Having (I think) made the case for change, detailed an outline requirement and described a number of options to deliver against the requirement, the difficult challenge is to look at organisational, skills development and finance issues.
Assuming the case for change and the basic requirement is agreed, and this is of course, not necessarily the case, there are a number of issues to address before the manufacturers catalogues can be opened;
- Does this need to be a UK only capability or can we pool and share with others?
- Would it be possible to dip into conflict prevention or overseas development budgets?
- What readiness would need to be maintained?
- What would an Increment 1 organisation look like?
- How can we maintain what are perishable skills?
- Is the equipment supportable in the medium term?
- How much research and development would be needed?
- Go on then, how much?
Does this need to be a UK only capability or can we pool and share with others?
Yes and yes!
I think given the modest ambition and scale of investment needed for Increment 1 it can be established as a wholly UK capability but equally, there is no need why it cannot take advantage of the UK’s defence relationships with others. The Netherlands and France spring immediately to mind because the Netherlands has a very close relationship with the UK in amphibious operations terms and France of course, because it has a similar expeditionary outlook as the UK and a very close defence relationship with us.
If the UK wishes to maintain an expeditionary theatre entry capability this would simply fall into that general aspiration.
Would it be possible to dip into conflict prevention or overseas development budgets?
Increment 1 has glaringly obvious utility in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, it can be used to develop capacity with allies and partner nations as part of the UK’s overall defence engagement strategy. Although Increment 1 has the core requirement for short term, relatively fast operations, there is no reason why it cannot be used for more permanent tasks.
Helping the Republic of Sierra Leone to develop a small port for its maritime security needs for example, would make a valuable contribution to regional security.
There has been a great deal of discussion about dual use capabilities and whether spending on such would fall inside or outside of OECD guidelines on overseas development assistance but I think the UK is going to have to have a sensible and mature discussion about issues like this.
To answer the question, not sure, but I think it is something that should be seriously examined.
What readiness would need to be maintained?
Does the entire Increment 1 capability need to be maintained at very high readiness, no, but at least the survey capability does?
Maintaining equipment and people at very high readiness is expensive, but given the small size of the team it should not have a disproportionate or especially significant cost in the context of the multi-billion Pounds defence budget.
The rest can be held at graduated readiness.
What would an Increment 1 organisation look like?
I quickly described a potential organisation view in opening part of this section but briefly, it would consist of a composite Royal Engineers squadron and Royal Logistic Corps port operation squadron, the pair subordinated to 165 Regiment RLC, it having a number of multi service attachments.
There also exists great scope in the capability for utilising a range of engagement models, whether regular, reserve, sponsored reserve or contractor.
How can we maintain what are perishable skills?
Although I have detailed much of the equipment needed the real challenge for Increment 1 is the development and retention of skills and experience. Without realistic collective and individual training the capability will atrophy.
By taking a flexible approach to engagement models we can utilise secondments and a range of deployment and training opportunities to ensure skills are maintained.
The UK and Europe has a vibrant port and offshore engineering industry, effective partnerships with industry could provide a valuable means of development and more importantly, maintenance of skills, experience and knowledge.
For those elements that are more military oriented, like mine countermeasures in a complex shallow water and port environments for example, greater joint training might be difficult and expensive to schedule, but it is critical.
Is the equipment supportable in the medium term?
Excepting the mine countermeasures equipment, the equipment described is commercial off the shelf or at most, commercial equipment with a green paint job. I have been careful to look at equipment that is widespread use worldwide.
Also, much of the equipment for Increment 1 is already in service that enjoys existing support arrangements.
How much research and development would be needed?
Although none of the equipment or methods would require primary research and exists at high technology readiness levels, integration and assessment would no doubt require no small measure of work. Loading plans, equipment trials, organisational development, knowledge management and establishing processes will require staffing.
I quite like the idea of developing Increment 1 through trial and error rather than defining a complex statement of user requirements and treating it like a traditional MoD project, hopelessly naive I know.
Go on then, how much?
Always the most important question.
In the section on potential solutions I have posed a number of options so the cost would depend on which of those options is taken. Which option is taken depends on the scale of ambition for Increment 1, obviously.
It could range from just adding a spud adapter to existing Mexeflotes and maybe a sheet piling attachment for the Volvo excavators, this is at the low end but would still provide an uplift from what we have today. At the top end would be a dedicated piling rig, dredger, long reach excavators and crane barge.
And yet even this specialised equipment is not hugely expensive in the context of other defence equipment, a specialist sheet piling rig like the one described above costs in the order of £300k to £400k, the large harbour cranes, less than a million and a container reachstacker about £300k.
None of the equipment is needed in large quantities either, one’s or two’s.
Even at the luxury end of the scale, equipment costs would when set against the defence budget, be very small, perhaps no more than £50m to £75m in total.
The real cost however, resides in the people. There is no getting away from the fact that establishing Increment 1 would need more personnel, whether they were new or re-assigned from other areas would be subject to debate but if we accept the general requirement for flexibility in engagement models the impact may not be as high as thought.
Is it a price worth paying, I think so.
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