The Emperors New Combats

Military fashion delivers more than its fair share of acronyms and buzzwords, in a game of bullshit bingo the card would need to be the size of a newspaper.

As the COIN theory seems to being discredited and replaced with whatever comes next it is interesting to note that it’s predecessor seems to be making a comeback. The Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) ushered in a new vision of rapid deployments, sensor fusion, information superiority and replacing mass with effect. This was a brave new world in which forces would be rapidly deployed by air, see the enemy before they left their mud huts, fix them with advanced sensors, arrive in a hail of air portable allyness, destroy the enemy (who would have obligingly decided to face us mano a mano) then build a few schools and be home in time for tea and medals.

New medium weight vehicles, airlift, massive information superiority and other very very expensive equipment would replace ‘boots on the ground’

We all know that this particular PowerPoint fuelled fantasy fashion was dealt a very real reality check in Iraq and Afghanistan but the expensive vision that underscored the expensive concepts like the US FCS and UKs FRES seems to be making a comeback.

In the bitch fight that the SDSR has seemingly descended into the argument between the Army, which is traditionally manpower intensive and the RAF/RN which tend to be equipment intensive are at odds.

RUSI, playing the part of the tailor of new clothes suggested that the UK could no longer maintain a balanced force structure and presented a number of options, strategic raiding, which was loosely translated as being centred on maritime capabilities. Supporters of the Royal Navy, in the SDSR debate, latched on to this as manna from heaven because it in one fell swoop provided cover for calling for the Army to suffer a disproportionate reduction. It was also useful in the fight against the real enemy, the RAF that is!

It was and is argued that a raiding strategy is much more appropriate because we are an island you know and no government would likely entertain another commitment like Iraq and Afghanistan any time soon. So, donning the emperors old RMA clothes and calling them new, the brave new world will see UK armed forces reconfigured to a maritime centric raiding force.

It’s all very neat and all too convenient because its gives us all a reason to keep spending on equipment, maintain a strong navy and rarely ever actually get involved in any shooty stuff. The hard and dangerous job of stabilisation and reconstruction would be carried out by those more expendable others, like UN forces, once we had obligingly kicked the doors in and retired back to Blighty. An avalanche of newspaper columns, blog posts, think tank reports and forum comments have followed, all supporting the maritime raiding position in preference to anything else.

The other services haven’t been slow to jump on the same type of bandwagons, the Army think every single conflict will be like Afghanistan, a war among the people. The RAF highlight every incursion into the North Atlantic by Russian strategic bombers as evidence of the need for 400 Typhoon’s.

In many cases, Strategic Raiding simply creates a problem for others and is counter productive. It is sometimes used to justify having a capability to regain lost territory, usually the Falkland Islands, instead of the sensible and cost effective (money and lives) garrison and diplomacy. We also take comfort in the certainty that we will actually be in some sort of control of the nature of conflicts we are faced in, if anything the last 30 years has shown, it is that the world is unpredictable so the widely held view that future politicians will look at Iraq and Afghanistan and think twice is simply, yet another fallacy.

Everyone is in an unseemly rush to look beyond Afghanistan, hold on a minute, lets finish that one before spending too much time/money planning for the future.

It seems that convenient military fashion has trumped the eminently sensible approach of maintaining a balanced force.

If we go too far in one direction or the other we will be unable to adjust in time or at a sufficient level, if our capabilities sit at the centre of the spectrum then whichever unforeseen eventuality occurs we will be able to flex up or down as appropriate.

There is a big ‘however’

We can’t afford this at a high level so might have to choose which capabilities to scale back. We might think it reasonable to cut back on air defence fighters, main battle tanks or frigates but not eliminate them.

I still think it is entirely feasible to maintain a full spectrum of capabilities, at a smaller scale, and then choose which areas of capability we can expand. These would be expanded to a degree that we become the natural choice where they might be used in coalition, medium scale and above, operations.

Which these might be is of course the key debate but the result must be based on what is achievable, what is relevant to the most likely operational context and what delivers the most practical benefit. One might argue, based on likelihood and history, that this is some sort of land based COIN/Stabilisation operation supported by the maritime and air elements.

Above all though, we should forget the emperors new clothes of strategic raiding.

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September 25, 2010 11:23 am

Can I just question the idea of a balanced force?

Not the principle just whether for the same or less cash by boxing a bit clever we can actually increase our effectiveness across the board.

To give a series of examples. And apologise for the lenght of this post in advance.

If we accept that modern guided weapons finally aftger 5 years are doing what they “Say on the tin”. and that the call form the ground in Afgan and Iraq has genuinly been for the ability to destroy a single block of a single property, from the air, eg the USAF actually reducing the blast radius of its bombs and hitting what it aims at. in a slightly different context the use of Javelin to take out snipers and machine guns etc at 2000 mtrs is another example.

Then al taht effort in producing weapons designed to stop the 3rd shock army marching across the Gewrman plains has finally produced weapons that are adaptable and very effective in their current use.

Lets turn this on its head.

How likely are we, in the future (say next 20 years), to be facing a large heavy armoured force of equal or even vaguely comparrable skill or technological soppistication? in a manno a manno fight?

I cannot even think of likely contender for that, and even if one became a contender the lead time for this enemmy to build up its forces would give us time to respond.

However that does not mean we would not be facing heavy armour, or even large armies again, (rightly said that gulf 1 pretty much came out of nowhere). A number of possible scenarios can be constucted for an UK v 2nd divison fight.

However Coin type (with the accent on the type) warfare is hear to stay the IED cat is out the bag, my favorite the RPG7 remains a threat to all but the heaviest (and most expensive) armour.

All that heavy kit needs heavy duty logistics, to support it in a non linniar environment. I dont care how good we are on the ground in afgan, the cross Pakistan supply lines are stupidly vulnerable.

It is also very manpower intensive.

If we buy and our coin type kit with one eye on taking out an Iraqi style armoured division as well don’t we get the best of both worlds?


Coin Aircraft SU 25’s (or even Hawks for the patriotic), can carry the guided weapons and sensors for High altitude (outside Shorad sytem range) tank plinking just as well as coin weapons for supporting boots ont he ground in Afghan.

The New Ocelot I supect could do serious damage toa 2nd clas heavy armour with a Gill/Spike firing pod.

120mm morters can fire guided self seeking anti armour as well as normall.

Etc etc

we would essentially be buying the similar light kit but with one eye on real stand up fight.

Do not but prop driven one trick pony coin aircraft because they would be vulnerable to 2nd division air defence, no snatch landrovers.

I offer one examplke of this.

The Libyans got kicked out of Chad in the 80’s their armour destroyed by “rebels” (probably French forces), by anti armour missiles mounted on the back of the terrorists favorite truck the Toyota.

Tne commander of the rebel forces said at the time “It would not have worked against first class opposition, but we weren’t facing first class opposition”

After all could we have retaken the Falklands if they were held by the Waffen SS?

After all just how much god can you do with only 120 MBT’s and 90 Heavy guns?

September 25, 2010 1:19 pm

“In many cases, Strategic Raiding simply creates a problem for others and is counter productive.”

I think it depends on what you expect to achieve.
I approach it from the direction, “I dont want your mud”.

So get in bang heads get out is rather sensible.

“It’s all very neat and all too convenient because its gives us all a reason to keep spending on equipment, maintain a strong navy and rarely ever actually get involved in any shooty stuff.”
But shooty stuff is expensive.
Iraq and Afghanistan have already cost over £20bn just in identified additional costs.
Thats before we look at our wrecked vehicle fleets and wrecked soldiers.

Thats an awful lot of potential capacity we sacrified for negligable effect.

September 25, 2010 1:21 pm

Brilliant article. Excellent points.

I would add: how long to we expect future campaigns to last? The Falklands was ideal. It was over in a few months. Northern Ireland, however, was a war without end (indeed some would question whether ‘the Troubles’ are indeed yet over); while Afghanistan has lasted longer than the Second World War.

The point is, small raiding forces are all very well for delivering a short sharp punch. They’re less good when you have to fight a 12-round slogging match. I think we have to work out the kind of commitment we’re prepared to make.

More fundamentally, I think we were totally wrong to enter either Iraq or Afghanistan. It was none of our damn business. The local population didn’t want us there. In Iraq, they were delighted when we left. Did we effect real, lasting and positive change,? Or did we just replace one form of primitive government with another? What British interests were served, protected or enhanced through these campaigns?

Before we reconfigure our defence forces we need to think very carefully about the circumstances in which they will be deployed.

My son wants to be a soldier, like i was. I would hate to see him go off to war in a place like Afghanistan. What have the troops who have died there really fought for?

September 25, 2010 4:13 pm

Can I just appologise for the typos in my last post it was done in a hurry not properly proofed, and I am dyslexic, I sometimes get my mucking furds wuddled.

I hope my point got over though.

September 25, 2010 4:47 pm

Has the new government officially stated its foreign policy yet or is William Hague still leaking it in dribs and drabs?

Nice article (and i’m a strategic raiding man) but the first question i’d ask is this:

‘Is the coalition government prepared to put our troops on the ground in Yemen or Somalia for a prolonged period?’

I keep hearing contradictions. Firstly Nick Clegg speaks at the UN talking about no more democracy by diktat, then Liam Fox says in future we’ll contribute 6,000 instead of the current numbers in future.

Once that question is answered, we can guess at what the SDR ‘SHOULD’ bring us.

If the politicians don’t even know that answer themselves, then i’d agree a full spectrum of capabilities but smaller in scale would be wise. Infact it sounds a lot like the salami slicing that Liam Fox was hoping to avoid.

September 25, 2010 8:12 pm

IXION said “After all could we have retaken the Falklands if they were held by the Waffen SS? ”


Perhaps a better question would be, would we need COIN equipment if we fought under the same ROEs as the Waffen SS? :)

British forces are still high up in the top ten. It is just our kit is crap. I sometimes think the MoD has a theory that if the forces got what they needed they would loose their edge. Treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen.

I am too busy to play fantasy forces tonight….

September 25, 2010 9:34 pm


I picked WSS as example of highly motivated, highly trained, if not necessarily best equipped/supplied. Not because I’m some kind of nazi nut.

But my argument does require that we retain the edge in training motivation, and general match fitness.

September 25, 2010 10:05 pm


Look the World Ship Society are harmless, it it those train spotters you have to watch.

Seriously for the time, well the start of WW2, SS units were superbly equipped.

BTW In the Falklands the Argentines fought quite hard…

September 26, 2010 12:08 am

“In the Falklands, the Argies fought quite hard.”

No, they bloody didn’t. We shifted them from every dug in position on the first attempt, every time. When you’re in a defensive position being attacked, it is easy to shoot at people approaching you – it’s like being on the range. However, we lost a total of 255 men; they lost 655. Considering they were defending, you’d expect it to be the other way round. We trounced them because our boys were highly trained, highly motivated and better led. The Argentinians surrendered as soon as it got rough. Hardly surprising, they were conscripts. We were professionals.

Mind you, their pilots were good. In fact, they were excellent.

Richard W
Richard W
September 26, 2010 10:53 am

I agree that funding cuts notwithstanding, the aim of the SDR should be to preserve a full spectrum of capability (or nearly so) with the flexibility of mind to scale up components of those as circumstances require.

Dr Fox has said that a salami slicing approach will not work, presumably because either he thinks once a capability in a particular area falls below a certain threshold it has no value or alternatively there are some disciplines that need to be kept at high strength therefore every penny has to be saved everywhere else to fund those. Therefore, he thinks, Britain must look to simply reducing certain less important capabilities.

I’m not convinced that he can put this into practice, and I’m not concerned that he doesn’t either. The pure, big, single purpose ‘capability’ items that could have been cut to save a significant amount of money in one stroke of the pen, namely: Trident, carriers, Rivit, and air tankers, all seem immune for various reasons – although I’m not too sure if Rivit has been committed to.

This leaves the opportunity for savings having to come from second tier options. These, for example, are going to be how many types of fast jet the RAF possesses, the number of frigates for the navy, etc – in other words salami slicing.

With ingenuity and a constructive approach, salami slicing does not have to be all bad news. For example Tornado might be cut with repercussions for the RAF’s ground attack capability. But the world will not stop at that point; if the RAF finds itself without Tornado then someone will step up and develop the ground attack capabilities of the Typhoon. Yes it will mean less aircraft and the short term loss of what has been developed with Tornado, but it doesn’t mean that once the RAF has got used to working with a single type that it will not re-establish the capability to drop a bomb on a Taliban compound. The RAF would fairly argue that if it if provides whopping 7.5 billion saving by forgoing the Tornado, perhaps there could be some addition to the Typhoon inventory.

Similarly with the navy, they may have to sacrifice a cache of dedicated ASW frigates, but with the likelihood that in time they will see the ASW capability of a general purpose frigate fleet enhanced. Different, possibly not as good as it was, but not a total disaster either.

With the Army, hopefully there will be a realisation of the value of the TA and if some capability of the regular army is retired then there can be a balancing increase in the TA. For example, it’s probably fair enough that the regular army doesn’t need to exercise with all 360 Challenger MBT’s all of the time. More learned people than I can talk in terms of brigades and battalions, suffice to say the proposition is that the regular army could maintain a reduced active force of say a third, 120 Challengers, to preserve a skilled core and put the rest into a maintained reserve, with an enhanced/expanded TA force regularly exercising with that reserve equipment – so with enough notice a respectable MBT force could be fielded.

September 26, 2010 3:15 pm

I had in mind the idea that if the Argies had been well trained and well motivated, as well as being more flexible and agressive, we would not have been able to shift them with the rescources available.

If the land and navel forces had shown the skill and courage of the airforce they would stil be the Malvinas.

Richard W

Why keep challnger 2 if we cannot support, maintain it, or deploy it in any numbers?

It is widly reported (does not make it true though), that deploying in Gulf 1 required the stripping of every store and depot in uk and canablisiing of vehicles for spares just to field what we did. The oft quoted 300- 0 Kill V loss rate, does not sound so impressive when similar figures were acheived in the same war by the AMX30!

In the same War A10 achieved more that 3000 armoured kills.

Isrealis are very quite about what happened in Lebanon about their armour and why they did not just role over Hezbola as planned.

Journo’s who were on the ground at the time, were pointing to the Kornet as the reason. (Caveate:- there are no millitary post action reports I know of published, but like I said the Isrealis Lost Merkavas in those battles, widely regarded as the hardest tank in the world to destroy.

The balanced capability argument seem to be “please carry on salami slicing”.

How more cost effective would it be to take all those tankers and TA tankers and train them up on light armour with swing fire support /AT capability through long range anti armour missiles/ 120 morters etc. WE could then use them for all sorts of things not just filling warehouses.

September 26, 2010 3:55 pm


Glad to see I’m Wrong about lebanon. will look forward to post.

The only loss reports I have seen from the Lebanon published, at times almost suggest the tanks were kidnapped by aliens/ simply diappeared or broke down, rather than actully destroyed in action.

BTW Does that not help my point? If the Isreali’s Merkavas are vulnerable if poorly used, does that not (Given the Isrealis have fought the odd tank battle I believe), atr least ask teh question what are they for.

September 26, 2010 4:58 pm

good article as always, but a couple of quotes from comments already made i find myself very sympathetic to:

“‘Is the coalition government prepared to put our troops on the ground in Yemen or Somalia for a prolonged period?’”

I believe the answer is no.

“there are some disciplines that need to be kept at high strength therefore every penny has to be saved everywhere else to fund those. Therefore, he thinks, Britain must look to simply reducing certain less important capabilities.”


September 26, 2010 6:31 pm

@ Monty

I think considering the majority of them were scared teenage conscripts they did quite well.

Also perhaps you should read what our side about their opponents.

You need to gain a slightly more balance point of view.

September 26, 2010 7:43 pm

The Argentine defeat in the Falklands was because they strategicaly incompetant, rather than tacticaly so.
The soldiers, capable as they were, were deployed in isolated outposts that were easily cut off, surrounded and broken.
Or thats certainly what I’ve read.

Israels troubles in Lebanon are somewhat similar.
The Head of the IDF was a fighter pilot, he deemed Brigade level ground operations were over, so cut all its funding.
Once all the skills were rusty and the plans buried in archives, that was exactly what happened.
The lessons were relearnt for 2009 Gaza, and the (virtualy) same opponant was rolled over.

September 26, 2010 10:41 pm

Don’t want to get bogged down in Falklands.

The point still stands though Good intellegently bought Low intensity warfare kit should be able to handle high intensity warfare against all likely foes. If we train for it as well.

September 26, 2010 11:45 pm

I am just going to be a tad contrary, and contradict everyone who said “good article” – sorry, but I don’t think it is, mainly because I am not sure what point its trying to make.

Or actually maybe I am, but I disagree with your interpretation of things.

I do not see any connection at all between RUSI theoretical doctrine of “strategic raiding” and the resurrection of RMA.

Ref: “It was and is argued that a raiding strategy is much more appropriate because we are an island you know and no government would likely entertain another commitment like Iraq and Afghanistan any time soon. So, donning the emperors old RMA clothes and calling them new, the brave new world will see UK armed forces reconfigured to a maritime centric raiding force.”

OK, but where is the actually connection between strategic raiding as RUSI define it, and the so called Revolution in Military Affairs ???

The RUSI SDSR series, and their theoretical doctrinal options are meant to provoke discussion of the geo-politcal world in which we see our selves in the medium to long term future, what the country as whole is prepared to invest in defence of the realm, and that means for dropping some capabilities completely, versus continued “salami slicing”.

If RMA is about precision guided weapons, application of modern IT to C3I systems, using information superiority to improve the effectiveness of fires etc, then it can be applied to any of the RUSI options. You could take the so called “Belgium” option of having a Gendarmerie and a Coast Guard, and then decide whether or not to apply RMA concepts to them.

So let me ask you two questions – forget the non-existing linkage to RMA, lets think ‘grand strategy’ here;

“One might argue, based on likelihood and history, that this is some sort of land based COIN/Stabilisation operation supported by the maritime and air elements.” – Why ??? What makes this choice such a ‘slam dunk’ in your opinion?


“we should forget the emperors new clothes of strategic raiding.” – Again, why ? What is it about this suggestion that you dislike so much ?

September 27, 2010 10:12 am

It should also be noted that RUSI also coined the Global Guardian doctrine, and while one RUSI author has favoured Strategic Raiding it is not endorsed by RUSI as a group, they find either of the above as relevant and adequate for sustaining Britain’s great power status.

Jan Guest
Jan Guest
September 27, 2010 10:21 am

The strategic raiding doctrine is a bit of a misnomer as very little raiding is actually intended by a true maritime defence strategy, which is actually intended to be more ‘defensive’ than our current approach. This is based on the assumption that the primary goal of defence capability is to protect the UK, its access to global resources and trade routes and overseas territories. Intervention in foreign countries, to protect civilians or for ‘regime change’ is optional as while it might cause regional instability and negative consequences for the world it does not effect the survival of British citizens. If the budget cuts are about tough choices, not all of these are to be born in terms of toys and troops but also in terms of what we can do with them. COIN is massively expensive and if the efforts to win hearts and minds fail we leave ourselves less rather than more secure (as a result of the international reach of terrorists). To compromise our national security my cutting defensive capabilities like escorts and fighters in order to finance our capability to ‘intervene’ is reckless. The strategic raiding element of a maritime defence strategy really reflects the ability of British forces to rescue British civilians from combat zones and retake overseas territory by amphibious assault. These are unless stated otherwise by the government essential tasks of the armed forces. I cannot see how this in a emperors new clothes strategy – to mind it is more ‘realist’ than a defence strategy based on COIN. It is likely of course than the salami slicing will continue and none of these strategies actually taken up.

Richard W
Richard W
September 27, 2010 10:50 am


I quoted Challengers only as an example – topical because it’s a fair bet the SDR is going to say we can’t justify retaining the numbers we have. It could be any piece of equipment; I’m not saying there isn’t something you might prefer to have.

For all the cost in equipment the larger cost, and therefore the limiting factor to your standing order of battle, is the cost of wages, pensions, and other human costs.

So in a world of diminishing funding, I’m simply saying that to field a respectable land force in the future the TA will have to become a proportionately larger part of your overall forces, used to upscale numbers around a core of regular people. So the TA has some useful kit to use on the day, the equipment inventory will be rather larger than the regular army uses itself.

September 27, 2010 11:47 am

Jan Guest
I think it depends upon what you personaly term a Strategic Raid.
In my mind, its simply making ourselves a big enough nuisance that the other side gives in to our mild demands.

Its neither my intention to occupy foreign mud or overthrow foreign regimes, simply to coerce said foreign regime into behaving more in my interests.

A Strategic Raid simply hammers home that we can land a brigade and dig up your motorways if we feel like it, and if you try and stop us, we can annihilate your army with airstrikes, artilery and mop up the rest with the deployed mechanised forces.

As I’ve said before, the Americans dont seem to understand that a mouse backed into a corner by a snake stands and fights everytime.
Adding a second of third carrier group doesnt change someones opinion of fighting if they feel they are backed into a corner and have no other option.

A raid gives them that option.
Do as we say and you can keep your kingdom. Dont and we’ll take it away.

Dangerous Dave
Dangerous Dave
September 27, 2010 3:07 pm

@DominicJ: You’ve still got to be able to take it away though.

The COIN/Global Guardian vs. Strategic Raiding debate is fascinating, but we don’t appear to be framing it in any geopolitical background here at TD. Understandable as were all much more tactical thinkers and, well, geopolitical includes – urgh – politics dammit!

Any FDR/SDR/SSDR needs to take into account likely flashpoints that can be guessed, even though we nust acept that we can’t “see out” as far as 15-20 years ahead. It’s a lot like driving in a pea souper, you use your road knowledge to figure out where the corners are coming much more that your ability to see beyond the 2nd white line.

So, what possible flashpoints do we all see? I’ll provide 2 that have been in the news recently.

a/. The CIS have recently been emulating the plot of the BBC SF show “The Deep” and planting little flags under the arctic ice cap to show which bits they own, and can therefore drill for oil/gas on. Naturally Canada, Iceland, Norway and Greenland also will want to stake claims – moreso if oil is actually found. Further Global warming will mean that the Northwest Passage will be navigable all year from 2020. How do we think this scenario will escalate – and what forces would HMG need to allocate in support of our NATO allies (Canada / Norway).

b/. North Korea recently sank a South Korean frigate, and tensions are still running high. Japan is spemding more on the JSDF maritime contingent as China encroaches on disputed sea territioy. All this is concurrent to disputes over the territorial rights in the China Sea due to (yet again) possible deep water depisits of Oil/Gas. Given that all this is on Australia’s doorstep, and they have been building up the RAN in respose, how do we feel this sitaution could escalate and what forces would HMG need to deploy to aid our Commonwealth brothers if a China Sea conflict went “hot”, with China / North Korea making territorial gains?

Discuss. :-)