a matter of collectively failing to exploit the opportunity the military gained
Again, how can you disagree with that as a basic statement?
But, is this the General seeking to share the blame, make the point that a collective failing means just that or is he simply getting on the record the that post 2014, the inevitable backlash should be directed elsewhere?
Finally, he makes another point on resources.
I and the Chiefs of Staff agree that we can deliver the military capability required with the resources available.
Then what was he talking about?
As one of our commenters just noted, seems like SDSR 2015 has just started!
Another Quick Update:
Our readers are a sharp bunch, one asking the question, how many has the billion pound Type 45 destroyer spent on anti piracy duties. The answer is of course, four fifths of the square root of nothing