The reaction of the press to the Anglo-French defence cooperation programme is basically, calm down everyone, this is just hard-nosed pragmatism.
The programme is to be delivered through an overarching Defence Co-operation Treaty, a subordinate treaty relating to a joint nuclear facility, a letter of intent signed by Defence Ministers and a package of joint defence initiatives.
This co-operation is intended to improve the collective defence capability through UK and French forces working more closely together, contributing to more capable and effective forces, and ultimately improving the collective capability of NATO and European Defence.
The measures are
- Jointly developing a Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF) as a non-standing bilateral capability able to carry out a range of operations in the future whether acting bilaterally or through NATO, the EU or other coalition arrangements. This concept will be developed over the coming years
- Building primarily on maritime task group co-operation around the French carrier Charles de Gaulle, the UK and France will aim to have, by the early 2020s, the ability to deploy a UK-French integrated carrier strike group incorporating assets owned by both countries
- Developing joint military doctrine and training programmes
- Extending bilateral co-operation on the acquisition of equipment and technologies, for example in unmanned aerial systems, complex weapons, submarine technologies, satellite communications and research and technology
- Aligning wherever possible our logistics arrangements – including providing spares and support to the new A400M transport aircraft
- Developing a stronger defence industrial and technology base
- Enhancing joint working to defend against emerging security concerns such as cybersecurity
The industry is happy, the press is happy and only a few far-right loonies are moaning, which is exactly why we must think very hard about this because those so-called far-right loonies are generally speaking the ones who have the interest of this nation at heart and don’t want to see subsumed into some amorphous European identity without the sovereign means of one’s defence.
I always veer to a generally supportive view of the defence industry but in this matter, I care little for what they want.
The programme is a curate’s egg, some measures that cannot be characterised as anything but sensible. But others are obviously an erosion of the UK’s ability to wield military power wholly in support of its interests whether they align with France or not.
Working in alliances or partnerships is nothing new, NATO, ISAF, UN missions and even the UK/Dutch Amphibious Force show that this is nothing unusual so why should we baulk at the proposed Combined Joint Expeditionary Force?
The UK/NL Amphibious Force has been in place since 1973. UKNLAF comprises two main elements: the UK/NL Amphibious Group of specialist amphibious staff and shipping provided by the UK Royal Navy (RN), the Royal Netherlands Navy, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and specialist support craft from the British Army’s Royal Logistic Corps; and the UK/NL Landing Force, made up of 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines and operational units of the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps’ 1st Battalion Group. UKNLAF assets operating at sea, including embarked UK/NL units, are commanded by the RN’s Commander Amphibious Task Group (COMATG), who becomes COMUKNLPHIBGRU. The UK/NL Landing Force is commanded by 3 Commando Brigade’s brigadier, with the head of the Dutch battalion group as his deputy commander.
UK forces have worked with French forces again, for decades. The French forces are in many ways a mirror of ours, highly professional and with a broad range of capabilities although they differ in approach and doctrine in some areas that is reflected in equipment and structures.
The CJEF will not be a standing force but available ‘at notice’ for NATO, bilateral, UN or EU operations and comprise of elements of the Parachute Regiment, Royal Marines, Special Forces and their French equivalents. On operations, it would be commanded by either French or UK commander.
Where this leaves the Joint Rapid reaction Force (JRRF) is unclear, under normal circumstances, the Army would ensure that the following land forces were available to the JRRF: a brigade-sized grouping held at High Readiness and two Strategic Reserves—the Spearhead Land Element (SLE) held at Extremely High Readiness and the Airborne Task Force (ABTF) held at Very High Readiness. To command the JRRF a Joint Task Force HQ (JTFHQ) is maintained at 48 hours notice to move. Its impact on the UK’s existing commitment to the EU Battle Group pool is also unclear.
Not sure if there will be enough room on their arms for all the badges they are going to have to wear and what language will the command and control system use?
The carrier decision is the most far-reaching and many of the implications have yet to be realised. There are many unanswered questions about the Prince of Wales and the French decision on PA2. It may transpire that the Royal Navy ends up with Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales and the French with Charles de Gaulle and PA2, this would not be a bad situation because it means that both nations would need to rely less on a combined task force. If however, and this would seem the most likely, PA2 is not ordered and Prince of Wales is sold or placed at extended readiness then the degree of reliance goes up.
Another possible scenario is that Prince of Wales becomes PA2 and Charles de Gaulle is decommissioned, it has not been a great success by any measure. The UK and France would have more or less, a single identical carrier each. One would fly Rafale and the other the F35C but don’t discount the F35C being cancelled and the Rafale being ordered in future.
It is becoming more and more obvious that the decision to change from F35B to the CATOBAR F35C was absolutely nothing to do with capability or cost (will have a look at this issue in more detail in a forthcoming SDSR analysis post) but everything to do with the political element of sharing carriers with the French. It was only a couple of months ago that Liam Fox was declaring the sharing of carriers as ‘utterly unrealistic’
The shared A400 training and maintenance makes some kind of sense, although the aircraft will not be entirely common with differences in floors, defensive aids and other systems, the main avionics, flight systems and engines will be the same. The devil will be in the detail though, especially about priorities and surging in response to individual needs.
Beyond a common spares plan or aircrew/ground crew training will this agreement be extended to include operational support in theatre, again, a creeping expansion of common-sense resource sharing to interdependence.
Satellite communications will be subject to a joint concept study in 2011 on potential cooperation for a new generation of satellites to enter service between 2018 and 2022. 2018 is a significant date because it is the end of the SkynetPFI agreement between the MoD and Paradigm Secure Communications (a wholly-owned subsidiary of EADS/Cassidian)
There will be a 10-year strategic plan for the complex weapon sector aimed at efficiency savings of up to 30 per cent. The scheme will permit increasing interdependence and consolidation of the industrial base. Complex weapons are more or less, missile systems and there is already a great deal of collaboration in this sector anyway with the Storm Shadow/SCALP cruise missile and the Sea Skua replacement (FASGW(H)). There will also be a technology road map for short-range air defence technologies which leaves the Common Anti Air Modular Missile (CAMM) under question. This is based on the UK’s ASRAAM missile body and is designed to replace Sea Wolf and Rapier FSC, the French have the VL MICA missile.
UAV’s form a large part of the agreement with an intention to work on developing next-generation MALE UAV and UCAS capabilities, the MALE system will be the first to enter service between 2015 and 2020 with the UCAS entering service from 2030 onwards. Again, details are uncertain, how will this agreement fit in with the RAF’s Scavenger requirements and the BAe/MoD Mantis/Taranis demonstrators?
BAe and Dassault Aviation subsequently announced a long-heralded teaming arrangement in order to steal the march on the EADS/Cassidian Talarion and what involvement Thales will have in these projects is anyone’s guess but given the billion-pound investment in the Thales Watchkeeper UAV, it is likely to figure in these future plans.
A joint project team will be set up in 2011 to agree on specifications for a prototype naval mine countermeasures system although the REMUS and Sea Fox system in service with the Royal Navy are capabilities far in advance of French systems.
The UK and France will investigate the potential use of spare capacity available in Britain’s Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) PFI, providing it is financially acceptable to both nations. With recent cuts to the RAF fast jet fleet, there is an obvious reduction in need, possibly as low nine aircraft. This is what happens when you sign up for 27 years PFI schemes, things change and you are left holding the baby. The French know this full well and have been reported saying that the deal on the table is too expensive, so much for a new era of cooperation!
A number of shared facilities will be created for nuclear warhead testing. With the decision on Trident licked into the long grass beyond the next election, watch this space. The French have a new missile entering service, the M51. From a military and economic perspective, the M51 might offer a useful alternative but this would signal a sea change in the relationship between the UK and the USA.
Finally, a scheme where the two sides each commit a 50 million Euro annual budget to research and technology cooperation will be continued and increased when possible. The joint work currently undertaken will be expanded to include sectors such as sensors, electronic warfare technologies, materials and simulation. Note the nice round figure is in Euros, not Pounds.
So the issue is not a military one, it is about politics.
David Cameron said
“This is not about a European army”
But quite clearly it is, the official announcement even makes it clear that the move will strengthen European Defence.
He went on to say;
“Britain and France are and will always remain sovereign nations able to deploy our armed forces independently and in our national interests when we choose to do so”
But what about the carriers and for how long, as any watcher of European affairs, knows full well, it is not the first announcement to watch but what comes after, by stealth.
The CJEF is self evidently the new European rapid reaction force.
Both Cameron and Sarkozy make the point that they do not foresee any circumstances where the two nation’s interests diverge and one would use military force and the other not. Given Cameron’s rather shaky view of history, it is perhaps worth pointing out that twice in the last 30 years this has happened and the next 50 years are equally unpredictable. Even more recently, there is a lingering doubt that the French were playing both sides in the Balkans and many observers commented that UK/US operations would generally achieve their goal of (usually) capturing key war criminals but UK/French operations would usually result in the target somehow getting away. In 2003, again our interests diverged, rightly or wrongly. A mere 7 years ago and in Afghanistan, although the situation is completely different today, no one can deny a certain reticence to deploy in French quarters.
At the press conference following the treaty signing ceremony, the BBC’s correspondent asked if France would really despatch an aircraft carrier to help the UK. President Sarkozy’s prickly answer was
“If you, my British friends, have to face a major crisis, could you imagine France simply sitting there, its arms crossed, saying that it’s none of our business”
Well, yes I can and recent history proves me right.
For all the fine words, can we really trust the French, not at the operational or tactical level, but at the political and strategic?
Trust is perhaps a strong word, but we should be very wary of assuming that our political interests will always be in alignment.
It is a measure of the arrogance of these individuals that they seem to think they will be in power for decades to come and act as if everything will always be the same. Sarkozy is somewhat unusual in his Anglo Saxon inclinations but may be followed by the complete opposite.
On the industrial level, we also have to look beyond the headlines, both defence industries are strong but in a globalising world, where Brazilian, Indian and Chinese manufacturers are threatening traditional markets the ability of national defence champions to meet these challenges must be tempered against the reality of trust. It is one thing to say we will find economies of scale but how will this work in the practice because it must, by definition, mean specialisation and rationalisation. US industry may be increasingly wary of partnering with UK organisations as it sees ever closer relationships with French/European companies and the position of BAe in the US may also be questioned. What does this also mean for the French/Russia shipbuilding alliance and greater competition for markets such as Brazil and India?
I get the impression the Government is using the financial situation to accelerate the move to a European defence capability and increasing political unity, away from the US.
The main issue with the treaty seems to be threefold;
When does co-operation become interdependence, if we are to give up capabilities or make them so reliant on others then self evidently we lose some elements of sovereign defence capability or the ability to act alone, even at a small scale? Retaining the capability for full-spectrum operations, even at a reduced scale, should be seen as a red line beyond which we should never cross.
Secondly, there is the issue of ‘were we asked’
This is important stuff but it has not been debated in Parliament and was only vaguely referenced in the election so there is quite justifiable anger at the lack of democracy, wasn’t the coalition about new politics. David Cameron was very keen on the new politics message and the Conservative Democracy Task Force in its second report recommends
As set out in our earlier report, An End to Sofa Government, decisions to commit British troops to combat, and treaty ratifications, should require parliamentary approval
Finally, what are the implications for NATO and our strong political, military, intelligence (especially) and industrial relationship with the USA? Intelligence is an especially strong relationship that France is one the outside looking enviously in. Is the USA going to perceive this as a means of the French gaining access to US technology and intelligence using the UK as a politically convenient stepping stone?
If all this is too depressing, have a look at the real treaty