UK defence issues and the odd container or two

Playing the Short Game – SDSR 2015?

Are we playing the short game as we get closer to SDSR 2015?

Reportedly the Defence Secretary has stated that a ‘war-weary’ public will only accept interventions which are ‘time-limited’.  Setting aside whether he has been reported accurately (this is The Telegraph, after all) and whether this idea of war weariness is true, if the point is accepted it poses an interesting question for the next NSS/SDSR.  Some of the key drivers for structuring and resourcing security systems and the military are the assumptions made about the scale and duration of any operations you intend to conduct.  

 Playing the Short Game   SDSR 2015?

The last SDSR reduced the scale of the operations the UK expected to conduct with Future Force 2020 (down by about a third in terms of land forces against the Iraq invasion and Afghan stabilisation) whilst keeping up concurrency (the number of operations to be done at any one time) and type (how long they were supposed to last). 

This is covered in the Defence Planning Assumptions (DPA):

But broadly speaking, the ‘Adaptable Posture’ and the DPA are explicit that they think the UK will still be taking part in significant stabilisation operations, probably as part of an alliance.  If the Defence Secretary *really* believes the British public will only accept short, sharp, campaigns (and this begs the question about legal and parliamentary authorisation of force), then should the next SDSR change the DPA – and if so, how?

One option would be to explicitly make the UK a ‘short-game’ player; further investment in high-end capabilities based around initial intervention and ‘kicking the door in’.

The Navy and UK strike capabilities would be the prime beneficiaries of this approach, with numbers and precision strike, along with amphibious capabilities and special forces. The Army would be the most challenged; if you aren’t suddenly having to support an enduring operation of 6,500, it can free up a lot of people.  In other words, this looks a lot like the ‘Strategic Raiding‘ option outlined by RUSI before the last SDSR:

In this scenario the UK becomes a big hitting, but low-stamina partner – explicitly taking on the tough initial work, but expecting others to do longer-term presence.  There are problems, the most obvious being the argument that situations that might look like needing stabilisation aren’t going to go away, just because we wish them so. 

Further, it makes the UK a sprinter, not a long-distance runner; if you want to rule out UK participation, just make a situation look messy and protracted.  The hard gains of the last few years in terms of knowledge and tactics could also be lost.

The counter is that this is a sunk-costs fallacy: why structure yourself to conduct operations you don’t think your population will support?

The UK is already reducing forces and has, by default, become a smaller and more high-tech military with a global presence but more thinly spread.  ‘Strategic raiding’ sounds like it could play to our strengths (and is what a non-imperial Britain has done successfully for much of the past 500 years).

This may not be what Hammond is arguing; it would run counter to the ‘no strategic shrinkage’ claim the Prime Minister has spent the past four years repeating.

It would be an explicit acceptance of limitations in some respects. And it is entirely possible that the PM and SofS have been emphasising the Syria vote last year and the idea of war-weariness to try and create a reaction and shape a debate they want to conclude with greater support for the UK maintaining a full set of capabilities (especially after Secretary Gates made his recent comments).

But if they cannot come up with a convincing reason for the UK to continue to have the ability to ‘go long, go strong’, then it may be they end up with UK forces only able to play the short game.

So, should they?

About The Author

TD reader and general pedant interested in general security issues, especially the UK military

97 Comments

  1. DavidNiven

    I think the politicians are coming to the wrong conclusions about Britain’s war wearyness. The history of the last few decades shows that if the public believes that it is a worthy and necessary action then they will support it, from GW1, Bosnia, Kosovo and Sierra Leone and to small extent Libya. What the public is weary of is campaigns for dubious reasons and seeing no benefit to anyone for all the blood and treasure spent.

    I think if you asked anyone if the invasion of Iraq was worth it to both the British and Iraqi’s then I think the overall reply would be no, but the same question asked about GW1 (in reference to Kuwait) and Bosnia would give a positive outcome. I think it shows that the arguments for action should be more compelling but not that the British public would not support a long term intervention if they believed it was the right thing to do. The Iraq war has lead to this conclusion by the politicians and it will muddy the waters for years to come.

  2. Mickp

    Sustained aggressive offensive ops in clear national interest with clear military objective then yes. Softer nation building and sustained policing roles no

    If we have to kick the door down and achieve the objective others should backfill on security and reconstruction roles

  3. jedibeeftrix

    Good article, and i’m with you on the whys and wherefores, but not the when.

    You see this as an indicator of what might come in future, i believe it is post-facto justification for what has already been done (SDSR10).

    The big choice: what happens when we realised the mini-US sdr98 was bankrupted by lack of investment?

    No longer could we have the ability to both:
    1. sustain a short division indefinitely when configured for theatre wide low intensity suppression
    2. keep the enablers to permit brigade level interventions at short notice configured for high intensity fighting in a localised area

    In the end, we ended up with carriers and amphibs and transports, and kept the marine and para response groups. we paid for this with a 82,000 man army.

    But it didn’t have to go that way, there were plenty of people making honourable arguments in favour of a Global Guardian stance, where the army might have remained at pre-SDSR10 size (and maybe even increased a little). This, with the intention of meeting the one-in-five roulement ratio at a scale that would permit enduring theatre-level control.
    The price paid for this by the RN and RAF would have been significant, but it would have ‘worked’.

    Yes, FF2020 (actually future force 2024 in reality), is a work in progress, and yes the trend will continue in SDSR15, but it will be a matter of finessing a direction already traveled rather than a 180 turn.

    The second carrier will be confirmed as kept, we’ll get a positive decision on MPA, and the army might drop by a notional amount, but nothing eath shattering.

    We still need persistence, and I think the army could make a pretty good case that it is already operating on the smallest useful scale as far as meeting those DPA’s go.

  4. Peter Feeney

    This is a chase to Nirvana. British Governments have long believed they can sally forth, slay the dragon and retire to the Home Base before the public have noticed they are gone. As a money saving measure it is highly seductive – in reality it cannot work. The mere use of “Raid” as a concept implies target destruction – that we are presented with Something to destroy in the first place ignores 10 years or more of enemy asymmetry. Essentially:

    No one is going to sit still long enough to present such a target;

    When they (quickly) twig that they have to sit still to become a target they will use that to draw us in and defeat us in detail, destroying our one shot sprinter in order that he can go araiding no more;

    If the manpower bill is the issue (in Pensions or Dead), remove the men, investing heavily in measures which have men in the loop but not the platform. Since you do not envisage Staying, go, strike, return remotely (as far as practicable) on GROUND as well as in the Air. Do not be distracted by those who would have you believe that such things are of some far distant future. Grasp the need, invest at a governmental level (in a DERA-esque organisation) then sell the resulting tech to our Cousins.

    But be advised: Killing people, even industrially, only works sometimes. The rest of the time it hardens the resolve and causes Counter Raid. And, once they are not seeing Our brave Boys coming home in boxes, will the liberal UK populace stand for Their women and children dying in droves? The enemy will defeat our raids in the Milk Powder factories!

    OR

    Send out some chaps in Cap Comforters to raid Narvik …..

    “Winning” is even more relative than it ever was. Not losing is usually the goal because we “need” public support for the long drawn out campaigns our enemies need to fight to beat us. If we get engaged it will be a long one. Some would hold up Libya as an example of such “Raids”, but that is VERY far from over. How would such a Raid have improved the outcome in Bosnia, Suez, Iraq, Afghanistan …

  5. Peter Feeney

    This is a chase to Nirvana. British Governments have long believed they can sally forth, slay the dragon and retire to the Home Base before the public have noticed they are gone. As a money saving measure it is highly seductive – in reality it cannot work. The mere use of “Raid” as a concept implies target destruction – that we are presented with Something to destroy in the first place ignores 10 years or more of enemy asymmetry. Essentially:

    No one is going to sit still long enough to present such a target;

    When they (quickly) twig that they have to sit still to become a target they will use that to draw us in and defeat us in detail, destroying our one shot sprinter in order that he can go araiding no more;

    If the manpower bill is the issue (in Pensions or Dead), remove the men, investing heavily in measures which have men in the loop but not the platform. Since you do not envisage Staying, go, strike, return remotely (as far as practicable) on GROUND as well as in the Air. Do not be distracted by those who would have you believe that such things are of some far distant future. Grasp the need, invest at a governmental level (in a DERA-esque organisation) then sell the resulting tech to our Cousins.

    But be advised: Killing people, even industrially, only works sometimes. The rest of the time it hardens the resolve and causes Counter Raid. And, once they are not seeing Our brave Boys coming home in boxes, will the liberal UK populace stand for Their women and children dying in droves? The enemy will defeat our raids in the Milk Powder factories!

    “Winning” is even more relative than it ever was. Not losing is usually the goal because we “need” public support for the long drawn out campaigns our enemies need to fight to beat us. If we get engaged it will be a long one. Some would hold up Libya as an example of such “Raids”, but that is VERY far from over. How would such a Raid have improved the outcome in Bosnia, Suez, Iraq, Afghanistan …

    OR

    Send out some chaps in Cap Comforters to raid Narvik …..

  6. Phil

    Name me a conflict we’ve gotten into where we knew how long it was going to last?

    As a bonus question, how many operations have we started where we thought we knew how long it would take?

  7. DavidNiven

    @Phil,

    I thought we new we were going to be home by Christmas at the outbreak of the 1914 European skirmish. We would have to, if the start to the ‘war to end all wars’ had not coincided with its ending!

  8. All Politicians are the Same

    @ Phil

    WW1, it was going to be over by Christmas.

    In all seriousness some better defined objectives will help. I would hope that Public support or lack of will have more to do with the cause than the duration.

  9. Mike Wheatley

    Speaking as a member of the public,
    my problem is not with “the government” launching long term missions,
    rather, my problem is that when the enemy uses its vote to make it a long term mission,
    …we then discover that the government has no long term plan.

    (Which makes it more likely that future enemy’s will also use their vote to turn everything into a long term mission. Duh.)

  10. martin

    Surely the point is that every member or NATO can provide and probably will provide long term peace keepers. But currently only one member of NATO can truly provide the initial access. with tight budgets we need to look seriously at what our allies can do and that does not simple mean looking at the USA who can do everything but looking at European NATO which literally has hundreds of thousands of potential peace keepers but little else.

    If we can’t find allies to shoulder the long term burden of security and reconstruction then its a good indication we should not be considering an operation.

    So I would say UK forces should focus on rapid intervention, SEAD, amphibious assault and C4 ISTAR none of which Europe has much ability in and leave long term peace keeping to the some 2 million soldiers in the European Union.

    so reverse cuts to 16AAB and 3 com, retain Sentinel and Reaper, Fit out T45 with TLAM, upgrade Apache, operate both carriers and replace Ocean and buy more F35 and P8 and cut the army sustainment force’s to pay for it.

    This would enhance our ability To conduct sovereign ops like 1982 or Sierra Leone, still allow us to make a decent contribution to a joint op such as GW1 and allow us to conduct an operation like Libya with little or no US support. At the expense of only being able to sustain a force of 4-5000 for an enduring op like Afghanistan. Not a bad trade off in my mind.

  11. The Securocrat

    @jedibeeftrix

    You seem to have gazumped me by the small matter of three years! Most embarrassing, given I think I read the article at the time.

    I recognise this has been the direction of travel for some time, but my musing (and that’s what it remains at this time) is whether, if we believe the argument about protracted struggles being ‘bad’, there is scope to be even more radical. In other words, should we delete the requirement for a brigade-level enduring stabilisation operation? If you go by the rule of five for sustainment, that gives you 32,500 troops to do ‘something else’ with, or to re-invest the resource somewhere else. As Phil implies, knowing the length of a conflict is awesomely difficult, and there would be significant risk in saying ‘no more’ to stabilisation. But our possible alternative would be to take a lead as the European heavy hitter (or secondary heavy hitter within NATO) on the agreement that other Western militaries would take on the more enduring commitments. This, of course, requires as -yet unheard of levels of European coordination, but without some serious self-examination we seem to be in danger of attempting ‘the same with less’. I’m aware that this would almost inevitably lead to a *much* more limited approach to the use of force – in essence it would attempt to be one that mixed deterrence with limited coercion, and treated the military as a much more focussed tool. This could be seen as either a lack of ambition or a more ‘realistic’ approach; the debate that suggests needs to take place might be the real reason for Hammond’s comments, rather than being the product of any desire to actually do less.

  12. martin

    @ Mike W

    surely the point is not that it must be a short operation but that our commitment will be a short one. we should never consider invading another country without an international mandate at which point the international community is obliged to lend support.

    Unfortunately from Russia to China and everywhere else that international community is unable to do the initial work so is it not better for us to focus on that and leave the longer term stuff to others.

  13. martin

    Its interesting to note that most ops other than Afghanistan and Iraq saw the UK initially deploy a large force which was then drawn down an replaced by others such as the Germans in Kosovo.

  14. DavidNiven

    @martin,

    I think the trouble with gearing ourselves to just the door kicking aspect, is that sometimes the initial door kicking and then our return to Blighty, would be seen as some in the international community as having to clear up our mess it’s going to be a lot harder to get consensus on that basis.

    With reference to European partners I think that more cooperation with countries that are more robust when it comes to force such as Denmark, Poland, Holland? the Nordic and Baltic states and to some extent France ( they only act if its definitely in their interest ) would be a sensible start and then try to bring the rest into the fold. We could be the enabler for a European contribution, and partner when the French are involved.

  15. martin

    @ DavidNiven

    if the international community are not prepared to clear up the mess the we should not consider creating it in the first place. it’s not our job to cure the worlds ills on our own. But often in a crisis many countries will be willing to act in the follow up they are just incapable of the initial work.

  16. Phil

    Kicking in the door is a misnomer. Much more like pushing your way through those creepy giant spider webs in films.

  17. DavidNiven

    @martin,

    But if that’s the case then why should the British take on the burden of the hard graft and kicking in the door, so someone who does not want to accept the same risk can just carry on normal jogging when we’ve clobbered the opposition for them. I seem to recall that there was not exactly an international consensus to policing Iraq after the invasion once everyone started to realise what was happening. At the very least we should be willing to commit a battle group as a follow up to a door kicking operation.

  18. Mark

    In my view the sooner we stop thinking we are “a mini-US” the better for all concerned.

    Are the uk public prepared to see uk forces committed overtly for long periods regardless of the objectives I don’t think so prob not for a generation at least. As we saw with the Syrian issues last year Iraq and Blair have cast a very long shadow. Even public support for Afghanistan is much weaker now than 10 years ago and that was a result of an attack on us.

    However you simply can’t expect to be the kick the door in force and then leave it to the rest, why because the rest will simply turn round and say you broke it you fix it we aren’t gonna clean you mess up for you.

    I think we first have to realise we will need to go thru the UN and we will need local surrounding countries support to conduct operations were they arise. Second the model of the uk and France being a lead nation for others to join is a gd model going fwd. Good intelligence and communication systems, an ability to target and provide logistics a must. The ability to provide a sustaining force that can train local forces provide supporting capabilities not easily found locally to any coalition force more preferred than large numbers of personnel with perhaps the use of special forces and there supporting arms used most frequently.

    Operations around Africa since serria leone by all nations probably as gd a model as any for the future.

  19. martin

    @ David Niven

    supporting a battlegroup is one thing a brigade is something else. even with further cuts we can easily support a battle group indefinatly. why should the UK carry the burden of kicking in the door. Because few others can I suppose and we tend to care more than others.

    I might also argue to be a UNSC member this should probably be a capability you have to have. Can’t remember if China or Russia have ever taken the lead in a UN operation which asks the question why they get a seat. maybe it’s about time they got up off their assess and did soemthing.

  20. martin

    @ Mark

    “Second the model of the uk and France being a lead nation for others to join is a gd model going fwd. Good intelligence and communication systems, an ability to target and provide logistics a must. The ability to provide a sustaining force that can train local forces provide supporting capabilities not easily found locally to any coalition force more preferred than large numbers of personnel with perhaps the use of special forces and there supporting arms used most frequently.”

    The problem is we don’t have the budget to provide all the necessary enablers for an operation and the sustainment force and if we have learnt anything in Afghanistan training local forces to do the work takes way to long. so we can either have the capability to do the initial entry and continue to provide C4 ISTAR and other specialist capabilities to whoever takes over from us or we can have the ability to support a US operation and nothing else because no one other than the USA can provide those enablers.

  21. jedibeeftrix

    @ Securocrat – “In other words, should we delete the requirement for a brigade-level enduring stabilisation operation? If you go by the rule of five for sustainment, that gives you 32,500 troops to do ‘something else’ with, or to re-invest the resource somewhere else… But our possible alternative would be to take a lead as the European heavy hitter (or secondary heavy hitter within NATO) on the agreement that other Western militaries would take on the more enduring commitments. ”

    i.e. take Strategic Raiding to its logical conclusion?

    I do support the idea of Britain and France specialising as the european theatre-entry bods, with others providing the follow on, and I’d do it by a network of bilateral military agreements between european nations using NATO as the implementing framework.

    I’m not sure i’d be willing to relinquish the ability to sustain a brigade in theatre… unless, keeping that 82,000 man army got in the way of keeping the day-1 capabilities we have spent so much money on to date.

  22. DavidNiven

    @martin,
    ‘why should the UK carry the burden of kicking in the door’

    Because we choose to, for influence at a strategic level. If we are no longer willing to kick the door in then we can dispense with everything that has a strategic value such as Astute and TLAM, the carriers, type 45, the amphibs, RFA, C17, A 400, AAR and just hire some ferries to transport a few troops mounted in Mastiffs for the stabilisation job after the initial intervention is over.

    The reason for having boots on the ground is purely symbolic, we have to show that we are willing to share risks and that the force we leave behind is credible enough to show this.

  23. DavidNiven

    ‘The reason for having boots on the ground is purely symbolic’

    Wrong turn of phrase sorry. What I mean is that if we want to have some influence on the proceedings then we need to be willing to share the burden in its entirety, even if that means leaving a token force for a run of the mill peacekeeping operation.

  24. Gloomy Northern Boy

    The underlying difficulty is that at any given time, the world has a fair number of truly horrible places…whose “rulers” (such as they are} spend most of their time perpetrating barbarities on their own people, and looking for safe opportunities to do the same sorts of things to their neighbours. This reality was only effectively contained when the European/Western Powers had the self-confidence and moral certainty to contain the worst horrors within the Imperial system…but when our own twentieth century Civil Wars undermined that certainty things began to gradually fall apart…it will grow far, far worse before it gets better…and the “International System” is no more than an increasingly threadbare fig-leaf that conceals our cowardice, irresponsibility and moral turpitude…

    We should either deal with the horrors, or live with them…although remaining comparatively heavily-armed is essential in any event because if we do not go after them, one of them will ultimately grow strong enough to come after us.

    An irreconcilably and very slightly neo-Imperialist Gloomy

  25. Mark

    Martin

    No didn’t say we provide all the enablers, but France and the uk combined can provide together a core for others join including american assets. We have a number of those enable assets now it doesn’t require huge expenditure to round them out or maximise what assets we have if we priorities the right areas in conjunction with the French.

    We could always be proactive and do training for nations that may have issues before they get out of hand such as were are doing in Africa and have done in serria leone it need not be all like Afghanistan.

  26. Dan

    @DavidNiven

    There was no consensus on policing Iraq after the invasion. The point is there was no international consensus of invading Iraq in the first place. The biggest public demonstration ever in the UK was the anti war demonstration of feb 2003, the biggest ever rebellion by a governing party in the UK was the 139 Labour MPs who voted against Iraq. NATO members France and Germany were not just reluctant but actively opposed.

    Part of the reason there was little planning for the aftermath was that a significant part of pentagon planning was exactly built around the kick the door in, change the regime and get out. Immediately after the fall of Baghdad some parts of the pentagon were planning on handing everything over to the UN and were looking for India to provide as much as 2 DIVISIONS for peacekeeping. His didn’t happen because both other parts of the US wanted to radically change Iraq and that meant sticking around and being in charge which meant troops on the ground! and because multiple countries who had opposed the initial invasion said it is your mess now fix it!

    If we want have the ability to have he second largest contribution in an unpopular intervention, that does not have the support of NATO or EU or explicit UN backing and no likelihood of the international community providing follow up support then we need a much bigger army.

    If we want to have the ability to respond faster and harder than some others, but plan for sustainment to be done by others then that could work and most of our post Cold War operations would still have taken place, the difference would be Iraq post invasion we would offer to provide some training to Iraqi forces and have a few hundred troops on the ground! and in Afghanistan we would be there at the beginning, and provide some contribution but Helmand would not happen.

    In terms of sustained operations, Bosnia and Kosovo still have NATO and or EU troops on the ground we are not there. Lebanon post the last hostilities saw the UN force beefed up with thousands of French and Italian forces and smaller numbers of other Europeans, we are not there.

    Mali the French are winding down but gaining long term support both by a variety of African nations and Poland, Germany etc our contribution is marginal.

  27. DavidNiven

    @Dan
    ‘If we want have the ability to have he second largest contribution in an unpopular intervention, that does not have the support of NATO or EU or explicit UN backing and no likelihood of the international community providing follow up support then we need a much bigger army.’

    I don’t believe I’ve argued that we should, I think that the door kicking and go home model is flawed and we should be willing to leave a contingent (of whatever size we see fit ) to allow us to persuade others to take up the slack after the initial involvement. After Iraq I would have thought at least one of the lessons learned was that you need consensus both at home and internationally before any action regardless of the size of our contribution.

  28. Brian Black

    @DavidNiven
    One of the things that Chilcot took a look at was this idea of British influence gained through participation. What became apparent was, despite the substantial British military contribution, we had little to no strategic influence over the American plan during any phase. These sort of claims have often been made to justify our scale of involvement.
    The Americans wanted some sort of British involvement in Iraq for diplomatic reasons, but were quite prepared to go it alone. British military and political personalities have also widely said that they tried to get clear plans for what would happen after invasion and initial military success, but the picture was confused. It raises the question as to whether we should have taken part if we didn’t have a clue about what would happen.
    This is our senior guy at CENTCOM during Iraq, answering questions from Chilcot about British influence over the Americans during planning for the war and its aftermath.

    SIR LAWRENCE FREEDMAN: One of the things that we have heard is that the advantage of the British role was that it brought us some influence in the process, and one of the things where it was felt that we had particular expertise was in this sort of operation because of what we had done in Kosovo and Sierra Leone, even in Northern Ireland. You have indicated already that we sort of started to feed in some of these concerns, but you also said, when an officer raised this, he didn’t get a very satisfactory answer. In this rather critical area, do you feel that the British were able to influence American thinking, and, if so, what evidence is there of it?

    MAJOR GENERAL DAVID WILSON: What I know is that from very, very early on, the questions were asked and anxieties expressed – not anxieties at that stage, but questions were asked, looking for reassurance that the aftermath, Phase 4, was receiving as much, if not more, planning effort and attention than the three phases that preceded it. That — I certainly remember being with the Chief of the Defence Staff when he discussed it with General Franks. It was one of the very early things he said and this was a repeated thing, a repeated thing. Now, whether — I can’t make a judgment on whether the door was locked, open or not but it wasn’t for lack of boots being applied to that door to get through, and of course, others will speak to this, better able, better informed than I was, to give you the opinion, but I mean, what I do. Then, in the fullness of time, it became apparent that this Jay Garner’s crew and team suitably reinforced by well received British specialists, including a political adviser later on, that they were understaffed, underfunded and that they had profound, in some instances, I understand, difficulties with the clarity of their mission.

  29. DavidNiven

    @Brian Black,

    I don’t think we can use Iraq solely as an example of participation gaining influence.In GW1 we definitely had influence the same as in Kosovo and Bosnia ( In Bosnia you could argue we had too much influence as the UK general public were way ahead of the politicians when it came to the use of force ).

    I think it depends on the politics at the time, and maybe the Americans new they did not have to care about our opinion as much this time round because our politicians had practically already given them unconditional support.

  30. Phil

    I think it is important not to generalise too much from the Iraqi war example. The Americans at the time were very gung ho about going it alone. It is clear that that attitude was a big mistake and undermined the legitimacy of the whole operation and ended up harming US interests considerably. I don’t believe they’ll make that same mistake again for a long time.

    Future significant operations if they are to have legitimacy will need a broad base of international support including various force elements. If we provide a solid chunk of that force we are more valuable to that operation and thus have comparatively more clout.

    Iraq was important for two reasons but the most important reason was that it showed the US that the international community cannot be side-lined and that unilateral action is not as accessible to them as it once was. They WILL seek to build coalitions, we MUST seek to be part of those coalitions where it suits our interests and we MUST be a cut above the rest so we have more clout during the operations and can help set the course of events.

    It’s a brave new world for America. They ignored and trod rough-shod over a number of countries and it bit them in the arse dramatically. Iraq was a deeply, deeply flawed operation from the ground up.

  31. Repulse

    I think we’ve reached the point were there is no choice at the moment, there is only the Strategic Raid option. Having said that it’s all about what we do with the reserve forces also.

  32. Dan

    @phil

    Your thinking is what went wrong in Iraq, if there is a coalition is formed we MUST be part of it, (the if it is in our interest bit was forgotten), and we MUST be a cut above the others to have clout.

    If the operation is in our interest we should be willing to take part but our true interests lies in maximising influence while minimising commitment. If the operation is going to happen anyway why risk any commitment, or at least any ground commitment. To have significant influence based on military commitment you have to make a substantial commitment not in comparison to other minor players, but in comparison to the overall operation.

    Britain operating at what it saw as maximal commitment was arguing about deploying an extra battalion to Helmand for a 6 month rotation, while the US was debating increasing the force by multiple Divisions and deploying them for up to 18 months at a time. In that context we could not expect to have much influence when our entire commitment was a rounding error in US terms.

    Post 9/11 the US had a collective nervous breakdown and truly went to war with multiple thousands of reserves and national guard called up for multiple tours of a year or more. No one in Europe showed that level of commitment,

  33. jedibeeftrix

    @ Dan – “In that context we could not expect to have much influence when our entire commitment was a rounding error in US terms.”

    Agreed.

    I was always under the impression the intention of matching 15% of US commitment in order to earn Framework Nation Status with the command input that entails.

    If we take Iraq as ‘typical’ example of a US style intervention then they have an average commitment of 140,000 troops through the main sequence of campaign, a period spanning six years. For Britain to justify the command input that comes with the 2IC slot, where we influence operations to reflect our priorities, we would have to sustain 21,000 troops in theatre. In reality this means three combat brigades and an additional brigades worth of supporting HQ, logistics and specialists elements. This is of course a generous calculation because if we wish to vie for Framework Nation Status as the strategic purpose of our expeditionary capability then we have to match our resources to the sum of US commitments. As can be seen in the table below that US commitment includes another 30,000 troops in a separate theatre of war, which means Britain needs to pony up another light-brigade at the very least. And yes, we really would have to consider this additional commitment, command input results from trust earned over time, not merely from meeting some arbitrary figure on only the missions we liked in the pic-n-mix bin.

    It basically doesn’t work, and to the limited extent it does work it absorbs the ENTIRETY of our capability, and thus removes Foreign Policy as a competence of HMG.

  34. Observer

    @Dan

    So will you end up with a race against the US to see how many warm bodies and wads of cash you can throw into a conflict? You’re not going to win that one, they got deeper pockets and more bodies. Whatever you can toss in, they can top, not to mention the inherent stupidity of meat grinder strategies.

  35. Dan

    @jedibeeftrix

    You have described it better than I, if I was American I would expect more than a commitment of 15% of US commitment to demand 2IC and real input into strategic decisions, how much influence did the free Poles or Free French have on Churchill.

    However in the 2010′s we could not deliver anything like 15% of US commitment to CENTCOM area of responsibility as the US saw it! but we still wanted to strut the stage as if we were all but equals.

    In the 1990s we had Gulf War 1 which used the force designed to take on the red hordes! RAF deployed more combat aircraft to the. Gulf than the entire RAF of today! we delivered more than a Division and then backed it up with support but remember it did not need to be sustained as the land war was over in 100 hours.

    In Kosovo and Bosnia the US saw it as a European problem and reluctantly got involved when the Europeans could not get their act together, so in relative terms our commitment and that of other Europeans was much greater because the US was not fully committed.

    @ Observer

    The whole point of the argument is we can not expect to be treated as a true full strategic partner with 2IC status that is real rather than a fig leaf unless we are willing to deliver enough force to truly make a difference and us trying to has becoming embarrassing. We have been trying to win some unimportant competition by saying we are delivering more men than the French, or we have had more dead bodies than the Germans as we volunteered to go to Helmand. While the Americans are looking on and saying so what. Their debate over the surge in Afghanistan was do we send 30,000 extra or 50,000 EXTRA and they still had troops in Iraq at the time.

    We have to accept we have already dropped another league and when the US is truly fully committed, which will not be always, we are no more important than any of the other European states and we will get no real credit for delivering twice as many forces as France or. Germany. When the US, is not committed then being in command of a non US coalition or being the major player when the US is just providing a little support the decision is different.

    2001-2014 has seen Britain commit hugely to 2 US led wars, the public demands gratitude from the US but our standing in the US military over that time has not climbed but declined.

  36. Observer

    Can’t be helped Dan. In WWII, you still had an empire that the sun never set on, but post-decolonialization, you lost a lot of resources and funding to maintain a global army. Doesn’t help that the battleship fleet that took almost a century to build became obsolete overnight with carriers becoming Queen of the Ocean. You’ll need the resources of a continent to match another continent or greater, and the UK no longer has that.

    If you want a say in any campaign, you’ll not only have to ante up decent numbers, but the numbers must also be front line units. You can offer to support the entire coalition’s AAR, but even that will only relegate you to “primary support staff”, not ops planner. Even offering to support an entire campaign’s C4I might not be enough to end up as a voice in policy.

    An extremely drastic step might be to go all out Air Force. I believe that with sufficient bloody mindedness, the UK can support up to 400 F/A type aircraft, and at the expense of the other branches. Aircraft are very efficient users of manpower (but costs a bomb and a whole bloody arsenal to boot) whose limiting factor is $$ which I believe can be alleviated by buying over time. With that amount of aircraft, you have a chance of matching or even exceeding any US contribution and leaving the ground combat component to them (also the most body count producing part of any campaign). It also gives you the excuse to sit out any occupations due to lack of a large land component (sorry mate, we hit hard and go home, no staying power you know?).

  37. Gloomy Northern Boy

    @Observer – a more balanced approach would be to concentrate on air power delivered from carriers at sea…we are not big enough to put boots on the ground in game changing numbers, but we could pretty readily rebuild the Royal Navy and Fleet Air Arm to achieve the effect you describe at sea and in the air, and without friendly bases close to the action…possibly with a Division of full time door-kickers evolved from the Royal Marines and the Parachute Regiment.

    Earlier this century, I beleve the Royal Navy was managing to support 13 SSBN/SSN, 3 small carriers, 3 A/W ships 26 destroyers and frigates and the RM Commando Brigade with about 35,000 personnel; double that number and you have a very serious force indeed…and I believe your full-time army would still be bigger than that of Australia, which has a continent to defend and potentially unfriendly land powers pretty close by…

    Dons dark blue tin hat, clears for action, closes blast doors and awaits incoming fire from @Phil and a Cavalry Charge from @RT….

    GNB

  38. Observer

    @Gloomy, but with carriers, you’ll end up having to get a whole support system in place just for them, not to mention the cost of the carriers can easily pay for about 4 squadrons+ of aircraft, and you need the escort ships etc. Might be more effective to simply concentrate all the funding into one area.

    I get that you need the carriers to defend the BOTs decently, but having to plan for a Falklands deployment really is a chain around your ankles and a drain on the finances which can be allocated elsewhere. Face it, if you can’t even have a land base near your area of operations, how are you going to even support an army in the field? And if you already have land bases, why not just set up an airfield, even an ad hoc one?

    Carriers is the one thing the UK can afford to let go the most.

  39. Gloomy Northern Boy

    @Observer – No plan to set up a land-base anywhere, because in the end that will need an army to defend it; the benefit of sea-borne air power and SSNs is the ability to give somebody a tanning from over the horizon and then close their ports until they do what you want them to…you can do the same with air power alone, but that needs a land base which is vulnerable and needs to be protected by the army that we were planning to dispense with in the first place..!

    GNB

  40. jedibeeftrix

    @ Dan – “if I was American I would expect more than a commitment of 15% of US commitment to demand 2IC and real input into strategic decisions, how much influence did the free Poles or Free French have on Churchill.”

    the reason it matters so much more these days than it once did is because we live in a less unilateralist world, where action needs to be perceived as legitimate before one can proceed.

    the very act of having the brits onside with a foreign adventure confers multilateral legitimacy.
    the possibility of having both britain and france onside makes it virtually the act of a saint.
    having all five SC members is like a blessing bestowed from heaven itself.
    equally, having a very pluralist list of allies such as poland, denmark, australia, etc, is likewise ‘a-good-thing’.

  41. Observer

    Then that’s a big problem Gloomy, because you need to cut SOMETHING, and by the time we got all the bells and whistles for a whole navy up, it’s going to dilute the air force fist that I had in mind. 200 aircraft has a good shot at air dominance, 100 is an invitation to a mutual blood letting or a hard fight with even odds of losing.

    And you need to close their airfields too or the opfor is going to overwhelm you with aircraft sorties. Land based air tends to have higher numbers than carrier based air.

  42. Gloomy Northern Boy

    @Observer – My starting point was a big further reduction in the Army, and providing some of air power required from the Fleet Air Arm…

    GNB

  43. Brian Black

    Perhaps the only way to secure influence in the course of an operation is to provide an enabling capability.

    The ability to provide any particular percentage of overall force strength, or 15% of what the Americans commit, will not guarantee any influence at all if our commitment is non-essential.

    The Americans in particular will rarely be reliant on a British contribution unless their forces are already heavily committed, and they want to do more. For Iraq, the US was gung-ho about going it alone, as Phil said; but also, US planners believed that only a relatively small force was required to defeat the Iraqi forces. Under those circumstances our massive force was irrelevant; if the parliamentary vote on the eve of war had gone against the government, the war would still have gone ahead without us.

    If we put our military by the side of an UN, or AU force as the French have done recently, then we probably can expect to carry some weight of influence by providing high-end capabilities not otherwise available – even if we are a minority partner in terms of manpower.

    If we want some influence sitting beside the Americans, maybe we need to forget about ‘balanced’ armed forces and invest heavily in particular capabilities or a particular service; accept that we would be well suited to certain types of conflict, but would have a limited use in others. A choice between being a big-hitter but only some of the time, or a medium-hitter all of the time.

  44. jedibeeftrix

    @ BB – “If we want some influence sitting beside the Americans, maybe we need to forget about ‘balanced’ armed forces and invest heavily in particular capabilities or a particular service”

    This, post SDR98, has always been the key question.

    RUSI suggested two possible solutions, Observer suggested a third just above.

    Which road do you take?

  45. Phil

    the if it is in our interest bit was forgotten

    I was finishing off my MSc dissertation – I meant to write that. Certainly we shouldn’t just show up at a party because the Yanks are holding it. We need to be sure there’s some fit birds in it for us.

    but our true interests lies in maximising influence while minimising commitment.

    That’s very true in the abstract sense but it is meaningless in reality. My true interest is to pay as little as I can for my wide-screen TV. But the reality is that I still have to pay quite a chunk in order to have it. So we cannot commit a small contingent and expect the same level of clout as if we had provided a heavy division. It would be wonderful if that could happen but the cookie doesn’t crumble that way. Threatening to pull out a division (+) throws a bigger spanner in the works than threatening to pull out a battalion. Of course it doesn’t have to be a division, it could be basing rights etc

    In that context we could not expect to have much influence when our entire commitment was a rounding error in US terms.

    That’s one example. What if Parliament had voted on 18 March to not get involved in Iraq – the US then has to find a division. They certainly had one, but it wasn’t ready to take 1 Divisions place.

  46. Gloomy Northern Boy

    @Observer – the complete lack of reaction from our friends in MTP is giving me real cause for concern…you are at least twelve hours away, and have access to body armour and small arms…the pair of them might well be staking out Gloomy Court already.

    I am therefore typing this in a sandbag dugout in the cellar, as advised by the HMG Protect and Survive Leaflet circa 1980…

    A rather nervous Gloomy

  47. Repulse

    The need for a balanced defence force in my view is beyond question, what should be asked is what is required and at what readiness.

    In my view assuming technological parity against an aggressor then I think a ratio of 3:1 of attacking forces to the UK defence forces (not including our nuclear deterrent). From there workout what is best way to maximise the expeditionary capability – which in my view is Maritime focused.

  48. The Securocrat

    @JBT

    Yes, I think that’s where I’m headed, almost by default. As you’ve probably guessed, I’m supportive of attempting to be something of a ‘Little America’ (in terms of a range of capabilities, rather than getting to ambitious in terms of scope of what we can achieve). What worries me is how close to the edge we are in terms of the legendary ‘critical mass’ because we’ve spread ourselves so thin; so we are down to very small numbers of key assets and have single points of failure across a lot of the system – especially the navy. I’d argue that we’re at the point where we can’t actually afford to take noticeable losses in terms of materiel and major platforms, because it would potentially put us out of the fight. If that’s the case, would ceasing to spread ourselves thin buy back volume in key areas?

    I’m in danger of spiralling off into a side debate (I think there’s a good couple of posts possible on both alliances and quantity v quality), but that’s why I come back to something that looks like Strategic Raiding; if we won’t fund engagement in breadth and depth, let’s go for depth in areas where it would take longer to re-grow the capability if it were lost. You can’t magic up a combined-arms brigade at the drop of a hat, but fundamentally the Army has more regenerative capacity than the other services and operates in more malleable packets. And to return to what prompted my original musings – if the Defence Secretary *believes* what he is saying, there are implications and consequences for the forces. If he doesn’t really, then the Government needs to do better at explaining why we should maintain an expeditionary capability to conduct enduring operations.

  49. DavidNiven

    I think Iraq is clouding this debate as well, the Americans as Dan rightly put it were at a war footing after 9/11 and the mentality was your either with us or against us and no amount of influence would have trumped their own domestic interests. The trouble with gaining influence with the Americans is that we will never have the capability that they won’t already have in larger numbers, but against every other contributor in the world we will be offering at least a small peer capability and in respect to some nations a qualitative edge as well.

    I think what impairs our judgement on what sort of influence we have is the term ‘special relationship’, the Americans take every situation on its own merits and build coalitions to suite, if you agree and can bring something to the party your in, if you don’t agree fine they’ll try and do it without you.

    I don’t believe that supplying 15 out of the 20 ISTAR assets on a campaign will give us greater influence over, say a 1500 strong Belgian battlegroup that are still drip feeding casualties into body bags 3 years in. The Belgians would rightly demand more say and the Americans/other partners would be hard pressed not to agree. It would be easier for everyone to replace 15 ISTAR assets than go through the logistical bug bear of a relief in place of the battlegroup. Not to mention the political fallout of a nation ( who are taking casualties ) withdrawing its troops because we had a tissy fit about our nice and safe involvement.

  50. Observer

    Repulse, why is there a need for a “balanced” force? Why not a single outstanding mailed fist with “sufficient” forces in the rest? You get much better effect with a single huge specialized service than a jack of all trades, master of none.

    My preference is for an air force heavy armed forces due to their manpower efficiency and flexibility, 2 squadrons of pilots can give a single frigate or destroyer a bad day for a 24-48 man expenditure as opposed to the 140-180 crew of an escort ship (3:1 savings) or a single plane dropping a “present” onto a 3 man tank (3:1-2) while you favour a navy heavy force which will probably be awesome at choking out SLOCs.

    Phil, what specialization? I’m was in Biochem and Mol Bio.

  51. mike wheatley

    Hmm, not sure the airforce will actually be that low on manpower -> cost, the RAF had to deploy a vast number of people for Operation Ellamy.

    But I have to agree with the folly of attempting to earn favour with the US… they will judge each event on its merits wrt internal US domestic politics, and nothing we can do will be significant to them.
    Much better to try and assume the position of being an America for all those countries that are much weaker than us, and get them scrambling to “earn” favour with us. America is particularly disinterested in Africa, so there is an obvious area where we could flirt “potential” military assistance for the locals.

    But we also need to be bigger. And that means compromising our (sometimes little-Englander) views with foreigners. Do you want be part of either Europe, or an Anglophonic Superstate? (Or irrelevant but Pure to our Traditions?) If so, start listing all the things you are willing to give up. Start with the £.
    (Anyone for the United Kingdom of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Great Britain, & Northern Island? Capital city: Canberra.)

  52. Tom

    This always forget engineers…

    Observer – small point of order: 1 squadron of FJ would have 100-150 bods. Those planes don’t maintain themselves you know. :)

  53. Not a Boffin

    And the FP for that (at least another 100 bods), plus catering, accommodation, comms, logs etc etc. Don’t notice them necessarily if operating from a single (home) base, but they start to add up as soon as you go anywhere else.

  54. Observer

    lol mike, not sure if you know this but Canberra was only the capital because no one could agree on Sydney or Melbourne! As no one could agree, they had to build a whole new city to compromise! It’s going to be expensive to do in modern times, building a new city.

    I do believe that the UK can match the USAF if there is a will to do so, and tossing a contingent as big as the US’s into any fray WILL give you a voice in the decision making process. Your annual government budget according to wiki is 15x ours and we still manage a 150 plane fleet. If you scale it up in proportion, I don’t see why you can’t have a 400-600 plane fleet, though building up will take time, and you might need to get past the “build at home” mentality.

    But first, there must be a willingness to do it at all costs.

    NaB, I know, but it’s engineers for a whole squadron+ and it still saves on some manpower. If you want to add in ancillary staff, it isn’t as if the navy doesn’t have harbor masters and logistics warehouses too.

  55. Not a Boffin

    “NaB, I know, but it’s engineers for a whole squadron+ and it still saves on some manpower.”

    Unusually for me, I didn’t mention engineers, but I’m struggling to see what you mean by the above. You also need to understand the difference between that which is essential to deploy a force (FP, caterers, log support, engineers, bombheads, int & planners, air traffic controllers etc) all of which are aboard your 140-180 man ship, but will need to be added to any airforce operating away from home base. They don’t just empty RAF Nonesuch and transfer lock stock & barrel to Kandahar or Gioia del Colle, you end up with the same functional manning requirements at both bases and that’s without the FP element of the Rock Apes thrown in.

    You are correct that the navy has harbour masters and logs warehouses too, but these tend to be in very limited numbers of bases and are matched by “force level” airforce assets.

    One can of course add all sorts of people to prove anything. Suffice to say that the comparsion of a 24-48 bod “squadron” with a 140-180 man ship or a 4 man tank is not really like with like.

  56. Simon

    I’m not sure what the split should be but we should certainly have both a “kick the door in” capability and a “sustained presence” capability.

    I think it is the “sustained combat” bit that I don’t think we need at the moment. I’m not talking about a load of UN bods with clipboards asking the local populous if they’re okay. I’m still talking troops with guns, just not the tanks, artillery and associated sustained covering air power.

  57. Simon

    Observer,

    Because being in-and-around an area with our ears to the ground gives us the ability to ramp up and strike before things escalate (using the same “kick the doors in” kit). It also does the “fly the flag” bit, provides real experience in operating overseas, and provides an infrastructure for large-scale humanitarian operations.

  58. DavidNiven

    If you have not got the capability to camp out in someones back garden, then how strong is the deterrent value of your armed forces?

  59. The Securocrat

    @DavidNiven

    It all depends on your ability to damage something that they hold dear, for commensurately less cost. If you can smash up lots of their infrastructure from range, and they are concerned about that (and, importantly, think you are willing to do it) your forces might have a lot of deterrent value. That is not, as you have implied, as scary as thinking they can actually come and take over your streets and sit on your doorstep. But it may be enough.

    We spent a lot of time after the Cold War ended assuming that conventional deterrence (strengthened by the occasional bout of coercion) worked because no one could match US/NATO power. Then it turned out that people could miscalculate or weren’t scared of conventional forces and intervention, in the form of stabilisation, became ‘opular’ again. Except that its track record is also mixed. So drawing lessons is proving rather difficult at the moment and you end up back at the question “Does my potential adversary think athat I have the ability and will to hurt them, and how much do they care about this?”.

  60. DavidNiven

    @The Securocrat,

    ‘It all depends on your ability to damage something that they hold dear’

    The past few decades have shown that for people who only hold themselves and the power they wield as the dearest thing to them, then a land component is also essential. Both Kosovo and Iraq showed that a nation ruled by hard hearted bastards can hold out against air campaigns for a very long time, up to the point where we are running out of both ordnance and targets. The final nail in the coffin of both of those campaigns was the credible land force either used or sat on the border waiting and in the case of Afghanistan there was no infrastructure to destroy to begin with.

    I still believe that if there are a couple of things Afghanistan and Iraq have taught us that you do not have wars of choice and when you deploy you deploy with what you believe to be war winning strategy and not a political/fiscal strategy as the defining force structure.

    For that a Brigade is the minimum.

  61. dave haine

    I think were getting into roundabouts again…

    I’m not sure that you can compare a squadron of fast jets with a frigate….manpowerwise they’re about the same- hitting power is where they differ… 12 fast jets give you the flexibility to hit 6 different, widely spaced targets at once (using 2-ship packages), whereas a frigate can focus enormous effect on one. Airpower gives you the ability to hit the enemy anywhere you want, but is a fleeting presence, whereas a frigate sat off a major port, with a steely glint in it’s eye, gives an massive statement of intent.

    I rather see them as complementary, rather than exclusive, because sometimes a carrier is going to be the only way of getting that sqn of FJ to where they can be of effect., and there will be times where land based fast jets will be required for the navy to do it’s thing.

    Equally I think you need the obvious capability to ‘camp out on their lawn’ whether they like it or not, and therefore the assets to support the aforementioned camping trip.

    So I think a balanced force structure is needed, we need to defend our state, but equally need an offensive air component, not only carrier based, but land based as well- (long range strike for pref- the possibility of getting a good shoeing from well beyond your reach is always a recipe for concentrating the mind). We need to be able to land and support a force armed to the teeth and with resolute determination not to be f**ked around, with a large naval contingent off shore, obviously ready to jump into the fray.

    The thing is, if we rely on allies for some of those things, we could end up wringing our hands, and wishing we’d done something, but couldn’t because ally 1 had a bit of a budget prob and stood down that component.

    Conventional deterrence relies not so much on how big your forces are, but the ability and willingness to give out a good shoeing, if required. At that means balanced forces and capabilities.

    Public opinion is weary of war- but the average person also gets narked when another country takes the piss, and it looks like we won’t/ can’t do anything about it.

  62. The Securocrat

    @DavidNiven

    You raise a good point (and again, one which deserves its own thread), and I agree that to impose your will on someone, it has frequently been shown that land power is the decisive element. I’m just not sure that it naturally follows that we therefore don’t have wars of choice, and therefore need a big crunchy land element. Iraq and Afghanistan were precisely choices; there was no compulsion in either case. What I started by asking was not, ‘can we achieve the same effect through maritime and air power’, but rather ‘should we actually be seeking to use force less and for more limited means because the public is less willing to accept it’?

  63. Observer

    I think we’re into the agree to disagree territory here, I did mention repeatedly that the air heavy component is a personal preference. Personally, I do think that a huge air force can be a deterrent, and as for compelling others by camping on their lawn, the mindset here is that it is a suicidal move, you will never have enough manpower in an army to outmatch a country’s population and getting your foot nailed to the ground is a sure way to die by a thousand paper cuts. Hit and move off, don’t give them time to fix you into place or if you have to fortify, sanitize the area. It might not be obvious but the peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan and Iraq were only opposed by a small fraction of their population, the rest are neutral or pro-intervention and you are getting problems already, can you imagine the problems you would get if a majority of the civilians there objected to your presence?

    You got a 82,00 man army. Country population runs into the millions or tens of millions. Even in a 1 for 1 exchange, they’ll end up with the last man standing.

    dave I consider a 2 squadron strike package “massive effect” too :P conservatively that is 48 Harpoons or if you’re talking about things like the Russian Backfires, they come with a 6 round missile magazine so a squadron of that is a 72 missile swarm. That would give even an air defence destroyer hives, especially when you consider that it might force the ship to use up all its defence missiles.

  64. DavidNiven

    @the Securocrat,

    ‘should we actually be seeking to use force less and for more limited means because the public is less willing to accept it’? an overwhelming yes to that question.

    The trouble starts with asking the question to begin with, if we are to follow it to its natural conclusion then every asset of purely military strategic value should be dispensed with and the minimum armed forces kept to defend the UK and NATO allies. This is when things like ‘Strategic Raiding’ become the buzzwords and the doctrine of the day by the politicians and the military to justify keeping the strategic assets (for trying to be a militarily relevant world power), by promising limited small scale actions with no significant cost and casualties. We have always had and still have the capability of a strategic raid but we also currently have the capability of persistence, I would not like the capability of persistence to be sacrificed on the altar of raids, as it is not yet a proven doctrine.

  65. DavidNiven

    @Observer,

    ‘and as for compelling others by camping on their lawn, the mindset here is that it is a suicidal move’

    It would not be a given that we will occupy the land, the threat that you can is enough in some circumstances to change someones mind. Take the threat of action against Milosevic of Serbia, do you believe that he would have succumbed to the military pressure without thousands of NATO troops sat on his border ready to invade and the political will to do so?

    Every situation should be looked at individually and the response tailored to our political and military objectives. But there is no point threatening overwhelming force if all we can muster is an air campaign followed by a bit of NGS for lightly armed battle group who can be out manouvered by a force with DSHK’s on Hilux pickups and the will to take casualties. The same applies for keeping allies if we are just going to be there for 6 weeks and then go home because we are spent militarily.

    We need the threat of being able to give the good news to your 10,000 followers as we come to drag you out of your bed at crap o’clock in the morning, it its going to be credible. The way for it to be credible is to get public opinion on your side, so they know that you will have the political will to reinforce your military capabilities. Not to sell them a concept of no risk conflict.

  66. Engineer Tom

    Is it just me that thinks this idea that the public don’t want to interfere will disappear as soon as someone does something that effects the majority of the population, another 9/11 would soon change everyones opinion, and then with a weak military we won’t be in a position to respond.

  67. jedibeeftrix

    @ Dave Haine – “So I think a balanced force structure is needed, we need to defend our state, but equally need an offensive air component, not only carrier based, but land based as well- (long range strike for pref- the possibility of getting a good shoeing from well beyond your reach is always a recipe for concentrating the mind).”

    How balanced?

    So balanced, that with our reduced means [no] element of British power projection can be considered sovereign and strategic in its effect?

    Because that is where we are.

    I want a balanced force, but i know this is something of a motherhood and apple-pie statement, who [wants] to throw babies under buses?

    It is a question of emphasis, specifically; where you choose to place that emphasis.

  68. Lord Jim

    Given we are going to have to look at what capabilities we actually need and what are nice to have again in SDSR 2015 together with the post Afghanistan blues, I have a very strong suspision that we are by default going to move towards a “Kick in the door” armed forces. We can still retain top tier capabilities at the expense of capacity and endurance. There are many nation who simply cannot do what we can but can provide boots on the ground for follow up operations.

    So we should have a two stage approach, first get in do the hard stuff and pull out, second provide training and mentoring for the follow up nations. The latter should almost be a full time committment, but would be shared with many countries such as NATO and ASEAN members. Countries not willing to commit manpower could commit to providing logictcal support and/or material support. In the majority of cases operations would be under a UN sanction.

    If we gear our Armed forces towards this mode of operation then investment needs to be made in the Navy and Airforce at the expense to the Army. The navy offers more flexibiity being able to move to most regions simply to show intent. If things hot up land based assets can be forward deployed as can rapid response ground units.

    As to froce levels well having two carriers is imperiative as are the escort and support vessels to have a Carrier Group available nearly all the time. We also need sufficient escorts and support vessels to deploy an amphib group. Current plans provide just enough assets to do this but additional escorts would give us a little slack. We need one ready airgroup for the carriers and one standby which would include reserve status units such as OCUs for surge purporses. This would mean a purchase of around 80 F-35s and 12 CROWSNEST platforms compliments by the Merlin HM2.

    Turning to the RAF, retaining 5 frontline Typhoon squadrons should be sufficient but we need to ensure we have ample ISTAR and support capabilities to support them. Additional C-17s and A400s would be a start as would retaining Sentinal and increasing the number of UCAVs.

    With the Army one of the keys is going to be the rejuvination of the Apache fleet to Block III standard. This should be the priority surpassing FRES and Warrior upgrade. Additional Foxhounds are needed to provide partial ground mobility to 16 Brig and addional Bv210s for 3 Cmdo. We need lightweight 155mm and GMLRS which could be partially funded by retiring the exisiting SP platforms. Reducing the remaining Army brigades to 2 would allow the Warrior to replace FRES in the planned Recce Regts. These brigades would now both be heavy with two Armoured, two Armoured Infantry and one Recce. At least a third of the manpower in these formations would be reservists and TA who whould also provide the bulk of the personel in the Logistics and other support formations.

    It maybe hard to swallow but we need to look at following France’s example rather then that of the US. Shaping our Armed forces to compliment the former should be the way ahead and I never thought I would even think that a few years ago. Closer ties could lead to a MPA based on the A320 to fill the hole in our capabilities and replace the French Atlantique NG and even a AWACS to replace the E-3D and E-3F and event the NATO AWACS Fleet. Other parners could be Germany, Canada, Norway, Italy etc.

    WE cannot afford to mainatin sufficient forces to be the worlds Policeman but we can to be its Fireman

    (Sorry about any spelling errors)

  69. DavidNiven

    ‘There are many nation who simply cannot do what we can but can provide boots on the ground for follow up operations.’

    But we can be hamstrung by wanting to do something but not enough nations agree, so therefore withhold their follow on troops.

    ‘If we gear our Armed forces towards this mode of operation then investment needs to be made in the Navy and Airforce at the expense to the Army. The navy offers more flexibiity being able to move to most regions simply to show intent.’

    And do what when its there? there is no point in massively favouring one service over another if we want to be door kickers. We would still require an overall balanced armed force to perform the initial door kicking.

    ‘We need lightweight 155mm and GMLRS which could be partially funded by retiring the exisiting SP platforms’

    But if you retire the SP, what will you use to keep up with the two heavy armoured brigades we intend to keep?

    ‘Reducing the remaining Army brigades to 2 would allow the Warrior to replace FRES in the planned Recce Regts. These brigades would now both be heavy with two Armoured, two Armoured Infantry and one Recce. At least a third of the manpower in these formations would be reservists and TA who whould also provide the bulk of the personel in the Logistics and other support formations.’

    Hardly door kicking if you need to give your follow up forces 28 days notice of call up and then further training before deploying(at least 2 months), all the while begging allies to prevent our light reaction brigades from getting ground down in the meantime.

    ‘It maybe hard to swallow but we need to look at following France’s example’

    Personally I’d look to the Italian formations as an example, and look to be a European enabler via an Italian+ route (we would already nearly be there if FRES had not have been the procurement disaster it’s been) . The French are too light in a lot of respects to their military status.

  70. Lord Jim

    You do not kick the door in until back up is available. Most future operations are going to be team efforts, if we have to go in before follow up is in place due to an extreme need it is not our fault that when we pull out things go to pot. However doing something that has no international support or even objections to is something we have been burned on in the past and is something we should avoid in the future. I advocate us being in first, but this should not happen automatically. This is why I like how the French operated in Mali. They got the job done with support from allies and had follow up forces from African nations moving almost from the start. The French specialise in these sorts of operations and have the units to do it with. Their Armed Forces are roughly the same size as ours and have most of our capabilities and some we don’t have as do we compared to them.

    Having a balanced Armed Forces depends on what you intend to do with them. What was balanced in the 1980s is not so now. Combining the assets and capabilities of the United Kingdom, France and maybe the Netherlands and some of the smaller nations willing to operate offensively you have a very balanced pool of resources to choose from. Nearly all french infantry units are at least mechcanised in VAB transports. Their elite unit and some others are well experienced at operations out of area. Against realistically probable opponents we would have the tools and capacity. Against China we won’t without the US, but that senario is basically WWIII.

    Large convention armies cannot face a Western based Coalition in the field now or on the future. Airpower has become dominant even against substantial ground based air defence. Remember Iraq had probably the most advanced AD network in the world prior to GWI.

    Moving a Carrier force into range of a trouble spot sends a very big message to those involved. It can stay over the horizon and begin offensive operations very swiftly and with tactical surprise. Ass to that an Amphibious Group able to move in just as fast and it can give those a lot to think about. 30+ F-35s and 6+ Apache AH2 supporting an elite brigade that has both airmobility and protected mobility on the ground is a worry for the majority of possible hostile nations to have within range.

    Light weight 155mm and GMLRS are just as capable of supporting heavy formations as light/medium ones. They are also more mobile in theatre being able to move by air or land from one area to another far quicker nad have a smaller logistical footprint needed to support them, ammunition aside.

    With the heavy formations well these are always going to take time to move to a theatre of operations. We are not going to invade an opponent alone though and you would be surpirsed how fast a battlegroup based on an Armoured Infantry Battalion could be deployed especially if between the brigades there is one of these at high readiness. If required follow froces fron the remainder of the brigade would follow.

    A lot of the above depands on who we intend to commit our forces against. Air superiority, which operating with NATO, ASEAN or other allies is pretty sure against any realistic opponents. Yes insurgents can go to ground but to do so means that they would lose control for most strategic areas in theatre such as most urban areas, airports and dock allowing follow up forces to establish themselves. Yes it not clear cut but if togehter with our allies can achieve thiswe have done our job. Remember I am also advocating that first tier nations also provide logistical and even material support to the folloon forces as well as on going training.

  71. DavidNiven

    ‘Having a balanced Armed Forces depends on what you intend to do with them. What was balanced in the 1980s is not so now’

    We are not balanced now, we are almost devoid of decent medium mechanised units. And it’s these sort of units that are needed more often. The French have no real heavy units now that they have replaced the AMX with the VBCI and were relegated to flank protection in GW1 due to the lighter units they deployed.

    ‘Large convention armies cannot face a Western based Coalition in the field now or on the future’

    Depends on what casualties you are willing to take, they may not be quite as technically advanced but can still give us a good run for our money.

    ‘Airpower has become dominant even against substantial ground based air defence. Remember Iraq had probably the most advanced AD network in the world prior to GWI’

    And we still needed to deploy substantial ground units to finish the job.

    ‘They are also more mobile in theatre being able to move by air or land from one area to another far quicker’

    SP guns can constantly shoot and scoot, get set up quicker, fire and move quicker. If you are meaning light as in the m777 then it cannot match the speed of relocation of the SP and is a lot more vulnerable to counter battery fire. It’s only advantage is underslung which is fine for the Americans but most western militaries cannot match their rotor fleet. Something like the Ceaser is pretty mobile but is still vulnerable and probably a medium mobility vehicle.

  72. John Hartley

    I think the public is tired of “optional wars”, sometimes described as “other peoples wars” , “none of our business”, or “deluded politicians grandstanding with other peoples sons lives on a world stage”. Hence no desire to get involved in Syria. However if Britain or if British interests were attacked, the public would expect a robust military response. Woe betide the government that had run down defences to the point where we could not respond. Another 1982 scenario, would have public support.

  73. jedibeeftrix

    that is same as saying that britain is a ‘normal’ european nation, where defence really is about integrity.

    talking about national interests outside of this really is something other.

    maybe the british public really have got bored of elective warfare (i.e. warfighting not peacekeeping), but that has yet to be demonstrated.

    … cue my Chatham House poll of infamy.

  74. Phil

    The public have been “tired” of war for a very long time. Truth is it doesn’t stop us fighting them. In fact the real truth is that the majority of people aren’t tired of war full stop. The real truth is that as long as Peter and John aren’t called up and the fighting has no direct and immediate impact on the country then the Government can get on with it bar the usual media circus and outraged pub opinions and Guardian journalists.

    The country couldn’t have been more war weary in 1919. Yet soldiers still died in little conflicts hither and thither. After WWII we still lost soldiers in conflicts.

  75. dave haine

    ‘Tired’ is not the right word, ‘Little Interest’ is probably more correct. Even NI had little effect on everyones lives, except, funnily enough, the Staples Corner bombing.

    In this country, the way to influence everyone is not to kill and blow people up, it’s to disrupt their lives, and disgruntle them in a thousand small ways.

  76. Phil

    it’s to disrupt their lives, and disgruntle them in a thousand small ways.

    We’ve been monitoring bombs and CBRN weapons. Really the terrorists have been developing fracking, wind farms and their nuclear weapon: HS2.

  77. dave haine

    @ Phil

    Fracking? Noo….that’s part of the capitalist arch-conspiracy…

    Wind farms? They’re part of the neo-fascist green enviromental conspiracy…

    HS2? Just another way of keeping the money in the pockets of the rich urban elite in London.

    All diversions…..secretly, the terrorists have been slowly taking over the local council planning departments….

  78. Chris

    DH – funny, I thought the planning department was the corporate bribery portal for the local council? Where Mr & Mrs Normal beg permission to add a telephone kiosk sized extension to the back of their house and are brutally slapped down by irritated we-are-special-we-have-special-insight Planning Hofficers, developers gain permission with planning dept reverential blessing for hideous unwelcome unsuitable tacky developments – so long as they promise to send cash to the council for a new school or surgery or yoofclub. Its an official process, the councils think they are doing well for the community by accepting these offsets or considerations or whatever they call them. Bribes is a good word. It seems however, in more than a few cases down this end of the country, that there is a ‘use it or lose it’ clause in the offset deal – if the council fails to use the cash for the defined new school/surgery etc within three years, the developer gets it back. The cynic might think that the bonuses of those in the planning dept (possibly the wider council) are based on the totalled agreed value of these offset considerations but not on their conversion into useful social amenities, such that it is to everyone’s benefit for large offset offers to be made on the ‘understanding’ they won’t be spent but will be returned after time expired? That’s everyone’s benefit except those living next to the tacky new development lacking the earnestly promised school/surgery/amenity etc of course. If I remember right one of the local councils had to repay some £3m back to various developers because they hadn’t got round to using it.

    Come the revolution I vote the local planners are first against the wall (assuming they got round to building it that is).

  79. wf

    @Chris: planning gain is the name of the practice. Unfortunately a vector for corruption, but still rather useful

  80. cassandra

    At the heart of SDSR 2015, it seems to me, are issues about context, affordability and credibility.

    First, context:

    Overseas the world of the 2020s is increasingly looking like one where:

    - The USA will have pivoted west towards the Pacific
    - China will be internally challenged, but outwardly assertive…
    - …leading to reaction among its Asia/Pacific neighbours and rivals
    - While Europe will continue its slow relative economic decline etc etc

    At home the 2020s will see a Britain (whether inside or semi-detached from the EU) where:

    - Demographic pressures (more elderly) relentlessly drive NHS, Pension and Social Security expenditure which governments struggle to contain, but can’t afford politically to reduce meaningfully
    - Under investment in energy security, affordable housing, infrastructure and skills, if not picked up by the private sector, will continually claim public expenditure to fix them
    - Impacts of climate change will cut into government spending

    Affordability:

    - Barring an existential crisis, UK governments will find it increasingly hard to get a political consensus to sustain (let alone increase) defence expenditure of 2% GDP
    - Prudent budgeting scenarios would look at 1.9% or even 1.8% as well as 2%

    Credibility:

    - What evidence is there that our special relationship with the USA will be (or has been?) enhanced by shouting loudly while carrying a rather small stick? It’s what we deliver (and we’re only as good as our last delivery) that counts.
    - Can we credibly sustain an expeditionary stance to our defence budget in the 2020s? How? Even if expedition-light is called “Strategic Raiding,” it isn’t just the cost of going in (absent the political risk of not carrying the UN vote or the Commons vote to do it) it’s also the need need for an exit strategy, because you can’t just start what you can’t finish and expect either to be successful, or taken very seriously. And where might these strategic raids be? Europe? No. Americas? Hardly. Asia? Even less likely. The Arctic? No. Africa? Possibly; but do we have a dog in Africa’s fights? Middle East? What possible impact could we hope to have on the fundamental Sunni-Shia schism which, if it takes anything like as long as our own Catholic-Protestant schism to work through, has at least another 200 years to run?

    The bottom line:

    - SDSR 2015 must define defence strategies against (a) existential threats (b) threats to our vital social, economic and trade interests
    - As for (a) there is the Trident debate…the outcome of which must be credible, affordable and budgeted
    - As far as (b) is concerned, I’d like to see zero sum budgeting, focusing on what we must have, not what we’d like to have…
    - We should, in my opinion, avoid trying to be a mini USA, or even a mini US Marine Corps; rather we should be first among equals among European partners, investing in hard UK defence capacity, not in some vague, last-hurrah aspiration to cut a dash on the world stage.

    And finally:

    - Carrying the political consent of the people is vitally important. That means civilian morale is important. The Red Arrows, bands and Trooping the Colour also have their place!

  81. Repulse

    @Cassandra: Agree on the political consent peice, which is why we should be reintroducing events like Navy Days (Netherlands do them on a third of the size of the fleet.

    I think the SDSR2015 has to start with the following fundamental truths:

    - The UK will not be conducting a ground invasion of any country – the political will / public consensus is not there. If needed it would probably take over a year of persuasion / planning and would not be done solely by the UK.
    - Western Europe is the most stable it has ever been and even if the economic woes increase the chance of it turning into intra country armed conflict is zilch.
    - The threat to the UK or its dependencies is low, though expect EEZ incursions to grow along with non total-war like scenarios as terrorism and cyber threats. However, the longer term key is to have a credible defence force that deters aggression either directly or through threat of reprisal.
    - We are a relatively small country and our edge remains technology.
    - The UK cannot afford a high readiness land based and maritime expeditionary posture. Though it should have one of them.

  82. martin

    @ Cassandra

    “Carrying the political consent of the people is vitally important. That means civilian morale is important. The Red Arrows, bands and Trooping the Colour also have their place!”

    I’m not sure that a force with just 6 FJ squadrons and One Navy FJ squadron we can justify an entire squadron of our best pilots to fly around at air shows.

    Civilian morale would be fine is civilians gave a s**t about anything other than the NHS but they don’t and the red arrows won’t change that. Same goes for 5000 guys out of an Army of 82,000 to stand around in red jackets and funny hats.

    No one expects Nurses and Doctors to do this so why soldiers?

    I think UK defence spending will hold at 2% simply because a cut to 1.8% or 1.9% won’t raise much but will kick off a s**t storm with the USA and NATO. That being said we are currently at around 2.4% so even 2% will be a decent fall form the current position.

    We can afford expeditionary capability beefing up the RAF the Navy and the likes of 16AAB and 3com but we can’t also afford to have an army of 82,000 on top.

  83. DavidNiven

    ‘We can afford expeditionary capability beefing up the RAF the Navy and the likes of 16AAB and 3com but we can’t also afford to have an army of 82,000 on top’

    What number would you reduce the army by, and what components would you keep/retire? (but please don’t say that you would copy the French as we can do what they can do, and plus some now)

  84. jedibeeftrix

    @ Cassandra – “Barring an existential crisis, UK governments will find it increasingly hard to get a political consensus to sustain (let alone increase) defence expenditure of 2% GDP
    - Prudent budgeting scenarios would look at 1.9% or even 1.8% as well as 2%”

    hi there,

    nearly; we are spending nearly 2.5% including operational costs, and in future it will be hard to justify that much, but the NATO 2.0% threshold is important not just for us, but to show the us that someone in European NATO takes its responsibilities seriously.

    I see dropping below that as a battle politicians will be unwilling to invest their political capital in.

    hence why I see the NATO rule as massively important for British foreign policy.

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